Bloomberg News Suspends Reporter Whose Article on China Was Not Published

Bloomberg News Suspends Reporter Whose Article on China Was Not Published (New York Times, Nov 17, 2013):

BEIJING — A reporter for Bloomberg News who worked on an unpublished article about China, which employees for the company said had been killed for political reasons by top Bloomberg editors, was suspended last week by managers.

The reporter, Michael Forsythe, was based in Hong Kong and has written award-winning investigative articles on China. He met with supervisors and was placed on leave, said two Bloomberg employees with knowledge of the situation, which was supposed to be private. The move came days after several news outlets, including The New York Times, published reports quoting unnamed Bloomberg employees saying that top editors, led by Matthew Winkler, the editor in chief, decided in late October not to publish an investigative article because of fears that Bloomberg would be expelled from China.

The article, about a Chinese tycoon and his ties to families of Communist Party leaders, was written by Mr. Forsythe and Shai Oster. Mr. Winkler has denied that the article was killed.

Last week, after the allegations of self-censorship were published, reporters and editors in the Bloomberg bureau in Hong Kong who had worked on the unpublished article were called into a series of meetings, Bloomberg employees said. They were asked questions about the news reports face to face and through conference calls with top editors and executives based in Hong Kong and New York, the employees said.

On Wednesday, Mr. Forsythe, who joined Bloomberg in 2000, was asked to go to the floor where human resources offices are, and he did not return to the newsroom, employees said.

Two representatives of Bloomberg News declined to comment on Sunday. Mr. Forsythe also declined to comment for this story.

At around 6:40 p.m. on Monday, he said on his Twitter account @PekingMike, “Thanks everyone for the incredible outpouring of sympathy and support. It has really helped me and my family get through this.” Around 8 p.m., he sent out the first line of that same message in Chinese.

The Times’s account of the unpublished article appeared online on Nov. 8 and cited Bloomberg employees who said that Mr. Winkler had conveyed his decision about the article in a conference call on Oct. 29 to Mr. Forsythe, Mr. Oster and two other Hong Kong-based journalists, after the text had already been through a series of late-stage edits in which no big objections were raised, and had been approved by a lawyer.

In the call, Mr. Winkler defended his decision by comparing it to the self-censorship by foreign news bureaus trying to preserve their ability to report inside Nazi-era Germany, according to the Bloomberg employees familiar with the discussion. “He said, ‘If we run the story, we’ll be kicked out of China,’ ” one employee said.

Mr. Winkler said in an email to The Times that “the stories are active and not spiked.” He would not comment on the conference call.

The Financial Times and Next Media Animation also reported independently on the accusations of self-censorship. The Financial Times published what it said were excerpts from emails from top Bloomberg editors in New York to the reporters that expressed strong support for the story in September. An email dated Sept. 18 from Laurie Hays, a senior executive editor, said the story was “almost there.” An email nine days later from Jonathan Kaufman, a managing editor, said: “The story is terrific. I am in awe of the way you tracked down and deciphered the financial holdings and the players. It’s a real revelation. Looking forward to pushing it up the line.”

The suspension of Mr. Forsythe was first reported on Friday night by The New York Post.

Last Thursday, Norman Pearlstine, who recently left the post of chief content officer at Bloomberg L.P. to rejoin Time Inc., was asked about the news reports at a public talk. Mr. Pearlstine said that he had spoken with Mr. Winkler and had heard that “the story was just not ready for publication and they’re still working on it.”

Bloomberg L.P., the parent company of Bloomberg News, receives much of its revenue from selling subscriptions for its financial-information terminals. After Bloomberg News published an article in June 2012 on the family wealth of Xi Jinping, at that time the incoming Communist Party chief, sales of Bloomberg terminals in China slowed, as officials ordered state enterprises not to subscribe. Officials also blocked Bloomberg’s website on Chinese servers, and the company has been unable to get residency visas for new journalists.

Mr. Forsythe was a lead reporter on the article about the Xi family and other articles in the 2012 “Revolution to Riches” series, which received a George Polk Award and awards from the Asia Society, the Overseas Press Club and the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

Last Wednesday, Amanda Bennett, until recently the executive editor for projects and investigations at Bloomberg, said she was leaving the company. She told Talking Biz News that she was “most proud of the groundbreaking” article on the Xi family. Bloomberg employees said that the investigative unit Ms. Bennett had run would soon undergo major changes.

Edward Wong reported from Beijing, and Christine Haughney from New York.

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