Where’s Xi? China’s Leader Commands Coronavirus Fight From Safe Heights

Xi Jinping has backed out of the spotlight as the country faces its worst crisis in years, reflecting the political risks he faces if efforts to contain the virus fail.

WUHAN, China — President Xi Jinping strode onstage before an adoring audience in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing less than three weeks ago, trumpeting his successes in steering China through a tumultuous year and promising “landmark” progress in 2020.

Every single Chinese person, every member of the Chinese nation, should feel proud to live in this great era,” he declared to applause on the day before the Lunar New Year holiday. “Our progress will not be halted by any storms and tempests.”

Mr. Xi made no mention of a dangerous new coronavirus that had already taken tenacious hold in the country. As he spoke, the government was locking down Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, in a frantic attempt to stop the virus spreading from its epicenter.

The coronavirus epidemic, which has killed more than 800 people in China as of Sunday and sickened tens of thousands, comes as Mr. Xi has struggled with a host of other challenges: a slowing economyhuge protests in Hong Kong, an election in Taiwan that rebuffed Beijing and a protracted trade war with the United States.

Wuhan Coronavirus Map: Tracking the Spread of the Outbreak

The virus has sickened tens of thousands of people in China and a number of other countries.

Now, Mr. Xi faces an accelerating health crisis that is also a political one: a profound test of the authoritarian system he has built around himself over the past seven years. As the Chinese government struggles to contain the virus amid rising public discontent with its performance, the changes that Mr. Xi has ushered in could make it difficult for him to escape blame.

It’s a big shock to the legitimacy of the ruling party. I think it could be only second to the June 4 incident of 1989. It’s that big,” said Rong Jian, a writer about politics in Beijing, referring to the armed crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters that year.

“There’s no doubt about his control over power,” he added, “but the manner of control and its consequences have hurt his legitimacy and reputation.”

Mr. Xi himself has recognized what is at stake, calling the outbreak “a major test of China’s system and capacity for governance.”

Yet as China’s battle with the coronavirus intensified, Mr. Xi put the country’s No. 2 leader, Li Keqiang, in charge of a leadership group handling the emergency, effectively turning him into the public face of the government’s response. It was Mr. Li who traveled to Wuhan to visit doctors.

Mr. Xi, by contrast, receded from public view for several days. That was not without precedent, though it stood out in this crisis, after previous Chinese leaders had used times of disaster to try to show a more common touch. State television and newspapers almost always lead with fawning coverage of Mr. Xi’s every move.

That retreat from the spotlight, some analysts said, signaled an effort by Mr. Xi to insulate himself from a campaign that may falter and draw public ire. Yet Mr. Xi has consolidated power, sidelining or eliminating rivals, so there are few people left to blame when something goes wrong.

“Politically, I think he is discovering that having total dictatorial power has a downside, which is that when things go wrong or have a high risk of going wrong, then you also have to bear all the responsibility,” said Victor Shih, an associate professor at the University of California San Diego who studies Chinese politics.

Credit…Chinatopix, via Associated Press

Much of the country’s population has been told to stay at home, factories remain closed and airlines have cut service. Experts warn that the coronavirus could slam the economy if not swiftly contained.

The government is also having trouble controlling the narrative. Mr. Xi now faces unusually sharp public discontent that even China’s rigorous censorship apparatus has been unable to stifle entirely.

The death of an ophthalmologist in Wuhan, Dr. Li Wenliang, who was censured for warning his medical school classmates of the spread of a dangerous new disease in Decemberhas unleashed a torrent of pent-up public grief and rage over the government’s handling of the crisis. Chinese academics have launched at least two petitions in the wake of Dr. Li’s death, each calling for freedom of speech.

State media still portray Mr. Xi as ultimately in control, and there’s no sign that he faces a serious challenge from within the party leadership. The crisis, though, has already tainted China’s image as an emerging superpower — efficient, stable and strong — that could eventually rival the United States.

How much the crisis might erode Mr. Xi’s political standing remains to be seen, but it could weaken his position in the longer run as he prepares to take a likely third term as Communist Party general secretary in 2022.

A nearly empty shopping area in Beijing. Mr. Xi’s government has struggled to control the outbreak — and the narrative.
Credit…Giulia Marchi for The New York Times

In 2018, Mr. Xi won approval to remove the constitutional limits on his term as the country’s president, making his plan for another five-year term seem all but certain.

