Six years ago, Bloomberg News quashed an investigation into China's wealthy elites over fears that the Chinese government would retaliate. Then the outlet fired one of the reporters involved and even attempted to silence his wife, NPR reported.
According to audio recordings obtained by NPR, in October 2013, Bloomberg News founding editor in chief Matthew Winkler told a team of reporters who were working on an exposé of the corrupt practices of China's ruling class that the story would be killed out of fear that Chinese officials would "shut us down and kick us out of the country."
"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, according to NPR, comparing the Chinese officials to the Nazis of World War II-era Germany. "So, I just don't see that as a story that is justified."
"The inference is going to be interpreted by the government there as we are judging them," Winkler added, again relaying his concerns. "And they will probably kick us out of the country. They'll probably shut us down, is my guess."
The China-based team of reporters included Mike Forsythe, an ex-Bejing correspondent for Bloomberg News who now works for the New York Times. Forsythe and other team members had already published an award-winning report on the corrupt accumulation of wealth by China's ruling class in 2012. And during the following year, they were working on a subsequent story that would tie top Chinese Communist Party officials — including the family of current President Xi Jinping — to the country's wealthiest man.
But the story never ran. According to NPR, two Bloomberg editors denied that the story was killed at the time, instead saying that the story needed additional reporting. Winkler toed the same line.
"The reporting as presented to me was not ready for publication," Winkler said to the Financial Times in November.
Shortly after the story was dropped, Bloomberg News fired Forsythe, accusing him of leaking about the controversy to other outlets. On his way out, he signed a nondisclosure agreement.
Then lawyers for Bloomberg News allegedly pressed Forsythe's wife, author and journalist Leta Hong Fincher, to sign a nondisclosure agreement, as well. She declined despite repeated attempts by Bloomberg lawyers to force the action. After she hired attorneys of her own, Bloomberg L.P. finally let it go.
"They assumed that because I was the wife of their employee ... I was just an appendage of their employee. I was not a human being," Fincher told NPR. "There was no reason why I should have to sign a nondisclosure agreement, because I didn't possess any damaging material about the company."
In 2013, Mike Bloomberg, who was mayor of New York City at the time, denied that the story was cut out of fear of repercussions from China.
"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 told Politico at the time.