Chen Guangbiao’s high profile quest to purchase the New York Times has ended. According to Forbes, Mr. Chen’s announcement came after a “small shareholder,” who had apparently agreed to help Mr. Chen arrange the deal, became angered by the recycling tycoon’s bath in the media limelight that began in late December.
Many in the U.S. media predicted the failure from a mile away. The Times was never actually for sale, and had previously denied knowledge of a January 5 meeting that Mr. Chen claimed he had arranged with a NYT “leading shareholder” to discuss the purchase of the paper.
In a widely-discussed January 5 op-ed in The Global Times, Chen adamantly denied allegations that the bid was facetious. “I may be a maverick,” he wrote, referencing a history of colorful publicity stunts, “but it doesn’t mean I like playing tricks. I want to purchase the New York Times. Please do not take it as a joke.”
While Mr. Chen’s business and philanthropic credentials are formidable — estimated at $800 million, he has twice ranked on Forbes’ list of Asia Pacific Region’s 48-leading philanthropists — his political finesse stands to improve.
According to Business Insider, a press conference on Tuesday became confrontational after Mr. Chen introduced two members of the Falun Gong — a spiritual organization outlawed by the Communist Party in 1999 — who were burned beyond recognition in a 2001 self-immolation demonstration. The Falun Gong denied connection to the 2001 protest, according to the New York Daily News.
But this was merely the most recent demonstration of Mr. Chen’s ambiguous political preferences. In the Global Times op-ed, Mr. Chen wrote: “If I succeed [in purchasing the Times], I will conduct some necessary reforms, the ultimate goal of which is to make the paper’s reports more authentic and objective, thus rebuilding its credibility and influence. This will facilitate the world’s leading paper in future development and profit making.”
Though Mr. Chen provided no explicit justification for why he would need to make the paper more “objective” or “authentic,” many read this as a reference to the Pulitzer Prize winning report The Times published in late 2012 on the wealth accumulated by the relatives of then-Premier Wen Jiabao. Chinese authorities viewed the report as a direct attack on the Party, and subsequently blocked the Times’ website in China. Speaking to Business Insider, Mr. Chen distanced himself from the Communist Party.
Chen’s failure to acquire The Times has not stopped him from setting his sights on the Wall Street Journal, according to an interview with New York-based television station Sinovision.
In his next venture, Chen would be wise to distance himself from the trade-off he offered between sanitized reporting and penetration into China’s media market. Sadly, this would also mean kidding himself. A bid to demolish the San Fransisco—Oakland Bay Bridge, which Forbes reported, might be more up his alley. Or a startup making rad business cards.