Writing at the Intercept on Tuesday, Leta Hong Fincher described herself as “one of the many women Mike Bloomberg’s company tried to silence through nondisclosure agreements,” even though she never actually worked for Bloomberg’s companies.
Her husband did, however, and according to Fincher, Bloomberg brought enormous pressure to bear against the couple to suppress news reports that were embarrassing to Communist China.
Fincher said she was studying sociology at Tsinghua University in Beijing when her husband Michael Forsythe worked on a series of Bloomberg News reports about the tremendous wealth accumulated by Chinese leaders and their families, including the relatives of dictator Xi Jinping.
Like other visiting Western reporters critical of the Communist government, Forsythe soon found himself receiving death threats that included threats against Fincher and the couple’s two young children. Fincher said Bloomberg News told them not to say anything about the death threats pending an internal investigation, but after several months she broke her silence and mentioned them on Twitter.
Within a matter of hours, Fincher said her husband was contacted by a Bloomberg manager and told to “get your wife to delete her tweets.” She refused to do so, although she also stopped talking about the threats, fearful of antagonizing the company while she and Forsythe were dependent on his job with them.
It was another story in late 2013 that led to the couple’s most serious trouble with Bloomberg News, and eventually cost Forsythe his job. The story, reportedly fully backed by Forsythe’s editors until the last minute, once again concerned the secret finances of Xi and other top Chinese officials:
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.
Fincher accused Mike Bloomberg of lying to the American people about his willingness to bend to Communist Party pressure to protect his business interests in China:
Mike Bloomberg, then New York City mayor and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, was asked on November 12, 2013, about reports that his company had self-censored out of fear of offending the Chinese government and he dismissed the question.
“Nobody thinks that we’re wusses and not willing to stand up and write stories that are of interest to the public and that are factually correct,” Bloomberg told a press conference.
Yet, days after Bloomberg made those comments to reporters in New York, Bloomberg lawyers in Hong Kong threatened to devastate my family financially by forcing us to repay the company for our relocation fees to Hong Kong from Beijing and the advance on my husband’s salary that we took out, leave us with no health insurance or income, and take me to court if I did not sign a nondisclosure agreement — even though I had never been a Bloomberg employee.
Fincher detailed a long legal battle following that threat, marked by repeated threats from the Bloomberg legal team to inflict ruinous financial damage upon her family. She eventually hired Edward Snowden’s legal team in Hong Kong, and they managed to get the Bloomberg team to back down from its demands for a gag order in 2014.
Fincher denounced Bloomberg not just for bowing to Communist China, but for using non-disclosure agreements to conceal “an environment of sexism” at the company:
Bloomberg managers and lawyers treated me as though I were a piece of company property, an appendage of my husband, using intimidation and threats to try to bully me into submission. I agonized over whether to sign the NDA and I remember feeling physically suffocated, as though my mouth were stuffed with cotton balls. I haven’t met any of the other women, but I imagine that they, too, may have experienced the same terror of being threatened by a multibillion-dollar corporation, which could ruin their lives if they did not comply. Even now, I am nervous about the consequences of speaking out. But the more of us speak out, the stronger we are.
As for her husband Michael Forsythe, he went to work for the New York Times after he was fired by Bloomberg News, and was able to publish the story spiked by Bloomberg in 2015.
Bloomberg has yet to publicly respond to the allegations at press time.