An aging US journalist currently based in Hanoi (let’s call him PM) probably thought he was being collegial by posting this hatchet job on the Vietnam Studies Group (VSG) listserv. For the uninitiated, which would be 99.9% of you, said listserv provides “resources and information for scholarly research, study, and teaching about Vietnam.” (The main reason I’m still a member is for the occasional nugget of information gold in an otherwise vast expanse of esoteric ore.)
The article, written by anti-Vietnam British journalist Bill Hayton (BH), and his anonymous co-author, “Tro Ly Ngheo,” who is probably Bill’s alter ego, is pure, unadulterated bullshit. Having lived in Viet Nam for nearly 15 years, including through the COVID-19 time, his rant makes one wonder if he’s ever set foot in this country. (He has.)
After glancing at the clickbait title, check out the first paragraph:
When the Hanoi-based economic consultant Raymond Mallon returned home after a trip abroad in late March, he was immediately texted by the local police asking after his health. Vietnam is a state that not only knows where you live but also knows when you go away—and your mobile phone number.
Here’s Mr. Mallon’s same-day response to VSG:
Of course, it was not at surprising that officials knew when we got back and that they had our phone number: we were required to provide this in a health declaration provided prior to departure. My surprise was the efficient way the information provided was used and the friendliness displayed to us by the official in question. For information the reference to me appears to come from the following tweet.
Village VN police texted us to ask about our health after our flights back to Hanoi. We sent a picture of us with masks on watching tv. He sent a meme back with a pumping heart and asked if we were really wearing masks inside. 🙂
Touché! The first shot was fired. A short time later, another, much larger shoe dropped:
Thanks Ray for the clarification!
What I hear from friends and relatives in Vietnam is that there was tremendous public health work including tracking, tracing and treating. People in neighborhoods that were quarantined who needed it received food and other necessaries from the government and people I heard from who were quarantined for 14 days in military centers received decent food and lodging at no cost.
Contrast Vietnam’s low infection rate and no deaths with what we are facing here in the US:
As of now, there are 83,082 people killed by COVID-19 including 21,845 in NY. About half of those who died are elderly people living in nursing homes, in all the states that reported nursing home deaths. The lack of PPE has meant that the most vulnerable patients in some cases were left to die without every effort being made to save them. With the stay at home orders being prematurely relaxed in some areas, doctors estimate that the death toll could rise to hundreds of thousands.
Nurses have literally died from lack of PPE. Contract tracing and followup has yet to be done and is only in the planning stages now, months after the pandemic started here. Millions of people who have lost their jobs have also lost their health insurance and those who have had to be treated in hospital will be receiving huge bills that they have no way to pay. People who never had health insurance are sometimes afraid to go to the hospital and quite a number have been found dead in their houses from COVID-19.
Our national government has told us that that corporate profits are more important than our lives, as the open up businesses in areas where COVID spread is going up. And some politicians have told the elderly (like me and Nhan) who are old and the vulnerable that we should be ready to die to protect the economy!
So I would gladly have a polite official come to my home to inquire about my health or to tell me that I had been exposed by others so I could be proactive about my health and not endanger others!
Merle Ratner, Independent Analyst, NY
That’s the intellectual equivalent of taking BH and “Ngheo” out to the proverbial woodshed. Double ouch! Here are two more, for good measure.
Thank you for your email. If I understand you correctly, are you saying that you were quoted in this article on government repression without your knowledge and your tweet used without your permission (and, it seems, taken out of context)?
If so, this is deeply problematic for journalism in general, but for VSG in particular.
Christina Schwenkel, concerned VSG executive committee member
In this post both the OP and the author(s) get an official slap on the wrist. Note the reference to “legitimate news sources.”
Hello all –
As to the original posting, please do not post full articles to the list; this potentially violates copyright. Please post a link (URL). Secondly, we (VSG Executive Committee) want to remind all to please post legitimate news sources. During this pandemic there has been more than one questionably sourced item sent to the list. VSG remains focused on scholarship on Vietnam, not rumors or unsubstantiated news. I find it particularly egregious when authors of articles are not directly sourcing material. Lastly this is a list about Vietnam not Laos, Cambodia or Covid 19.
