Friday, August 20, 2004

How to take down a smear artist

While thinking about the dustup last night on Hardball between Chris Mathews and Michelle Malkin (Jesse Taylor has an excellent summary of the incident here) it occurred to me that Matthews may have inadvertently hit upon the best way to deal with smear artists.

The essence of most smears is not what is directly said but what is indirectly implied. Malkin does not immediately say that Kerry shot himself in order to win a medal and get out of Vietnam early. Instead she uses the phrase "self-inflicted wound" because it is a term that technically can be construed to include wounds received accidentally from the discharge of ones own weapon. Malkin knows that "self-inflicted wound" is a phrase that implies deliberate action on Kerry's part, but she can weasel out of that implication on that technicality.

She tried to do this on Hardball and did so again on her on blog. However, in most cases, smear artists like Malkin don't need to fall back on the technical construction because they know that many establishment journalists, wanting to be "fair and balanced", will give them the benefit of the doubt on their implication.

What Mathews did last night was to question her on the implication not just once but repeatedly. This was a violation of the rules of punditry as Malkin and other smear artists have come to expect and she was noticeably upset when he broke protocol.

And that is where I think Mathews hit on the best way to deal with smear artists: confront them directly and repeatedly on their implications as if the implications were what they actually said (rather than just implied). Don't get into technical arguments about terms that might allow them wiggle room. Just act as if the implications were what they actually said.

When you do this, two things will happen: (1) the implication will become more clear to the casual audience as it is repeated in a more direct fashion and (2) the smear artist will, as Malkin demonstrated, become flustered in their desperate attempts to restore the smear by implication.

The point is to make clear to the audience what is normally obscured by the smear artist's clever use of the use of implication. It is the implication that is at the heart of the smear, not the direct statements that are the means of delivering the smear. It is that implication that must be brought out into the open and stomped on before it becomes ingrained in the minds of the audience.

That is how you deal with a smear artist.


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