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April 07, 2007

Smear Campaign Tactics: The Anatomy of Ugly

"This is the classic course a smear campaign takes. A group throws up accusations that, when subjected to scrutiny, prove to be full of holes....The media have to do more than "he said/he said" reporting. If the charges don't hold up, they don't hold up."
- E.J. Dionne, Tests of a Smear Campaign, The Washington Post, Tuesday, August 24, 2004; Page A17

The game goes something like this: Politician A tries to get a dialogue going about the issues of the day, but Politician B is more interested in engaging in political oneupsmanship, so he
1. raises an entirely unrelated issue (the facts about which may be, at best, dubious) or
2. repeats some pre-scripted but essentially meaningless mantra that's designed to score points at Politician A's expense.

The ugliest sound bytes end up on the evening newscast and in the morning newspaper, digested by an increasingly cynical and time-pressed electorate who may not have the time or the inclination to track down both sides of the story behind that sensational sound byte -- if, in fact, both sides are even on offer. Increasingly, a politician's image is moulded by the way the media handles these carefully orchestrated moments of political theatre. Forget political attack ads; a couple of choice clips of bully action from the floor of the House of Commons can make or break a politician's image as, day after day, CPAC serves up its surreal reality TV experience.

We've witnessed months and months of a pre-election smear campaign dress rehearsal in The House of Commons. It makes you wonder how low the real campaign will go once someone fires the starting pistol. Given what I've witnessed during my own brief time as a campaign volunteer, I'm not surprised that the preferred term for a campaign headquarters is a war room. To those who take the game of politics deadly seriously, politics is war. And all's fair in love and war....right?

Related:
CTV.ca | U.S. election ads -- The 12 worst smear campaigns
CBC: The Fifth Estate - Sticks and Stones
Maclean's: Suddenly it's the left crying
Political Bias in the Media: The Tough Job of Communicating with Voters
Media Bias is Real, Finds UCLA Political Scientist

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