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Bloomberg included an editor’s note in their Supply Chains newsletter on Wednesday to disclose that the author’s family had been quoted in the piece, and to apologize for not initially disclosing upon publication. The note clarified that Bloomberg’s disclosure policy “is to disclose any real or perceived conflicts of interest.” That’s all well and good; mistakes and oversights happen and the right thing to do is fix and own them. But that stands in stark contrast to how the outlet treats former Treasury Secretary and current regular Bloomberg talking head Larry Summers. His financial interests are both wide and adjacent to the economic policy and issues he regularly discusses with Bloomberg and BloombergTV.
Summers has been tied to numerous fintech companies, particularly in the payment processing and cryptocurrency spaces. We raised the issue of these conflicts last summer in an open letter to Harvard President Lawrence Bacow (Summers’ boss) and the top editors of The Washington Post and Bloomberg, the outlets which platform Summers most. (We never heard back.) We’re glad to see Bloomberg practicing good disclosure, but are alarmed that it seems to be applied so haphazardly. In fact, the failure to apply such standards to the most prominent and prolific contributors could actually make things worse.
And Summers frequently comments on things that directly impact the companies he works with. For instance, he called for a bailout for Silicon Valley Bank, which helped keep a wave of bankruptcies from rolling over the fintech industry he’s so invested in. In fact, a company that he has ties to, crypto firm Circle, had over $3 billion in uninsured deposits. Summers went on BloombergTV and called for a company he works with to be reimbursed for billions of dollars without ever being identified as someone with skin in the game.
Introducing Summers as a Harvard professor and former Treasury Secretary, while omitting all of his sundry ties to corporations, functionally launders his punditry. Omitting his ties establishes him as a neutral, above-the-fray expert and sweeps aside his own financial interests. If less well known authors are made to disclose potential conflicts, that only widens the reputational gap between major contributors like Summers and other writers and pundits. Allowing Summers to opt out of basic disclosure practices only puts him on an even higher pedestal, beyond the reach of reproach or journalistic ethics.