The external review into how Bloomberg News staffers used and misused confidential client data available on Bloomberg LP terminals in their reporting turned up few if any surprises and effectively puts the mini-scandal to bed.
If anything, the belt-and-suspenders review—conducted by a flying squadron of lawyers and consultants, along with a journalistic wiseperson or two—will only reaffirm Bloomberg’s standing as the most tightly-wound news operation on the face of the earth.
The flap highlights the power of Bloomberg’s famous terminal, which provides access to massive amounts of financial and other data, as well as an unnerving amount of information about the people who use the terminals themselves. One of the founding ideas and hallmarks of the company has been an emphasis on transparency—from the see-through design of its glass tower on Lexington Avenue to the open format of its offices to its computer system, where employees can see who
was late for work by checking when their colleagues “badged in” to the office [UPDATE: I’m told the system no longer has that feature] else is logged on, among other things.
The company’s business-side had long used such information—about what functions clients were using, what news stories were popular, etc.—to figure out how to improve the “box,” particularly what other information to put in it. The trouble is, clients, mostly Wall Street and other big financial concerns, had had reasonable expectations that some things would be private and not used for newsgathering, including information about when they were logged in, what questions they had asked the Bloomberg helpdesk, and what terminal functions they were using (e.g. bond indexes).
And if you’re wondering, this was not, and never was, about whether reporters could see specifically what clients were reading. They couldn’t and didn’t.
The problems surfaced in April, when a Bloomberg reporter called Goldman Sachs in Hong Kong asking if one its employees had left the company, basing the question on the fact that the employee hadn’t logged on for a while. Goldman promptly complained. In May, the New York Post broke the story of the complaint and the news that Bloomberg in the interim had restricted reporters’ access such information.
As Ryan Chittum noted, some of the commentary bordered on the hysterical, with some asserting that Bloomberg’s peeking at limited data on its own system was comparable, and maybe even worse, than the NewsCorp. hacking scandal. Hah.
Read Ryan for the full debunking, but it shouldn’t be so hard to see the distinction between missteps, like reading a help-desk chat on the system that your company owns, and actual crimes, including hacking the phones of missing children, hiring private detectives, including literally a murder suspect, to do the hacking and otherwise obtain information from blagging, aka, fraud, bribing police, intimidating politicians and more.
But what’s even more important: Bloomberg’s response to a brewing scandal was the polar opposite of News Corp.’s
I think it was a mistake for Bloomberg to have hired Promontory Financial Group as one of the main outside investigators. Promontory’s brazen hiring of Mary Schapiro, one of a string of outgoing government financial officials, made Promontory a watchword for the revolving-door ethics that afflict Washington regulatory culture, a much more serious problem in the scheme of things than anything Bloomberg is found to have done. Ethical admonitions from Promontory can only ring hollow.
But still, compare all that to News Corp. People think of the hacking scandal as having erupted in 2011, when the Guardian broke the story that News Corp. had hacked the voicemail of Milly Dowler, the then-missing 13-year-old who later turned up murdered.
But actually the affair dates to 2006, when Clive Goodman, who covered the royals for News Corp.’s News of the World tabloid, was arrested for hacking into the phone records of three royal family staffers. Goodman went to prison, but it took years—and years—to overcome a series of concerted attempts by top News Corp. officials to cover up—and there is no other word for it—the extent of the criminality. News Corp., remember, conducted what it said was a full inquiry into the matter and concluded that Goodman was the only journalist involved. A top News Corp. official, Les Hinton, said the same thing in testimony before Parliament, one of many such assertions up and down the company. He also participated in an inquiry by a self-regulatory body, the Press Complaints Commission, that also turned up nothing and in the process destroyed its own reputation.
Later we learned of possible destruction of documents, big payoffs to hacking victims in return for their silence, and much more. Read Ryan on “News Corp.’s cover-up culture.”
Only this week that we learned the UK police are now investigating the relevant News Corp. unit as a “corporate suspect,” with far-reaching implications.
Bloomberg doesn’t necessarily deserve a good-conduct medal for its response to the snooping allegations. It correctly perceived the dangers the matter posed to its own franchise and recognized the imperative to get to the bottom of it—all the way to the bottom—and quickly.
But the contrast to News Corp. is stark—black and white—and a reminder of what a a real rogue media company looks like.Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman. Tags: Bloomberg News, Bloomberg snooping, hacking, News Corp.