A smear, according to Merriam-Webster’s unabridged is “a deliberate and usually unsubstantiated charge or accusation intended to foment distrust or hatred against the person or organization so charged.”

As a logical fallacy, it is one-half of ad hominem. The fallacy runs as follows: “Mr. X is immoral. Therefore, his argument is false.” Today’s smear merchants, to use Sharyl Attkisson’s term, specialize in using the first sentence, embellished and sensationalized in varied ways, and omit any pretense of talking about logical argument.

In a world where facts don’t matter, our culture has become Goebbelsian. (See also 1, 2, 3, 4.)

Attkisson’s book The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, What you Think, and How You Vote cites Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda from 1933-45, as one of the pioneers of smear-merchantry. The Gobbelsian method, in Attkisson’s words, says: “Tell a big lie. Focus and repeat—until the audience recites it in their sleep” (p. 12).

Smear merchants are unprincipled promoters who work for the highest bidder, and they have worked on both sides of the political aisle, but the difference today is that in the last twenty to twenty-five years that Attkisson chronicles, there are more “useful innocents” on the progressive Left who fan the flames of the smear.*

The fanners, says Attkisson, are the mainstream press, reporters eager for hot stories with legs, fed to them by the promoters and reproduced wholesale with little investigation on their part. The reporters, of course, are oblivious (or hostile) to the concept of objectivity in journalism and their own biased premises guiding the sensationalized slurs.

How do the smear merchants work? First, they funnel millions of dollars into nonprofit organizations that pretend to be unbiased watchdogs and protectors of the “public good.” (Words like “free” or “free society” are no longer used.) Next, they find influential targets to destroy, targets who are considered enemies of the “public good” (which means political correctness).

The organization assigns one Nazi- or Soviet-style “minder” (my term, not Attkisson’s) to read, listen to, or watch every word of the target, sitting in wait for the tiniest slipup, though the slip does not have to be actual. It may only be apparent, but once the smear merchants do their work, the audience will see it as actual.**

The slip, or alleged slip, is posted on the internet and distributed to hundreds of sympathetic members of the press who will then magnify and sensationalize it and express unforgiveable outrage, demanding not just groveling apologies but removal of the target from his or her influential post.

Part of the smear technique that is new in today’s world of the internet is the immediate use of social media and email. Media Matters, the most notorious and effective of these organizations, uses an algorithm and a small number of operatives to send thousands of social media messages and emails that appear to come from thousands of different people from all over the country. They all, of course, express the same outrage as the press.

The death blow for the target is thousands of emails sent to advertisers, who seldom have the spine to stand up to these kinds of assaults or the will or resources to verify the assertions. Advertisers then join the cabal for removal.

This is how Don Imus was removed from CBS radio and Glenn Beckand Bill O’Reilly were removed from Fox television. Sean Hannity was attacked in the same way, but he was prepared and has survived.

Imus, for example, made his name making shockingly offensive remarks as humor about a wide variety of people all over the political spectrum. The last straw for the Left were racial comments made in jest by him and his producer.

Beck, in a Media Matters campaign funded by wealthy Leftist George Soros, was accused of potentially inciting violence, domestic terrorism, and recklessly endangering innocent lives. O’Reilly was smeared for unverified charges of sexual harassment.

Hannity fought back loudly and at length on his television show and threatened to sue for slander and libel, which is what is necessary to defeat the smear merchants.

Joseph Goebels reportedly said, “A lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.” This is the essential modus operandi of the smear merchants.

What happens if someone from the other side of the aisle commits a slip? Nothing. Attkisson lists seven such actual, not apparent, slipups—double standards, she calls them. One slip was dismissed simply as a “lame attempt at humor” (pp. 52-53). Everything thereafter was right with the world.


* I begrudgingly use the kinder words of Ludwig von Mises. Mises used the words to describe naïve, alleged classical liberals who flirted with and made concessions to the communists. “Useful idiots,” my preferred choice, were words attributed to Lenin, apparently mistakenly, though Lenin had many such idiots to swallow and distribute his propaganda. Attkisson just calls the innocents “friendlies in the media.”

** “Tracker” is what the organizations call their minders. When the target commits a verboten slip, or pretended slip, many more trackers may be assigned to gather ammunition for the kill.


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