The 5 Creepiest Smear Campaigns Launched by Powerful Groups

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.
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 ...

The Church of Scientology Forged a Bomb Threat to Smear a Journalist

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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.

The 5 Creepiest Smear Campaigns Launched by Powerful Groups
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?"

The 5 Creepiest Smear Campaigns Launched by Powerful Groups
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."

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Which was probably the last time anyone uttered that sentiment.

General Motors Laid Out Hooker Traps for Ralph Nader

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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.

The 5 Creepiest Smear Campaigns Launched by Powerful Groups
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.

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

The 5 Creepiest Smear Campaigns Launched by Powerful Groups

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.

The 5 Creepiest Smear Campaigns Launched by Powerful Groups
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.

The 5 Creepiest Smear Campaigns Launched by Powerful Groups
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."

The 5 Creepiest Smear Campaigns Launched by Powerful Groups
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.

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

The 5 Creepiest Smear Campaigns Launched by Powerful Groups
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.

The 5 Creepiest Smear Campaigns Launched by Powerful Groups

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.

The 5 Creepiest Smear Campaigns Launched by Powerful Groups
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."

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

Global Reach. Local Voice Ie
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.

The 5 Creepiest Smear Campaigns Launched by Powerful Groups
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 and 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):

Comment on U.S. Info ops' programs dubious, costly by edmondstown April 2, 2012 it's dear that Vandenbrook and Loder misreported on tax issue intentio

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):

In 2006, Tom Vanden Brook gained national notoriety when he inaccurately reported his two Headline erroneous stories Alive! Miners Beat Odds and West

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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