The 5 Creepiest Smear Campaigns Launched by Powerful Groups

If you're a big shot, there are many ways to deal with criticism: You can address it with counterarguments, you can use it to improve yourself, you can ignore it ... or you can spend inordinate amounts of money trying to nuke the reputation of your critics in the hopes that it will make people stop listening to them.

This is about the people who go for that last option. But sometimes they end up throwing so much shit in the wind that it flies right back in their faces. Like when ...

#5. The Church of Scientology Forged a Bomb Threat to Smear a Journalist

Getty Images/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

If you ever start feeling sorry for those poor Scientologists because everyone picks on them, just remember the time they had a journalist indicted on fake terrorism charges because she wrote a book that painted them in a bad light. If you think we're being unfair, well, let's run through the details.

Starting in 1969, journalist Paulette Cooper published a number of damning exposes on the church and its founder, sci-fi writer turned messiah L. Ron Hubbard, including a book called The Scandal of Scientology, which detailed the psychological methods used to keep the church's followers (and, more importantly, their money) in line. The church tried to sue Cooper to shut her up several times, but none of the lawsuits took off, mainly because they couldn't prove that she had just pulled her book out of her ass like they claimed.

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty
"What? Isn't that the usual method of writing?" -L. Ron Hubbard

So, they moved to the next step: "Operation Freakout," an organized campaign to have Cooper "incarcerated in a mental institution or jail, or at least to hit her so hard that she drops her attacks" (that's a direct quote from a real church document). Besides writing her phone number on bathroom walls and sending anonymous smear letters to her family members and neighbors, the Scientologists actually infiltrated Cooper's life by having agents pose as friends -- one supposed friend reported that Cooper was close to suicide after all the harassment, adding, "Wouldn't that be great for Scientology?"

Jupiterimages/ Images
Presumably this quote was taken while the person saying it was twirling his mustache
and tying a litter of puppies to railroad tracks.

But the lowest moment came when church members mailed themselves bomb threats and told the police that Cooper had sent them. Cooper agreed to have her fingerprints taken by the cops, not too worried by the laughably transparent attempt to have her arrested ... only to find out that her prints were actually on the threatening letters, and that the stationery had come from her house (courtesy of the infiltrators). This resulted in some very real federal charges for conspiracy to commit terrorism, which turned Cooper's life into a living hell until the charges were finally dismissed two years later.

Documents seized in an FBI raid of a Scientology office in 1977 revealed all of this and more: The Scientologists had also planned to frame Cooper for threatening President Ford and Henry Kissinger. Oh, and according to a former member, at one point they even planned to murder her. At which point presumably somebody stood up and said, "Whoa, we'd better not do that or else we'll look like assholes."

Getty Images/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Which was probably the last time anyone uttered that sentiment.

#4. General Motors Laid Out Hooker Traps for Ralph Nader

Sean Gallup/Getty Images News/Getty Images

After spending most of the 1930s killing the electric streetcar and conspiring to install a fascist dictatorship in America, by the 1960s General Motors had moved on to more constructive things -- like building criminally unsafe cars with total impunity. When some guy called Ralph Nader came along and ruined the party for GM, the company decided to dig up dirt on Nader to discredit him ... and when they couldn't find any shameful secrets in his past, they figured they'd help him create some. With hookers.

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images News/Getty Images
GM: Selflessly improving their enemies' social lives since 1908.

The higher-ups at General Motors found themselves facing a wave of scrutiny after Nader's most famous book, Unsafe at Any Speed, was published. The book is a scandalous look into the safety record of the automobile industry, and it exposed GM's 1960 Chevrolet Corvair as the murder machine that it was. Rather than take Nader's advice to heart and create cars that didn't unnecessarily kill people, GM came up with a solution that to them made a lot more sense: If they proved that Nader was a pervert or a homosexual, obviously everyone would forget about the whole "My car could kill me at any moment" thing and continue buying unsafe vehicles.

The manual caused 30 deaths alone.

And so, GM hired private detectives to follow Nader around and catch him in some kind of unscrupulous act, only to discover that he was perfectly clean (17 detectives died of boredom during the stakeouts). Still, GM was determined to get something on the guy, even if they had to fabricate it. Nader was able to confirm, years after GM's crusade, that the company had greenlit a plan to hire comely prostitutes to throw themselves at him in the hopes that his raw animal lust would kick in and cause him to give himself over to them. Thankfully, his extreme dullness prevailed and the plan failed.

Trixie Textor/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"She kept offering to polish my knob, and I told her, 'Ma'am, I do my door-cleaning myself. But thanks.'"

GM's plans were revealed when the taped conversations of one of the detectives with GM higher-ups became public. Eventually, the company's president was forced to apologize to Nader for the invasion of privacy. We kinda hope Nader becomes president one day just so he can harass them with an army of hookers. See if they like it.

#3. Thomas Edison Tried to Turn His Competitor's Name into a Synonym for Death


Thomas Alva Edison may be known to the world as a brilliant inventor whose only goal was the betterment of mankind, but we here at Cracked will never get tired of reminding you that the guy was a colossal douche. Case in point: that time he went on an animal-killing spree when trying to turn his competitor's name into a synonym for death.

Louis Bachrach/Bachrach Studios
If we've done our job correctly, just seeing this image should induce a gag reflex.

In the 1880s, Edison was in the middle of a "War of the Currents" with George Westinghouse. Westinghouse claimed that "alternating current" (developed by modern geek god Nikola Tesla) was the best method of bringing electricity to the masses because it was cheaper and more efficient, and Edison claimed that his "direct current" was better because he came up with it. One day in 1887, Edison received a letter from a dentist named Alfred Southwick asking for his help to develop a more humane method of execution by electrocution. Edison was a staunch opponent of the death penalty and said no.

Southwick insisted. At this point Edison reminded him that he abhorred the death penalty ... and then told him that, if he was gonna kill someone with electricity, it should totally be of the Westinghouse type.

Mary Evans Picture Library/Alamy
"Unfortunately my type of electricity doesn't kill people, it merely brings eternal life and prolongs erections."

Oh, but Edison didn't stop there. He couldn't just say that Westinghouse's current was better at killing things -- he needed to prove it. Edison publicly electrocuted dozens of dogs, calves, horses, and, as we've mentioned before, even an elephant. And then he came up with a catchy name for this new method of execution: "Westinghousing."

Archive Photos/Getty Images
Pictured: "Edisoning."

Edison, the death penalty opponent, then successfully lobbied the state of New York to allow convicted murderer William Kemmler to be the first to be "Westinghoused" in Southwick's electric chair. The inventor went out of his way to call the procedure "Westinghousing" to make sure the name stuck to AC electricity, all under the pretense that this was simply the fastest, most humane way of carrying out the death sentence. Unfortunately for Edison and for William Kemmler, the execution was a mess -- the electricity didn't immediately kill the convict, and he suffered a slow, painful death.

Years later, Edison admitted that Westinghouse was right and jumped on the AC electricity bandwagon. At that point he was too busy pretending that he invented motion pictures to give a shit about all the dogs he fried.

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