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Home / Books / Book Reviews / Book Review: ‘The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote‘ Sharyl Attkisson
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Book Review: ‘The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote‘ Sharyl Attkisson

Author and investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson asserts that she can help the reader identify a smear campaign and in turn, filter fake news from the grains of truth that are inside each story told by the news media in her book The Smear. The 600-page plus tome is loaded with insight, opinions, and information about the strategies implemented by public relation firms.

Her investigations are very intense and detailed, spanning American politics from tactics used during Abraham Lincoln’s presidential campaign to the first year of Donald Trump’s Administration. Attkisson’s informative writing opens the reader’s mind to recognize news that has the intent to incite scandal and divisiveness by posing accusations as facts.

People like to think that wars are fought off American soil. Attkisson, whether knowingly or not, shows that America’s wars start on their home turf. Stoked by such entities as PR firms, non-profit organizations, LLC’s, late night talk show hosts, bloggers, social media, broadcast media, and print media, all agitating, instigating, and fueling the battles, which the American military is sent overseas to fight.

Why do such entities engage in such power struggles? Attkisson extrapolates a quote that’s on record from Roger Stone, a well-known smear artist for Washington, D.C. insiders. He un-regrettably claims, “It was fun.”

Readers glean that the smear artist is seduced by the challenge of curating the news, discrediting whistleblowers and informants, and destroying people’s livelihoods and home life. They have an insatiable desire to seize control of outside factors. It makes no difference if smear campaigns are orchestrated by left-wing liberals or right-wing conservatives. Their motive is the same. It’s the challenge of the task to sway public opinion, to control whom the masses vote for in local and national elections.

When writers Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod wrote Trading Places, the popular Eddie Murphy comedy, did they have any idea how true the story resonated in American politics? The comedy shows how two wealthy and influential sociopaths (people with no remorse for hurting others) reverse the roles of a street hustler and a well-connected stock broker. Their motive is to win a $1 bet added to the thrill of playing God with other people’s lives.

The script follows the pattern of the classic smear. Launch begins the smear with planting stolen money and drugs on Dan Aykroyd’s character and having him arrested. Outreach furthers the smear by closing all bank accounts, lines of credit, and the palatial residence to Dan Aykroyd’s character. Escalate completes the smear with friends and business associates alienating Dan Aykroyd’s character, forcing him into isolation and destitution. If readers can understand Trading Places, they can understand smear campaigns. Knowing when the accusation that launches the smear is true or planted requires independent thinking.

Seeing someone’s life destroyed in a comedy is less intense than witnessing it in real life. Unlike in Trading Places, the target of a smear, Attkisson explains, is oftentimes not able to locate or reach the spin-master behind the game.

Attkisson’s book is heavy in information and perceptive in analyzing smears. Her skills as an investigative reporter are sharp, and her writing style enables the reader to be in the position of the target of the smear. She takes readers through the harassment, deadly threats, intimidation, and confusion that victims of smears experience.

She shows how smear artists engage in schemes that fodder tension among the human race. The game is played for a laugh, and a chance to demonstrate that he or she can control people’s opinions, decisions, and actions much like Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche’s characters in Trading Places.

The Smear takes the proverbial rose colored glasses off the public’s eyes and guides them through the layers of corruption and subterfuge. Many in the public will prefer the safety of seeing the world through rose colored glasses. Attkisson shows it won’t keep them safe from the consequences of corruption.

Readers can acquire much-needed skills of observation and the acumen of analysis from Attkisson’s book. Whether or not she can show readers how to detect a smear or not isn’t within her abilities. There is no shortcut or sure fire recipe to know when the news story is simply a ruse. The reader must be able to think for himself or herself to identify a smear campaign, and not be taken in by its trappings.

About susanfrancesny

Born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in eastern Long Island.

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