campaign desk

More Candidate Bloomberg

NPR weighs in with absurd bingo report
January 18, 2008

How much larger and fruit-flavored can the Bloomberg for President bubble get? Evidence this morning came in the form of an NPR segment that was accompanied online by your very own “Candidate Bingo Card.” No, I’m not kidding. Robert Smith, the NPR reporter, sat in on the New York mayor’s State of the City address and instead of just analyzing it on its own merits insisted on…you know what? I’m too embarrassed to explain any further. I’ll let Smith do it:

I’m actually standing here in the hall and, you know, this speech can get a little dull, so I’ve made up something I call the candidate Bingo card. I put all the signs of the ways you can tell someone is running for president on this card. Things like, “mention the word ‘change,’ over and over again,” “quote John F. Kennedy excessively.” Now, as he speaks we’ll play along on this Bingo card.

Smith actually seemed to do this. You can hear Bloomberg droning behind him and then occasionally the reporter chiming in, “Did you catch that? He just promised a tax break. Mark it off on your Bingo cards,” or such incisive analysis as, “When a billionaire talks about helping the middle class, he may just be running for president.” Or he may just be—I don’t know—the mayor?

The whole exercise was pretty absurd, especially since Smith concluded that he couldn’t even mark off enough boxes on his card to call out “bingo.” Then he goes on to make the opposite argument, pointing out the signs that indicate the mayor is not running. And they turn out to be just as inane as the bingo boxes.

Smith says he’s been hanging with Bloomberg all week, examining his every move like a deck of tarot cards. “At a morning event, faced with a buffet full of sweets, did he grab a donut just to look like an average Joe?” Then the mayor himself is heard answering the important question of what he will have for breakfast. “I’m going to have an eighth of a pumpernickel bagel,” he answers, bewildered. Proof enough, says Smith, who then goes on to catalogue the measly two handshakes and one side-kiss doled out at an event. “He needs to shake twenty hands to be considered a viable candidate,” Smith tells us.

Now, at this point, toward the end of the five-minute segment, I was sure Smith was going to turn his little bingo game on its head and tell us this was all a joke. He does, kind of, but in the process also validates the gimmick and his reason for using it, landing on this note:

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[Bloomberg is] waiting for voters to get so tired of filling out their Bingo cards with all those typical politicians, that they beg for a candidate who plays a different game.

The fact that nobody seems to have gotten down on his knees yet, let alone begun “begging,” eludes him.

Once I was done listening to this, I stared for a few seconds at the front page of today’s New York Sun, house organ for the handful of Bloombergistas, where a picture of the mayor cradling a newborn baby in his arms at the close of his speech stared back at me (Smith, present at the moment, describe it thus: “Wait a minute. A mother with a small little baby is approaching the mayor and handing him the baby. He’s not kissing the baby, but he’s holding her up for the camera”). Besides the realization that I could mark off “Kiss Babies” on my bingo card, I wondered one thing: How stupid are journalists going to feel when it turns out Bloomberg isn’t bluffing, but actually means it when he says he’s not a candidate?

Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR and a writer and editor for the New York Times Book Review.