"Oligarch" Bloomberg airs ad attacking online vulgarity — and progressives strike back

Mike Bloomberg launches ad aimed at Bernie Sanders supporters — whom Chuck Todd compares to Nazi "brown shirts"

Published February 18, 2020 6:00AM (EST)

Michael Bloomberg   (AP/Thibault Camus)
Michael Bloomberg (AP/Thibault Camus)

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Former New York mayor and current billionaire Mike Bloomberg's 2020 Democratic presidential campaign on Monday released a nearly minute-long ad decrying online behavior from ostensible supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign, a move that earned Bloomberg pushback from progressives who cited the businessman's long history of bigoted, offensive statements and behavior. 

"I guess Bloomberg isn't done beating up on Black and Brown people," tweeted Sanders campaign press secretary Briahna Joy Gray in a reference to both the senator's multiracial coalition and Bloomberg's tenure as New York's mayor. 

The ad targeted left-leaning social media users unhappy with Bloomberg's entry into the race and the billionaire's past. 

Bloomberg has already spent more than $350 million of his own money on the race — a pittance of the $61.8 billion fortune estimated by Forbes. The billionaire is focusing his energy on the Super Tuesday contests on March 3, and is pulling out all the stops for a good showing in the 14 states that vote that day (along with American Samoa and Democrats Abroad). This scheme is seen by observers as aimed more at stopping Sanders or fellow progressive White House hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., from raising taxes on the one percent. 

"Michael, you are an oligarch investing $1 billion so you won't have to pay $3.56 billion in taxes under Warren and Sanders," said progressive radio host Benjamin Dixon. "You also know you're willing to lose to Trump and your run for president will still be a good investment."

Monday's ad came after extensive handwringing over Sanders supporters in the media as the Vermont senator racked up popular vote wins in Iowa and New Hampshire and drew record crowds around the country. On Feb. 10, the day before the New Hampshire primary, MSNBC host Chuck Todd referred to supporters of Sanders, who lost family in the Holocaust, as "brown-shirts." The strategy may not be working, as at least one New Hampshire voter reported voting for Sanders as a direct result of MSNBC attacks. 

In reality, said Intercept journalist Glenn Greenwald, there's no comparison between mean tweets and the harm Bloomberg has done over his career. 

"Speaking for myself, I'd rather be insulted on Twitter by random, anonymous users (something that has happened often from non-Sanders-supporters) than subjected to stop-and-frisk, workplace harassment, indiscriminate Israeli bombing, mass surveillance, and other Bloomberg policies," Greenwald said.

Social media users pointed to Bloomberg's history with women and abuse, noting that the billionaire has settled 40 cases of sexual harassment and discrimination from 64 women over the course of his career. 

"This ad but instead it's 64 screenshots of all of Bloomberg's sexual harassment settlements," said progressive activist Alex Thorne.

New York Times opinion writer Liz Bruenig wondered about the relative scale of harassment.

"Mike Bloomberg allegedly told a pregnant woman to 'kill [her baby],' and suggested that a computer program that can perform oral sex could replace his female employees," tweeted Bruenig. "So sorry his comms team had to see some rude tweets, though. Must've been hard."

The former mayor's critics also noted Bloomberg's documented friendship with pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, who died in a Manhattan jail cell in August 2019, and with Ghislaine Maxwell, the alleged "madame" who solicited children for Epstein and his wealthy friends to abuse. Bloomberg's personal information was in Epstein's "little black book" and the billionaire was photographed with Maxwell in 2013. 

Center for Media and Democracy journalist Alex Kotch said that while Bloomberg represents a threat to progressives, ultimately his attempts to buy the election will fall flat. 

"The bottom line is that Bloomberg is a former GOP oligarch who has said and implemented far worse things than the random Twitter accounts and Dems will not go for it," said Kotch.

By Eoin Higgins

Eoin Higgins is a journalist in New England. He writes the Flashpoint newsletter.

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