NPR Remembers Late GOP Major Donors As 'The Texans Who Made Attack Ads Nastier'

We told you about how Harold Simmons, our chairman of the board of directors at MRC and a longtime major funder, was dissed in a New York Times obituary, remembered bitterly as he “backed Swift Boat ads” against John Kerry in 2004.

NPR was worse on Thursday night’s All Things Considered. Peter Overby, NPR’s “power, money, and influence correspondent,” filed a “news story”-slash-attack ad with the headline “Remembering The Texans Who Made Attack Ads Nastier.” The website summary declared: “Texas Republican Harold Simmons, who died last weekend, was known for throwing millions of dollars into fiercely aggressive attack ads against Democrats.”

Anchor Melissa Block began: “In the small world of political high rollers, 2013 marked the loss of two big Republican donors. Texas businessman Harold Simmons and Bob Perry bankrolled some of the scathing TV ads that set the climate of today's politics.” Here’s how Overby kicked off:

PETER OVERBY: There had been attack ads before but rarely like this one from the 2004 presidential campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN in ad: I served with John Kerry. John Kerry cannot be trusted.

ANNOUNCER: Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is responsible...

OVERBY: An attack this harsh could have backfired coming from President George W. Bush's campaign but Swift Boat Vets was an independent group. Bob Perry and Harold Simmons provided 44 percent of its money. The 2008 campaign had a similar tale. A TV ad sought to link then-candidate Barack Obama to radical militants from the Vietnam War era.

ANNOUNCER: Consider this. United 93 never hit the Capitol on 9/11, but the Capitol was bombed 30 years before by an American terrorist group called Weather Underground that declared war on the U.S...

OVERBY: Simmons completely financed that ad with $3 million to the group American Issues Project.

For starters, how do these snippets really explain the argument of these “fiercely aggressive” anti-Democrat ads? The first one challenged John Kerry’s claims of Vietnam heroism, something the “skeptical” media couldn’t imagine anyone doing. The second one is about Bill Ayers, the Capitol Hill bomber that started Obama’s political career in his house.

But Overby really failed because it’s easy to point to nastier left-wing political ads that came before 2004. Why don’t we start with Bill Moyers’ infamous “Daisy” ad suggesting in 1964 that a President Barry Goldwater would cause nuclear war?

A personal “favorite” of mine came from the NAACP against George W. Bush in 2000. The speaker was Renee Mullins, the daughter of James Byrd, a man viciously killed by being dragged for miles behind a pickup truck:

"On June 7, 1998, my father was killed. He was beaten, chained, and then dragged three miles to his death -- all because he was black. So when Governor George W. Bush refused to support hate-crimes legislation, it was like my father was killed all over again."

After chatting with Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune, who said Simmons and Perry, who called them political “wildcatters,” Overby rehashed his negative reporting from 2011 on Simmons (coming just after Mother Jones magazine):


OVERBY: Simmons was an investor worth $10 billion, according to Forbes magazine. He was 82 when he died last week. His latest project has been a state-sanctioned disposal business in west Texas for hazardous, toxic and radioactive waste. Perry, who died in April at age 80, made a somewhat smaller fortune, putting down housing developments around Houston and San Antonio. So as the old guard starts to thin out, who's replacing them?

RICK TYLER: I do see a new wave of mega-donors coming in.

OVERBY: Rick Tyler is a conservative political consultant. He's with the Strategy Group Company in Washington. Two years ago, he was with the superPAC backing Newt Gingrich for president.

TYLER: The new generation of donors is they are educating themselves much more in the process.

OVERBY: And maybe they won't be as quick on the draw as Perry or Simmons. During 2012's roller-coaster Republican primaries, Simmons managed to give to superPACs for Gingrich, Texas Governor Rick Perry and eventual nominee Mitt Romney. Simmons' wife, Annette, gave to a fourth superPAC for Rick Santorum. Now, Tyler says politics is moving fast into social media and Internet messaging.

TYLER: And that is something that the new breed of donors is much more interested in.

OVERBY: It's a big step away from the old ways of writing a check for one explosive TV spot and then throwing it up on the airwaves. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

Overby, who used to work at the liberal campaign-finance "reform" group Common Cause, isn't doing the same kind of "influence" reporting on the Left. 

For example, Overby hasn't offered more than a glib name-check on George Soros in five years. Even on March 6, 2008, when Soros drew a few lines, Overby was still whining about the Swift Boat ads: "In 2004, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth hardly bought any air time at first. But its ad attacking Democrat John Kerry's war record was recycled endlessly in media coverage."

But then, George Soros is also a million-dollar-plus funder of NPR. "Power, money, and influence" indeed! 

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis