Report: Bloomberg News Killed Investigation Into Chinese Elites Because Execs Worried About Losing Business in China

By A.J. Katz 

“Bloomberg News Killed Investigation, Fired Reporter, Then Sought to Silence His Wife.”

That’s the title of an NPR piece that published yesterday and seemingly got lost in the breaking news shuffle. But it shouldn’t have.

According to NPR’s David Folkenflik, six years ago, Bloomberg News killed the second part of investigation into the wealth of Communist Party elites in China, fearful of blowback by the Chinese government. The company went on to silence the reporters involved, and also tried to keep the wife of one of the reporters quiet.

“They assumed that because I was the wife of their employee, I was the wife,” the author and former CNBC and VOA journalist Leta Hong Fincher told NPR. “I was just an appendage of their employee. I was not a human being.”

Fincher is married to the journalist Mike Forsythe, a former Beijing correspondent for Bloomberg News who now works at The New York Times. In 2012, Forsythe was part of a Bloomberg News team behind an investigation into the accumulation of wealth by China’s elites.

Acccording to NPR, the Chinese ambassador warned Bloomberg executives against publishing the investigation. But Bloomberg News published Part 1 of the investigation anyway. Afterward, Forsythe received what he and Fincher considered death threats relayed through other journalists. He and Fincher moved their family from Beijing to Hong Kong, fearing for their lives.

The Bloomberg reporters then focused their investigations into those connected to the country’s richest man, Wang Jianlin. Among those in the reporters’ sights: the family of new Chinese president Xi Jinping. The story gained steam throughout 2013, but it never ran.

What happened?

Folkenflik writes:

In late October 2013, Bloomberg’s famously intense founding editor-in-chief, Matthew Winkler, weighed in, via a private conference call. In attendance: senior news executives in New York and the China-based investigative team. NPR has obtained audio of Winkler’s remarks on the call.

“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.”

He expressed great apprehension because of the potential consequences of publishing another investigation. In this case, it was one that would itemize the links between top Chinese Communist Party leaders and the country’s wealthiest man.

Winkler returned to those fears repeatedly. “The inference is going to be interpreted by the government there as we are judging them,” Winkler said. “And they will probably kick us out of the country. They’ll probably shut us down is my guess.”

Winkler suggested reporters could find a uniquely “Bloomberg” way to cover the wealth of Chinese ruling elites. But he added a caution about covering the regime.

“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 who are in front of us and behind us everywhere,” Winkler said, according to the audio reviewed by NPR and verified by others. “And that’s who they are. And we should have no illusions about it.”

At the time, two Bloomberg editors told NPR the story didn’t run because it needed additional reporting. Winkler said the same. However, audio that Folkenflik obtained revealed something different. They also show how much newsroom leaders were worried about losing lucrative business in China.

Have a listen:

Forsythe was eventually fired by Bloomberg after the company accused him of leaking information regarding the investigation and Winkler’s decision to kill the story to other news outlets. In addition to his wife, Forsythe was also asked to sign an NDA, which prohibits him from speaking about his tenure at Bloomberg News. Forsythe signed the NDA, while Fincher did not.

Fincher wrote a piece about the incident recently for The Intercept, influenced to do so as a result of Mike Bloomberg‘s exchange with Elizabeth Warren over NDAs at Bloomberg LP at a Democratic debate in February. (Fincher was a supporter of Warren’s presidential bid.)

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