A smear campaign
, smear tactic
or simply smear
is a metaphor
for activity that can harm an individual or group's reputation by conflation
with a stigmatized
group. Sometimes smear
is used more generally to include any reputation-damaging activity, including such colloquialisms as mud slinging
Common targets are public officials, politicians, and political candidates. Smear compaigns are often based on information gleaned from opposition research conducted by paid political consultants. To a lesser degree, the term can refer to an attempt to damage a private person's reputation; for example, during a trial, the opposing counsel may attempt to cast doubt on the reliability of a witness.
The concept of the smear campaign is related to the concepts of propaganda, media bias, yellow journalism, and other falsehood-related terms such as libel and pejoration. In extreme cases, smear campaigns may lead to widespread persecution, such as in the case of the Dolchstoßlegende before WWII.
A smear campaign is an intentional, premeditated effort to undermine an individual's or group's reputation, credibility, and character. "Mud slinging", like negative campaigning
, most often targets government officials, politicians, political candidates, and other public figures. However, private persons or groups may also become targets of smear campaigns perpetrated in schools, companies, institutions, families, and other social groups.
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 malign a group or an individual and to attempt to undermine their credibility.
Smears often consist of ad hominem attacks in the form of unverifiable rumors and are often distortions, half-truths, or even outright lies; smear campaigns are often propagated by gossip spreading. Even when the facts behind a smear are shown to lack proper foundation, the tactic is often effective because the target's reputation is tarnished before the truth is known.
Smears are also effective in diverting attention away from the matter in question and onto the individual or group. The target of the smear is typically forced to defend his reputation rather than focus on the previous issue.
Smear tactics are considered by many to be a low, disingenuous form of discourse; they are nevertheless very common.
Smear tactics are commonly used to undermine effective arguments or critiques. For example, Ralph Nader
was the victim of a smear campaign during the 1960s, when he was campaigning for car safety. In order to smear Nader and deflect public attention from his campaign, General Motors
engaged private investigators to search for damaging or embarrassing incidents from his past. General Motors eventually was forced to publicly apologize to Nader.
In January 2007, it was revealed that an anonymous website that attacked critics of Overstock.com, including media figures and private citizens on message boards, was operated by an official of Overstock.com.
In many countries, the law recognizes the value of reputation and credibility. Both libel
(a false and damaging publication) and slander (a false and damaging oral statement) are often punishable by law and may result in imprisonment or compensation or fees for damages done.
- FactCheck - We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit, "consumer advocate" for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases. Our goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.
- MediaMatters - Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.
- Spinsanity - A U.S. political website that specializes in highlighting smear tactics and other unethical forms of political discourse.
- FearAndSmear - Exposing fear tactics, FUD and deliberate misinformation in Politics, Business & on the Internet