When Donald Trump’s campaign erupted against Bloomberg News’ decision not to investigate its owner or his 2020 Democratic rivals, vowing to deny the organization credentials, it put the 2,700-person news behemoth in an unfamiliar position.
While the president has called White House reporters from CNN and The New York Times “rude,” terrible,” and “third-rate,” he’s more favorably referred to a Bloomberg News journalist as “my Jennifer.”
Jennifer Jacobs, the senior White House reporter for Bloomberg News, is seen within the press corps as having one of the best relationships with Trump and his staff. However, the Trump campaign’s edict against Bloomberg News reporters could have a serious impact on its White House coverage as well, since Bloomberg reporters follow Trump to campaign events as part of the White House press pool.
In conversations with POLITICO, some reporters suggested Jacobs is too chummy with the White House, resulting in quick scoops on internal maneuverings.
Other White House reporters see Jacobs’ stories as stemming from hustle and source-building. In recent months, Jacobs has reported on possible personnel shake-ups, Trump altering a hurricane map, and how the White House considered keeping migrant children out of schools.
One point of agreement among White House reporters speaking to POLITICO is that Jacobs would be an unexpected choice for Trump or his campaign to make an example of in terms of curtailing access, unlike more combative reporters such as CNN’s Jim Acosta or Playboy’s Brian Karem.
A Bloomberg News spokesperson declined an interview request on Jacobs’ behalf.
Before joining Bloomberg News, Jacobs found herself the target of one of Trump’s media broadsides. “The Des Moines Register is the worst,” Trump said in Dec. 2015. “You have some reporter named Jacobs. She is the worst.”
Trump had been angered by a poll and an editorial in The Des Moines Register, where Jacobs then worked as chief politics writer. “It was my first exposure to Donald Trump’s frustration with the media, which still plays out today and is amplified to the max,” she recently told Iowa’s Quad City Times.
Jacobs, who joined Bloomberg News in March 2016 to cover the presidential campaign and later the White House, told the paper that Trump has “been mad at me on and off.”
“He’ll be critical of some of my reporting and freezes me out for a period of time,” she said. “There’s this zigzag, yo-yo effect, where I’m never sure if he’s happy to see me or mad. He can get very sensitive, very thin-skinned.”
Trump appeared friendly with Jacobs when he sat down last year with her, reporter Margaret Talev, who has since moved to Axios, and Bloomberg News editor-in-chief John Micklethwait for an Oval Office interview last year. When asked about China tariffs, the subject of a recent Bloomberg story, Trump said he wouldn’t say if the reporting was “totally wrong.”
“I can’t do that to you, Jennifer. That’s my Jennifer,” Trump said.
“You know how much I liked her when I first met her, then she started to kill me,” Trump told the journalists, according to a transcript published by Bloomberg. “But that’s actually not — wasn’t your fault. It was somebody that you were dealing with that wasn’t so good. Right? I never blamed you for that.”
Trump did fault Bloomberg News journalists for the leak of off-the-record comments he made that day about trade negotiations with China. Daniel Dale, who reported on the remarks for the Toronto Star, said the journalists interviewing Trump were not his source.
Jacobs isn’t alone on the Bloomberg White House beat, which also includes reporters Jordan Fabian, Josh Wingrove, Mario Parker, and Justin Sink, who traveled this week with Trump on his trip to London.
Beyond last year’s “off the record” kerfuffle, the relationship has appeared solid and White House reporters remain skeptical that a Bloomberg News reporter would not be permitted to travel with the president to Tuesday’s rally in Hershey, Pa., as part of the White House pool. (Tim Murtaugh, director of communications for Trump’s campaign, said a decision would be made before the next rally).
For one thing, pool reporters do not apply for press credentials with the campaign to attend events. They are also screened separately by the Secret Service as they travel with the president.
And while restrictions on campaign access are rarely met with collective action — as evident during the 2016 election, when Trump’s team refused credentials to numerous outlets — news organizations are known to push back aggressively when the White House excludes specific outlets from availabilities open to others.
Micklethwait defended Bloomberg News this week, saying the outlet has covered Trump “fairly and in an unbiased way since he became a candidate in 2015 and will continue to do so.” New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet said his paper condemned “any action that keeps quality news media from reporting fairly and accurately on the presidency,” though there hasn’t been any industrywide backlash to the Trump campaign’s new policy.
Bloomberg News has since continued covering the 2020 race, with reporter Jennifer Epstein scooping Wednesday morning on Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s tax proposals, while Joe Weisenthal interviewed Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Bloomberg TV, where she accused Michael Bloomberg of trying to buy the presidency.
Still, there’s unease among journalists over Bloomberg News’ restriction on initiating investigations of Michael Bloomberg, a longstanding company policy that’s been extended to the Democratic field. Newsrooms generally balk at prohibitions on aggressively covering ownership and journalists see Micklethwait’s decision as giving Trump an easy opening to accuse the media of a double standard.
“We know they’re cracking down on the press,” one White House reporter told POLITICO, “and I have so much respect for the people at Bloomberg and the work that they do, even as I recognize that they have a unique conflict right now.”
But, the reporter added, “This is an example of pulling the weak wildebeest out of the pack because they know it’s a trickier thing for us to stand up against.”