The Art of the Smear-Campaign

It’s a well-known fact that we love to smear our public figures. The Guardian’s Sydney Blumenthal writes:

In the US, there is virtually no legal protection for a public figure, especially a political one, from defamation. Libel laws are de facto defunct. Public opinion is inevitably swayed by this tainting, all journalism has fallen under suspicion and truth cannot easily be distinguished from malicious fiction.

Indeed, our history is full of pivotal media-moments in which scandal has risen to a level of social importance. Bill Clinton is not unfamiliar with his reputation coming under question. Though the Lewinsky scandal was, indeed, based in truth, in the end it had no provable impact on any American policy or the policy decisions of president Clinton. Yet it still led to him being impeached. I’m not saying this to defend Bill Clinton (I have a bone or two to pick with him) but rather to hi light the fact that smear campaigns, though having little relevance to policy-issues, do greatly influence public opinion.

Even more troubling is the fact that sometimes these smear campaigns are based upon falsity. Matt Drudge, of the conservative (and often sensational) Drudge Report published a piece alleging Bill Clinton to be the father of an Arkansas teen.  It’s certainly sensational and is full of venomous language, but as far as I can tell the sources are mainly tabloid papers.

Another famous smear campaign is that surrounding Andrew Breitbart of BigGovernment.com and his smear campaign against USDA official Shirley Sherrod when she spoke at an NAACP dinner. George Curry, an NNPA columnist writes:

It began with an Internet posting at 11:18 a.m. on Monday, July 19. Right-wing blogger Andrew Breitbart uploaded a heavily-edited video of a speech Shirley Sherrod gave to an NAACP dinner in Douglas, Ga. It was posted under the headline “Video Proof: The NAACP Awards Racism” on BigGovernment.com, one of Breitbart’s sites.

The slanted editing made it appear as though Sherrod was boasting about discriminating against a White farmer when, in fact, her point was that people of all races should move beyond their personal biases.

A blow-by-blow reconstruction of events was developed by examining news accounts, doing some original reporting and reading a detailed report by Media Matters, the news monitoring group.

It’s a shame that this sort of trash can get coverage in the mainstream media. These falsities not only hurt people’s careers, but distract people from the real issues our society has at hand. A free press is supposed to beget an informed citizenry, not an arena where people destroy one anthers reputations for personal gain.

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