Mike Bloomberg’s soon-to-be-released FEC filing will reportedly show that he’s spent more than $400 million on his presidential campaign since he entered the race in November. Unless the campaign somehow overlooked expensing some debate coaching for the 78-year-old billionaire, a touch more of that $400 million probably should have been spent on preparation, or charisma boosters, or anything else that might have helped him weather he onslaught of attacks from his fellow candidates.
Bloomberg was hit from every direction, from just about every candidate. Elizabeth Warren attacked him over his treatment of women and racial discrimination. Bernie Sanders attacked him over his obscene wealth and Republican past. Joe Biden attacked him over the stop-and- frisk policy he instituted while serving as mayor of New York City. These were predictable attacks, but Bloomberg still stumbled through a series of unconvincing responses while literally rolling his eyes at the gall of his competitors.
The former mayor claimed victory on Twitter after the debate wrapped. Of course he did. That’s what candidates do. But his campaign’s efforts to spin his performance entered troubling territory on Thursday, when his account posted a video doctored to misrepresent how the other candidates responded when Bloomberg asked if anyone other than himself had started a business.
“I’m the only one here who I think has ever started a business,” Bloomberg says, as he did during the debate. “Is that fair?”
In reality, the question was followed a brief, unremarkable pause before Bloomberg continued talking. In the doctored video his campaign posted on Thursday, the candidates spend 20 seconds looking around bewildered, raising their hands and shuffling papers, as Bloomberg basks the fact that the five career politicians standing to his left didn’t moonlight as media moguls.
— Mike Bloomberg (@MikeBloomberg) February 20, 2020
Here’s what actually happened, courtesy of Bloomberg’s campaign:
Entrepreneurs are an essential part of the economy. Mike is the only candidate to have started a business.
— Team Bloomberg (@Mike2020) February 20, 2020
What’s the harm, you might ask? The campaign overlaid the sound of crickets chirping. It’s just a joke, right? Sure, but there are people who see this who will think it’s real, just as there were undoubtedly plenty of President Trump’s Twitter followers who were duped last month by a video doctored to make it seem like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ripped up her copy of Trump’s State of the Union address in response to Trump honoring military families. This kind of disinformation — posted in jest, as the campaigns will say — is a slippery slope. Both Facebook and Twitter rejected a request from Pelosi to have the misleading video taken down, setting a precedent for Bloomberg’s campaign to doctor a video in a similar fashion, which will further embolden Trump, Bloomberg, and whichever other campaigns are comfortable stooping to this level to normalize this type of reality distortion to do just that.
As with Trump, Bloomberg’s appeal hinges on obfuscating the truth about his actions and his values, and his campaign will spare no expense in flooding the airwaves and social media networks in an effort to recast his abysmal performance Wednesday night as a victory. As Warren told CNN following the debate: “I have no doubt that coming off that debate stage that Michael Bloomberg is reaching in his pocket and dropping another $100 million in advertising across this country just to try to erase the memory of what happened on that debate stage.”
The doctored video he tweeted out Thursday morning may be only the beginning.