If Mr. Xi comes out of this crisis politically insecure, the consequences are unpredictable. He may become more open to compromise within the party elite. Or he may double down on the imperious ways that have made him China’s most powerful leader in generations.

“Xi’s grip on power is not light,” said Jude Blanchette, the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“While the ham-fisted response to this crisis undoubtedly adds a further blemish to Xi’s tenure in office,” Mr. Blanchette added, “the logistics of organizing a leadership challenge against him remain formidable.”

In recent days, despite a dearth of public appearances, state media have portrayed Mr. Xi as a tireless commander in chief. This week they began calling the government’s fight against the virus the “people’s war,” a phrase used in the official readout of Mr. Xi’s telephone call with President Trump on Friday.

There are increasing signs that the propaganda this time is proving less than persuasive.

The Lunar New Year reception in Beijing where Mr. Xi spoke became a source of popular anger, a symbol of a government slow to respond to the suffering in Wuhan. Mr. Xi and other leaders appear to have been caught off guard by the ferocity of the epidemic.

Senior officials would almost certainly have been informed of the emerging crisis by the time national health authorities told the World Health Organization on Dec. 31, but neither Mr. Xi nor other officials in Beijing informed the public.

Mr. Xi’s first acknowledgment of the epidemic came on Jan. 20, when brief instructions were issued under his name. His first public appearance after the lockdown of Wuhan on Jan. 23 came two days later, when he presided over a meeting of the Communist Party’s top body, the Politburo Standing Committee, which was shown at length on Chinese television. “We’re sure to be able to win in this battle,” he proclaimed.

A vigil for Dr. Li Wenliang in Hong Kong on Friday. His death has emboldened Chinese academics to petition for freedom of speech.
Credit…Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Back then, the death toll was 106. As it rose, Mr. Xi allowed other officials to take on more visible roles. Mr. Xi’s only appearances have been meeting foreign visitors in the Great Hall of the People or presiding over Communist Party meetings.

On Jan. 28, Mr. Xi met with the executive director of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and told Dr. Tedros that he “personally directed” the government’s response. Later reports in state media omitted the phrase, saying instead that Mr. Xi’s government was “collectively directing” the response.

Since nothing about how Mr. Xi is portrayed in state media happens by accident, the tweak suggested a deliberate effort to emphasize shared responsibility.

Mr. Xi did not appear on official broadcasts again for a week — until a highly scripted meeting on Wednesday with the authoritarian leader of Cambodia, Hun Sen.

There is little evidence that Mr. Xi has given up power behind the scenes. Mr. Li, the premier in formal charge of the leadership group for the crisis, and other officials have said that they take their orders from Mr. Xi. The group is filled with officials who work closely under Mr. Xi, and its directives emphasize his authority.

“The way the epidemic is being handled now from the top just doesn’t fit with the argument that there’s been a clear shift toward more collective, consultative leadership,” said Holly Snape, a British Academy Fellow at the University of Glasgow who studies Chinese politics.

The scale of discontent and the potential challenges for Mr. Xi could be measured by repeated references online to the nuclear accident at Chernobyl. Many of them came under the guise of viewer reviews of the popular television mini-series of the same name, which is still available for streaming inside China.

“In any era, any country, it’s the same. Cover everything up,” one reviewer wrote.

Image

A propaganda banner north of Beijing declared: “Work together to decisively win the fight against the epidemic.“
Credit…Greg Baker/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Soviet Union of 1986, however, was a different country than China in 2020.

The Soviet state was foundering when Chernobyl happened, said Sergey Radchenko, a professor of international relations at Cardiff University in Wales who has written extensively on Soviet and Chinese politics.

“The Chinese authorities, by contrast, are demonstrating an ability to cope, a willingness to take unprecedented measures — logistical feats that may actually increase the regime’s legitimacy,” he added.

Mr. Radchenko compared Mr. Xi’s actions to those of previous leaders in moments of crisis: Mao Zedong after the Cultural Revolution or Deng Xiaoping after the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

He’s doing what Mao and Deng would have done in similar circumstances: stepping back into the shadows while remaining firmly in charge.”

