Erin Perrine, a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, told the Erik Wemple Blog: “The Bloomberg reporter was not credentialed to our event, per our existing policy. Only credentialed media is permitted access. Until Bloomberg News changes their unfair coverage policy, our policy will remain in place.”
So, is this typical Trump smash-mouth treatment of the media? Is it akin to the White House revoking the press pass of CNN correspondent Jim Acosta? Or suspending the credentials of Playboy correspondent Brian Karem? Or the State Department bumping an NPR reporter from an overseas trip following a contentious interview?
No. For one, campaigns aren’t government agencies for the purposes of the First Amendment. They can boot noisome reporters. “They can close the door,” says Stephen Gillers, Elihu Root professor of law at New York University, noting that the campaign is a private organization.
For another, the Trump people have a legitimate gripe with Bloomberg News, as opposed to their flippant and thin-skinned reaction to Acosta et al.: When Mike Bloomberg announced the launch of his presidential campaign, Bloomberg News declared that it would cover the activities of its founder but would stay away from investigating him or his Democratic rivals. The policy was driven in part by tradition: The company has long refrained from covering the wealth and personal life of its founder, so fairness to the other Democratic candidates dictated even application of this directive. Meanwhile, Bloomberg Editor in Chief John Micklethwait declared that the outlet would “continue to investigate the Trump administration, as the government of the day.”
Though the Erik Wemple Blog opposes the ejection of journalists from public events, Bloomberg News has done its best to encourage a backlash against its reporters. Its “policy” vis-a-vis the Democratic primary is corrupt, biased and plain stinky. How can you possibly cover something without investigating it? When had a news outlet ever issued a promise: We will cover this matter superficially?
Bloomberg News got bombarded over its approach, with conservatives chalking up the move to liberal media bias. The statement by Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale outlining Bloomberg News’s indefinite stay in the doghouse earned praise from Trump’s followers.
As with many media stories in the age of Trump, however, this one carries dimensions of inexplicability: 1) At a time when news organizations are under unprecedented attack for alleged bias toward Democrats, Bloomberg has all but formalized that very tilt; and 2) Why would the Trump people want to sideline Jennifer Jacobs, of all people?
A native of Iowa, Jacobs joined Bloomberg News during the 2016 campaign after a distinguished run at the Des Moines Register. Campaign coverage segued into her current work as a White House reporter with an insidery focus. Last month, she reported on the Trump administration’s conflict with Iran. In December, she — along with two colleagues — reported on an effort by White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow to fine-tune biofuel regulations. In November, she secured an advance copy of Donald Trump Jr.'s new book, “Triggered.” In October, she wrote on a letter from former Trump administration officials supporting the president’s nomination of John Sullivan to be U.S. ambassador to Russia. She routinely shares bylines with other members of the Bloomberg White House team, including Justin Sink, Josh Wingrove, Jordan Fabian and Mario Parker.
Her oeuvre spills over with mini-scoops or updates on who’ll attend an upcoming meeting; who’ll do this job; who’ll do that job; who’ll do this other job; who’ll serve as a deputy to this important man; who’ll attend a dinner; who’s being uprooted by a White House asbestos abatement project.
As she plies her beat, Jacobs labors under the exacting standards spelled out in a volume titled “The Bloomberg Way.” The document is fierce in its embrace of fact and unequivocal in its dismissal of speculation. There’s even an attack on “characterization”: “Characterizations are subjective judgments we shouldn’t make. Our job is to report what people say or do.”
Even though her bio features a Bloombergian journo-rule — “Reporting what I know, not what I think.” — Jacobs is not above a spasm of loose Twitter commentary here and there. In September, for instance, she reacted to social-media reaction to a dress worn by Ivanka Trump on a trip to South America:
Wrong: The administration has no message. Trump says one thing in the morning; a staffer says something different in the afternoon; then Trump says a third thing on Twitter in the evening. As New York University’s Jay Rosen has pointed out, “There is no White House. Not in the sense that journalists have always used that term.”
This past August, Jacobs published the “scoop” that Trump would do a news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Group of Seven summit. When the White House later officially announced the event, Jacobs sent a reminder to her Twitter followers:
A former White House official expressed admiration for how Jacobs could take a “nugget of information” — like some details about a Chinese trade delegation negotiating with the United States — and surround it with context, recent history and atmospherics to make a bona fide story. “That was a unique characteristic to her that people liked. There’s a piece of news and it gets attention” because of the Jacobs treatment. Jacobs and others of her disposition, said the official, have earned a “benefit of the doubt ... by being fair that others have not.”
