Bloomberg’s folly in China
Howard French, a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, writes about how business interests overpowered journalism interests in China when it came to Bloomberg News and its investigative reporting.
French writes, “Although there are minor differences in details given by three people who were close to the situation inside Bloomberg, the gist of these conversations was similar. According to one informant, Ambassador Zhang told Matthew Winkler, the news agency’s editor in chief, ‘If Bloomberg publishes this story, bad things will happen for Bloomberg in China. If Bloomberg does not publish the story, good things will happen for Bloomberg.’ Winkler is said to have replied tersely, ‘I’m running the story.’
“Shortly afterwards, Peter Grauer, Bloomberg’s chairman, and the company’s chief executive, Daniel L. Doctoroff, met with a Chinese official in New York, and a similar Chinese line, invoking carrots and sticks, was used. Two informants said that after hearing the implied threat, Doctoroff replied, ‘Mr. Ambassador, you don’t understand. If we don’t publish this story, it will be bad for our business.’ According to yet another account, Doctoroff’s answer was even more decisive. He said, in effect, that Bloomberg would be out of business as a news provider if it suppressed its own reporting.
“But people close to the Bloomberg reporting say that, for all the bravado expressed by Bloomberg officials, the Chinese warnings seemed to have a chilling effect.
“Around that very time, participants in a lengthy conference call say that at least one senior company executive, Doctoroff, began speaking with reporters and editors about the Xi story, insisting on changes in wording that ultimately softened its impact. Most of these changes involved the way the story would characterize the Xi family assets. ‘Just before the story published,’ one person said, ‘the wall between the news and the business side broke down,’ adding that some on the reporting team were badly shaken by this.
“Bloomberg officials, including Grauer, Doctoroff, and Winkler, were approached for an interview for this article and asked via email specifically about their encounter with Chinese diplomats and about whether business interests trumped journalism in the company’s decision-making.
“Grauer did not reply. A spokesman for the company declined comment for Doctoroff. Winkler responded, meanwhile, ‘Thank you for your interest. I’ll come back to you on your question.’ When a corporate spokesperson, Ty Trippet, followed up later by telephone, however, as he explained, ‘to talk about talking,’ he said, ‘given we’re not really sure what you’re trying to say, I’m not sure how much help I can be of in providing people to speak with.’ In the end, no one from Bloomberg responded to questions for this article.”
Read more here.