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October 20, 2007

Comments

Come on, you can't really be this naive. These campaigns succeed for 2 basic reasons: 1) When people's emotions are intensely engaged (by fear or anger), their ability to reason is diminished. 2) The "when there's smoke there's fire/big lie" rule: when people hear these kinds of rumors repeatedly, many will begin to assume that there must be some truth to them. Hitler understood the power of the "big lie" very well; why don't you?

I think this sort of attack succeeds because 1)there is a core group of people who want this sort of thing to be true. If you were supporting George Bush, you want to able to point to clear, compelling reasons that you support him rather than someone else. People will believe the worst, especially when it functions to allow them to maintain their belief system. The second reason is that folks who are undecided want to feel like they have inside information and are embarrassed if they had to say 'I didn't know that', so they will accept a lie rather than ask the questions that may have them looking like a fool. Third, you need a battleground where the press would be less likely to follow due diligence in following up stories. That combination of true believers + camp followers + a lazy press seemed to obtain in the South Carolina Republican primary, so it was the perfect place to unleash a smear like that. A similar smear, against the Kenneth Ingram in Alabama, dealt with a similar dynamic.

I was going to go with lj's 1), with maybe a "too juicy to be false" marinade. But also with: A lot of voters get their info via gossip. And perhaps for some voters a candidate who adopted a baby from an exotic country was outside of their comfort zone so the truth wouldn't help. The "mentally unstable" smear wouldn't be refutable with the unprovable truth in any case.

Did McCain ever challenge Bush on this at a debate, esp. during the campaign there?

I've never understood the picture here in this context.

I remember reading somewhere - and I'm damned if I can remember where - that people are more likely to believe something is true if they are told it in passing as something they should already know.

The example I recall is "A person under hypnosis - as I'm sure you already know - will be unable to move their dominant hand." This was said to 50% of a group who were then hypnotised - and who were most of them then not able to move their dominant hand. (The group who had not been told this, were all perfectly able to move either hand.)

The "push polling" thing is an example: you're not being told directly "McCain had an illegitimate mixed-race daughter!" but, indirectly, "Would you be less likely to vote for him as a result of his having an illegitimate mixed-race daughter" - it's presented as something that you already know.

I think lj is right that there's an element, too, of people wanting to support Bush and therefore wanting to believe there were good reasons not to support McCain.

Why there was no investigative reporting of the smear campaign, well, the US msm sucks in so many ways it's hard to list them. Who owns the papers that should have broken the story - and who pays the journalists who should have investigated who was spreading the rumors? Bush got so much help to become President, from first to last - not just the uninvestigated smear campaign, but the judge who decided Bush didn't have to testify in a case about corruption in Texas, the media attacks on Gore... and of course the non-count in Florida and the 5 Supremes. Why did so many people want someone so unsuccessful to be President?

Also, I've heard this from US media sources time and again - they claim a reluctance to run a major story immediately prior to an election because it might influence the course of the election. (And: well, yeah.) The reason the socialists unexpectedly won in Spain was because a major news story about the terrorist attack influenced the course of the election: a news story about how the current prime minister had lied to the public about who was responsible for the terrorist attack, for his own political benefit. That news changed the course of the election, because voters turned against a party whose leader had lied to them about something so important. And rightly so - in a democracy, a free media should keep the voters informed so that they can vote based on the best information they have. The US media often seems to feel otherwise, though.

One problem is innate human ignorance, or the tendency to be so. Another problem is when a select group of people take an interest in increasing the ignorance of the larger population.

People are emotional and not as rational as we would like to think. And organs like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh exist to misinstruct and mislead, not necessarily deliberately but rather out of a benighted (ignorant) self-interest. That's a nasty feedback loop.

It may not be the recipients of the call who end up believing the story. Rather, they tell others about the call, and the story spreads and gets transmuted from being about the call to being the content of the call. This works like the game of "telephone," oddly enough.

All the processes others have mentioned help too.

Another aspect of the SC smear was that McCain was prone to unbalanced explosions of temper. This was genius -- evil genius to be sure -- because it made him restrain himself. Iirc, he did confront the President, who behaved as he truly is.

Has the man ever shown any character at all? Ever? The worship of this pathetic man is truly baffling.

Red pickup truck...sounds like Fred Thompson.

