Longtime Bloomberg News editor Ben Richardson resigned today, citing the poor handling of a controversial investigative report about China, that was quashed for questionable reasons.
Back in November, the New York Times reported that Bloomberg editors had kiboshed a piece detailing financial corruption in China — where Bloomberg's financial operation is hoping to boost business, and the state has considerable influence over the media.
According to Bloomberg, the piece wasn't killed for business reasons, but was put on hold because fears that, if published, it would jeopardize their journalists' ability to stay in the country. But Bloomberg employees suspected that management had ulterior motives. As the Times reported in November:
Bloomberg News infuriated the government in 2012 by publishing a series of articles on the personal wealth of the families of Chinese leaders, including the new Communist Party chief, Xi Jinping. Bloomberg’s operations in China have suffered since, 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.
In other words, the Chinese had retaliated against the company, and they were hoping to avoid further sanctions. However, Bloomberg hit back against the Times piece, saying it was "absolutely false that we postponed these stories due to external pressure." Yet, months later, the articles remain unpublished.
Soon after the Times broke the story last fall, reporter Michael Forsythe — who had worked on the June 2012 piece and was suspected of leaking the information that led to the Times story — quit Bloomberg and joined, you guessed it, the New York Times.
Richardson has now followed suit. In a statement to JimRomenesko.com, Richardson, who spent 13 years at Bloomberg, most recently as an editor-at-large for Asia news, said:
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.
Richardson added that "throughout the process, the threat of legal action has hung over our heads if we talked — and still does. That has meant that senior management have had an open field to spin their own version of events." Richardson continued to praise Bloomberg L.P. Chairman Peter T. Grauer for at least being straightforward about the company's motives in China. According to Grauer:
We have about 50 journalists in the market, primarily writing stories about the local business and economic environment. You’re all aware that every once in a while we wander a little bit away from that and write stories that we probably may have kind of rethought — should have rethought.
Grauer, Richardson said, "is a straight-talking man and I’ve always enjoyed his frank comments. I enjoyed them especially today in the sense that they illustrate the frame of mind of senior management from the business side."
Fellow journalists are applauding Richardson for the move, and seeing it as yet another critique of Bloomberg News's journalistic integrity. or at least the difficulties of reporting in China:
Ben Richardson has courage and principles. Bloomberg mgmt behavior re China is appalling. Where are the top eds? http://t.co/VvxEiBrgPP— Jesse Eisinger (@eisingerj) March 24, 2014
This incident does not reflect well on Bloomberg News but also illustrates that China isn't just another market. http://t.co/M4T08a4Nti— Ed Bott (@edbott) March 24, 2014
Damning: Ben Richardson quits Bloomberg News over handling of investigative piece http://t.co/TcEgcehikt— Charles Ornstein (@charlesornstein) March 24, 2014
Richardson said that now, he's "trying to join the great non profit bubble... There’s nothing that covers the region [Asia], which has a real need now that big media has largely left the field.” We'd recommend he apply for a job at the New York Times.