There is, indeed, a measure of enterprise in Jacobs’s archive: In October, Saleha Mohsin and Jacobs reported that Trump was “privately testing” a move to replace acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, a story that Trump himself attempted to repudiate on Twitter. She has a knack for stories about Trump initiatives that didn’t pan out, such as a plan to block undocumented children from accessing public schools, discussions in which Trump riffed about firing Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell after a December 2018 rate hike and an idea to reverse sanctions against Chinese companies that helped North Korea sidestep sanctions.
On balance, Jacobs provides about as sunny a look at Trump as you’ll see from a member of the mainstream media. In September 2017, Sean Spicer, the former White House press secretary, cited Jacobs on his list of good White House correspondents, along with Fox News’s John Roberts and Reuters’s Steve Holland. Most of the honorees worked for business-news outlets — no coincidence when considering that the economy has been a bright spot for the Trump White House.
For another perspective on the work of Jacobs and the Bloomberg White House team, let’s check in with the country’s most powerful media critic. In late August 2018, Jacobs and three of her colleagues reported that Trump favored tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports. Around that time, the Bloomberg team — including Jacobs — interviewed Trump, producing this exchange:
TRUMP: Did you just release a story…BLOOMBERG: … that you won’t go…TRUMP: … that I’m putting out $200 billion? Who was the genius that?BLOOMBERG: That was us.BLOOMBERG: Me. Am I wrong?TRUMP: Uh, I refuse to say. Not totally wrong. I can’t do that to you, Jennifer. That’s my Jennifer. You know how much I liked her when I first met her, then she started to kill me. But that’s actually not-- wasn’t your fault. It was somebody that you were dealing with that wasn’t so good. Right? I never blamed you for that. I know the good. But this one you like, right?
Bolding added to highlight unexplained weirdness. Bloomberg News declined to comment for this story.
The bizarre relationship between Trump world and Bloomberg News yields a few lessons:
One: It highlights the complications of hurling bias accusations at a news organization as sprawling as Bloomberg, which has approximately 2,700 journalists and analysts. The president and his aides, for example, appear to adore Jacobs’s day-to-day coverage. Yet Joshua Green of Bloomberg Businessweek, for instance, is journalism’s foremost chronicler of Stephen K. Bannon, the former campaign aide and White House adviser who famously preached staying the course in the aftermath of the “Access Hollywood” scandal in October 2016. David Kocieniewski has covered the conflicts of interest of White House adviser/Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. And Bloomberg Opinion has featured the work of such Trump critics as Timothy L. O’Brien (who has decamped to the Mike Bloomberg campaign) and Noah Feldman, the Harvard Law School professor who testified last year before the House Judiciary Committee in favor of Trump’s impeachment.
Two: The Trump campaign will have its hands full deciding which of these folks to stiff-arm and which to feed. A “case-by-case” policy for access involving an organization of thousands of journalists may quickly become a management problem for a president not known for his acumen in this area.
Three: Hidebound journalistic policy documents find their undoing in an aberrant presidency. The “Bloomberg Way” is no way at all. Chopping the Trump presidency into tweetable scooplets and placing Trump’s words alongside those of his critics with minimal mediation yields the impression of a White House doing business just as any White House has done business. It’s possible to read Jacobs’s Twitter feed and emerge unaware that Trump is a liar for the ages and that his policies barely exist.
When you prohibit publication of what you think, after all, you cannot say that the Trump administration’s disastrous response to Hurricane Maria was disastrous. Rather, you say that Trump “suffered criticism” for the response. You cannot highlight the hypocrisies of Trump Jr. in “Triggered.” You just say what the claims are and leave things there. You repeat Trump’s claim to have opposed the Iraq War:
Trump took credit for taking out ISIS leader al-Baghdadi, and also said "it turned out I was right" for opposing Iraq war.— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) October 27, 2019
But had unusual number of compliments: for US military, US intelligence, specific Cabinet members, the countries who let US military pass unimpeded. pic.twitter.com/dZ43Ey98N2
To do otherwise would require excessive “characterization.”