Just a rumor, mind you.

The question of what the media should do is tricky. If the media cover a smear that not everyone already knows about, even if they're debunking it, they could be doing more damage by spreading the story.

Many assertions were made in this smear campaign against McCain. Most of these assertions rehash standard southern fears about big-city vices, and are akin to gift wrapping the main point of the smear:

John McCain was a POW in a North Vietnam prison for five years. He was tortured. No other American Presidential candidate has ever had an item on his resume quite like this. Isn't this, in and of itself, disqualifying for the post he is seeking?

I wouldn't say it was disqualifying if he had recovered better from it, in a mental sense. But that he's got a remarkably nasty temper is not a smear, it's just the truth, and that's not a trait you want in somebody who has the nuclear "football" in reach 24/7.

I personally regard McCain/Feingold, and McCain's admission that HE regards it as an attack on the 1st amendment, as disqualifying. I don't want a President who's on a crusade to destroy ANY part of the Bill of Rights.

I mean, they destroy enough of it just as collateral damage, who needs a President who's TRYING to destroy it?

I don’t actually remember hearing about this at the time (plenty since then of course). But in early 2000 it was under my radar.

OTOH, if it was Rove, he really did you all a favor believe it or not. What McCain would have done (IMO) after 9/11 makes Bush look like the model of restraint…

@ hilzoy:

I would also have thought that even if the candidate who seemed to be benefitting from those rumors denied being behind them, it would be incumbent on him to denounce them in the strongest possible terms, and explicitly deny that they were true.

While I quite agree with these sentiments, hilzoy, a mere denunciation of "rumors" by a political candidate doesn't really seem to be enough to address the problem. IMHO, the issue remains only half-addressed without a concurrent denunciation of the entire process of rumor-spreading as a campaign tactic.

Just to posit an example: Some blogger opposed to Candidate X posts a scurrilous rumor that X's recent war wound was self-inflicted. His opponent, Candidate Y states: "No, I really DON'T believe X blew off his own foot in Afghanistan in a drug-induced stupor - it's just a rumor". The "denial" here merely dismisses the particular charge, and without a corollary, such as: "No, I DON'T believe X blew off his own foot in Afghanistan in a drug-induced stupor - and making baseless charges of this sort is a disgrace: this campaign ought be waged on issues and policies, not smears", it remains a sort of non-denial denial. And, of course, allows the underlying "accusation" to remain in the public mind.

Why politicians do this sort of stuff really isn't a mystery: what is less understandable is why the voting public falls for it and lets them get away with it time and time again.

There might not have been a 9/11.
The ancient Romans already knew: Semper aliquid haeret (something will always stick).
"Saucy" and "new" gossip is also more attractive then boring things like "Bush avoided Vietnam, he had an alcohol problem once" etc.
Given the events of the last few years, what would your "default setting" be, if gossip about sexual misconduct arises about a GOP candidate that is usually celebrated as a paragon of virtue? On the other hand, who would be interested in more "Bill Clinton philandering in the 70ies" news.
Also there is a human tendency to drop conditionals from memory, making the "would you, if you knew..." especially perfidious.
Once something reaches the echo chamber, all is lost anyway.
Other examples:
What would you think of a nuclear armed Iran attacking Israel?
Saddam Hussein and those that attacked us on 9/11...
Could you vote for someone who is regularly attacked as a liar?
Do you think it fair that forged documets are used to smear the president's military service?
You realize that a president Edwards would not use enhanced interrogation to get information form captured terrorists about planned attacks?
...
The last one (made by O'Falafel) may be the best sign how rotten the landscape has become. It is now possible to smear someone by insinuating that he is against torture etc. by simply presenting it as if it were something bad.

Why do these attacks succeed?

The Eugene B. Casey Foundation just purchased the letter, via EBAY, signed by 41 Democratic Senators sent to Rush Limbaugh protesting his recent "phoney soldiers" incident.

In a statement, the foundation said its purchase was intended to demonstrate its belief in freedom of speech and "to support Rush Limbaugh, his views, and HIS CONTINUING EDUCATION OF US."

I believe absolutely in freedom of speech. Which is why I wish Richard Hand's mother would stop blowing me and tell young Richard to shut his gob.

The question of what the media should do is tricky. If the media cover a smear that not everyone already knows about, even if they're debunking it, they could be doing more damage by spreading the story.

