Do I have so many friends and acquaintances working on Bloomberg View —which launched yesterday—that it would just be wrong for me to drop a cluster bomb or two on them today?
The site—which apes the modern newspaper editorial pages with unsigned editorials, columnists, and op-eds—joins a media space that has no shortage of opinion, making it a little like pouring a bottle of Deer Park into Lake Superior.
However, Bloomberg View’s intention is not additive but subtractive. Its founding editorial promises to scrape away the barnacles of inconsistency that have collected on the standard editorial to connect the pieces of a “larger puzzle” and “see the world whole.” The founding editorial doesn’t really confide in the reader about what the world seen whole will look like, stating that the page can’t state precisely what its philosophy will be except that it “will be committed to transparency and tolerance, to nonpartisanship and intellectual honesty, to free markets and data-driven solutions to national and international problems,” which are “values embodied by Mike Bloomberg,” the greater Bloomberg operation’s founder and largest owner.
As best as I can tell, Mike Bloomberg’s political values are as unmappable as a hooker’s love. He was a lifelong liberal Democrat who ran successfully for mayor of New York City as a Republican in 2001 and then became an independent in 2007 while still in office. To the naïve observer, this sort of political shape-shifting reflects a bipartisan soul when what it really reveals is Bloomberg’s self-image as somebody who is so omnipartisan or apartisan that he is completely above politics and beyond self-interest. In other words, a philosopher king. A philosopher king with an endless bankroll.
With Bloomberg’s bankroll, Bloomberg View has rented a roster of columnists that looks a lot like the guest list for a large dinner party that a liberal Democrat seeking predictable company would draft: It’s mostly liberals and neo-liberals with a smattering of conservatives and libertarians to provide the protective color needed to maintain Bloomberg View’s claim to bipartisanship.
Among the columnists’ first efforts are “More Americans Need to Work, and to Marry,” “Ryan, Gingrich and GOP Medicare Trap,” “Sharing Costs Is No Way to Fix Medicare,” “The Case for a Non-European IMF Leader,” “Don’t Underestimate Republicans in 2012,” and “Further Evidence Sex Shouldn’t Be Mixed With Power.” As I scan this list of headlines, I feel my chronic insomnia lifting and wonder if Apple could make an app that would read Bloomberg View columns aloud each night as I crawl into bed with my blankie and teddy bear.
The columnists’ extreme reasonableness and to a lesser degree the low temper of the first four editorials tell you everything you need to know about why there is no Bipartisan Party or why nobody ever named their newspaper the Daily Bipartisan. As journalistic fire starter, bipartisanship or reasonableness or post-partisanship or whatever Bloomberg would call his guiding philosophy has to rate with ice water. The USA Today editorial page and op-ed section is reasonable. Who reads it? Send me the readers who crave columns and editorials written at a whisper, and I will horsewhip them back into their senses.
Reasonableness exists primarily to marginalize the views of others, making it as much a social posture as a political position. The label of most reasonable usually is awarded to the person who is the most unreasonable in his pursuit of the title. As mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg has used the aura of reasonableness to intrude into the lives of the city’s residents in dozens of petty ways. Although you could argue that Bloomberg’s “reasonableness” has been key to his political success, no assessment of his ballot totals is complete without mentioning that he has essentially bought his way to prominence: He spent $108 million on winning his third term as mayor, which is $185 for each vote he got in the general election. Some would say that allowing a rich guy to spend millions of his own money on political office is unreasonable, but don’t expect that position to get an airing in a Bloomberg View editorial.
Bloomberg isn’t the first billionaire/politician/press baron to promote his own brand of unassailable reasonableness from a very expensive soapbox. William Randolph Hearst got there more than a century ago with his newspaper chain, abandoning the Democratic Party to preach “Americanism” in signed editorials. These pieces argued against communism, fascism, and despotism, so by definition, anybody who disagreed with Hearst was anti-American.
Bloomberg at his worst is never as bad as Hearst was. Bloomberg made his fortune, Hearst inherited his. Bloomberg has been a successful politician, Hearst was a disaster—his only victorious political campaign was in a U.S. House of Representatives contest after Democratic Party bosses gave him the nomination for a safe seat. Bloomberg is mild-mannered, Hearst was a raver. Bloomberg View runs Peter R. Orszag and Jonathan Alter as columnists. The unreasonable Hearst had Mussolini and Hitler on the payroll as columnists, writes David Nasaw in The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst, but Hitler “fell out of favor” with Hearst “because he was terrible at hitting deadlines.”
Say what you will about Hearst, he took sides instead of pretending that there were none. Few publications or websites ever live up to their prelaunch expectations, and many get better after a throat clearing. But based on my limited sampling of the young site, I’d rather go blind than look at a world made whole through the Bloomberg View.
First of all, we have to do something about the name of the site. Why not call it Mike’s World instead? Or the Daily Bipartisan!? Send your ideas for an improved name to firstname.lastname@example.org. Watch my Twitter feed for unreasonableness of the highest order. (Email may be quoted by name in “The Fray,” Slate’s readers’ forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)
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