Honest Brokers: Th e Politics of Expertise in the “Who Lost China?” Debate Owen Lattimore was one of the most widely admired and infl uential Sinologists in America in 1950 when he was attacked by Senator Joseph McCarthy. No complex social system can survive without knowledge specialists who provide information that political actors rely on to make decisions. But what happens when the advice is widely considered to be incorrect? Using the debate in the early 1950s over “Who Lost China?,” assigning responsibility for the fall of the Nationalist Chinese regime to the Communists, I examine the political battles that surrounded Lattimore’s reputation. Smears (a set of linked and critical claims) and degradation ceremonies (the institutional awarding of stigma) are central tools within contentious reputational politics, undercutting knowledge regimes through the exercise of institutional power. For an expert’s reputation to be preserved, the expert must be defi ned as competent (having an appropriate background), innocent (taking a neutral stance), and infl uential (providing relevant information)
As we evaluate the failures in our invasion of Iraq, much blame has been
placed on the advice of a group of men and women labeled neoconservatives. Th ese policy experts have been targeted with misinterpreting information and providing advice that contributed to mistaken, even disastrous,
American policy. But more than just being wrong in their expectations,
some critics, such as Seymour Hersh, suggest that these policy experts
constituted a “cult,” and others allege that they were a group that placed
the interests of the Bush administration, the Republican Party, or the state
of Israel above that of the United States.