The National Press Club Journalism Institute asked all presidential candidates to respond to the same series of questions about press freedom, which appear below with responses from the campaign of presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg.
Michael Bloomberg served three terms as mayor of New York City, from 2002 to 2013. He announced his candidacy for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in November of 2019.
He is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, a financial services, software and mass media company. While Bloomberg’s media business interest distinguishes him from the rest of the presidential field, it also has drawn attention for the decision by Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait to continue its practice of not investigating Bloomberg and to extend that policy to other Democratic candidates during the presidential contest. The company, however, has said it would publish investigative stories or summaries from other news outlets.
Amid newspaper closures, allegations of fake news and politically polarized views of journalism, do you believe the president has a role in restoring faith in the concept of a free press? How?
Yes. As the founder and majority owner of one of the world’s largest and most respected news organizations, Mike intimately understands the power and value of a free press. He believes the U.S. president should be a firm and outspoken champion of the Fourth Estate — not just because independent journalism makes our own country stronger, but because a free media is one of the key (and, importantly, bipartisan) values that set us apart from our rivals abroad. Rather than undermining the legitimacy of the press as President Trump has sought to do at every turn, Mike would work to remind all Americans of the value of the institution to our democracy.
With press freedoms increasingly under attack around the world, how will you use diplomatic tools to promote a free press across the globe? Would your administration continue to do business with governments that jail or condone the murder of journalists?
Right now, Bloomberg News is vigorously defending two of its journalists who are under criminal indictment in Turkey. Mike would certainly encourage U.S. diplomats to make freedom of the press a key point of advocacy in all our bilateral relationships. In a Bloomberg administration, support for freedom of expression will be part of every relationship we have with every government around the world.
Under the last two administrations, the Justice Department has prosecuted an unprecedented number of journalistic sources as if they were spies. Should providing classified information to the media be treated the same way as information that is transmitted to hostile governments or bad actors?
There are laws that govern the treatment of classified information. They are intended to protect national security. They should be sufficient to prosecute violators. These may be crimes, but a wise and informed process should be able to distinguish them from espionage.
Given efforts by federal agencies and the Supreme Court to limit information available to the public through the Freedom of Information Act, how would you approach the public dissemination of taxpayer financed information? Do you pledge to make public all data that underlie policy proposals or changes?
Bloomberg LP was founded and continues to be run on several key values—among the most important of which is transparency. Bloomberg News reports off information obtained through FOIA requests all the time; indeed, the organization successfully sued the Federal Reserve and took the case all the way to the Supreme Court in order to force the Fed to disclose important information about its activities during the financial crisis. My administration would honor the spirit of FOIA and release as much information as possible within that tradition.
Under guidelines adopted in 2013 by then-Attorney General Holder, the attorney general must approve any federal law enforcement action directed at journalists, including their detention or efforts to compel production of reporting materials. DOJ attorneys also must notify journalists before seeking access to their records held by third party vendors. Would you abide by the so-called Holder rules? How, if at all, would you change them?
Yes, a Bloomberg administration would abide by them.
Forty-nine states have media shield laws, either in statute or case law, designed to protect reporters from having to reveal sources or divulge reporting information to government officials. Would you support adoption of a federal shield law? What limitations would you place on such a statute?
Having a federal shield law would necessarily involve the government in making decisions about who is and isn’t a journalist, which seems unwise. At the same time, Mike understands that protecting sources is a critical part of a journalist’s job and would work to ensure that that right is protected.
Will you ensure that division and agency heads, scientists and researchers, and other federal employees are free to speak with journalists, and are encouraged to do so? How?
Mike would not create unnecessary barriers to officials being transparent with the American people. His strategy has always been to hire good people and give them the tools to do their jobs well. He would trust department heads to decide who should be speaking for their agencies.
In New York Times v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court established that to win a defamation case public officials and public figures must prove information was published “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard for the truth.” Do you consider this decision settled law?
Yes, this precedent is adequate and fair.
Austin Tice, a journalist and veteran Marine Corps captain, was captured in Syria in 2012. The US government believes he is alive and being held by an affiliate of the Syrian government. He is the only US journalist in foreign captivity. What steps would you take to secure his release?
In any such situation, a Bloomberg administration would do everything within its power to support families, employers and others seeking the release of hostages, and would use all the diplomatic tools at its disposal to bring them home. Humanitarian considerations will always be the first concern in such cases.
Should journalists who have been threatened for their work in their home countries be able to seek U.S. asylum, and live in this country without fear of detention while their asylum cases are adjudicated?
Yes. The U.S. has always been a haven for the persecuted and should continue to be so.
Do you pledge to hold regular presidential press conferences? How often? And will you restore regular White House briefings? Similarly, how often should the State Department and Defense Department hold press briefings?
Yes, Mike believes the American people should hear regularly from their government and especially their elected leaders. As mayor of New York, he held three to four press briefings a week and taped a weekly radio show. As president, when there is news of national import, he will go before the cameras. A Bloomberg administration would restore regular and frequent White House briefings, and reinstate the daily briefings at the State Department and Pentagon.
Please place a check mark next to the three issues raised in the questions above that you consider most important.
- Holding regular press conferences and briefings
- Asylum protections for persecuted journalists
- Freeing journalist and Marine veteran Austin Tice
- Status of defamation case law
- Permitting government employees to speak to journalists
- Federal media shield law
- ✓ Protecting journalists / Holder Rule
- Expanding access through Freedom of Information Act
- Protecting journalistic sources from prosecution
- ✓ Ensuring press freedoms globally
- ✓ Restoring faith in a free press
Nisid Hajari, a Bloomberg policy adviser, responded to these questions on the campaign’s behalf.
Disclosure: Bloomberg Philanthropies is a donor to the National Press Club and the NPC Journalism Institute.