George Mason University

News at Mason

U.S. Rep Wilson says Kelly assassinated her character. But did he?

October 23, 2017

Sergei Samoilenko

Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D) is calling on White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to apologize for what she calls “character assassination” over his suggestion that she is a “grandstander” and “an empty barrel.”

In turn, she called Kelly “a puppet of the president.”

The feud began after Wilson remarked that President Trump’s conversation with the widow of a soldier killed in Niger was insensitive.

Kelly’s name-calling isn’t quite character assassination, at least not yet, said Sergei Samoilenko, a communication professor at George Mason University and co-founder of Mason’s Character Assassination and Reputations Politics Research Lab.

“Character assassination refers to a practice in which a deliberate and sustained effort is made to damage the reputation or credibility of an individual,” he said, and called the Wilson-Kelly dustup “a series of defamatory attacks from both sides used in a very politicized and adversarial context.”

In other words, while Wilson and Kelly are trading character attacks, it is not yet character assassination because there hasn’t yet been any harm.

“But even a minor character attack may be amplified and reinforced by the media and become a serious character assassination issue when it reaches the snowball effect,” Samoilenko said.

Should Wilson experience a decline in public support or electoral trust, or lose a political race, then the aspect of assassination can be addressed, he said.

Sergei Samoilenko can be reached at 703-993-8472 or ssamoyle@gmu.edu.

For more information, contact Buzz McClain at 703-727-0230 or bmcclai2@gmu.edu.

About George Mason

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 36,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.