May 19, 2000

Character Assassination

In context of the Presidential contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore, we hear stories of character assassination—political and non-political.


Host Ira Glass talks with Jack E. Robinson, Republican candidate for Senate in Massachusetts. Within 24 hours of announcing that he was going to collect signatures to get on the ballot to run against Teddy Kennedy, Robinson was attacked in the press. And so he tried a novel tactic: He issued a long public statement that is simply one of the most remarkable documents of current political life in this country. He called it The Robinson Report and posted it on the Internet for anyone to read. It outlines, in matter-of-fact prose and a disturbing level of detail, everything he thinks he's ever done wrong. It's not clear if this helped him, or if it simply seemed so strange that people didn't know what to make of it. (5 minutes)
Act One

Those Who Ignore History Are Condemned To Repeat It—But Those Who Pay Attention To History Are Also Condemned To Repeat It

Dirty political attacks go back to the very beginning of the American Republic. What's different today, says historian Richard Norton Smith, is that television and the other electronic media have made our contact with the candidates so intimate. It has greater emotional impact on us because we see every wince cross a candidate's face. What could be more intimate than Jack E. Robinson's car crash, recorded on tape? (5 minutes)
Act Two

Sonny Takes A Fall

David Foster Wallace reports on a turning point in past Presidential primaries: The moment when John McCain failed to respond well to an attack by George Bush...which arguably ended up costing him the election. (19 minutes)
Act Three

When Slime Is Good

Former political consultant Ron Susskind says that when he began in politics, he thought there was nothing lower than negative campaigning. But then in 1980 he learned that sometimes when your opponent attacks you, it can actually help you. (3 minutes)
Act Four

Who You Gonna Call?

There is an entire class of consultant who does nothing but help people and companies that are under public attack. Eric Dezenhall is one of them. He works for a crisis management firm in Washington DC, and has written a book about his craft, called Nail 'Em. (9 minutes)


“Washington, D.C.” by The Magnetic Fields
Act Five

When Attacks Really Count

There's little in adult life that can hurt as much as a character assassination attack when it happens in junior high school. We hear the story of how one boy organizes the entire school against his former best friend, a guy named Bob Cucuzza. (15 minutes)