It seems that there are a few folks who need clarification as to what a “smear campaign” actually is. Let’s start by defining the term itself:
A smear campaign is an intentional, premeditated effort to undermine an individual’s or group’s reputation, credibility, and character. “Mud slinging”, like negative campaigning, most often targets government officials, politicians, political candidates, and other public figures. However, private persons or groups may also become targets of smear campaigns perpetrated in schools, companies, institutions, families, and other social groups.
Smear tactics differ from normal discourse or debate in that they do not bear upon the issues or arguments in question. A smear is a simple attempt to malign a group or an individual and to attempt to undermine their credibility.
Smears often consist of ad hominem attacks in the form of unverifiable rumors and are often distortions, half-truths, or even outright lies; smear campaigns are often propagated by gossip spreading.
So, making factually-based criticisms of a (Vice) Presidential candidate’s knowledge on foreign policy or economics, for instance, is not smearing. These are legitimate issues relevant to the position s/he is running for.
On the other hand, it is smearing to repeatedly claim or insinuate that a particular candidate is a terrorist, a foreign national or a sexist, for example, when there is no evidence to support the claims or the claims have been proven false.
In short, all smears are criticisms, but not all criticisms are smears.
There’s really not a lot more to say on the subject; it’s really quite that simple. So that’s our lesson for today. Class dismissed.