Character Assassination — Why would media commentators Ray Hadley and James Hooper employ this tactic?

In an election campaign politicians sometimes will attack the personality of an opponent to sway undecided voters and to create uncertainty about the person.

The tactic is referred to as a ‘character assassination.’ The strategy can sometimes prevent defections of supporters. Emotions can run high after the attack is launched.

In recent weeks sports fans have watched National Rugby League commentators launch character assassinations on a former referee who is representing match officials after many lost their employment due to a decision to shift NRL games to a one-referee model.

On the 22nd April 2020 the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) Chairman Peter V’landys and the NRL’s Head of Football Graham Annesley told an NRL season-planning committee, called Project Apollo, that the season would resume following a mid-season pause caused by the coronavirus pandemic — but, the remaining games in the season would be officiated by one referee, not two.

Since the start of the 2009 season, the NRL had employed two referees to officiate games. The introduction of the second referee meant that there were four match officials on the ground officiating each game.

Three weeks before the official announcement, news of the referee change was leaked to Phil “Buzz” Rothfield who reported that football boss Graham Annesley was investigating ways to save money for the NRL by having only one referee officiate games. Peter V’landys later announced that a fan survey contributed to the decision to remove the second referee.

Soon afterwards the union that represents the NRL referees, the Professional Rugby League Match Officials (PRLMO), took the issue to the industrial relations court, the Fair Work Commission, pointing out that the ARLC’s decision breached the enterprise bargaining agreement that had been agreed to in 2019.

While the industrial relations negotiations were under way a couple of NRL commentators published and broadcast at least four character assassinations of the PRLMO’s Chairman Silvio Del Vecchio during a one week period in May 2020.

Prior to the announcement of the two-referee change, Silvio Del Vecchio had an extremely low profile — NRL fans would not have known his name nor known about his role in rugby league. Then suddenly fans were hearing and reading unjustified attacks on his character and the people he represents.

Leading the character assassinations was Ray Hadley on his 2GB morning show — This was aired on Friday 15th May 2020: “I’ve never heard of Silvio Del Vecchio…I’ve been involved with rugby league for well over 35 years, and I thought I knew everyone in rugby league, past and present…obviously I didn’t know the man who purported to be the professional match official chairman…I do apologise Silvio, I never knew you were a lower grade touch judge.”

Ray Hadley on Wednesday 20th May: “I’ve never heard of Silvio Del Vecchio…it’s a bit on an ego trip for those pocket refs who aspire one day to be the lead ref…it’s a very sad day when refs start setting policies…it will be a sad day in my opinion if the Fair Work Commission decides it’s going to over rule a decision by the governing body.”

Then came a character assassination from a Fox Sports website writer. On Tuesday 19th May James Hooper uploaded a lame item about the professional career of the the PRLMO chairman.

The story examined the price lists for laser services at the chairman’s business. The reporter was heavily trolled on Twitter, Reddit and Facebook for his under-cooked story. News Limited’s newspapers, The Australian and The Daily Telegraph, did not consider Hooper’s story worthy to publish the following day.

What is motivating these commentators to discredit the chairman of the PRLMO?

The most likely reason for the character assassinations is that these commentators are attempting to help an executive who works inside the NRL. The NRL executive would be feeding them regular off-the-record updates about the National Rugby League that they can use at their media outlets. And, as payback, these commentators are acting on the instruction of their NRL ‘contact’ by attacking the person who is representing the NRL referees at the Fair Work Commission.

At one stage, Ray Hadley admitted that this NRL employee sent him a text message while he was on air at 2GB.

How should a person react when their character is assassinated?

The best way to respond, is to keep-up appearances, act professionally and let people decide for themselves how genuine you are. And, obviously, you won’t win if you drop down to the level of your critic.

The by-product of a character assassination is an increase in the public profile of the person who is being attacked.

Final Point

‪I’ll finish on this analysis written by managerial psychologist David Thomas who authored the book ‘Behind The Mask’: “A character assassination is an intentional attempt, usually by a narcissist and/or his or her codependents, to influence the portrayal or reputation of someone in such a way as to cause others to develop an extremely negative or unappealing perception of him or her. It typically involves deliberate exaggeration or manipulation of facts, the spreading of rumours and deliberate misinformation to present an untrue picture of the targeted person, and unwarranted and excessive criticism.” ‬

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