Smear campaign

From Academic Kids

A smear campaign or smear tactics are deliberate attempts by an individual or group to malign another individual or group's reputation. Common targets are public officials, politicians, and political candidates, but to a much lesser degree, the term can apply to the attempts to damage the reputation of private individuals, for example witnesses in the context of a trial. The smear campaign is related to the concepts of propaganda, media bias, yellow journalism, as well as falsehood-related terms such as libel and perjoration. In the extreme, smear campaigns can take on the character of a widespread persecution, as in the case of the dolchstoslegende before WW II.

Smear tactics are especially common whenever they may be used to undermine those presenting an effective argument or critique. A famous example in the 60s involved as its victim, Ralph Nader, then a car safety campaigner. General Motors engaged private investigators to attempt to 'dig dirt' on Nader in order to 'smear' him to deflect public attention from his, to the manufacturers, troublesome campaign for safer cars. Eventually General Motors was forced to publically apologize to Nader. American Car safety legislation was considerably bolstered and many car safety features including seatbelts, were introduced and car accident death rates began to fall drastically, despite ever busier roads.

A smear campaign is also commonly referred to as "mud slinging".

Smear tactics differ from normal discourse or debate in that they do not bear upon the issues or arguments in question. A Smear is a simple attempt to 'rubbish' a group or an individual and to seek to undermine their credibility.

Smears are very often distortions, half-truths or even outright lies, and are commonly unverifiable rumours; that is to smear by gossip spreading. Even when the facts behind a smear are shown to be without proper foundation the tactic is often effective because the target's reputation is tarnished before this is known.

Smears are also effective as a distraction, pulling attention away from the matter in question and onto the individual or group. The target of the smear is typically forced away from addressing the issue at hand into a rearguard action defending their reputation.

Smear Tactics are considered by many to be a low, disingenous form of discourse, nevetheless the tactic is very common.

See also

External link

  • The US political website Spinsanity ( specializes in highlighting smear tactics amongst other low forms of political discourse.

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