Bloomberg News allegedly killed a story about the wealth of Communist Party elites in China six years ago to appease the country, and then sought to silence both the reporter and his wife.
The publication not only successfully censored the story at the time, but also was able to silence all reporters involved in the story, according to NPR, who broke the story. Bloomberg News reportedly tried to keep one of the reporter’s wife silent as well.
“It has to be done with a strategic framework and a tactical method that is … smart enough to allow us to continue and not run afoul of the Nazis [China] who are in front of us and behind us everywhere,” Bloomberg’s founding editor-in-chief Matthew Winkler said in a 2013 phone call about whether to run the story, according to audio verified by NPR. “And that’s who they are. And we should have no illusions about it.”
Former Bloomberg Beijing correspondent Mike Forsythe was among a team of journalists that reported an award-winning investigation in 2012 on China’s ruling classes and specifically about how they acquired their wealth. Bloomberg News published this story despite warnings from the Chinese ambassador, according to NPR.
Forsythe and his wife, journalist Leta Hong Fincher, moved to Hong Kong after the 2012 investigation came out and receiving what they viewed as death threats. There, Forsythe and the team tried to further their 2012 investigation, this time focusing on Chinese leaders’ ties to Wang Jianlin, the nation’s wealthiest man.
Included in this new investigation was Chinese President Xi Jinping’s family, NPR reported.
The story never saw the light of day under Bloomberg News.
“Mike and some of the other reporters and editors who had been working on this story just were asking for answers about … why was this story killed?” Fincher said.
Bloomberg News Killed An Investigation of Chinese Ruling Elites And Fired Its Reporter.
Then It Sought To Silence The Reporter’s Wife.
My NPR story – including never before heard audio of Mike Bloomberg and former Bloomber News chief Matthew Winkler https://t.co/9Z0qd2WErh
— David Folkenflik (@davidfolkenflik) April 14, 2020
Winkler got involved in October 2013 after “radio silence” from Bloomberg News headquarters in New York City. Senior news executives and the China-based investigative team were on the private conference call, NPR reported.
Winkler admitted in the phone call that fear of backlash from China made the story not worth running, referring to the country as “Nazis.” (RELATED: ‘Try Tweeting Something Critical Of Chairman Xi’: Chinese Journalist Gets Annihilated For Calling Fake Trump Jr A Coward)
“It is for sure going to, you know, invite the Communist Party to, you know, completely shut us down and kick us out of the country,” Winkler said. “So, I just don’t see that as a story that is justified.”
“The inference is going to be interpreted by the government there as we are judging them. And they will probably kick us out of the country. They’ll probably shut us down, is my guess.”
When the story got shut down, two Bloomberg editors and Winkler said it needed more reporting, according to NPR. The audio recordings show that Bloomberg News was likely just worried about losing business in China, NPR reported.
NPR described how China made life difficult for the publication after its 2012 story was published. Chinese authorities reportedly “delayed visas for reporters” and made attempts to affect former New York City Mike Bloomberg’s main product.
“After the first investigative project ran in 2012, the Chinese authorities had searched Bloomberg’s news bureaus, delayed visas for reporters and ordered state-owned companies not to sign new leases for Bloomberg’s primary product: its terminals,” according to NPR.
“If Bloomberg makes its money on terminals, it gains prestige and greater name recognition from its news division. Many of its stories, predominantly on business and finance, appear first on the terminal. At the time the story was being pursued, China was seen as a growing market and a strategic priority, according to three former Bloomberg executives.”
Even Bloomberg, who was the mayor of New York City at the time, denied that the report had been squashed. Bloomberg had officially stepped back from the publication at the time, but was actually “in frequent contact and shared his aspirations for growth in China,” NPR reported.
“Nobody thinks we are wusses and not willing to stand up and write stories that are of interest to the public and that are factually correct,” Bloomberg first said about the story, according to NPR.
Bloomberg officially returned to the company two months later, his run as New York City mayor over. He appeared to change his original comments during a January 2014 town hall for the newsroom. Audio of Bloomberg’s comments were obtained by NPR.
“If a country gives you the license to do something with certain restrictions, you have two choices,” Bloomberg said in that meeting. “You either accept the license and do it that way, or you don’t do business there.”
Forsythe was suspended from Bloomberg News at the end of 2013 after being accused of spreading the internal conflicts around to other media outlets. Bloomberg News then fired Forsythe, and he was eventually hired by the New York Times.
Both Forsythe and his wife Fincher were pressured into signing a nondisclosure agreement. Forsythe signed, as did other journalists who were on the team. Bloomberg News also threatened lawsuits against Forsythe and Fincher, according to NPR.
“There was no reason why I should have to sign a nondisclosure agreement because I didn’t possess any damaging material about the company,” according to Fincher, who never signed the agreement.
Still, Bloomberg LP tried to pressure Fincher into signing the agreement and even promise that she would never criticize the company. Forsythe was also accused of stealing intellectual property and sharing it with his wife.
The company finally dropped their alleged harassment and attempts to censor after Fincher hired the Hong Kong lawyers who had represented journalist Edward Snowden. The NYT published Forsythe’s report that had been killed by Bloomberg News over a year later, in 2015.