Ex-Bloomberg China Reporter, Michael Forsythe, Hired by New York Times

Questions linger about source of leaks, and information used for stories
January 11, 2014 Updated: February 15, 2014

Updated Jan. 11, 2014, at 7:45 p.m. EST.

After parting with Bloomberg News for leaking to other media agencies that it had killed a story on China, a reporter with Bloomberg, Michael Forsythe, has been hired by The New York Times.

The news was announced by executive editor Jill Abramson in an interview with the paper’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, on Jan. 11.

“Another recent Times hire was Michael Forsythe, who had been covering China for Bloomberg News,” Abramson said, without mentioning the acrimonious circumstances under which Forsythe broke with his former employer.

Executives at Bloomberg News had reportedly stepped in to kill a story about questionable ties between a Chinese businessman and Communist Party officials, which Forsythe and colleagues were working on.

The New York Times was one of the first media outlets to report on the matter, citing an employee who was in teleconferences with top executives at Bloomberg. 

The Times subsequently carried a number of articles about Bloomberg’s killed stories and the repercussions of the leaks.

When Forsythe was later suspended and removed (or resigned) from his post, it was generally suspected that it was because he had leaked Bloomberg’s internal discussions to other media. Bloomberg is well-known for its culture of secrecy and internal surveillance.

Michael Forsythe is most well known due to stories Bloomberg News published in mid-2012 about the wealth of the family of then-vice Chairman of the People’s Republic of China, and now current paramount leader, Xi Jinping.

They were said to be based on publicly available company and regulatory filings in China and Hong Kong.

Three months later The New York Times published the first of its own stories, attributed to David Barboza, about the wealth of family members of former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao. That article attributed its information to the same types of documents — again, said to be publicly available — that Bloomberg used.

Neither news agency has made any of the documents used as the basis of the stories available for public scrutiny.

Doubts about the genuinely public nature of the documents were raised soon after the stories came out. Many Chinese commentators found it hard to believe that foreign journalists would have been able to obtain detailed documentation about the business activities of close family members of top Chinese leaders without some form of insider assistance, especially given the hermetic control of information in China, and in particular given the enormous sensitivity of allegations of corruption of the Communist Party elite.

Most recently the veteran Chinese journalist Gao Yu claimed in an article for Deutsche Welle that Bloomberg had been given dossiers on many top Chinese leaders by the Party’s extra-legal task force charged with persecuting the Falun Gong spiritual practice, but that it only published the information on Xi Jinping. Bloomberg spokesperson Ty Trippet declined comment.

Update: This article has been updated to remove reference to a coincidence between a story allegedly killed by Bloomberg and a story on the same topic later published in The New York Times, and reference to communication between The New York Times and Forsythe before he was hired by the Times.