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Character Assassination

 

Techniques Propaganda > Character Assassination

Method | Example | Discussion | See also

 

Method

Attack the person, showing them to be bad and unworthy. Any of the 'four Ds' below may be used (as well as additional methods):

  • Discredit them, showing their arguments and decisions are weak and they are incapable in their work.
  • Use defamation, damaging the good reputation and name of others.
  • Demonize them, turning them into bad people that everyone hates, such that anything they do will be considered bad.
  • Dehumanize them, treating them as a 'thing' and framing them as non-human with negligible values.

Example

George W. Bush, former US President, was demonized over his cavalier attitude towards warfare.

Arthur Scargill, a trade union leader, was discredited by Margaret Thatcher's tactics during the 1980s miner's strikes, where the strikes failed to have any serious economic effect. She was then able to close most mines without further protest.

Immigrant populations are often dehumanized by right-wing nationalist groups who stereotype by talking about 'these people' and use other degrading terminology. If they have a leader, then this person's character will likely be attacked.

Discussion

Character assassination techniques do not need to be true. 'Mud sticks' as they say and an accusation of wrong-doing is enough to sow the seeds of doubt in the minds of others. Witch-hunts, both ancient and modern use such methods.

Politicians are famed for their attacks on their political opponents, from sly innuendo to dragging skeletons from hidden closets. Their allies and enemies in the media do this too, and a libelous headline can cause damage that no retraction can erase.

Storytelling may be used in the assassination process, framing the person as a villain and weaving a story around them about their evil deeds. Stories seem more true than simple assertions and so have greater power.

Most of the population of a country depend on the media for the 'truth', which gives the media immense power and hence also a target for politicians who may try to influence or even infiltrate newspapers and other broadcasters.

With the advent of the web and blogging, the situation is more confused as both propagandists and anti-propagandists make bold assertions that are impossible to verify.

Smear campaigns can be used not only against individuals but also organizations, for example governments framing anti-war protestors as cowards or companies accusing trade unions of being influenced by foreign communists.

In fallacies of argumentation, attacking the person is also known as 'Ad Hominem'.

See also

Card-stacking, Stereotyping, Name-calling, Attack the Person, Attack, Villainous characters

 

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