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Bloomberg and the best media money can buy could be bad news for Democrats, democracy | COMMENTARY

Democratic presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at a campaign event Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020, in Providence, R.I.
Democratic presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at a campaign event Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020, in Providence, R.I. (David Goldman/AP)

I hate what billionaire presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg is doing to the Democratic Party through the use of media. And I fear that if he gets his way, thanks to the best media money can buy, instead of a real choice in November, we are going to get two rich guys calling each other nasty names on Twitter and then spending tens of millions of dollars on micro-targeted, psychographic-driven Facebook ads calling each other worse names yet, thanks to another rich guy, Mark Zuckerberg, giving them license to lie.

Our rich guy is tougher than your rich guy, na-na-na-na-na-na. Sure he’s short, but your guy’s fat, and everyone who is anyone in New York calls him a carnival barking clown behind his back.

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Is that what we want Election 2020 to come down to? Not exactly the Lincoln-Douglas debates, is it?

And you know what I really fear? The way many in media and, indeed, much of American culture seems to be falling in love with the rich-guy-as-savior fantasy. Witness many of my colleagues around the country publicly begging rich people to buy the newspapers they work for.

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That rich-guy-as-savior fantasy is one of the reasons Mr. Trump’s base gives him the license to act like an autocrat using government agencies to protect his friends and punish his enemies. As we should all know by now ― actually, should have known by the late 1930s ― that road leads not to salvation, but fascism.

Already, thanks to Mr. Bloomberg, the attack ads are starting to fly. Monday, Mr. Bloomberg ate up most of the Democratic oxygen in media with an attack on Bernie Sanders. The ad attacked Mr. Sanders for not firmly denouncing his digital supporters, dubbed “Bernie Bros,” for the threats and insults they make in social media against anyone who criticizes or opposes Mr. Sanders.

The Bernie Bros were in the news in recent days for their Twitter and email attacks on the Nevada Culinary Workers Union after union members rejected Mr. Sanders’ Medicare-for-all plan because it would eliminate union-negotiated health care benefits.

Mr. Sanders has tried to distance himself from the attacks. But he has not clearly denounced the perpetrators as he should have. At least, Mr. Trump is straightforward about his feelings toward those who attack and threaten in social media on his behalf: He invited some of those digital operatives to a summit at the White House in July where he gave them the green light to do their nasty work in 2020.

Is this the way we want the health care debate to take place within the Democratic Party, in attack ads with the candidate who has the deepest pockets likely to be the winner by dint of doing the most damage to his opponent? And no candidate has deeper pockets than the former mayor of New York City who has already spent $350 million on ads.

Mr. Bloomberg’s media money has already given him advantages other candidates did not enjoy. He has risen in the polls without having to do any media interviews he doesn’t want to.

As Minnesota senator and presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar told NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” Sunday, “I do things like go on your show, take tough questions and then at the same time, he is running more ads on whatever he wants during that same time. I think he needs to go on shows like this, which he hasn’t done.”

And what about the Democratic Party changing its rules to provide a pathway for Mr. Bloomberg to participate in the debates?

Yes, he will face tough questioning on the debate stage from candidates and moderators. But even if he stumbles, I wonder how much that will matter.

Mr. Trump stumbled from the first GOP debate with Megyn Kelly’s questions on his misogyny, to the final general election face-offs in which Hillary Clinton embarrassed him on policy. But the worse Mr. Trump did, the more social media ads he bought and tweets he sent saying how perfect his performances had been and what losers his opponents were.

Finally, I wonder why there isn’t wider denunciation of Mr. Bloomberg for banning his Bloomberg News from investigating him or his finances. Is that the act of someone who respects the role of the free press in a democracy?

Or, is that the way a rich guy who owns a major media property and wants to be president behaves?

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David Zurawik is The Sun’s media critic. Email: david.zurawik@baltsun.com; Twitter: @davidzurawik.

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