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Full Bloom

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The pervasive sense throughout these documents is of one man's notion of what it means to be No. 1 -- of the control he possesses, and the freedoms he's entitled to. It isn't real life -- it's life lived in a bubble, a bubble floated on inordinate cash flow.

Bloomberg has denied everything in the three lawsuits (although, according to the Daily News, he has admitted to "normal banter"). He told the News he took a polygraph, and that he passed it, but he's refused to release the details of the test. He gave a deposition in the Garrison suit. But by the terms of the settlement, the Bloomberg deposition was never made public and both sides agreed not to discuss anything relating to the suit.

One of the other suits, filed by Mary Ann Olszewski, was dismissed because of mistakes by the plaintiff's counsel (late filings among them). The third suit, by T. Diane Winger, has been dropped (Winger's husband also worked for Bloomberg, and was subsequently found to have embezzled money, which may or may not have been a factor in the disappearance of the case).

Let us assume that absolute truth is unknowable.

And yet what we have here fits. It sounds like Michael Bloomberg. It sounds like Wall Street. The charges are relentless and specific -- page after page of gross but nuanced relations between employer and employee.

In politics, all we customarily require is a smell test -- and that smell test is what, in politics, informs the character issue. What's more, there are three lawsuits here -- remember what only one did to Bill Clinton.

There are some people who say that even if much of this is true in substance, it's not true in tone -- that Bloomberg and his cronies operate with a certain sense of humor (and that the inherent problem of such legalistic testimony is that it turns the playful literal). This is banter. If Bloomberg is guilty of something, it's of being a lovable asshole, a charming dickhead.

Even if we accept that, it still doesn't explain why, among all politicians, Bloomberg has gotten the benefit of the doubt here. Such allegations -- indeed, far less credible allegations -- would customarily torpedo a political career. It is certainly possible to argue that politicians should get the benefit of the doubt more often then they do. But why has Michael Bloomberg been the lucky one?

These documents are freely available. I know that various reporters at the New York Times have them -- and have had them for months (Jonathan Landman, the Times Metro editor, refused to return phone calls to discuss the issue).

The Daily News, in fact, wrote a revealing story based upon these papers, focusing on the "Kill it" remark and using other vivid quotations. But still the story did not, in the media hierarchy, rise to the level of the character issue.

After the Daily News story, a Newsday reporter, James Madore, spent a few weeks looking for a new angle on it, but then, he says, he switched assignments and, he admits, the story seemed to have "fallen through the cracks."

Bloomberg has surely benefited from having the money to silence his adversaries -- by settling a lawsuit and demanding confidentiality agreements, he's able to exercise control of his own biography.

And there are those who would argue that his money and social standing give him a further sort of media inoculation -- he benefits from knowing the people who own the companies that publish or broadcast the news. But it may be, too, that at least up until now, he hasn't been taken seriously enough to be a genuine media target. After all, why undermine a political career that isn't going anywhere? The media may have a heart when it comes to a hopeless dreamer (even a rich one).

And yet that seems to assume that if Bloomberg fails in the upcoming election, this will be the end of him as a candidate. That view doesn't see this race as the first step in how a rich man builds a political career. Losing in 2001, losing by a large enough margin never to have really drawn the fire of the press, but spending enough to lose by a small enough margin to claim a respectable showing, is a way to launder your dirty linen (if it isn't a story now, the media isn't likely to make old news a story later) and take the next step in the political career you're determined to buy for yourself.

E-mail: michael@burnrate.com


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