I've asked this on EL&U: some of the answers were close, but no cigar. I'm looking for a term that one of the characters in my play will use to describe her enemy's dirty tactics.
It is a very dirty trick used to slander someone (not necessarily an immediate opponent); the method is well-known and easily recognizable, but is there a term for it?
Let me describe it. In its basic form, some public speakers use it to discredit an opponent. "Let me ask you something. When did you stop beating your wife?" - implying that it is an established fact that the opponent is a wife beater - no actual proof necessary.
Now the trick I'm talking about is a notch more subtle. Instead of using a near-direct accusation, the trickster seeks to engage the audience's subconscious: he's planning ahead.
He constructs a two-part sentence in which the first part's purpose is to plant a slanderous idea in the audience's minds, while the second part will serve as a decoy: it'll get everybody riled up, drawing attention away from the fact that the idea has already taken root in everyone's brain.
The first part is important. The second part isn't. The actual (quiet) attack and the (loud) decoy.
The first part will convince the audience (without them knowing it) that the opponent, John Doe, Jr., is a wife beater. The second part will get them all worked up over an something the trickster couldn't care less about, such as the Republican stance on the abortion issue (assuming that the audience is mostly Democratic).
Thus constructed, the sentence would sound like this:
"Even such a notorious wife beater as John Doe, Jr., would tell you that the Republicans have made some pretty good points about the abortion issue over the years."
The audience will immediately pounce on the second part of the sentence, and a long heated argument will ensue. In the meantime, the idea that John Doe, Jr. is a wife beater will casually sneak into their memories, and will surface unobtrusively the next time they see Mr. Doe or hear him speak. "Oh, so that's the guy who beats his wife. Who would have thought. He looks pretty normal. Just a regular guy."
It's a very dirty trick that nonetheless is often used in various propaganda campaigns. What's it called? Is there a specific term for it?