Here's a quick news quiz: If you were editing The New York Times and advisers to Michael Bloomberg were telling your reporters that the billionaire might run for president, would you run that story on the front page? For how many days in a row? Considering he is the former mayor of New York, I could see the Times putting that development on the front page for one day. But anything more than that would be overkill, right?
Bloomberg doesn't represent any obvious voter constituency within the Democratic Party, and he's already too late to the primary game to compete effectively in the first four contests. Despite that context, the Times decided to run the Bloomberg story on its front page for not one, not two, but for three straight days, signaling that the paper considered the billionaire's would-be run to be one of the biggest political stories of the season.
Indeed, the Times quickly provided readers with a cornucopia of endless Bloomberg coverage, including two very enthusiastic thumbs up from columnists. "Run, Mike, Run!" was the headline for one column, which followed "Welcome, Mike Bloomberg” by a day. Both emphasized what good news Bloomberg's possible candidacy was. The paper was hardly alone in pursuing the mini-bout of Bloomberg mania, as the billionaire's name was mentioned nearly 500 times on cable news between Friday and Sunday, according to media search engine TVeyes.
Question: If the former mayor of Los Angeles signaled that he might enter the Democratic primary at this late date, do you think major newspapers would splash that on the front page for three straight days? (Or even for a single day?) There's no way. Bloomberg is being treated as a Very Big Deal because he's a billionaire and the political press remains overly impressed with billionaires who want to be politicians. Political journalists tend to assume that voters are as impressed with billionaires as they are. But voters are not, especially not Democratic voters.
Indeed, rarely do we see such an obvious and yawning gap between what drives the Beltway media and what drives Democratic voters. Bloomberg's possible run has been treated as a blockbuster event by much of the D.C. press, and has mostly been greeted with shrugs by voters.
The Times announced Bloomberg's looming candidacy "could cause a seismic disruption in the Democratic race." And then sure enough, two days later the newspaper confirmed Bloomberg had "disrupted" and "jolted" the race. "With his immense personal wealth, centrist views and close ties to the political establishment, he would present an instantaneous threat to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.," the Times announced with certainty.
But had Bloomberg actually "jolted" the race over the weekend?
In its three front-page Bloomberg dispatches, the Times couldn't really point to any evidence or data to support the claim. The newspaper even had trouble finding Democratic voters who would openly support Bloomberg's run. Turns out the first new poll that specifically asked about a Bloomberg run found that just 4% of Democratic voters considered him to be their first pick, compared to 31% who chose Biden. Additionally, 25% of voters had an unfavorable opinion of Bloomberg, compared to 15% who view him favorably. That's the worst net unfavorable rating of any of the 15 candidates polled. So much for the media declaration that Bloomberg would pose an "instantaneous threat" to the Democratic front-runners.
Just as former Starbucks CEO and billionaire Howard Schultz benefited from an orgy of media coverage when he announced he might run for president last winter, Bloomberg also seems to be benefiting from our Davos-style media culture, where billionaires are automatically held up as symbols of what is right and just.
Bloomberg is certainly a significant player in American politics. He's a successful big-city mayor, a winning businessman who has amassed a huge fortune, and an aggressive financial advocate for the gun safety and climate change activist movements. Bloomberg and his organizations just spent more than $110 million to help Democratic candidates win control of the House in last year's midterms.
So yes, Bloomberg running for president would certainly qualify as news. But a.) He has not formally announced his candidacy yet, and b.) Even if he had, it shouldn't be front-page news for three days running. It shouldn’t be the most important political story of the week considering the president of the United States is in the process of being impeached.
It's also impossible to ignore the media narrative, especially the one pushed by the Times, that Bloomberg's possible candidacy is bad news for Democrats because it shows that they're in disarray and that voters aren't happy with the current crop of candidates. There's a "nervousness" among voters, the Times emphasized.
"It’s not a good sign for Democrats—or flagging Joe Biden—that the 77-year-old plutocrat is casting himself as the savior of the party," wrote Maureen Dowd, which makes no sense. A billionaire "casts himself" as a Democratic savior, therefore it must be true? Where's the proof that the party that won 40 House seats last year (and last week won the Kentucky governor's race and flipped the Virginia legislature) needs saving today? Meanwhile, NBC's Chuck Todd stressed the Bloomberg news signaled "alarm" and "hand wringing" within the Democratic party.
But that's simply not the case. Polling clearly shows that a vast majority of Democratic voters are happy with the candidates already in the race and very few voters are hoping more candidates join the primary. Just prior to the news that Bloomberg might run, 74% of Democratic voters said they don't need anyone else to join the primary, according to a Monmouth University poll.
When it comes to fawning over the political aspirations of billionaires, the Beltway press remains badly out of touch.
Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.
This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.