Bloomberg News, owned by Michael Bloomberg who dropped out of US presidential rest after spending almost $1 billion in a bid for Democratic presidential nomination, had killed an investigation into the wealth of Chinese Communist Party leaders, using the now well known notorious non-disclosure agreements that the company forces its employees to sign. Fearing retaliation by Beijing, the publication even tried to get the wife of one of the journalists to sign a non-disclosure agreement, even though she was not associated with them.
According to a report by NPR, Bloomberg was successful in silencing the reporters who were doing the investigative report six years ago. Journalist Mike Forsythe, the former Beijing correspondent for Bloomberg News, was doing a follow-up story on an award-winning report done in 2012 into the accumulation of wealth by China’s ruling classes. The Chinese ambassador had warned Bloomberg against publishing the report, but Bloomberg had ignored that warning and published the report titled Xi Jinping Millionaire Relations Reveal Fortunes of Elite in June 2012.
After the report was published, Forsythe had received messages through other journalists which he and his wife had considered as death threats. Due to that, Forsythe and his family moved to Hong Kong, believing it to be safer than mainland. Even after that, he and his team continued on working on the next part of the report, focusing on relations between Chinese leaders and China’s richest man Wang Jianlin. They had also started looking into the family of new Chinese President Xi Jinping.
According to NPR, while the senior Bloomberg editors in New York showed excitement over the report earlier, suddenly there was complete radio silence from them. The story was never published by Bloomberg.
In October 2013, Bloomberg’s founding editor-in-chief Matthew Winkler revealed the reason in a private conference call with senior executives at New York and the investigative team in China, audio of which have been accessed by NPR. “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 had said. “So, I just don’t see that as a story that is justified,” he had informed the team in China.
He had expressed great apprehension about the consequences of publishing the report as it would link the Chinese Community Party leaders with the Country’s wealthiest man. “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,” Winkler had said predicting the likely Chinese reaction if the story was published.
The fear of China
The fear of the Bloomberg was real, as after the first story was published in 2012, Chinese authorities had searched Bloomberg’s news bureaus in the country, delayed visas for reporters and ordered state-owned companies not to sign new leases for Bloomberg’s terminals, which is the main product of the company. Terminals are the primary source of revenue for Bloomberg, as subscribers pay more than $20,000 per year for the data service that provides real-time financial data, news0 feeds, messages, besides facilitating the placement of financial transactions.
At that time, Mike Bloomberg was the mayor of New York City, and theoretically was not controlling the company. But in reality, was in frequent contact with the executives and he had shared his aspirations for growth in China. Reacting to an earlier report by New York Times report in 2013 about Bloomberg shelving the report on Chinese leadership, Michael Bloomberg had denied it. He had said that he was not involved with running the publication at that time, and he had been told that the accusations are not correct. But later when he re-joined the company after his term as mayor ended, he had said to his staff, “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.”
The journalist’s wife
Later in 2013, Mike Forsythe was suspended by Bloomberg, accusing him of leaking the story about the publication killing the China report, and later fired him. At the time of leaving the company, he had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which forbids him from speaking publicly about his time at the Bloomberg News. Forsythe joined the New York Times after that. Others in the Chinese team also left Bloomberg gradually, each signing similar agreements. But the lawyers of the company had even pressurised Forsythe’s wife Leta Hong Fincher, who is also a journalist, to sign a nondisclosure agreement. They also threatened that Forsythe and Fincher will have to pay back the tens of thousands of dollars which was spent on moving the family to Hong Kong following the death threats.
Fincher told NPR that she had no reason to sign the NDA, as she didn’t have damaging material about the company. Even after she said that she does not have any material, the company’s lawyer had questioned about “all the evidence that’s in her head?” The agreement that the company was trying to persuade her to sign included a promise to never criticise the company or its officials. After Fincher had hired a pair of elite lawyers in Hong Kong, the company relented and stopped asking for her to sign the agreement.
The non-disclosure agreements that many women were made to sign at Bloomberg had come to forefront during the Democratic primaries, when Mike Bloomberg’s rival Elizabeth Warren had raised the issue during debates. Soon after that, Mike dropped out of the Democratic primaries.
It may be noted Bloomberg has a partnership with Raghav Bal’s Quintillion Media, who run the Quint.