The 5 Creepiest Smear Campaigns Launched by Powerful Groups

#2. A Tobacco Company Tried to Smear Their Whistleblower With 500 Pages of Bullshit

Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Blowing the whistle on any giant company has to be more than a little scary. Now imagine trying to spill the details on the third largest tobacco company in the country, a corporation that counts its clientele by visiting the morgue. That's what Jeffrey Wigand, a former scientist with tobacco giant Brown and Williamson (makers of Viceroy, Kool, and others) did in the '90s, not only confirming that cigarette smoking was fatal and addictive, but also leaking information that the company was putting known carcinogens into its products in order to enhance their flavor and increase their addictiveness.

Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"We even tried replacing the filters with tumors, but it made the tobacco soggy."

Wigand also revealed that B&W had nixed plans to create a safer cigarette and covered it up by having lawyers rewrite meeting minutes out of whole cloth. Before going public with this information in court depositions and on CBS' 60 Minutes, Wigand had received death threats against himself and his family (no doubt from enthusiastic smoking fans unaffiliated with B&W). When he decided to go ahead and spill the beans anyway, the company dropped on the laps of several publications a 500-page dossier titled "The Misconduct of Jeffrey Wigand," which sounds like the title of an old-timey erotic novel.


Each sex scene ends with them talking about how smooth and non-cancerous their post-coital cigarettes are.

The dossier, put together by B&W's lawyers and a top-drawer private investigation firm, detailed everything from the time Wigand shoplifted a bottle of whiskey to every instance when he filed a damaged-luggage claim. The problem? Most of the accusations were unproven or flat-out lies, and none of them were relevant. Who gives a shit if he did or didn't get a "leadership award" from the YMCA in 1971? Wigand was accusing B&W of knowingly causing cancer to thousands of people, and their response was "Yeah, but he lied on his resume once!"

The same publications that B&W sent the dossier to tore the company apart. The most hilarious accusation was that Wigand had testified before the Justice Department in 1994 and denied that there were any wrongdoings on the part of B&W. The report failed to mention that Wigand was under a very strict confidentiality agreement at the time, and even without that pertinent fact, mere logic dictates that B&W is trying to prove that Wigand is a liar by admitting that they lied for him.

Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"We considered pressing charges against them, but what they said was legally too stupid to be considered a crime."

#1. A Pentagon Propaganda Contractor Tried to Link U.S. Journalists to the Taliban

Leonie Industries

In 2012, two reporters at USA Today, Tom Vanden Brook and Ray Locker, uncovered one of the dumbest uses of taxpayer money ever: an expensive propaganda campaign that consisted of hiring contractors with dubious histories (and unpaid tax bills for millions of dollars) to plaster Iraq and Afghanistan with posters, anonymous TV and radio broadcasts, and dropped flyers with messages that basically boiled down to "U.S. rules, Taliban sucks."

The USA Today article didn't sit so well with one of the minds behind this campaign, so this person decided to respond in the only way that an expert in military propaganda with the mental age of a third grader could respond: by launching another campaign to discredit the two reporters, even linking them to the Taliban.

US Army
Each pamphlet reads "Democracy is great!" on the front and "USA Today writers have no dicks" on the back.

Immediately after the report hit the newsstands, the websites TomVandenBrook.com and RayLocker.com were registered anonymously and flooded with comments attacking the reporters while defending one of the propaganda contractors, Leonie Industries (the one with the million-dollar tax problem):

observer.com

Twitter and Facebook profiles were also created in both reporters' names, presumably listing Osama bin Laden as a past employer. One of the websites, despite trying to pass itself off as the official site for Vanden Brook, called him a bad reporter in his own biography (referring to an embarrassing mistake that fooled even The New York Times):

observer.com

The "they probably work for the Taliban" comments were probably never meant to be taken seriously, but USA Today, dozens of other publications, and the Pentagon didn't think they were so funny. Eventually, Camille Chidiac, the co-founder of Leonie Industries, came forward and took credit for registering the fake websites, which he said were funded only by him, and without the government or military's knowledge. Even then, Chidiac still claimed that he only set up the websites as fan sites for the two reporters, and then mysterious posters came out of nowhere and began attacking them.

Chidiac was suspended from receiving military contracts ... for a few months. As of February of this year, Leonie Industries was still working in Afghanistan. That's discouraging for two reasons: because they're apparently unscrupulous with their propaganda techniques, and also because they kind of suck at it.



For more ridiculous corporate campaigns, check out 9 Corporate Attempts At "Edgy" That Failed (Hilariously) and The 7 Most Idiotic Corporate Temper Tantrums.

If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out Why the 'Zombieland' TV Show Bit Off More Than It Can Chew.

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