PBS’ Frontline chronicles tonight the rise to fame of the late political attack dog Lee Atwater — a close friend of Karl Rove and George W. Bush and Machiavellian figure who trafficked in the ugliest of modern political tactics.
Dubbed the “most evil man in America,” the profane Atwater reveled in character assassination throughout his mercurial career. His particular stock in trade focused on demeaning the mental health of his political opponents. Most famously, Atwater, who was backing then Vice President George H.W. Bush, was behind the infamous “Willie Horton” ad that attacked 1992 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis’ support of a weekend furlough program for Massachusetts inmates. Horton became a flashpoint during the campaign after committing an armed robbery and raping a woman while out of prison.
Atwater also once remarked that 1980 South Carolina democratic congressional candidate Tom Turnipseed had been “hooked up to jumper cables” when receiving electroshock therapy for depression as a teenager. Before his death from a brain tumor in 1991 at age 40, Atwater apologized to Turnipseed for the crack.
Here’s a preview of the program slated to air on Rocky Mountain PBS at 9:00 p.m.: