Bloomberg News editor Ben Richardson has quit the organization after 13 years in protest over the shoddy handling of an investigative report covering high-level corruption in China. The report in question is the same article that, after many twists and turns, led to reporter Michael Forsythe’s expulsion from the agency last fall and subsequent hiring at the New York Times, where he has been kicking ass ever since. Perhaps Richardson can be so lucky.
Richardson has released a statement, saying, “I left Bloomberg because of the way the story was mishandled, and because of how the company made misleading statements in the global press and senior executives disparaged the team that worked so hard to execute an incredibly demanding story.”
The story in question was purportedly an in-depth look at the finances, government ties, and influence of Chinese mega-billionaire Wang Jianlin, who heads the Dalian Wanda Commercial Property (which includes, among other things, all of those Wanda shopping plazas) and who now owns the American AMC movie theatre chain.
According to an email sent by Richardson:
Clearly, there needs to be a robust debate about how the media engages with China. That debate isn’t happening at Bloomberg. Clark Hoyt supposedly reviewed the story and declared that it wasn’t ready for publication. But, to my knowledge, he didn’t ring or contact any of the team who worked on the story to discuss it. We don’t even know which version of the story he reviewed. Certainly the final version that I saw had been gutted and narrowed down so much that it could be dismissed as a story about “a bankrupt theatre chain”. The reporters who worked on the story for months didn’t get to review the copy before it was unilaterally spiked on a conference call with a ludicrous amount of top brass.
Bloomberg, once the purveyors of top-notch China-centric investigative journalism, have apparently lost the nerve. The company’s reticence is undeniably linked to its sales of financial terminals (i.e. fancy stock-market things that make heaps of money) in the country and, according to a NYTimes report in November following Forsythe’s dismissal, it looks like the terminals have beat-out the journalists:
Bloomberg’s operations in China have suffered since [publishing previous investigatory pieces], as new journalists have been denied residency and sales of its financial terminals to state enterprises have slowed. Chinese officials have said repeatedly that news coverage on the wealth and personal lives of Chinese leaders crosses a red line.
If your China investigative pieces aren’t covering “wealth,” then they’re not investigative pieces. We all hope to one day read this Wang Jianlin story that everybody’s talking about.