The Smear Terror - John T. Flynn

I. The Terror

Would you believe that there are in this country several outfits that specialize in the destruction of reputations? I can name an organization with large offices equipped to destroy the reputation of anyone whose influence in the community gets in the way of its clients.

Having chosen its victim, it lays out a carefully prepared plan of action. The enterprise is labeled professionally a "project," This is organized like a program for selling a commercial product. The type of smear is decided on. An estimate is made of the expenditures for personnel travel, snooping, publicity, etc. A budget is prepared. The persons interested are informed of the cost. When the money is in hand the job is put in motion by a set of trained character assassins who make a living out of this sort of thing and do very well at it!

Many people wonder why some public men or business leaders or writers do not lift their voices against certain strange policies of government. The answer is simple. It is because of fear of the assassin—not the assassin armed with the dagger or machine gun, but the assassin armed with the poisoned pen; not the killer who takes a life, but the calumniator who knows the process by which a good name may be destroyed.

The time has come to put an end to this terror, to name the smearers, describe their methods and their reasons for existence, I now propose to line them up, to pursue them in the practice of their profession and to suggest that it is high time to inquire who their clients are. I believe the readers of this document will be surprised at the strange collection of seemingly unimportant persons who have been frightening so many people of importance and power. Some of the smearers are queer, some vicious, some merely eager for money, some consumed by powerful hatreds and ambitions. However, we shall see them in our "line-up" presently and the reader may form his own estimates of them. He will ask why I waste time upon such persons. The answer, of course, is that they are tools in the hands of far more dangerous men.

There is nothing new in attacks upon public men and business leaders. Always a man's record is open to scrutiny and criticism. Critics have always felt free to charge him with offenses. But they made direct charges. They could be called to hook in court and made to prove their charges or retract them.

The new modernist smear is different. The essence of it is that it consists in making charges in such a way as to escape responsibility for libel. The victim cannot, frequently, sue for libel because it is difficult to put a finger upon a direct charge against him. It may be called smear by association or innuendo. It might be called the splash method of defamation.

Briefly, here is the trick. First it is necessary to select what I call a Smear Carrier. Some person who is either guilty or actually convicted of an offense is selected. He is loaded with infamy for all to see. He, however, is not the real intended victim. The real victim is some prominent senator or congressman or political or business leader or writer against whom nothing could be proved and who could not be libeled with impunity. Having completely covered the Smear Carrier with guilt, the smearer proceeds to link him with the rea victim. He merely mentions that the intended victim knows the Smear Carrier, or that he has written him a letter or got one from him or received him in his office or appeared at some public meeting with him. By mentioning the victim frequently in this way the reader gradually absorbs a feeling that there is something wrong with him. And if this is repeated in a book, in a pamphlet, over the air, constantly, if every time the Smear Carrier is mentioned he is referred to as the "friend of Senator X." it will not be long before the senator himself is as effectively smeared as die Smear Carrier whose guilt has been "splashed" on him.

In this profession certain words are important. If you attack Communists, you are called pro-fascist. If you are pro-fascist, you are anti-Semitic, because Hitler was anti-semitic. Thus by the simple device of proving that you are anti-Communist you can be shown to be a fascist, a pro-Nazi, an anti-semitic and a subversive person. Going one more step, if you are seen with such a "pro-fascist" or "anti-semitic", if you answer his letter, attend the same meeting with him, then you are also branded as pro-fascist, pro-Nazi and anti-semitic.

Let me give you a specific case. In a smear book written by a professional smearer, the name of Senator Burton K. Wheeler appears 39 times. Not once is he called fascist or anti-semitic. His name is merely repeated 39 times in connection with the names of various subversive persons. We are told that some anti-communist, pro-fascist quoted a Wheeler speech. This type of detail is multiplied, truthfully and untruthfully, 39 times. So that the name of an honorable senator whose whole life has been dedicated to the defense of the under-privileged, is covered with a calumniating dust which accumulates gradually with each successive mention of his name until the final result of the book leaves him convicted, in the minds of the casual readers, of outright unpatriotic conduct.

Why has this technique been so deadly? For the last seven years we have been at war or moving toward war. That war disturbed in America a number of racial and religious groups—Poles, Czechs, Jews, Greeks, etc. They were deeply moved by the outrages heaped upon their homelands by Hitler. They constituted large minorities with decisive voting power here. If you could smear a candidate for office as even remotely tolerant of Hitler, you could get the votes of those whose brethren in Europe had been oppressed by the Nazis. You can ruin a man completely in Chicago by proving that he is anti-Czech or anti-Polish. You can ruin him an New York by proving he is anti-Jewish.

Put this smear on the politician and he will lose enough votes to defeat him. If he is a business man he is in danger of a boycott. I have seen editors driven from their posts by these smearers. I have seen the columns of magazines closed against writers. However, let us now behold some of the practitioners of this art.