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The Effects of Political Character Assassination on Public Figures
By Latricia Wilson
Many forms of bullying are orchestrated by individuals against other individuals in primary, secondary and even post-secondary school. Working class adults often experience subtle to overt bullying tactics from their coworkers and supervisors. Many sisters, brothers, husbands and wives are routinely bullied at home. They are bullied in one of the most personal private places left on earth for an individual to flee in order to escape being bullied in public.
Public Figures are also bullied by other people seeking to ruin a public figure's image. It is difficult for a public figure (a personage of great public interest) such as government official, celebrity, movie stars or politician to keep from being bullied by character assassins (a person who seeks to destroy a public figures reputation) or to repair their image when the actions of character assassins successfully convince hundreds to thousands of people that their victim is unethical. Celebrities and politicians are watched and followed by paparazzi and journalists that keep false allegations and negative perceptions of public figures alive for years.
Character assassins seek to make a spectacle of their individual or group target. A character assassin shares the same characteristics of bullies because they often tarnish the personal and private relationships their victims have developed and established with other people.
Associated Content.com describes the characteristics of character assassins as a person who uses “deliberate exaggeration or manipulation of facts to present an untrue and undesirable projection of their target.” According to Associated Content.com, a character assassin will even “spread rumors and give the wrong information about the victim relating to their moral, dignity, integrity and reputation. “ This type of vicious behavior often results in public figures being rejected by their own family and entire community.
Some character assassins collaborate with others to form a gang, with the sole purpose of damaging a public figure's reputation. During the 2004 United States presidential campaign, then presidential candidate and Senator John Forbes Kerry, faced allegations that he had not honestly earned a Purple Heart and Silver Star combat medal he received during in the 1960s for having been wounded during combat, and demonstrating extraordinary heroism as a soldier during the Vietnam War. During Senator Kerry's presidential campaign, a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth formed to garner national public attention to allegations that questioned John Kerry's Vietnam record. Although the veteran group was unsuccessful in their attempts to have Senator Kerry stripped of his combat medals, they were successful in temporarily distracting the public from focusing on the policies and issues Senator Kerry sought to make as the center piece of his campaign.
Character assassins that form groups, like the short lived Swift Boat Veterans for Truth group, can create controversy that negatively impacts the political ambitions of public figures. While Senator Kerry experienced being targeted by character assassins for a brief period of time, the current United States President: Barack Obama, has been targeted by character assassins for years. President Obama has been accused of having attended an anti-western radical Islamic school, pretending to be a Christian while practicing a Muslim religion, being a socialist and having been nominated and elected as a U.S president without being a native born citizen of the United States. The false allegation consisting of the claim that Obama was not born in the United States distracted many American citizens from focusing on the various policies and initiatives President Obama sought to implement. Prominent and conservative individuals, such as business magnate Donald John Trump Sr., garnered media attention from major television networks as he sought to discredit Obama by portraying him as being a fraud and swindler, when he repeatedly accused the President of not having been born in the Unites States.
To prevent a political uprising and demands from mass numbers of American citizens for Obama to be ousted as President, Obama released his birth certificate for public viewing on the white house.gov web-site. During a press conference Obama acknowledged that the false birth certificate allegation against him was having a negative impact on his ability to lead our country and American citizen’s ability to measure his effectiveness as a commander and chief of the United States when he said:
Now, normally I would not comment on something like this, because obviously there's a lot of stuff swirling in the press on at any given day and I've got other things to do. But two weeks ago, when the Republican House had put forward a budget that will have huge consequences potentially to the country, and when I gave a speech about my budget and how I felt that we needed to invest in education and infrastructure and making sure that we had a strong safety net for our seniors even as we were closing the deficit, during that entire week the dominant news story wasn't about these huge, monumental choices that we're going to have to make as a nation. It was about my birth certificate. And that was true on most of the news outlets that were represented here.
Indeed the actions of individuals and groups of character assassins can impact public figures negatively. These very public and aggressive tactics can effect the outcome of an individual’s political campaign or impact the effectiveness of a politicians ability to achieve specific policy goals.
Although the character assassins who targeted Senator Kerry and President Obama were unsuccessful in their attempts to completely destroy the public image of their victims, they were successful in distracting masses of people and using media networks to deliver negative press attention to their selected targets.
Historically character assassins have destroyed the private and public lives of public figures through making false allegations and claims about them. Therefore our society must resist giving our time and attention to luring false rumors and claims of character assassins. If we continue to give our time and attention to the rumors and exaggerated claims of character assassins then someone's dad's, mother's, brother's or sister's entire career will be damaged beyond repair.
Latricia Wilson is an OvercomeBullying.org
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Moon, Sophia. (2007, February 18). The characteristics of a character assassin.
Office of the Press Secretary , The White House: Office of the Press Secretary. (2011). President obama on his birth certificate the real issues facing america
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