It really isn't that tricky. The press isn't supposed to worry about whether or not they'll do more damage by spreading the story by debunking it, because they're not supposed to be taking sides. By not investigating it, they're taking sides.

And Brett, nice way to try to derail the conversation onto something completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

Jay C: Just to posit an example: Some blogger opposed to Candidate X posts a scurrilous rumor that X's recent war wound was self-inflicted. His opponent, Candidate Y states: "No, I really DON'T believe X blew off his own foot in Afghanistan in a drug-induced stupor - it's just a rumor". The "denial" here merely dismisses the particular charge, and without a corollary, such as: "No, I DON'T believe X blew off his own foot in Afghanistan in a drug-induced stupor - and making baseless charges of this sort is a disgrace: this campaign ought be waged on issues and policies, not smears", it remains a sort of non-denial denial. And, of course, allows the underlying "accusation" to remain in the public mind.

Even with the corollary the damage caused by the rumor isn't meaningfully diminished, and the candidate who defends his opponent from the rumor his own people started gets the simultaneous benefit of appearing magnanimous while shrouding his opponent in suspicion and doubt.

OCSteve: OTOH, if it was Rove, he really did you all a favor believe it or not. What McCain would have done (IMO) after 9/11 makes Bush look like the model of restraint…

There's a crucial difference between being an aggressive hawk (McCain) and being a spectacularly mendacious habitual f*ckup who is eager to sort out his personal psychodramas using the world's most powerful military (Bush). What do you suppose McCain would have done after 9/11 that would have been as damaging to our national security and our standing in the diplomatic arena as has the invasion of Iraq and our torture policy?

Incertus, I wasn't referring to the ethical obligations of the press (though the press still needs to decide whether the story is significant enough to investigate, unless they want to spend all their time chasing rumors). Hilzoy seemed to be suggesting that more press coverage would improve the situation, and that's the question I found tricky. I'm not sure that "investigations" of the Clintons' marriage are a positive development in politics (or in journalism, for that matter).

I'm not sure that "investigations" of the Clintons' marriage are a positive development in politics (or in journalism, for that matter).

In one of the strangest and most entertaining elections I've ever seen, Barack Obama came from behind to beat his Democratic primary opponent Blair Hull and then the Republican nominee Jack Ryan had to drop out of the race. Both Hull and Ryan had messy details of their divorce proceedings splashed all over the papers and joked about in local talk radio, etc. Now the ex-wives, Brenda Sexton and Jeri Ryan did not want the scandals to be big news items, but hey, that's politics.

And in the 2006 elections, the Mark Foley scandal broke at the absolutely perfect time to get conservative voters to stay away from the polls. Mike Rogers, John Aravosis, and Rahm Emanuel really succeeded beyond their wildest dreams on that coup.

The rumors of Chief Justice John Roberts' son being gay did not work out quite as well, nor did the accusations of Sam Alito being a racist and he-man woman hater. Not to mention the Justice Thomas confirmation hearings fiasco, which has been back in the blogs a bit lately, with the publication of Thomas' autobiography.

So the politics of personal destruction is quite effective and is used by both major political parties. I'm not going to be surprised at anything that happens between now and 2008.

I'm not that familiar with Maryland politics, but have a notion that the Michael Steele is an Uncle Tom theme went a long way in turning that election.

I bet there are some people who think "These vicious rumors against John McCain are clearly untrue, and I'm sure Karl Rove is ultimately behind them....good. When George Bush is confronting the (Chinese, Iranians, liberals, homosexuals, etc) I want him to be willing to do absolutely anything it takes to achieve his goals." For some people, vicious dishonesty is going to be seen as an asset, because it shows determination, someone who won't back down, someone who will do what it takes to win, someone who is strong, etc., as long as you can get away with it. Machiavelli explains this in _The Prince_ a lot better than I can.

I can't imagine why the stuff about Clarence Thomas (including his ridiculous claims before Congress that he'd never discussed Roe v. Wade) would be back in the blogs lately just because the guy decided to dredge it all up again to make a quick buck.

I was referring to the front-page NYT story some months back about the Clintons, which wasn't reporting any scandal but just speculating about how often they might have sex.

