The cult of the political smear has outlived its usefulness

What is the favourite political word of 2017? It is, of course, “smear”, a word now used across the political chatosphere to suggest that one’s opponent has no grip on truth or reality.

A couple of examples of “smear” — or should that be “shmear?” — have arisen in the past weeks. One is the egregious case of Kevin Myers and his column in the Irish edition of The Sunday Times; the other involves Yair Netanyahu, 25-year-old son of Israeli prime minister Benjamin and his wife Sara.

Myers, as we all now know, sought to illustrate an opinion on the gender pay gap by suggesting that the two most highly paid women in the BBC, Vanessa Feltz and Claudia Winkleman, were only in this position because they were Jewish. (It is, of course, an utterly false argument because the equally Jewish Emily Maitlis is not on the best-paid list. And anyone who heard Myers’ car-crash of an interview with the just-as-Jewish Emma Barnett will be in no doubt that he has no leg to stand on. Pity for him that there are so many mouthy Jewish women in the meeja, isn’t it?)

Incredulity rained down on Myers from many quarters, except for two: the right-wing columnist Douglas Murray in the Spectator and, more worryingly, the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland.

Murray has, it seems to me, sought to defend the indefensible, and as for the Jewish Rep Council, well, its members have to live with the Myers of this world, and we on the mainland don’t.

But smears, of one sort or another, feature large in these commentaries.

Now let us examine the example of Yair Netanyahu, who has been having an unedifying social media war with the sons of former prime minister Ehud Olmert.

Yair, who is still living at home these days — really? — has had a real go at the Olmert offspring as part of his ongoing attack on the Israeli media. In one post he insinuated that Ariel Olmert had had “interesting relations with a Palestinian man” and challenged the media to run an exposé on “its significance for the security of the country”.

The Olmert brothers, Ariel and Shaul, hit back, calling Yair “racist, homophobe, bully, fascist”, while other commentators, taking the “smear” thing perhaps a bit too literally, have attacked Yair for being too grand and princely to pick up his own dog’s poop.

And smearing isn’t confined to Israel and Ireland, of course. We only have to look at the current denizen of the White House, whose every other utterance is a denunciation of the “smears” of the supposed “fake media”; all this despite the fact that nearly every word out of his mouth, including “and” and “but”, is almost certainly untrue (I give you “I never called the White House a dump”, uttered in the hearing of nine people, as just a recent example).

But not all smears come from the right. There is a distressing tendency among Labour’s fanatical Corbynistas to suggest that every criticism of their Noble Leader is in fact a smear, and therefore, by implication, untrue.

Let us be clear. Reporting what politicians say is not a smear. No ifs, buts, or maybes. But name-calling and insinuation, guilt by association — it’s not a good look.

About the Author
Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist.
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