Throughout the imbroglio surrounding the downfall of former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai, media impresario Hong Huang (洪晃) has been somewhat sympathetic to his son Bo Guagua. In April, she published an article in the Southern Metropolis Weekly recalling her own experience as a young girl watching her parents — Chairman Mao’s English teacher Zhang Hanzhi and the late Chinese foreign minister Qiao Guanhua — get publicly denounced in a “struggle session” held in a stadium, and argued through it that Bo Junior should not be punished for the sins of his father.
Hong has now published a new article in the same paper explaining how the Wall Street Journal came to report rather erroneously that Bo Guagua drove a red Ferrari to pick up the daughter of then-US ambassador Jon Huntsman for a dinner date. Her account has one surprise player behind the scenes — media tycoon Rupert Murdoch.
Want China Times summarises Hong’s account as follows:
Hong said a friend of hers was hunted down by the Wall Street Journal who wanted her to confirm the truth of the Ferrari story, but her friend said she had not made the claim. The friend was nonetheless deemed to be the “source” to which the Wall Street Journal referred in its piece, though how she came to be cited as such is a somewhat convoluted affair. It is reported that the friend was the matchmaker who introduced Bo Guagua to Huntsman’s daughter. Huntsman allegedly mentioned the story to others, including media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. As Murdoch could not act as the source for a story run by one of his own titles, he dispatched his reporters to find other sources which led them in time to Hong’s friend. The story finally reached the front page of the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 26 last year.
Hong said that while the western media has always regarded China as a mysterious land, the story seemed to be a major coup in exposing the lives of key players in the Chinese establishment. The Wall Street Journal also had a motive to show up its rivals such as the New York Times and Financial Times by demonstrating a keener understanding of China affairs.
A few months later, the cozy existence of the privileged youngster collapsed as his father was dismissed from his government and party posts and his mother was arrested for the suspected murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, whom he had known since he was a child. In subsequent reports in the Wall Street Journal, Bo Guagua’s notorious red Ferrari was mentioned several times — on April 11, 16, 25 and 27. Having kept his silence for some time on the matter, Hong said Bo Guagua felt he could do so no longer and chose the New York Times, one of the Journal’s main competitors, to state that he had never driven a Ferrari before.
The New York Times gladly published Bo Guagua’s rebuttal of its rival’s claims, Hong continued, also saying that the New York Times followed up with an interview with Huntsman’s daughter, who said she had been a passenger in Bo Guagua’s car but could not remember what make it was or even swear to the color of it.
The denial resulted in Hong’s friend being badgered by the Wall Street Journal, which wanted to clear its source on the Ferrari claim to avoid losing face and presumed that she was the one who had made the original allegation. The repeated approaches from the newspaper led the friend to the brink of a nervous breakdown, Hong said, saying that her friend had told her that she was not the source of the Ferrari story because she was the one who transported Huntsman’s daughter to a restaurant to dine with Bo Guagua in a dark blue Volkswagen.
The Wall Street Journal then reportedly threatened Hong’s friend, suggesting that if they could not reach Bo Guagua through her, they would reveal her identity as the source. Hong comforted her friend and advised her to deny everything, whatever the truth of the matter.
What a cockup by the Journal. Jeremy Page, the main author of the original Ferrari story, has written some really good articles, but this mess stains his work, though perhaps the lede was foisted on him by someone with closer ties to Murdoch. For those who think I have an axe to grind with the Journal, you forget that I love the paper and owe its previous owners a lot. I just do not like sloppy journalism about China.
What other China coverage has Rupert Murdoch meddled into? Yes, it is his paper, but…The good news, or bad depending where you sit, is that in China phone hacking is done by an even higher power than Murdoch.
And why was Jon Huntsman gossiping to Murdoch about Bo Guagua? Perhaps because fealty and gossip are keys to the heart of the man who controls the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, and when you are a GOP candidate for President you need to feed that beast?
No doubt the folks at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are relishing this mess as it is just more fodder for their complaints about inaccurate western media coverage of China, and in this case it appears to involve one of the most powerful Western media barons and a former US Ambassador to China.
For anyone who’s interested, a copy of Hong Huang’s original account in Chinese is available here.