- Dec 11, 2018
Six years ago, Bloomberg News killed an investigation into the wealth of Communist Party elites in China, fearful of repercussions by the Chinese government. The company successfully silenced the reporters involved. And it sought to keep the spouse of one of the reporters quiet, too.
Even so, the reporting team pursued the next chapter, focusing on Chinese leaders' ties 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.
In emails sent back to Bloomberg's journalists in China seen by Fincher, senior news editors in New York City expressed excitement.
And then: radio silence from headquarters. That story never ran.
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."
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."
In late 2013, Bloomberg News suspended Forsythe, accusing him of leaking word of the controversy to other news outlets. The company would later fire him. He soon landed at The New York Times.
Forsythe declined to comment for this story. In leaving the company, he signed a nondisclosure agreement that bars him from speaking publicly about his time at Bloomberg News. Others from the China investigative team would leave the company in the years that followed, each having first signed an agreement not to disparage the company. In at least one case, a journalist signed the nondisparagement deal in part to prevent the loss of a month's pay.
Bloomberg News Killed Investigation, Fired Reporter, Then Sought To Silence His Wife
The investigation into Chinese political elites would "wipe out everything we've tried to build there," Matthew Winkler, Bloomberg's editor-in-chief at the time, said on audiotape obtained by NPR.