Bloomberg News killed investigation into wealthy Chinese communists

NPR published a revealing story today about Bloomberg News, specifically it’s handling of a story which would have been critical of wealthy Chinese communists including Xi Jinping. Bloomberg killed the story over concern the entire news outlet would be kicked out of China if it were published. The story in question was actually a follow-up to a story published in 2012 which won the site awards. The follow-up gained steam in 2013 and suddenly the head office went silent. The story was killed and, officially, the excuse given was that it needed more reporting. But months later the editor-in-chief spelled out the real reason on a conference call:

Finally, 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.”…

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.”

The concern wasn’t merely that China could kick Bloomberg News out of the country but that it could take action against Mike Bloomberg’s other business interests which are the basis of his fortune. Mike Bloomberg was asked about the controversy in 2014 and said, “If a country gives you the license to do something with certain restrictions, you have two choices. You either accept the license and do it that way, or you don’t do business there.” That sounds a lot like the NBA’s approach to China, i.e. if they don’t want you to support human rights for Hong Kong you keep quiet about that particular issue.

It’s also pretty similar to what Bloomberg said after he announced his site would not be covering his own presidential run: “You just have to learn to live with some things.”

Bloomberg News suspended the reporter in 2013, “accusing him of leaking word of the controversy to other news outlets.” He was later fired and asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement. The company also demanded that the reporter’s wife sign a non-disclosure agreement:

Fincher is a former correspondent for CNBC and Voice of America. At the time, she was finishing up her doctorate at a Chinese university. She bristled at what the company’s lawyers were suggesting.

“They assumed that my husband would be able to silence me,” Fincher says. “He didn’t want to do that. That’s not the kind of relationship that we have.”

Fincher tells NPR she walked out of the conference room, took the elevator to the lobby, left the building and never returned. Bloomberg LP continued to press her.

The story that Bloomberg News killed, and the reporter who wrote it, eventually made their way to the NY Times. Fincher, the reporter’s wife, wrote about Bloomberg’s attempts to silence her for the Intercept. But the whole story does make you wonder what else Bloomberg News is not reporting for fear of offending authoritarian governments.