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9425Opinions - by William Safire

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  • james tan
    Sep 1, 2002
      any comments?


      Bloomberg News Humbled
      (New York Times)

      30 August 2002 by William Safire

      WASHINGTON � Let me see if I can write today's column without
      sued. It has to do with my old pal Lee Kuan Yew, who prefers to be
      called "senior minister" rather than dictator of Singapore, and whose
      family members have been doing exceedingly well lately.
      In kowtowing to the Lee family, the Bloomberg News Service � the
      feisty, aggressive newcomer to coverage of global finance on cable
      and computers � has just demeaned itself and undermined the cause
      a free online press.

      Early this month, Patrick Smith, a Bloomberg columnist, dared to take
      note of the elevation of Ho Ching, the senior minister's daughter-in-
      law, to head Temesek, the powerful state-owned investment company.
      Her husband, Lee's son, is already deputy prime minister and finance
      minister, on a fast track to the top; Lee's other son is C.E.O. of
      Singapore Telecom. Lee himself, at 78, is chairman of the Government
      Investment Corporation.

      I have not read Smith's story because it has been expunged from the
      Bloomberg Web site, digitally erased from the mind of man. But
      evidently it annoyed some members of Lee's family, who are not known
      to lose huge libel suits that come before local judges. This week
      Bloomberg issued a statement of abject apology. "We recognize that
      this article was understood to mean" that the appointment of Lee's
      daughter-in-law had been made "not on merit, but in order to indulge
      the interests of the Lee family, or for some other corrupt motive
      relating to the promotion of the Lee family's interests. . . ." Not
      only that, but "Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Deputy Prime
      Minister Lee Hsien Loong [the latter is the appointee's husband, the
      senior minister's rising son] had procured the appointment of Mme. Ho
      Ching and were therefore guilty of nepotism."

      Bloomberg News, its corporate head cracking the floor in a classic
      kowtow, went on to "admit and acknowledge that these allegations are
      false and completely without foundation. We unreservedly
      apologize . . . for the distress and embarrassment caused. . . ." The
      media company offered to pay compensation for damages to avert a
      libel lawsuit.

      A spokesman for the prime minister put in place to keep the seat warm
      for Lee's son (Wait. I take that back, unreservedly. Start again.) A
      spokesman for the aggrieved prime minister quoted lawyers
      saying "that by publishing the article without exercising due care,
      Bloomberg and Patrick Smith had acted maliciously."

      In preparing today's profoundly respectful column, I acted with the
      due-est of care by calling the senior minister in Singapore, an
      island I cannot visit because I like to chew gum and don't want to
      risk a caning for it. Lee sent back word through an ambassador that
      he saw "no point" in talking to me again (as he did a few years ago
      in Davos, reported in this space with exquisite fairness) because he
      had had "nothing to do" with the Ho appointment. (Besides, not long
      ago he sent me an autographed copy of his autobiography and I failed
      to plug it. His pique is understandable.)

      Smith, the author of the never-to-be-accessed article, is said by a
      Bloomberg spokesman to be "an outside columnist, not a staff member."
      (How's that for standing by your man?) He is a veteran Far Eastern
      correspondent with a fine reputation, having worked in Tokyo and Hong
      Kong for The International Herald Tribune.

      Thereby hangs a tale. In 1994 The I.H.T. published an article about
      Lee's son that the old man thought imputed nepotism; when Lee sued,
      The Trib (owned by The New York Times and Washington Post) cravenly
      caved and settled for $400,000. Some of us took loud exception, and I
      doubt that such a sellout of principle will happen again. The New
      York Times, which willingly corrects itself when in error, does not
      settle libel charges for money. Never.

      Autocratic regimes professing to be democracies have been known to
      use their judiciary systems to jail or bankrupt dissidents and
      intimidate resident reporters. Electronic media professing to
      practice journalism have been known to trade their integrity for
      global access. Where is the greater corruption? I tried to reach the
      C.E.O. of Bloomberg, Lex Fenwick, but he dove under his desk. The
      founder, one Michael Bloomberg, is no longer with the firm and left
      no forwarding address.

      Source: Think Centre

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