Journalist Claims Bloomberg Tried to Ruin and Silence Her for Challenging His Company’s China News Reporting

In a new Op-Ed for the Intercept, Leta Hong Fincher claims 2020 candidate Michael Bloomberg tried to ruin her when challenging Bloomberg New’s reporting on China.

Fincher also claims Bloomberg attempted to silence her through nondisclosure agreements.

Fincher writes:

I AM ONE of the many women Mike Bloomberg’s company tried to silence through nondisclosure agreements. The funny thing is, I never even worked for Bloomberg.

But my story shows the lengths that the Bloomberg machine will go to in order to avoid offending Beijing. Bloomberg’s company, Bloomberg LP, is so dependent on the vast China market for its business that its lawyers threatened to devastate my family financially if I didn’t sign an NDA silencing me about how Bloomberg News killed a story critical of Chinese Communist Party leaders. It was only when I hired Edward Snowden’s lawyers in Hong Kong that Bloomberg LP eventually called off their hounds after many attempts to intimidate me.

In 2012, I was working toward a Ph.D. in sociology at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and my husband, Michael Forsythe, was a lead writer on a Bloomberg News article about the vast accumulation of wealth by relatives of Chinese President Xi Jinping, part of an award-winning “Revolution to Riches” series about Chinese leaders.

Soon after Bloomberg published the article on Xi’s family wealth in June 2012, my husband received death threats conveyed by a woman who told him she represented a relative of Xi. The woman conveying the threats specifically mentioned the danger to our whole family; our two children were 6 and 8 years old at the time. The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos reports a similar encounter in his award-winning book, “Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China,” when the same woman told Osnos’s wife: “He [Forsythe] and his family can’t stay in China. It’s no longer safe,” she said. “Something will happen. It will look like an accident. Nobody will know what happened. He’ll just be found dead.”

The experience was especially terrifying because it came just months after the murder of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, who was poisoned by the wife of a senior Chinese leader, Bo Xilai, according to Chinese state media. His body was reportedly discovered in a hotel in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing. While our family spent the kids’ summer vacation in 2012 outside of China, Bloomberg executives kept my husband busy in nonstop conference calls about how to maintain our security. I had recurring nightmares about my young children getting beaten up or killed. I desperately wanted to speak publicly about the death threats, feeling it would give us stronger protection, but Bloomberg News wanted us not to say anything about it while the company conducted its own internal investigation. I had been loyal to the company ever since my husband and I married in 2002, and I didn’t want to jeopardize his job. I stayed silent until October 26, 2012, when another (unrelated) story was published in defiance of the Chinese government. I decided to tweet that we had received death threats after the Bloomberg story on Xi Jinping.

Within hours of my tweets — the original and my replies to questions — a Bloomberg manager called my husband and said, “Get your wife to delete her tweets.” I did not delete them, but I also did not tweet or speak publicly about the death threats again. I did not want to anger the company because we needed it to relocate us to Hong Kong, where our children would be safe. As we finished the remainder of our time in Beijing, applying for schools in Hong Kong and preparing for our move, I lived in constant fear. Would someone get to our children while they were on their way to or from school? Who was watching and listening to us? I obsessively pulled down all our window blinds at night in case Chinese security agents were watching us. I was careful not to speak loudly about our plans in our home or on my phone in case we were bugged.

In August 2013, I finally relaxed as we flew out of Beijing and moved to a temporary apartment in Hong Kong. I thought that our yearlong nightmare had ended. But things would soon get even worse.

My husband had been working for many months on another investigative report for Bloomberg about financial ties between one of China’s richest men, Wang Jianlin, and the families of senior Communist Party officials, including relatives of Xi. Bloomberg editors had thus far backed the story. A Bloomberg managing editor, Jonathan Kaufman, said in an email in late September 2013, “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,” according to an account published by the Financial Times.

Then Bloomberg killed the story at the last minute, and the company fired my husband in November after comments by Bloomberg News editor-in-chief Matt Winkler were leaked. “If we run the story, we’ll be kicked out of China,” Winkler reportedly said on a company call.

Read more here.