Lashon Hara literally means "evil tongue," but has become the word used to refer to any and all types of gossip. Judaism understands that words are very powerful, but has a hard time with figuring out exactly how powerful. For instance, if you make a neder, which basically means saying that you will/will not do something, then you are bound to it. By the same reasoning, there is a passage (the location of which I cannot recall) which states that if you embarass someone publicly, it is as if you have killed them, because you have destroyed their reputation, and their self-confidence.
It is then not so surprising that the Chofetz Chaim wrote an entire book about the laws of lashon hara and how they should be observed. This topic comes up over, and over again. Esther K recently gave a talk about lashon hara in the blogosphere, and if you do a search for "lashon hara" in google blog search, you get about a 400 hits.
But here is my question: after reading this article in the Washington Post about how politicians portray each other in ads, I have to wonder, what are the obligations of a politician vis a vis the laws of lashon hara? Would they be the same, for instance, as someone who knows about a flaw in a potential shidduch*? In the same vein of my question, Miriam L wonders if biographies, or biographical information counts as lashon hara.
I don't know enough about the electoral process in Israel to be able to comment on it, but I wonder if candidates refrain from ad hominen attacks, or if they don't, and that affects their standings in the polls?
*Shidduch is a match, as in "matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match," and generally refers to arranged dating as set up by a shadchan (matchmaker) or a go-between, usually a friend or family member.