Character assassination?

中国日报网 2014-08-19 11:55



Character assassination?

Reader question:

Please explain “character assassination”, as in this sentence: “The only reason he won the (Republican) nomination is through character assassination.”

My comments:

From this, we infer that more than one person had participated in the race for nomination, representing the Republican Party and he won, beating all others.

And he did so by personal attacks, bad mouthing rivals and focusing on their character flaws, true or false.

In other words, by damaging their reputation.

Assassination is the work of an assassin, someone who murders an important person, usually out of political motives.

Character assassination, on the other hand, is, instead of physical murder, a kind of murder of a person’s character, or his good name.

And if you kill (destroy) a person’s good reputation, then their political career is all but over because people don’t want someone without integrity to run a public office.

It’s important to note that the work of the assassin is usually covert. It’s carefully planned but none of the work is carried out in the open and in broad day light because it’s usually sinister in motive.

By resorting to assassination, they’ve probably run out of methods to accomplish their goals by fair means.

Hence, by analogy and extension, we may conclude that character assassination may also be unfair and even sinister in motive.

Anyways, by defamation political candidates can often achieve their goal of beating an opponent. In fact, it’s often more effective a method than attacking the opponent’s political platform, which may make a lot of sense to the public and which, therefore, may be hard to defeat.

So, to sum up, by character assassination, they destroys a person’s reputation and image so that the public will never believe a word, any word, from such a low character – a scoundrel who, they say, once, for example, cheated on his wife, forged academic papers in college or feigned an injury to avoid service in the army.

None of those things may be true, but that’s beside the point. So long as their character is damaged, destroyed and ruined, the goal is achieved.

Alright, here are media examples:

1. The actions of WikiLeaks sparked a worldwide media barrage and have changed the face of journalism. Julian Assange, the leader of this organization quickly rose to prominence, initially because of the unprecedented public attention from the WikiLeaks revelations. Then sex scandals and smear campaigns, along with threats from the Pentagon threw him further into the eye of the typhoon of public attention. Rhetoric from some US right wing politicians and pundits escalated to calling for his murder. Many eyes have been glued to the news feed reporting on the progress of his extradition to Sweden, all the while the leaks have continued unabated.

Assassination is the intentional killing of a prominent person for political purposes. The death of John F. Kennedy shocked the world with newspapers and the TV broadcasting his tragic end. Soon after Dr. Martin King delivered a speech speaking out against the Vietnam War at New York’s Riverside Church, his voice was also shut down by an assassin’s bullet.

Political aims can also be accomplished by way of character assassination. When someone emerges into public perception who thinks and acts independently or who works at cross purposes to those in power, they often face character assassination. This is done by scandalous gossip columns in corporate tabloids or partisan news outlets. Whatever the method, the final destination for the target is the same – the death of their active characters as agents for positive change; being cast into the abyss of collective forgetting. How is this different from physical assassination? Character assassination is the murder of someone in the public consciousness. While physical assassination is carried out instantly with a bullet, character assassination is a gradual process of destroying the public image, thus incapacitating the person’s ability to freely act. This occurs without public awareness of the machinations and intentions behind the events and often without revealing who actually pulls the trigger.

Assange emerged into public perception with a fresh genius and charisma as well as an unshakable commitment to freedom of information. Amongst those yearning for true change, Assange’s example provoked a sense of great expectation. NewStatesman (2010) nominated him on the list of 50 people who matter in 2010 and he won Time Magazine‘s reader’s poll for Person of the Year, while finishing third as the editor’s pick. Assange however quickly became a controversial figure. His image was soon colored by words such as traitor, high tech terrorist, and enemy combatant. Former colleagues and media partners joined the fray with tabloid style hit pieces, in articles and tell-all books that portray him as controlling, volatile or unpredictable.

So, how is character assassination accomplished? Unlike physical murder, it is rarely carried out by single individual. The deadening process occurs out in public. The speed and effectiveness of the bullet is increased by the public’s compliance in accepting the manipulation of the target’s public image.

- Character Assassination of Julian Assange,, March 2, 2011.

2. Ever since President Obama offered words of comfort to the family and supporters of slain teenager Trayvon Martin, the conservative media has been working itself into a lather pushing back against broad calls for justice in the case. Earlier, I detailed The Daily Caller’s thorough contribution to the Trayvon Martin coverage, but on Thursday night’s The Ed Show, host Ed Schultz lashed out at The DC and its founder, Tucker Carlson, accusing the site of “character assassination.”

The wheels are in motion for a complete character assassination of Trayvon Martin,” Ed began, slamming The Daily Caller for its sustained social media grave-robbing, particularly their emphasis on Trayvon’s original Twitter avatar, which, they said, “depicts him in a black Polo cap, looking into the camera and extending his middle finger.”

“They are also making the case that Zimmerman was justified in pulling the trigger because the kid had a tattoo and posted a picture of himself flipping off the camera.”

In an earlier article, The DC remarked, of Trayvon’s newer Twitter avatar, that it “depicts him smiling, gold-toothed, into a camera in front of an electronic dartboard,” which was the only bit of commentary in the piece. Mediate learned that The DC was approached by an undisclosed source who the site says is “known to” them, who provided them with Trayvon’s Twitter feed for publication. They declined to give any other information about the source, other than that it was not anyone connected to George Zimmerman, or law enforcement.

The second Twitter account that The DC raided was briefly taken over by an unknown person, according to an update on their post. Gawker reports that a white supremacist has hacked many of Trayvon’s social media and internet accounts, in an explicit effort to smear the late teenager.

- Ed Schultz Blasts The Daily Caller For ‘Character Assassination’ Of Trayvon Martin,, March 29, 2013.

3. Michael Brown’s cousin and attorneys for the slain teenager’s family accused Ferguson, Missouri, police Friday of “character assassination” in releasing video purporting to show Brown robbing a convenience store shortly before he was shot. They pleaded for calm and said if any new violence broke out in Ferguson, it would be the fault of the police.

Daryl Parks, an attorney for the family, acknowledged at a news conference at Ferguson police headquarters that “it appears to be him” after Police Chief Thomas Jackson released the security video showing a young man they claimed to be Brown grabbing a clerk in the convenience store. He said the family believed that release of the video was a “strategic” move “aimed at denigrating their son.”

That was character assassination,” he said.

Anthony Gray, another attorney for the family, pleaded for residents to remain calm Friday night but said that if there was any new violence, it would be the fault of the police chief. “He's now inciting the community again. Don’t take that bait and begin to riot,” Gray said. But he added that If there is new unrest, “it won’t be on anybody on this side.”

Eric Davis, Brown's cousin, reiterated that Jackson had said the shooting was unrelated to the alleged robbery and called the video “smoke and mirrors to divert the attention away from what really occurred.”

The officer who shot Brown was identified Friday as Darren Wilson, 28. His identity was released at the same time that a police report was made public revealing that Brown was suspected of having stolen a box of cigars from the convenience store and assaulting a clerk before Wilson shot him.

- Michael Brown’s Family Accuses Police of ‘Character Assassination’,, August 15, 2014.




About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.



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(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)




















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