There is No Accountability on Social Media for Posting and Retweeting Bad Information

10:10
something that’s not about politics last
10:13
night was just so had it I can’t take it
10:18
I don’t want it I have read that expense
10:20
office all of them and the short stories
10:22
I can’t take it don’t want it but it’s
10:24
not like that was the first time do you
10:25
guys remember 2018 do you remember
10:26
Kansas the night of that primary it was
10:29
ridiculous or in 2016 California like
10:32
how long it took for the results like oh
10:35
it’s just where’s the way you and and
10:38
one of the things that made it even
10:39
worse was like I was tweeting about how
10:42
frustrated I was that people were just
10:43
sharing like like whatever they they
10:46
heard they don’t check it they don’t
10:47
Google it they just share it something
10:49
pops into their head it sounds good like
10:52
you have an inclination you want to
10:53
believe that something is true and so
10:55
people are gonna like and they’re gonna
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retweet what says that they’re there
10:58
right like there was so much
11:00
misinformation and just people not
11:02
caring enough about the material to
11:04
actually Google it
like like all the
11:06
stuff going around about the
11:07
like obviously there’s problems with the
11:08
app but like the people who were like
11:10
100% Budaj edge made the app
I got it
11:13
and and look we have the disclosures
11:16
that were coming out and and responsible
11:18
people we’re talking about the
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disclosures that they had paid that app
11:22
company okay now before you then take
11:26
that and say and thus he made the app
11:29
and presumably put in some sort of
11:31
backdoor where he could steal the
11:33
election
do just a little bit of
11:35
googling like that company makes other
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apps political canvassing apps things
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for volunteers things that campaigns
11:41
would use and so the fact that he paid
11:44
money to that company does not mean that
11:46
he invested in the construction of that
11:48
app
he could be buying one of the
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political apps that they already have
11:52
and in fact it turns out that over the
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past year I believe Klobuchar Biden and
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Gillibrand all of them gave money to
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this company presumably for one of the
12:01
political canvassing apps
that they have
12:03
sold for some time you know how I found
12:05
out that stuff by googling for like 90
12:08
seconds it was super simple but I
12:10
noticed that when I started tweeting out
12:12
those I guess inconvenient truths nobody
12:16
cared like the people who were like no
12:18
no no Buddha judge definitely made the
12:21
app he stole this thing a hundred times
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as many of retweets a hundred times as
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many likes
someone who’s like hey guys
12:27
you know pump the brakes first of all it
12:30
looks like Bernie’s Bernie’s still gonna
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win second of all it looks like this
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company actually has other apps nobody
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cares about that stuff nobody’s
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interested in that is really depressing
12:39
you know because media is a big thing
12:42
it’s not one thing it’s a lot of
12:44
different voices in a lot of different
12:46
forms but the fact that the people who
12:48
are trying to be accurate and reasonable
12:50
are always going to have to compete with
12:52
people who are just their thing is I’m
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going to see what people want to hear
12:57
what they desperately want to believe is
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true
and I’m just gonna tell admit I’m
13:00
just gonna say that it’s true and nobody
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ever tweets you know um you know I just
13:05
I want to apologize because I retweeted
13:08
something last night you know sort of in
13:10
the fervor of what was going on it turns
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out that it was untrue I apologize if I
13:14
helped to misinform anyone
in the future
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I’m going to be
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but more careful
before I spread these
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things and in particular I will not be
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spreading the the people who were
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spreading this misinformation I will be
13:27
more critical of them in particular
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literally no one has ever said that you
13:31
spread things that are false nobody
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cares nobody remembers even theirs the
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incentives are all wrong on social media

13:39
and that is on top of all of the other
13:41
problems of last night that is so
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incredibly frustrating I’m not having a
13:48
stroke down that’ll come later based on
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diet have you seen the Saga comics I
13:54
have not just be reasonable like it’s
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why I’m never gonna be a success
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honestly there’s no there’s no reason
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why would you why would you be
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reasonable yeah nobody at nobody admits
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that they’re wrong that’s where I don’t
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know if you were watching the coverage
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last night but I wanted to add on to
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they were there every conversation they
14:13
were saying no one on TV in political
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media ever pays any sort of price for
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being dead wrong and I wanted to add on
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say you’re right but it ain’t just TV

