CRF Blog

The Art of the Smear

by Bill Hayes

In The Art of the Smear, a feature story for Bloomberg Businessweek, journalist Dune Lawrence tells of her experience of being smeared on the Internet.

I saw the photo first, me in a bloody wash of red with “RACIST” pulsing over my face. A couple of clicks brought me to this:

“In the darkest shadow of Bloomberg’s glossy office building in Manhattan, you may find a woman by the name of Dune Lawrence — a ‘journalist’ who has built a career on writing salacious articles about China.”

That was my introduction to TheBlot, a website I hope you’ve never heard of. The article went on and on: I’d been kicked out of China for poor job performance and eked out a living on minimum wage. My appearance was ravaged by “years of consuming hormone-packed fried chicken and stressing over money.” Now, I’d found a way to save my sinking career by writing negative articles about China and taking kickbacks from short sellers. In a cinematic scene set at Kentucky Fried Chicken, this Internet version of me laid out a strategy: “ ‘Bashing the Chinese could be a profitable niche for me,’ Lawrence said to a source while biting off a juicy chicken leg quarter at KFC. ‘The Chinese don’t vote, the Chinese don’t sue people, they just sit there taking the s—. How much better can it get? I am making a living out of it!’ ”

It was difficult for me to keep reading. In addition to all the lies, the story was laced with creepy sexual imagery: I’d had my “panties ripped off” and was like “a dog wagging her tail trying to attract a mating partner.” I felt overwhelmed; it was as if something heavy were pressing into my forehead. I wanted to fight back, and I also wanted to hide. I haven’t been able to do either.

The story, published on Jan. 8, 2014, had the byline “John Sterling.” The site’s other articles were an odd mix of celebrity gossip, entertainment news, and stabs at reporting on serious topics such as drug marketing. It wasn’t exactly high journalism, but it looked professional, not like some amateur blog. Google seemed to think so as well, because the story instantly went to the top of the results when I searched my name.

In September 2015 the FBI arrested the man behind TheBlot, one Benjamin Wey. Not for smearing me or the other people he imagined were his enemies. He’s primarily a financier, and he was charged with securities fraud and other financial crimes involving Chinese companies he helped to list on U.S. stock markets. [more]