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Michael Bloomberg and the media privilege for billionaire candidates

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?

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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.

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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.

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