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nobody in any form of media ever pays
14:26
any sort of price for being wrong not if
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they were wrong in a way that reassured
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their followers their audience that
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things were gonna be okay who who ever
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gets mad at a person for a horrible
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prediction a prediction that when it was
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made was obviously not true nobody cares
14:42
about that they want I want you to be
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wrong in a way that makes me feel warm
14:47
and cozy I want you to tell me the sort
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of things that are a verbal light
14:51
stroking of my head to make me feel a
14:53
little bit better that’s that’s all
14:54
really anyway the reason I talk about
14:58
this now is we were on night one we have
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got a bunch of these nights to go and
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unfortunately I don’t I don’t think that
15:05
any are gonna be as bad as Iowa but
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there’s gonna be a lot of bad nights and
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that’s really unfortunate okay everybody
15:12
I would love to talk longer but we do
15:14
have a show coming up and on it I’m
15:16
gonna be joined by Jordan you’ll as I am
15:18
every other Tuesday you know me also
15:20
were to talk about last night but also
15:21
author podcaster and founder of Vox Ezra
15:25
Klein is also going to be in studio to
15:26
talk about his book about polarization
15:29
which seems especially relevant this
15:33
both of last night and with the State of
15:35
the Union so should be an awesome
15:37
conversation there we’ve got so much
15:39
we’re gonna talk about I have read do
15:41
and I read the first one I wasn’t a huge
15:43
fan maybe I need to read more of them
15:45
but anyway thank you as always for
15:47
joining me this a little live live video
15:48
in ten minutes the full show starts so
15:51
definitely tune in there I’ll see you on
15:53
the other side

How to deal with gaslighting | Ariel Leve

Gaslighting is an emotionally abusive tactic that makes the victim question their own sanity and perception of reality. In this important talk, Ariel Leve shares some of the life-saving strategies she adopted as a child to survive her mother’s gaslighting.
TEDArchive presents previously unpublished talks from TED conferences.
Enjoy this unedited talk by Ariel Leve.

Filmed at TEDNYC Rebirth 2017.

 

How McKinsey Makes Its Own Rules

The consulting company chases after government contracts, but it has a habit of evading the oversight that comes with them.

This article is copublished with ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative newsroom.

It’s not easy being McKinsey & Company these days.

For most of its 90-odd-year existence, the prestigious management consultancy prided itself on remaining above the fray. McKinsey consultants plied the executive suites of Fortune 500 companies, counseling chief executives with discretion and quietly building a business that, with $10 billion in annual revenues, is now bigger than many of the entities it serves. The substance of the company’s work, and even the identities of its clients, lie concealed under an institutional code of silence. That reticence, enforced by a nondisclosure agreement, bedeviled Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign until last Monday, when McKinsey granted him a rare dispensation to reveal the names of his former clients.

On the occasions when McKinsey’s work has been scrutinized of late, it hasn’t reflected well on the firm. Reporting by The New York Times, ProPublica and others over the past 18 months has raised serious questions about how it does business at home and abroad: corruption allegations against companies McKinsey partnered with in South Africa and Mongolia; a federal criminal investigation into the firm’s bankruptcy practice in the United States; attempts to deny that it helped put into effect controversial Trump administration immigration policies; and evidence that McKinsey cherry-picked nonviolent inmates for a pilot project and made it seem that an attempt to curb violence at New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex was working (it wasn’t). McKinsey has denied wrongdoing in each of these instances.

These and other examples of McKinsey’s recent conduct reveal a common dynamic. An examination of these episodes, including thousands of pages of documents and interviews with dozens of current and former McKinsey consultants and clients from multiple projects, suggests McKinsey behaves as if it believes the rules should bend to its way of doing things, not the other way around.

McKinsey’s self-regard has long been uncommonly high. In the firm’s 2010 internal history, a copy of which ProPublica obtained, partners compare the firm to the Marine Corps, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Jesuits: “analytically rigorous, deeply principled seekers of knowledge and truth,” the history’s authors write. One McKinsey partner went a step further, declaring without a hint of irony that the firm’s trait of shared values is more than “even the Catholic Church can promise.”

This attitude works for the firm in corporate consulting, an unregulated field where McKinsey’s reputation leaves it largely free to do things its own way and where its insistence on not being publicly credited has also shielded it from blame for its failures. But as McKinsey has expanded its consulting empire in recent years, it has taken on a growing book of work for government entities, as well as for corporate clients in areas subject to government oversight, such as advising bankrupt companies on restructuring.

In that field, consulting firms confront a web of contracting, disclosure and ethics rules that are designed to dictate and limit their behavior. These rules exist to prevent governments from wasting taxpayer money on underqualified or overpriced contractors and to protect government integrity and avoid conflicts of interests. In recent years, as McKinsey has burrowed deeper into this world, interviews and records show, it has developed a habit of disregarding inconvenient rules and norms to secure, retain and profit from government work.

