“At some point Bloomberg is mass bribing cable/local news. Usually this isn’t an issue because candidates effectively cancel each other out but when it gets to $1B, $2B we’ll have one candidate underwriting the whole TV news industry,” tweeted Adam H. Johnson, journalist and co-host of Citations Needed, a media analysis podcast. In Rhode Island, campaign advertisements may come to residents through television channels which broadcast news from ABC6, WPRI, NBC10, and others.
Billionaire presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg is receiving criticism from various journalists for his philanthropic and political donations, and significant advertisement purchases in broadcast media. Have you been watching television news channels lately? If you have, or put the television on while cooking or such just for background noise, you’ve likely noticed that the news may be followed or preceded by campaign advertisements from Bloomberg, or Tom Steyer. Bloomberg was recently endorsed by millionaire Governor Gina Raimondo.
Revelations around the donations and media purchases of Mike Bloomberg were publicized in a viral tweet thread by journalist Blake Zeff. His philanthropy has raised questions about endorsements from non-profits that he has supported, and his donations to Republicans have aligned with their crucial votes in favor of same-sex marriage. Zeff believes that Bloomberg’s wealth enables him to craft and push narratives to voters without the critical analysis that an equal attention from news reporting would provide.
“In 2018 revenue for Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN combined was $5.3B. The 829 American local news stations were $15.8[B]. If Bloomberg is spending $1-5B dollars this can have a meaningful effect on the industry’s bottom line. It’s an emerging conflict of interest if it’s not one already,” wrote Johnson, referencing statistics from the Pew Research Center.
Can we please ask a favor?
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This is not being entirely ignored by broadcast news organizations, as the first tweet by Johnson was discussing a graph tweeted by Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s media analysis show Reliable Sources. It is important to note that Stelter’s discussion was focused instead on whether Bloomberg’s spending “proves” that television news advertising is powerful. As shown in the above graph, Bernie Sanders, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, is dwarfed in spending by the billionaire. Sanders has built his campaign on small dollar donations, while Bloomberg has mostly self-funded his campaign.
The DNC recently changed their debate rules, eliminating the requirement for having a certain number of donors. This has now allowed for Bloomberg to be eligible; the DNC has received significant financial support from Bloomberg. The Rhode Island Democratic Party received a donation of $10,000 from Mike Bloomberg last November, which was a concern raised Thursday by the Providence Democratic Socialists of America.
On the internet, influence is not bound by location. In a tweet unrelated to Zeff’s but on the same day, Adam Ellis, a popular cartoonist on Instagram, called out Buzzfeed for allowing one of their employees to post a Bloomberg sponsored political advertisement on the meme account @kalesalad. @kalesalad was one of many meme accounts to post sponsored images on behalf of the Bloomberg campaign, which has quickly erupted into a controversy. The controversy was met by an informal counter-campaign of fake political advertisements which further publicized criticisms of Bloomberg, most notably his expansion of the ‘Stop and Frisk’ program which disproportionately targeted Black and Hispanic youth in New York City.
Reflective of these Orwellian times, the Instagram advertisement by @kalesalad is itself a joke about Bloomberg’s ability to change opinions through his significant wealth. In Zeff’s tweet thread he provided information that suggests this activity may be part of the Bloomberg campaign’s larger media strategy. The Guardian reported last week that the Bloomberg campaign is partnering with social media influencers through the social marketing agency Tribe to craft “honest, passionate” narratives with “organic” looking photos to be used as campaign materials.
“The issue’s not just that Mike’s ads help him ‘get his story out more.’ It’s that they enable him to *craft* whatever story he wants, blast it to every voter 1000 times, & bypass the media. And if the story takes creative licenses, oh well. How will viewers ever find out?” asked Zeff, in the fourth of a 17 tweet thread.
This article has been updated to correct formatting or grammar, and to include additional information about persons quoted.