Jane Mayer of the New Yorker has an outstanding piece in the new issue titled “Attack Dog.” It focuses on Larry McCarthy, who is little known to the general public but is a big player in the world of political ads, was the creator of the infamous Willie Horton ad in 1988, and is now directing “Restore Our Future,” one of the pro-Mitt Romney SuperPACs that has done such a fine hatchet job on Romney’s opponents in the Repub nomination campaign.
So it’s about both the history of negative political advertising and the new nexus with the financing loopholes created by Supreme Court decisions, most recently “Citizens United.”
Mayer’s piece is longish and roams widely across the landscape of political money and political advertising. It’s here.
The “too much baggage” ad that McCarthy crafted (if “crafted” is the word I want here) to bring down Gingrich in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses is below.
Mayer dug up an anecdote from Horton ad, which was an important part of the pro-Bush (the first) campaign that came from behind to beat Dem nominee Michael Dukakis in 1988. (Similarly to the current SuperPAC environment, this one was sponsored by a PAC so candidate Bush didn’t have to take direct responsibility for it.) Anyway here’s the anecdote from Mayer’s piece:
[McCarthy] later told a reporter that when he first saw Horton’s mug shot he said to himself, ‘God, this guy’s ugly.’ He added, ‘This is every suburban mother’s greatest fear.’ McCarthy admitted to the reporter that he had used a ploy to get the ad past television-station officials, who, he worried, might regard it as inflammatory. (‘The guy looked like an animal,’ he said of Horton.) So McCarthy made two versions of the ad. The first, which he submitted for review, lacked the mug shot. Once the ad had been approved, McCarthy, claiming that he was fixing an error, replaced it with a version containing Horton’s photograph
Here’s the Horton ad: