Bloomberg editors and news executives prevented reporters from following up on an award-winning 2012 investigation into China’s wealthy elite over concerns that the Chinese Communist Party could retaliate by kicking the outlet out of the country, according to audio recordings obtained by NPR.
In late October 2013, Bloomberg’s founding editor-in-chief Matthew Winkler explained in a conference call with members of his China-based investigative team — which had been working for over a year on a story exposing the corruption surrounding Chinese President Xi Jinping and his family — that their efforts were not “justified.”
“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 explained in the recording, comparing the situation to Nazi-run Germany. “ . . . 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.”
At the time, Winkler publicly pushed back on claims that he was killing the story over fears of Chinese repercussions, telling The New York Times — which cited the call but did not report its exact contents — that “what you have is untrue. The stories are active and not spiked.”
The team, which included Mike Forsythe, a former Beijing correspondent for Bloomberg News who now works at The New York Times, had won a George Polk Award a year earlier for its reporting on the corrupt financial holdings of China’s ruling class. “We are grateful to be recognized by our peers for reporting that advanced the public interest by providing transparency in China,” Winkler said in a statement following the award.
Michael Bloomberg also responded to reports of the 2013 call while serving as New York City mayor, saying at a City Hall press conference. “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,” he stated.
But after he had left office two months later, Bloomberg admitted in a town hall for his global newsroom that the story was an example of “shoot the messenger.”
“If a country gives you the license to do something with certain restrictions, you have two choices,” Bloomberg told his staff in the January 2014 recording. “You either accept the license and do it that way, or you don’t do business there.”
He stood by his assessment in a May interview with CNBC. “In China, they have rules about what you can publish. We follow those rules. If you don’t follow the rules, you’re not in the country,” he said.
Bloomberg drew criticism during his 2020 presidential run for being reticent to criticize China out of a desire to protect his financial interests in the country. (Bloomberg’s main source of revenue, the sale of expensive financial terminals, is heavily dependent on access to the Chinese market.)
“This is the kind of stupid you can’t script,” Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) said in a statement after Bloomberg argued in a September interview that “Xi Jinping is not a dictator” and “the Communist Party wants to stay in power in China and they listen to the public.”
In the February Democratic debate, Bloomberg claimed India “is even a bigger problem” then China to the global effort to slow climate change, even as China remains the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide.