Jeremy Goldkorn, founder and director of Danwei:
It’s a shame that Bloomberg and the New York Times are not more willing to put their crack forensic reporters to work on unravelling the links between America’s political elite and its wealthiest citizens, to find out who gained how much from the Iraq war, and who is making a mint from the NSA’s surveillance programs.
But that is not a justification for pulling punches in China—if that’s what Bloomberg actually did. The New York Times did a follow-up story today, quoting Mayor Bloomberg who affirmed Matthew Winkler’s denial that the stories had been spiked:
At the news conference Tuesday, Mr. Bloomberg cited Mr. Winkler’s response, and defended the news service. “No one thinks that we are wusses and not willing to stand up and write stories that are of interest to the public and that are factually correct,” he said.
Maybe things are more complicated than the earlier Times story had us believe: News rooms are noisy, messy places, occupied by people with large egos and differing motivations. Maybe The New York Times even got the whole story wrong? I also sympathize with the challenges of running an information business in China.
However, since 1997 I have edited and published various print periodicals and websites based in Beijing. They have sometimes been shut down, blocked and harassed by the authorities. These enterprises have always brought a far greater personal risk to me than anything that Mr. Winkler is ever likely to encounter in his comfortable Manhattan office. Bloomberg’s own reporters in China and elsewhere have taken plenty of risks to life, limb and career, apparently for the allegedly spiked story, and for other stories that did get published.
So I have to say that that if the New York Times story is true, we can only conclude that Mr. Winkler is, in Mayor Bloomberg’s words, a wuss.
Postscript: After publishing this piece, @roanmartigan on Twitter reminded me that the people who take the biggest risks in the pursuit of foreign media coverage of China are the Chinese news assistants, people who perform thankless tasks often without the benefit of a byline, at low pay, and sometimes at great risk to themselves and sometimes even their families.
Emily Brill, Beijing-based freelance journalist:
I read your reaction to the recent reports about Bloomberg News and its coverage of China with great interest.
You wrote: “Maybe things are more complicated than the earlier Times story had us believe: News rooms are noisy, messy places, occupied by people with large egos and differing motivations. Maybe The New York Times even got the whole story wrong?”
Every story has two sides—and Edward Wong reported both sides. In this story, as Wong explains, you have the four Bloomberg employees on one side describing “the turmoil since October” and Bloomberg's senior/top editors on the other. And, as Wong explains, the four employees “spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing their jobs.” In any case, their accounts are one set of facts. Unless Wong is Lara Logan, he likely cross-checked the accounts.
Then, there’s the other side. The top editors. That side is also presented to readers. However, sometimes, a source will react flatfootedly, especially if the journalist is posing questions or raising issues which have never been asked and especially if the source is in an extremely high position of power and/or public figure. Do you think Wong and his colleagues did not approach Winkler et al. ? In fact, they did, and they declined to speak. Quoting from Wong’s report:
Mr. Winkler and several other senior executives at Bloomberg declined to discuss his conference calls with reporters and editors in Hong Kong. Mr. Winkler said in an email on Friday that the articles in question were not killed. “What you have is untrue,” he said. “The stories are active and not spiked.” His statement was echoed by the senior editor on the articles, Laurie Hays.
So, which part, exactly, of the Times' report do you think could be “wrong?”
Moreover, has anyone at Bloomberg asked the Times for corrections? Winkler only said the stories were not killed, but have been held, which is what the Times reported: “The stories are active and not spiked.” Of course, they can say that because now that the Times has published its story, Bloomberg can retrieve the stories from the delete bin and make them “active” or even publish them if the embarrassment at home gets to be more troubling than the pressure they feel in Beijing.
I think you are reacting to the wrong part of my little text which more or less follows the hoary classical tradition of thesis, antithesis, synthesis. The synthesis is calling Mr Winkler is wuss. Read my text again out loud with a sarcastic British accent!
This post first appeared at ChinaFile, an Atlantic partner site.