What is it called when someone (example: a political figure) is mis-characterized constantly and untruthfully?

For example a campaign constantly hammers the message: "Senator X promotes high spending", because they voted for 1 expensive bill, but evaluating them across all votes might demonstrate that they are actually quite fiscally conservative.

There is a nice concise term for such mis-characterizations that's used commonly in the political landscape.

In this case we might say: "The opposing campaign has ____ this candidate", or something along those lines.

Addition: Perhaps the word I'm hoping to find is one that describes the wholesale act of this kind of mis-characterization across political discourse...

  • 1
    It's often referred to as a gross oversimplification, for example. But there are lots of words, including caricature, parody, travesty - some of which have associated verb forms, but not all. Jun 12, 2014 at 20:01
  • Can it be "defamation"? It is a general term but it is used in politics also.
    – ermanen
    Jun 12, 2014 at 20:34
  • 4
    .......politics Jun 12, 2014 at 21:07

7 Answers 7


Might I suggest "swiftboating," as defined by Wikipedia below?

The term swiftboating (also spelled swift-boating or swift boating) is an American neologism used pejoratively to describe an unfair or untrue political attack. The term is derived from the name of the organization "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" (SBVT, later the Swift Vets and POWs for Truth) because of their widely publicized—and then discredited—campaign against 2004 U.S. Presidential candidate John Kerry.

Since the political smear campaign conducted by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth against John Kerry, the term "swiftboating" has come into common use to refer to a harsh attack by a political opponent that is dishonest, personal, and unfair. The Swift Boat Veterans and media pundits objected to this use of the term to define a smear campaign.

You might also refer to a "smear campaign."

  • both good examples that are helpful, though a little more abstract than what I was truly hoping for. I've heard the term used in modern debate about the role of media in election campaigns for example Jun 12, 2014 at 20:10
  • Well if you were looking for something more specific you'll have to give narrower examples, I guess.
    – Casey
    Jun 12, 2014 at 20:12
  • I know, it's hard for me to provide the perfect example because I know the word myself, but for the life of me I just can't think of it all day. So I'm trying to attack it from any angle I can in hopes that someone else pops up with it. It's one of those "I'll know it when I see it" kind of things. These are nice terms too though that I might also use in other contexts than the one I have in mind here. :) :) Jun 12, 2014 at 20:18

In the specific example you mentioned (i.e. politics), it's called mudslinging:

the use of insults and accusations, especially unjust ones, with the aim of damaging the reputation of an opponent; efforts to discredit one's opponent by malicious or scandalous attacks.

More generally, it is a form of character assassination or slander:

the act of deliberately attempting to destroy a person's reputation by defamatory remarks


I think denigrate may be used in this context:

To attack the character or reputation of; speak ill of; defame.

Political denigration.

  • that's a good one, but I'm pretty sure there's another one floating around in my mind, in particular a more generic term that describes the entire act of doing this kind of thing (my example probably lead to more specific terms) Jun 12, 2014 at 20:07
  • Except "denigrate" doesn't really have the "falsity" aspect.
    – Casey
    Jun 13, 2014 at 1:06

lampooned or vilified may work in this case, though neither are specifically restricted to politics.


Roorback a false and more or less damaging report circulated for political effect, usually about a candidate seeking an office.


Misrepresent would seem to fit, and since such misrepresentation is intended to injure the affected party, if one feels strongly about the incident slander comes to mind.


This only covers the selective use of evidence, rather than doing so against a particular figure, but cherry picking may be a useful term.

Cherry picking, suppressing evidence, or the fallacy of incomplete evidence is the act of pointing to individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position. It is a kind of fallacy of selective attention, the most common example of which is the confirmation bias. Cherry picking may be committed intentionally or unintentionally. This fallacy is a major problem in public debate.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.