Is it possible to make distinctions between jokes, crimes, abuse of other people, consensual relationships, homosexuality, harassment, lies, facts, hypocrisy, and affairs, or does everything that touches on sex have to be just one big undifferentiated blob of "politics of personal destruction"?

Yes, DaveC, I'm sure that's what decided OCSteve's vote.

When evaluating someone's character, people believe gossip more than their own perceptions.

I'm not that familiar with Maryland politics

The credibility of this comment would have been magnified tenfold if it had ended with the word "politics".

Two reasons:

1. People are more likely to believe rumors even if they are simultaneously given the facts.

Students in a study played a multi-round game where they gave each other money and reviewed the other players. Students gave less to folks that were described as "misers" or "scrooges", and more to people listed as "generous". That held true even when students could see the actual gift amounts; the gossip held more weight than the facts.

2. People who are explicitly told that something is not true are likely to remember that it is.

The study had people read a CDC flyer about flu vaccine myths. After 30 minutes, older people misremembered 28% of the myths as truths; after three days, that jumped to 40%. Younger people took three days to get to the 28% mark. All of them believed that their source of this "knowledge" was the CDC.

Note the sheer number of smears against McCain: treason, insanity, drug addiction, infidelity, miscegenation [1], etc. [2]

There's a normal human tendency, when confronted with two stories and no evidence either way, to assume that the truth must lie somewhere in between. Belief that while these smears aren't all true, two or three of them probably are is quite sufficient.

1. No, that one doesn't bother me, but I'm not a South Carolina Republican.

2. Was there also an implication that McCain couldn't have (white) children with his wife because his infidelities had given her a loathsome disease, or am I thinking of Sweet Bird of Youth?

It's the old joke about the rural, corrupt politician's campaign manager in a tough re-election campaign against a reform candidate. He calls in a young intern and says "I need you to help start a whisper campaign claiming that our opponent has sex with goats."

The intern is shocked, blurting out: "We can't do that! That's disgusting - besides, nobody would believe it."

"I don't care whether anyone believes it" smirks the campaign manager "I just want to force our opponent to have to start denying it!"

I remember reading a story with one possible counter: "Can you prove this is a pillow fight we're in? If so, I've got proof you've been putting rocks in yours - which lead me to put nails in mine..." The problem with this approach is that it disillusions idealistic voters while reinforcing ideologues, hurting liberals more than conservatives.

It all boils down to centralized media ownership by the richest 1/10 of 1 percent of Americans - you know, Bush's base. Once they get rid of net neutrality, they'll own all the means of communication - and Rush Limbaugh's side of the story will be the only one covered.

"The rumors of Chief Justice John Roberts' son being gay did not work out quite as well"

Umm, what rumors? Some one in some random blog's comments made a joke about this, right?


'Obama to do gospel tour with radical right singer who crusades against "the curse of homosexuality"' - hopefully to be fixed soon.

FTR, this was the moment that I decided not to vote in '00. (I strongly supported McCain in '00, and I will proudly continue to hold a grudge, but I couldn't bring myself to vote for Gore. Either one, of course, would have been better than GWB.)

...any candidate who doesn't denounce these sort of attacks as strongly as possible shows himself to be scum, and vote accordingly

There is a cult of 'toughness' in some circles who would consider running such a smear a good thing, and any denunciation of one a sign of fatal weakness.

I still remember being told in 2000 during the Florida recount that it didn't matter if Bush stole the election, because it showed that he wanted it more than Gore, and that degree of ruthlessness was a necessary trait in a President. Someone reluctant to cheat ipso facto lacked the balls to be president -- the bumper sticker version was "Democracy is for pussies".

I seem to remember the thing that was decried as a smear on Roberts was questioning where his children came from, since they're both white but adopted from Latin America or Ireland (it was confusing) and there were questions about 1. how they found the children so quickly and 2. if they were racist since they had to have two white kids. Something like that (my google fu isn't working.) Adoption means SCANDAL, apparently (and maybe with good reason, from what I know of it international adoption is a really sordid business.)

Jay C: I meant denouncing the rumors in the strongest possible terms to include denouncing the process, and the spreaders of rumors. Something along the general lines of: this is completely false; the people who spread it are malicious; if anyone is tempted to vote for me because they heard from some random whisperer that John McCain fathered an illegitimate black child, I don't want their vote; this sort of thing is a threat to our democracy, and must stop now.

Or words to that general effect.

I lost most of my respect for Senator McCain when he sucked up to President Bush about this disgusting episode.

After this disgusting episode, sorry.

I couldn't bring myself to vote for Gore

Was this feeling based on policy or on rumors regarding his character? I'm genuinely interested, because for the life of me I can't figure out what made Gore so unpalatable to moderates policy-wise.

We don't mostly defend ourselves against these things--that's why they work. If the response to those "polls" was "I will not hear such dishonorable charges, and I think the less of you, slug, for insinuating them," well, that would be a different matter. But such a response is out of fashion. The neo-cons prattle of ethics, but actual ethical conduct, and revulsion at unethical conduct--this is beyond them. I am outraged, you are outraged--why is there no outrage in the news, from the pulpit, from the Congress? We need to shout it to the skies and instead...most of us are "reasonable". Me, I've been an unreasonable alarmist for a long time now. Maybe if there were enough unreasonable alarmists, matters would not have come to this pass.

I'm thinking about writing a screenplay set in some post-apocalyptic America where "Democrat" and "Republican" have just become team names for two rival gangs of scavengers.

I talked to a person a few days back who boasted about being a big Bush fundraiser in '04. This surprised me considering all I knew about him was that he pridefully described himself as a libertarian. A libertarian voting for Bush in '04? I just laughed at him.

People are stupid and hateful.

The research Jay Levitt & I cited suggests that you can't fight rumors by rebutting them, because all people end up remembering is the rumor. As things are now, all you can do is attack back, or attack first -- which means an inevitable slide down into the mud-pit.

I wonder if the internet may help develop different habits, in time -- when fact-checking becomes easy, maybe people will get in the habit of doing it. Maybe?

Doctor Science, I think it takes a particular habit of mind to fact-check stories you hear before you repeat them, when the stories (a) fit in with what you think you already know (b) you would really like the stories to be true.

Jes:

Didn't there used to be a name for people who did that sort of thing? What did they call them ... oh, that's right! "Journalists". How quaint.

It's definitely a habit of mind people can be trained into, though. Like my friend who kept telling her mother "snopes.com! snopes.com!", every time her mom forwarded her a lame email rumor. Eventually, her mother learned to go to snopes *first*.

Late to respond. 75 degrees in late October, what can I say? ;)

Gromit: What do you suppose McCain would have done after 9/11 that would have been as damaging to our national security and our standing in the diplomatic arena as has the invasion of Iraq and our torture policy?

McCain has always struck me as the type of person who could go totally “medieval”. Let’s just say that if I was a certain officer in charge of a certain “football” I may have buried it in the backyard for a couple of weeks.


KCinDC: I'm sure that's what decided OCSteve's vote.

I really liked the guy and really wanted to vote for him. But leave it to hilzoy… ;) (She was right of course.)

Doctor Science: Didn't there used to be a name for people who did that sort of thing? What did they call them ... oh, that's right! "Journalists". How quaint.

Sadly, modern American journalists appear to be trained to Buck Cameron standards. They neither investigate the big news stories of the day, nor, if a really juicy story falls into their ken, do they repeat it.

It's definitely a habit of mind people can be trained into, though. Like my friend who kept telling her mother "snopes.com! snopes.com!", every time her mom forwarded her a lame email rumor. Eventually, her mother learned to go to snopes *first*.

Yeah. Maybe someone could set up some kind of school? To train people who wanted to become journalists? I'm sure I've heard of that kind of thing before...

Maybe someone could set up some kind of school? To train people who wanted to become journalists?

and let the elite liberal academia train people how to "report" the news ? no, what this country needs is a school that will teach people how to report news in the FOX News / WorldNetDaily tradition!

But to me, the mystery is: why does this work?

Um, because a hefty plurality of our "liberty loving" fellow citizens are basically ignorant, and approach the "sacred" task of voting with less diligence than they devote to tracking contestants in "American Idol" or "Survivor" or whatever the next big media fandango is? Seems to me the answer to your question is unpleasant, but really pretty simple and obvious.

I'm not that familiar with Maryland politics, but have a notion that the Michael Steele is an Uncle Tom theme went a long way in turning that election.

Hilarious. I AM in Maryland, and one of the highlights of Steele's carnival sideshow was his fictional "People pelted me with Oreo cookies when I tried to give a speech" pity ploy. He won over a whole bunch of fence-sitters when it emerged that the story was total horseshit. But my favorite Steele gambit was the "Steele/Democrat" bumper stickers -- The guy wouldn't even own up to his own party affiliation! In fairness, in a perverse way that DOES shore up his GOP credentials: He's every bit as gutless and dishonest as your average Republican, and he knew that his political future depended on gulling the stone ignorant.

Dr. Science @ 9:45: "you can't fight rumors by rebutting them, because all people end up remembering is the rumor."
Yes, once the rumor has been floated you're in the game whether you like it or not, something overpaid cripples like Donna Brazile, et al. refuse to acknowledge (behaviorally, anyways). Denial or descent are NOT, however, the only options. Going back to the Swifties, one would have to have a planned series of responses which would serve several functions. Just to start, the attackee would have to, in one move, acknowledge and derisively dismiss the attacks strongly and immediately, pointing out the pathetic desperation of those who have to resort to such means. If the attacks persist (and they will, oh, yes they will) he/she would get personal, and not in chickens**t ways like the swifties, but straight out mano a mano. In other words, first define the other candidate (by proxy) as pathetic and weak, and then attack repeatedly, hammering home the image of him/her as being pathetic and weak. Thus the whole repug tactic of relational aggression (i.e., fighting like girls) is swept aside as the attackee has now overtly made it a direct (i.e, here and now) issue of character. Therefore, every following repug attempt at slime would then be seen as negative comment on the supposed beneficiary's character, and the attackee comes off looking like the straight talking adult facing down overgrown emotional retards. Not too tricky; you just gotta do it.

Just to clarify, as a member of the "reality based community" I would say that the necessary follow-up to such a show of strength would be an easily fact-checked reframing of the attempted smear, delivered deliberately and in an emotionally persuasive fashion. One thing about the smear merchants, however, is that they have correctly identified these woodenly obvious tactics as character issues; as in chess, where if you can't defend yourself from the four-move checkmate, no matter your knowledge or erudition you have no place at the table with the big boys, or even the clever hacks. The only way to lift a public that is prone to all the manipulation techniques and attribution errors listed above is to change the narrative, something Edwards has been trying mightily to accomplish. Therefore, in the case of hilzoy's bemoaned lack of fundamental skills of discernment and judgment in the public, I would say that this is a case where the leadership of the left has to perform or retire, and that includes the lefty blogosphere. Either we tell the story, or they will. There is no in-between.

I think I would phrase it more kindly than many of the people in this thread; "most people are really, really stupid" has the implication of "I, of course, would never fall for anything this crude, being intellectually superior," and I'm not so sure about that part.

But the fact is that human beings are not logical evidence-evaluating machines, especially when it comes to the question of when and how to trust other people; we're a peculiar type of social animal, and these attacks usually go for our ancient and powerful gut feelings about strangers from outside the tribe. Nor do people have the ability to separately check dozens of different allegations when the smearer uses the shotgun approach (and covers his trail well enough that it's not clear the smears are all coming from the same source).

Working around this is supposed to be one of the things we have news media for. But the people involved there are just people as well, so it's very hard.

I had a delightfully conservative coworker back in the Clinton-impeachment era who was reading a book or a wacky militia newsletter or something listing all the bad things Clinton had done over the years, including murder, based on the number of people who supposedly knew Clinton and had mysteriously died. His take on it was something very much like "If one tenth of this stuff is true, this guy should go straight to jail." Of course, I asked him if our coworkers should assume that at least one of the ten lies I was about to tell them about him (the coworker) was true. He didn't like that.

I'll add one more reason this sort of attack works:

Many people think any politician is ipso facto covering SOMETHING up. So no rumor seems too farfetched.

I have heard that this was not true before Watergate, but that the media fell so in love with their crusading "All The President's Men" image that they told and retold the story of corrupt politicians covering up scandals until that became the paradigm through which all political news is viewed. The amount of sheer bushwah (no pun intended) I have heard about the one prominent politician I happen to know has been a lesson to me in how far removed from reality our paranoia about politicians can be.

Davis X. Machina
Someone reluctant to cheat ipso facto lacked the balls to be president

A lot of this sort of thinking comes from attitudes cultivated in sports I think. Sports fans will either minimize/igonore cheating or, frequently (and especially if it is of the "break the other guy's bones" variety) will delight in it.

A famous (infamous?) Canadian example occurred during the 1972 Soviet-Canadian hockey series when Bobby Clarke went out and quite deliberately broke the ankle of Kharlamov, the Soviet's best player, with a vicious two-handed slash. Clarke was entirely unapolagetic about it later, baldly stating that the Canadians knew they likely couldn't win the series if Kharlamov continued to play. And, of course, Clarke was admired for this (among very many other) acts of viciousness. It highlighted how great a competitor he was you see.

But to me, the mystery is: why does this work?

Everybody loves a scandal.

The rhetoric in the Presidential election of 1800 was pretty juicy, and that was between Adams and Jefferson, those worthy founders.

"Ma, ma, where's Paw? Gone to the White House, ha ha ha". Of course, Cleveland actually did father an illegitimate child, so maybe that doesn't count as vile slander.

And who can forget "FDR is the Anti-christ"?

Something will always stick, so folks throw whatever they can think of. People love a juicy story.

Thanks -

So why on earth does this sort of attack succeed?

it works because people are stupid.

it works because people are stupid.

That was my first thought when I saw this post. Or, to put it more charitably, because most people are not as smart, well-read, thoughtful, informed and willing to question authority as hilzoy.

OT: You. Have. Got. To Be. Kidding.

"Oh Noes! Peas not duh red noes slash!"

Looks like a burnt gingerbread man with an AK-47. I'm sure that helps morale at the CIA.

all that embossing and that shadow and the big gray gradient background... gack. someone needs their Photoshop Plugin Privileges revoked.

The logo existed at least as far back as Oct">http://www.cia.gov/terrorism/buster.html">Oct 2001. I'm amazed I've never seen it before.

I'm also amazed the CIA lets the Internet Archive archive its site.

It made Boing Boing on 25 Jan 2002. Guess I wasn't paying enough attention then.

It kind of smacks of the totally discredited law enforcement mindset to stopping terrorists™.

DaveC writes:
"So the politics of personal destruction is quite effective and is used by both major political parties. I'm not going to be surprised at anything that happens between now and 2008."
I wonder if this itself constitutes a smear. I checked the listed cite, since I would not like to vote for Obama if the allegations were true. All I found there was that Eric Zorn (a journalist) went after Hull, and that one of Borling's (a republican candidate) aids had started the campaign against Ryan.

i fixed it

PS, rilkefan, i nipped your idea, too.

OT: "Dad, do you know what 'schadenfreude' means?"

Obama's campaign not moving on the above. A similar issue for HRC?

Looks like a burnt gingerbread man with an AK-47.

Now there is a great idea for a Halloween treat for the kids.

Good on Obama.

Davis X. Machina's comment There is a cult of 'toughness' in some circles who would consider running such a smear a good thing, and any denunciation of one a sign of fatal weakness. and Conrad's Ghost stating that prompt and vigorous refutation is needed sounds accurate to me.

During the August 2004 Swift Boating of John Kerry, Josh Marshall phrased this as the "bitch slap" theory:

Consider for a moment what the big game is here. This is a battle between two candidates to demonstrate toughness on national security. Toughness is a unitary quality, really -- a personal, characterological quality rather than one rooted in policy or divisible in any real way. So both sides are trying to prove to undecided voters either that they're tougher than the other guy or at least tough enough for the job.

In a post-9/11 environment, obviously, this question of strength, toughness or resolve is particularly salient. That, of course, is why so much of this debate is about war and military service in the first place.

One way -- perhaps the best way -- to demonstrate someone's lack of toughness or strength is to attack them and show they are either unwilling or unable to defend themselves -- thus the rough slang I used above. And that I think is a big part of what is happening here. Someone who can't or won't defend themselves certainly isn't someone you can depend upon to defend you.

Josh has stated that the answer is not to cry foul but to attack back. This is what the 1992 Clinton campaign did with its "war room". They refuted personal attacks quickly enough to avoid any news cycles where the lie went unchallenged.

Jesurg:
I remember reading somewhere - and I'm damned if I can remember where - that people are more likely to believe something is true if they are told it in passing as something they should already know.

Maybe someone told you that in passing? :)

*ducks*

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