Consider McKinsey’s imbroglios in South Africa and Mongolia. The firm did not follow the due diligence protocols commonly deployed to avoid running afoul of anti-corruption laws. The result: Its consultants found themselves working alongside dubious local companies that got them entangled in corruption investigations. Only after McKinsey became embroiled in the South Africa corruption scandal did the firm decide it needed to put more stringent safeguards in place.

In the United States, a damning but largely overlooked report issued in July by the Office of Inspector General for the General Services Administration, the hub for federal contracting, depicted McKinsey as ignoring rules and refusing to take no for an answer. The report examined McKinsey’s attempts to renew a major long-running contract in 2016. The firm was asked to provide additional pricing information to satisfy federal contracting rules. Rather than comply, McKinsey went over the contracting officer’s head, lodging complaints with top G.S.A. officials, who refused to exempt the firm from the rules.

Eventually, the firm found a friendly G.S.A. manager who was willing to not only award the contract, but also manipulated the G.S.A.’s pricing tools to increase the value of the contract by tens of millions of dollars. The report concluded the manager “violated requirements governing ethical conduct.”

The pattern repeated itself when McKinsey failed in multiple attempts to win a separate contract around the same time. Stymied, according to the report, McKinsey browbeat the contracting officer, threatening to resubmit the proposal until it got its way. The G.S.A. manager again intervened — for reasons left unexplained by the report — and McKinsey got its contract.

The report’s assessment of McKinsey’s behavior was withering, and it revealed that the firm subsequently used the same friendly manager to help secure contracts at three other federal agencies in 2017 and 2018. “Multiple contracting officers,” the inspector general wrote, told investigators that McKinsey’s requests were “inappropriate” and “a conflict of interest.”

The report recommended that the G.S.A. cancel the contracts, which as of earlier this year had earned McKinsey nearly $1 billion over a 13-year span. In a response to the report, the G.S.A. stated that it would ask McKinsey to renegotiate the contracts to lower the price. “If McKinsey declines” or “renegotiations do not yield a result in the government’s best interest,” the agency wrote, it would cancel them. Neither has happened to date, according to federal contracting records. A McKinsey spokesman said: “We have reviewed the report and the relevant facts, and have found no evidence of any improper conduct by our firm. We are in negotiations with G.S.A. and look forward to completing them soon.” A G.S.A. spokesperson said it is negotiating for “better pricing” and will not award McKinsey any further work under the contracts until those negotiations are concluded.

McKinsey has also taken steps to evade public accountability. As ProPublica reported, a senior partner leading McKinsey’s work at Rikers asked top corrections officials and members of the consulting team to restrict their communications to Wickr, an encrypted messaging app that deletes messages automatically after a few hours or days. That insulated some of McKinsey’s work from government oversight and public records requests. (“Our policies require colleagues to adhere to all relevant laws and regulations,” a McKinsey spokesman said. He neither confirmed nor denied the use of Wickr.)

Speaking more broadly, the McKinsey spokesman said: “We hear the calls for change. We are working hard to address the issues that have been raised.”

McKinsey has so far escaped serious repercussions for its reluctance to follow inconvenient rules. That could change next year.

Consultancies such as McKinsey, which advise companies restructuring under bankruptcy protection, are required to disclose potential conflicts of interest. For the past few years, McKinsey has been locked in a complicated set of court disputes with Jay Alix, the founder of a competing advisory firm, and with the Justice Department’s bankruptcy watchdog over whether McKinsey failed to follow bankruptcy disclosure rules, a subject The Times has covered in depth.

McKinsey has, since then, disclosed a number of new potential conflicts in old bankruptcy cases and paid $32.5 million to creditors and the United States trustee to settle claims over insufficient disclosures. The trustee has said that “McKinsey failed to satisfy its obligations under bankruptcy law and demonstrated a lack of candor.” The firm denies wrongdoing and says it settled “in order to move forward and focus on serving its clients.”

Subsequently, McKinsey has moved, in effect, to rewrite the rules. It drafted a protocol ostensibly meant to clarify what advisers like itself need to disclose. Critics pointed out that McKinsey’s protocol allows such firms to avoid disclosing relationships they deem indirect or “de minimis.”

There remains more to come. Apart from the criminal investigation, a judge in Houston has scheduled a trial in February to decide the merits of Mr. Alix’s allegations. The judge, David R. Jones, has described the trial in apocalyptic tones. It will be, Judge Jones has said, “the ultimate career ender for somebody.” For McKinsey, a trial would mean being called on to defend its work in public — with real accountability and real consequences for its actions. The firm might even benefit in the long run from the sunlight.