|Part of the Politics series|
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 campaigns 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.
Smear campaign is related to 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.
||The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (December 2010)|
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. In early March 1966, several media outlets, including The New Republic and The New York Times, reported that GM had tried to discredit Nader, hiring private detectives to tap his phones and investigate his past and hiring prostitutes to trap him in compromising situations. Nader sued the company for invasion of privacy and settled the case for $284,000. Nader's lawsuit against GM was ultimately decided by the New York Court of Appeals, whose opinion in the case expanded tort law to cover "overzealous surveillance." Nader used the proceeds from the lawsuit to start the pro-consumer Center for Study of Responsive Law.
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.
See also 
- Longhine, Laura (December 2005). "Ralph Nader's museum of tort law will include relics from famous lawsuits—if it ever gets built". Legal Affairs.
- "President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Federal Role in Highway Safety: Epilogue — The Changing Federal Role". Federal Highway Administration. 2005-05-07.
- Nader v. General Motors Corp., 307 N.Y.S.2d 647 (N.Y. 1970)
- Antilla, Susan (February 21, 2007). "Overstock Blames With Creepy Strategy". Bloomberg News Service.
- Mitchell, Dan (January 20, 2007). "Flames Flare Over Naked Shorts," The New York Times.
- Boyd, Roddy (January 2, 2007). "Overstock.com Lashes Out at Critics on the Web". The New York Post.