In Vintage ’98 Footage, Mayor Bloomberg Praises Press and Predicts Media Meltdown

Mayor Bloomberg speaking at the 1998 National Press Foundation Awards dinner. (Photo: CSpan)

In the last two months, Mayor Bloomberg’s relationship with the media has become increasingly rocky as he drew criticism from news organizations and press advocacy groups for arresting reporters and restricting press access at the Occupy Wall Street protests. But before he was taking heat for his treatment of the press, Mayor Bloomberg was a media mogul who vigorously defended the rights of journalists.

In a nearly fourteen year old clip unearthed by The Politicker from CSpan’s voluminous archives, Mayor Bloomberg, who was at the time CEO the news company he founded, Bloomberg L.P., praised journalists as a global force for justice against evil politicians. He also gave a remarkably prescient prediction of the coming layoffs and technological changes facing the media. “We journalists are the ones that did bring down the evil empire, we are the ones charged with watching the watchers, we are the ones that opened China, we are the ones that have stopped genocide and starvation in many places in the world,” Mayor Bloomberg said.

Mayor Bloomberg’s handling of the Occupy Wall Street protests earned him rebukes from the New York Press Club Foundation and the Society of Professional Journalists. In his past life as a media mogul Mayor Bloomberg was feted rather than attacked by media trade groups. In February 1998, the National Press Foundation honored Mayor Bloomberg with a “Chairman’s Citation for Innovation in Journalism.” Mayor Bloomberg used his acceptance speech as an opportunity to praise the discipline of journalism while warning the reporters in the room to get their act together. He took the stage after a short clip produced by his staff that compared his rise to the fictional newspaper magnate in Orson Welles’ classic film “Citizen Kane” and lauded him as “the man who has barrelled his way down the information superhighway without ever seeming to pull off at a rest stop.”

Once the movie was over, Mayor Bloomberg began his speech by telling the members of the media in the audience, including such luminaries as Ted Koppel and Barbara Walters, that they needed to do a better job making people like them.

“Maybe we need some P.R. training. If you think about it, the public really doesn’t like us. We always measure down there with politicians and lawyers. That’s not where we want to be,” Mayor Bloomberg said. “Seriously, the rest of the world doesn’t care what we do. You don’t see the rest of the world manning barricades to defend the freedom of the press. The first amendement is an American thing, not just in law but  in concept as well. We have not done a good job of explaining to the public that we are all that stands between totalitarianism and democracy.”

Mayor Bloomberg identified an obsession with celebrity, sports and scandal as part of the reason for the poor public perception of journalists.

“Unfortunately, if you measure by inches or by minutes, what has happened is we’ve devoted our careers to following O.J. and two Michaels–Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson, and Diana and Monica,” he said.

Mayor Bloomberg urged the reporters in the room to do more to distinguish themselves from entertainment media and tabloid news.

“We need some marketing–better marketing. We have to figure out how we can convince the public that Oliver Stone is not a historian,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “Matt Drudge is not a reporter, Steven Spielberg is not a photographer showing us what really happened and Microsoft Word is just not an editor. I don’t care what anybody says.”

Mayor Bloomberg explained that earning public support was especially important because technological changes would make media competition especially fierce. He outlined a vision for the business’ future that included dead-on predictions of video on demand, multiplatform media outlets, interactive newspapers like The Daily and the waves of layoffs that subsequently rocked the journalism industry:

“Video on demand is coming whether you like it or not and it’s going to be very wrenching for everybody in this room, because the public is going to select the stories that they want to see. We’re not going to be able to force feed and, all of a sudden, we are going to have to compete in ways that we have never done before. Radio, television, newspapers, all these mediums are coming together. The newspaper of the future is going to be where you touch the picture and the picture turns into a television screen and you hear the sound. We as journalists are going to have to get out of thinking that we are print journalists or broadcast journalists that we work on the internet or we work on cable. The fact of the matter is, all of this keeps coming together and we are going to have to be much more competitive, much more flexible, much more willing to change. The world of the future requires different divisions and, if you in this room are not willing to change, you are not going to keep your jobs.”

Mayor Bloomberg told the audience assembled for his speech that half of them would be in danger of losing their jobs.

“The half of you in this room that are the better half; you’re going to have better jobs, people will be able to see your output, see the fruits of your labor,” Mayor Bloomberg said. “Unfortunately, the other half of you are going to be in real trouble.”

Mayor Bloomberg ended his speech by telling the members of the media in the audience that they need to live up to their “great legacy” if they want respect.

“We have a great legacy, we have a great responsibility and if we don’t go out and understand that and pull it all together we are not going to get the priveleges that we have come to expect,” said Mayor Bloomberg.

Perhaps this logic explains why the Bloomberg administration has battled over which members of the media actually should be entitled to city press credentials.

Watch Mayor Bloomberg’s vintage speech here. He comes on just shy of 36 minutes into the clip.

In Vintage ’98 Footage, Mayor Bloomberg Praises Press and Predicts Media Meltdown