SMEAR (Glossary Entry)


Today’s propaganda related term is one that you’ve no doubt heard before.


In her new book, ‘The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote‘, Sharyl Attkisson provides a simple, yet insightful definition of the term. She defines “Smear” as:

“An effort to manipulate opinion by promulgating an overblown, scandalous, and damaging narrative. The goal is often to destroy ideas by ruining the people who are most effective at communicating them.”

I think it’s important to remember that it’s the ideas that smear artists are out to destroy. It’s easy to focus on the people, or organizations, but it’s the ideas they’re after. When someone has been successfully demonized, their ideas become invalid in the minds of the public. This despite the fact that the ideas themselves haven’t actually been fairly scrutinized, or debated. The goodness or badness of an idea should be judged independently of the person or organization communicating it. That’s not to say that we should ignore what their motive is in propagating the idea. We should absolutely pay close attention to that. But if we dismiss ideas simply because we oppose those who communicate them, then we aren’t thinking critically. We’re doing exactly what the propagandists want us to do.

Attkisson goes on to describe the covert nature of the methods used by these skilled smear artists.

“What you may not know is that a lot of this manipulation is done through methods that are utterly invisible to the average consumer. Paid forces devise clever, covert ways to shape the total information landscape in ways you can’t imagine. The goal is to fool you. Public ideas are meticulously orchestrated to appear random. Op-eds printed in major news publications are ghostwritten by paid agents in the name of shills who rent the use of their signature. Private eyes dig up dirt on enemies by dumpster-diving for embarrassing information and compromising material.”

Propaganda is hard to recognize. This is true for even those who’ve studied it the most. The elites have spent over 100 years studying how to manipulate the public without the public knowing it. The father of modern propaganda, Edward Bernays, expressed his confidence in their ability to do this in his book, ‘Propaganda‘, when he wrote,

“If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without them knowing it.”

That book was published in 1928, nearly 90 years ago. The fact is that if we’re certain that we can’t be fooled, then we’re the easiest ones to fool. Critical thought, relentless inquiry, emotional regulation, and true consideration of the perspectives of those whom we disagree. These are the tools propagandists don’t want us to use. They are what empower us to see through the illusion.

For more propaganda related terms, visit our propaganda glossary

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