It is like something out of a sci-fi/horror film. A huge corporation gets over 300,000 computer terminals into the offices of the most powerful people in the worlds of finance, politics, media, and even the Vatican. Then this huge corporation uses those terminals to snoop on its unsuspecting subscribers. And now we know that this nightmare began during the watch of Michael Bloomberg, who is now the mayor of New York.
Monday morning, Bloomberg News editor-in-chief Matthew Winkler confessed to almost everything in an editorial. Yes, Winkler admits, Bloomberg News reporters have been snooping into the activities of Bloomberg Terminal subscribers. And yes, the snooping included contact information, log-in information, and what their clients searched for (in other words: what they were interested in). Other outlets have reported that the snooping included chats between subscribers and customer service representatives.
Winkler also admits that this indefensible behavior was used by Bloomberg News reporters to hunt for scoops. For example, if an executive at a top financial firm hadn’t logged on in a while, that might tell a reporter that this individual is no longer employed, sick, or sleeping at his desk. Apparently, Bloomberg News used this secret information to break the news about a recent trading loss that cost Goldman Sachs billions.
But another key point Winkler makes is this…
Why did reporters have access to this in the first place? The recent complaints go to practices that are almost as old as Bloomberg News. Since the 1990s, some reporters have used the terminal to obtain, as the Washington Post reported, “mundane” facts such as log-on information.
That means that this behavior started on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s watch. Bloomberg, of course, is the founder of the Bloomberg empire that thus far has made him a billionaire 25 times over. After he became mayor of New York in 2001, Bloomberg kept his financial stake in the company but stopped running the day-to-day operations.
Prior to 2001, though, Bloomberg was CEO of Bloomberg LP, which includes both the Bloomberg Terminal business and Bloomberg News.
So what exactly did Mayor Bloomberg know and when did he know it?
We know from his reign as Mayor that Bloomberg’s natural tendencies run towards his unmistakable belief that he has the right to govern and micro-manage other people’s lives. His nanny-mentality has infected everything from food to how the police, well, police. For instance, the Mayor is a big fan of surveillance cameras.
We also know, courtesy of The New York Times, that the spying was an institutional and systemic part of the culture at Bloomberg News. If the Times is correct, this spying wasn’t being done by a rogue few; it was an informal part of the training process and a regular part of discussion in the newsroom.
Though this scandal is only 72 hours old, it is already long past time for the media and the Feds to ask Mayor Bloomberg what he did or did not know about it.
Mayor Bloomberg has apologized, but only in the most generic of ways.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC