Smear campaign

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The newspaper Der Stürmer , which was publicly displayed during the Nazi era , ran a permanent smear campaign against Jews .

A dirty campaign is a term used to describe targeted measures that are intended to damage the reputation of a person, group or institution . To this end, public opinion is manipulated by launching false or falsified information and corresponding opinions . In extreme cases, the dirty campaign can turn into a smear campaign that threatens the target person (s) through conscious mobilization of hatred and calls for violence to life and limb. This happened in the run-up to the genocide in Rwanda .

Mass media are mostly used as a tool for such campaigns . The author of the campaign can either be the owner of the medium or use it. If a campaign is skilfully carried out, the originator can hardly be identified and the person or group attacked can do little to prevent the damage to their reputation.

The terms of dirt and smear campaign also as a political struggle terms used to bring or to silence critics to put factual critical reporting in a negative light ( "The accusations against me are a smear campaign" ). A related phenomenon in the world of work is bullying .

Target groups and people

Very different groups of people come into question as goals, for example:

  • Ethnic or religious groups
  • Political groups and parties
  • States, as well as their populations or governments
  • Politicians in the election campaign
  • Scientists, journalists or politicians who have aroused the displeasure of a particular interest group, e.g. B. through critical positions or expressions of opinion towards an industry or an individual company
  • Celebrities who have declined to work with a particular medium. This is regularly done by tabloids .


Filth and smear campaigns are carried out using methods of disinformation and propaganda . Tendentious reporting by the media can also be included in a weaker form , for example by using certain negative terms (e.g. social parasites ). According to the purpose, factual arguments play a subordinate role. Accusations are often based on rumors or assumptions and are not proven, facts are selectively selected or misrepresented. Filth and smear campaigns can also serve as diversionary maneuvers to divert attention from another topic undesired by the campaign originator (see also disinformation and media manipulation ).

Characteristic of such campaigns is:

  • the orientation towards the public or a specific target group , usually in the form that specific information or misinformation is made available to the media . This often happens in a coordinated chronological order so that, for example, a person or group of people does not disappear from the headlines for a long time.
  • the disproportionality (sometimes also irrelevance) of the arguments and the means used, the aim of which is less to clarify the facts than to defame the victim. Often factual arguments are mixed up with purely emotional and defamatory points of view.



Badge of the movement “Dispossessed Springer”, 1969. The campaign was a reaction to the reports of the Springer media on the left student movement, which the left felt to be unbearable. The slogan from 1967 goes back to Walter Barthel .
  • Smear campaigns were a central element of Nazi propaganda politics . They were directed against Jews in particular , but also against other minorities, such as the Roma and the disabled. They were controlled centrally from the Propaganda Ministry by Joseph Goebbels . The newspaper Der Stürmer by Julius Streicher did a particularly good job of publishing defamatory caricatures about Jews.
  • After Günter Wallraff had written an exposé book about the practices in an editorial office of the Bild newspaper in 1977 , Bild launched a campaign to destroy its reputation. This included spying on relatives and acquaintances by Bild reporters as well as the repeated dissemination of freely fabricated, degrading allegations about Wallraff, for example that he was an alcoholic or that during his time as a Bild reporter he constantly reported false facts and thereby plunged people into misery ( Wallraff lied - and a woman's children were taken away. )
  • Bild-Zeitung published pornographic photos of German-Turkish actress Sibel Kekilli in 2004 after she refused to collaborate with the newspaper in exposing her short career as a porn actress. The articles related to the photos were interspersed with contemptuous and degrading statements about the actress.


  • Rumors as character assassination against the historian and human rights activist Yuri Dmitriev


  • Affair Borer: The former Swiss ambassador to Germany, Thomas Borer , lost his office because the tabloid Blick had reported an alleged sexual affair, which he denied and which was later revoked by the alleged lover.

United States

  • There were massive smear campaigns in the era of Rote Angst , especially between 1917 and 1920 and between 1947 and 1957 (→ McCarthy era , → COINTELPRO ).
  • After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the American PR agency Hill & Knowlton launched the story that Iraqi soldiers tore babies from their incubators after the invasion of Kuwait and thus killed them. The Kuwaiti nurse, who tearfully reported the events to a congressional committee, turned out to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the USA and the story was completely made up. At the time of its publication, however , the Incubator Lie caused the greatest worldwide outrage and strong support for the planned liberation of Kuwait under the leadership of the US in 1991.
  • American investigative journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Gary Webb wrote a series of articles in 1996 about the involvement of the CIA in the cocaine trafficking that attracted enormous attention. As a result, his newspaper came under massive, ongoing criticism from major American newspapers. These attacked Webb's work and his qualifications without refuting them in detail, which was rated by independent observers as an organized campaign. After the publication of his book Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras , and the Crack Cocaine Explosion (see Iran-Contra Affair ) in 1998, he lost his job as a journalist and was never able to gain a foothold in his field of work. He committed in 2004 in suicide , the circumstances of his death are disputed. The content of his series of articles was largely confirmed in a published internal investigation report by the CIA in 1998.
  • In the 2004 presidential campaign between John Kerry and George W. Bush , a recently formed group of Vietnam War veterans ( Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ) influenced the campaign by disseminating negative opinions and alleged revelations about Kerry's past as a soldier. According to many critics, the group was founded on the initiative of Bush's campaign team and financed through conservative front men . As swiftboating has become a fixed term approach hurt Kerry's public image considerably, especially since he's in comparison to Bush clearly higher military experience as an argument in the election campaign with respect to the Iraq war had begun. He lost the election to Bush by a few percentage points.

See also


  • Jeanne Hersch (Ed.): Rule of Law in Twilight. Elisabeth Kopp's resignation. Peter Meili, Schaffhausen 1991, ISBN 3-85805-153-5 .
  • Brigitte Klump : The red monastery. As a pupil in the Stasi Kaderschmiede (= Ullstein. 34990). Unabridged edition, (based on the reviewed and expanded edition 1978). Ullstein, Frankfurt am Main a. a. 1993, ISBN 3-548-34990-0 .
  • Hubertus Knabe : The discreet charm of the GDR. Stasi and western media. Propylaea, Berlin a. a. 2001, ISBN 3-549-07137-X .
  • Kerwin Swint: Mudslingers. The twenty-five dirtiest political campaigns of all time. Countdown from no. 25 to no. 1. Union Square Press, New York NY u. a. 2008, ISBN 978-1-4027-5736-5 .

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Jochen Staadt: The Stasi and an anti-Springer project: Expropriate Augstein! , FAZ from June 14, 2009
  3. Alexander Cockburn : From Kobe Bryant to Uncle Sam - Why They Hated Gary Webb. In: , 18./19. December 2004 (English); Michael Ruppert: Gary Webb, Pulitzer Price Winner dead of reported suicide. ( Memento of the original from March 5, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. In: Consortium News , December 13, 2004 (English).
  4. ^ Robert Parry : CIA's Drug Confession. In: Consortium News , October 15, 1998 (English). See Report of Investigation Concerning Allegations of Connections Between CIA and The Contras in Cocaine Trafficking to the United States (96-0143-IG). In: , January 29, 1998 (English).