The core mission of the Vietnamese Studies Group listserv is facilitating the exchange of academic knowledge about Vietnam and Vietnamese history, society, culture, and politics. Although not all contributors to the VSG list are professional scholars, all contributors are required to uphold the values of professionalism and mutual respect befitting a scholarly community. To this end, list contributors must observe the following rules:
Rule re copyright: 6. Participants shall respect copyrights. (Please do not post copyrighted news articles to the list. You can refer to a URL, or selectively cut and paste materials as part of a discussion); https://sites.google.com/a/uw.edu/vietnamstudiesgroup/discussion-networking
Thank you, Maggie (Margaret B. Bodemer, Ph.D.)
Margaret B. Bodemer, Ph.D., History Department and Asian Studies Minor, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
Four shoes have dropped and I look forward to some more. Speaking of woodsheds, let the rhetorical beating continue. It’s well-deserved! So far, it’s crickets from BH and PM. Don’t hold your breath.
BH did what any good yellow journalist with an ax to grind would do, in this case, against the Vietnamese government and, by extension, the nation of Viet Nam. Just find the information that helps you grind your ax, no sources required, even if you have to take it out of context. So much for critical thinking or the importance of facts, for that matter. Then run with it and find a media outlet stupid or biased enough to publish it.
Why does BH have a bee in his bonnet about Viet Nam? One reason is that the government refused to renew his visa after he was a BBC correspondent during 2006-07. (The same thing happened to PM in 2013 in China, putting an end to his decades-long career as a journalist in that country. Two peas in a pod?) Never miss an opportunity for payback, regardless of what it does to your sagging reputation.
PM, who posted this tripe on VSG, thereby wasting a lot of people’s time, probably did so because agrees with the thrust of the article.
Let’s have a look at the latest COVID-19 stats for BH’s and PM’s countries, and Viet Nam, shall we?
Total Cases Deaths Active Cases
UK 233,151 33,614 196,537
USA 1,457,593 86,912 1,052,654
Viet Nam 312 0 52
Shame on BH and his alter ego for writing this garbage and shame on Foreign Policy for publishing it. If you believe what BH wrote, you’re no better than the Trumpenvolk who believe that Dear Leader is a trusted source of information and that he was being sarcastic when he said that people should consider injecting themselves with a disinfectant as a cure for COVID-19. (Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that, said the idiot-in-chief.)
Here are two more comments, the rhetorical icing on the cake.
It is interesting that some authors try to find repressive government and communist actions as the success for stopping the virus in VN never questioning why the pandemic goes on strongly in the US where our government wasted time blaming China for the pandemic and nothing was done. Of course the US ended up doing much the same as China but making it “voluntary”, ha ha, in the US and we still have a strong pandemic going on. When in VN a very few years ago I saw community organizations in action as well as the union movement and the Communist Party in getting things done with some expedience and community involvement. Here in the US our democracy is hardly working. From the top down, Trump to local governments, corporations pay for elections and buy the politicians elected and we are getting no where on anything except profits and wealth for the few, which is a more democratic system?
A small note on this rather odd article: why does the caption on the first photo declare a perfectly helpful and truthful Public Service Announcement (PSA) on the habitual and proper wearing of masks to be a “propaganda poster”?
To be sure, there are lots of propaganda banners in Vietnamese public life, all the vinh quang’s and vĩ đại’s and đời đời’s and such. But this is a run-of-the-mill PSA, employing the “enemy” metaphor for the virus as has been done the world over, one of many PSAs that are essential tools in an effective anti-pandemic arsenal.
That Foreign Policy reflexively employed “propaganda poster” for a normal PSA in communist Viet Nam can be seen as, well, …propaganda.
It also speaks volumes about this article. When your hammer is exposing Vietnamese government repression, everything looks like a nail. I don’t believe this very tragic and dangerous pandemic should be used as a nail. (It’s also a bit disrespectful to Vietnamese civil society that is rightfully proud of the Covid response.) And when one decides nonetheless to use Covid-19 as a nail, the result is the troubling array of poor examples that others have already pointed out, from the misuse of a (decontextualized) tweet to the wandering Frenchman. Do we really believe that he was passively “shadowed” for two weeks, and did “Tro Ly Ngheo” not bother to ask him if he was interviewed and health-checked (as he should have been) at previous stops prior to Hội An?
Christoph Giebel, Ph.D., Assoc. Professor of International Studies and History; Director of Graduate Studies, S.E. Asia Center, Jackson School of Int’l. Studies; The Col. Donald W. Wiethuechter, USA Ret. Endowed Faculty Fellow in History, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Enough said. If you have the time and the stomach for it, read the article and judge for yourself, dear reader.
Shalom (שלום), MAA