• Friday, October 09, 2015

Red Ferrari, red herring: How WSJ backed down on Bo Guagua claim

Staff Reporter 2012-05-16 16:42 (GMT+8)
Hong Huang says her friend was hunted by the Wall Street Journal, believing her to be the source of the red Ferrari allegation involving Bo Guagua. (File photo/CFP)

Hong Huang says her friend was hunted by the Wall Street Journal, believing her to be the source of the red Ferrari allegation involving Bo Guagua. (File photo/CFP)

Following the dismissal of the Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai, Hong Huang, the adopted daughter of the late Chinese foreign minister Qiao Guanhua, published an article saying that Bo's playboy son Bo Guagua should not be made to pay for the sins of his parents. On Monday, Hong followed up with a feature story in which she explained the origin of the spurious story about a Ferrari that Bo Guagua is supposed to have driven. The piece was published in the latest issue of Southern Weekly, a weekly newspaper based in Guangzhou.

Hong's piece made reference to a Wall Street Journal article entitled Children of the Revolution about the lifestyles of the children of senior Chinese officials, which opens with a description of Bo Guagua, who was born in 1987, wearing a tuxedo and driving a red Ferrari to the official residence of the former US ambassador to China Jon Huntsman to take one of his daughters out to dine.

Hong said a friend of hers was hunted down by the Wall Street Journal who wanted her to confirm the truth of the Ferrari story, but her friend said she had not made the claim. The friend was nonetheless deemed to be the "source" to which the Wall Street Journal referred in its piece, though how she came to be cited as such is a somewhat convoluted affair. It is reported that the friend was the matchmaker who introduced Bo Guagua to Huntsman's daughter. Huntsman allegedly mentioned the story to others, including media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. As Murdoch could not act as the source for a story run by one of his own titles, he dispatched his reporters to find other sources which led them in time to Hong's friend. The story finally reached the front page of the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 26 last year.

Hong said that while the western media has always regarded China as a mysterious land, the story seemed to be a major coup in exposing the lives of key players in the Chinese establishment. The Wall Street Journal also had a motive to show up its rivals such as the New York Times and Financial Times by demonstrating a keener understanding of China affairs.

A few months later, the cozy existence of the privileged youngster collapsed as his father was dismissed from his government and party posts and his mother was arrested for the suspected murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, whom he had known since he was a child. In subsequent reports in the Wall Street Journal, Bo Guagua's notorious red Ferrari was mentioned several times — on April 11, 16, 25 and 27. Having kept his silence for some time on the matter, Hong said Bo Guagua felt he could do so no longer and chose the New York Times, one of the Journal's main competitors, to state that he had never driven a Ferrari before.

The New York Times gladly published Bo Guagua's rebuttal of its rival's claims, Hong continued, also saying that the New York Times followed up with an interview with Huntsman's daughter, who said she had been a passenger in Bo Guagua's car but could not remember what make it was or even swear to the color of it.

The denial resulted in Hong's friend being badgered by the Wall Street Journal, which wanted to clear its source on the Ferrari claim to avoid losing face and presumed that she was the one who had made the original allegation. The repeated approaches from the newspaper led the friend to the brink of a nervous breakdown, Hong said, saying that her friend had told her that she was not the source of the Ferrari story because she was the one who transported Huntsman's daughter to a restaurant to dine with Bo Guagua in a dark blue Volkswagen.

The Wall Street Journal then reportedly threatened Hong's friend, suggesting that if they could not reach Bo Guagua through her, they would reveal her identity as the source. Hong comforted her friend and advised her to deny everything, whatever the truth of the matter.

Having failed to back up the claim about the red Ferrari story, on May 1 the Wall Street Journal published a correction in a short paragraph, saying Bo Guagua did not drive a red Ferrari to the US Embassy in Beijing to pick up Huntsman's daughter as it had originally stated.

The following day, the New York Times also published a correction, saying that they had mixed up Huntsman's daughters in the photo that accompanied their story and that it was Mary Anne and not Liddy who dined with Bo Guagua.

Thus what began as a juicy tidbit that turned into a storm in a teacup finally ended with twin announcements by the two leading newspapers in the United States with no one much the wiser. Yet with all the outlandish rumors surrounding the Bo family in the last couple of months, the red Ferrari saga counts as little more than a footnote in any case.


Hong Huang 洪晃

Qiao Guanhua 喬冠華

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Zhai Jun (翟雋)

Zhai Jun is China's deputy minister of foreign affairs. A native of Hebei province, he was born in 1954 and holds a bachelor's degress in British literature from Beijing Foreign Studies University....