Modern Day McCarthyism

I was recently listening to a program on the rise of “red-baiting” in some Vietnamese-American communities. It’s apparently becoming a common rhetorical strategy:

On April 16, 2009, the Thurston County Court ruled in favor of a Vietnamese man who sued for defamation. This case was the first of its kind in the state of Washington. . . . The court found the five defendants . . . guilty for wrongly accusing the plaintiff . . . of having communist sympathies.

[I]n this case, both the defendants and plaintiffs fought against communism during the Second Indochina War. All those interviewed invoked a word commonly used within the Vietnamese émigré community to describe the act of wrongly accusing someone of communist sympathies: chụp mũ. As this trial brought to light, chụp mũ is a widespread practice among Vietnamese community leaders. However, it is very rare for a person who has been chụp mũ to sue his/her accusers.

This might be an interesting precedent for those accused by shock jocks of being socialist, Marxist, Bolshevik, or in favor of concentration camps.

It also brought to mind the vituperative attacks often directed at Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times. As a recent profile noted, many are bizarrely dismissive of her pathbreaking work:

“The consensus view of her among actual business people I know is pure contempt,” says [a source who] has represented high-profile business-press targets. “Her work has a sort of drive-by, potshot quality to it that leads to habitual mistakes and ideological laziness. She is reflexively opposed to free markets and assumes bad faith in almost every subject or person she examines.”

[But] many will be surprised to learn she’s a moderate Republican. “I believe in capitalism,” she says. “To me it’s natural that I would go after the people who are wrecking it.”

What becomes apparent over several conversations is that Morgenson is a business reporter–no more, no less. She’s more likely to mention investors as her main concern than readers or “the public.” Her views are pragmatic, sometimes small-bore to the point that her detail-laden writing can turn off casual readers. Her fixes are meliorative and not particularly original–better regulation, more competition. Her radical idea is, basically, that regulators should regulate, rating agencies should rate according to the merits of the credit, corporate compensation committees should set executive pay at arm’s length, directors should look to the interests of shareholders first, large shareholders should act like the owners they are and mortgage lending should be something other than a game of three-card monte. That these views are seen as “antibusiness” in some circles tells us less about Morgenson than about the ethical breakdown among this generation’s corporate elites.

People like Morgenson realized that the abuse of the capitalist system could lead to its decline around the world. It’s sad to think that in today’s lapdog business press, shibboleths have often supplanted sober appreciation of the stellar work she’s done.

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