Despite landing a $13 million contract from the Pat Buchanan presidential campaign to create and place political ads for the Reform Party candidate, Houston's little-known Love Advertising seems remarkably reticent about showing off its product to the homefolk.
That may be because some of the TV ads pitch anti-immigration themes that mock the use of Spanish and other foreign languages in American life, as they push Buchanan's "secure the borders" rhetoric. While some similarly themed Buchanan advertising has run on local radio stations, Houstonians have not seen the filmed versions. They are targeted for other states deemed more receptive to the Reform Party message.
An ad titled "Meatballs" (available online at www.buchananreform.com) depicts a man eating while watching TV news. He hears that the president has abolished English as the national language, and begins choking on his meatballs. When he tries to call 911 for help, a taped voice offers a menu of Spanish and other languages. While the recorded message rolls on, the man suffocates with his dog sitting on his chest. The ad's ending line: "Vote for the third party that puts Americans first. Vote Buchanan-Foster."
The obvious implication is that true Americans speak only English.
Candidate Buchanan came through Houston for one shoot outside a local hotel. Rio Bravo Pictures owner Rod Rodriguez received descriptions of that filming from disgusted witnesses.
"They were complaining they would never stoop that low, that they weren't that hungry that they would do work for Buchanan," recounts Rodriguez, after talking to friends in the film industry. "Most of what I heard was about the racist nature of the ad. Everybody was upset about it."
Rodriguez is concerned "that companies in Houston are producing such products that are going out on a national level."
It's a concern that Brenda Love, owner of Love Advertising, does not share. She was all atwitter when the Buchanan contract was announced early last month for the 17-person, $23 million firm. She told ADWEEK's Southwest Edition that, despite the company's small size, it was selected because "they wanted a fresh approach, someone who would do something different both in strategies for the media and the creative."
Refusing to comment is certainly a fresh approach for an advertising company. Love did not return repeated calls from The Insider. David Harrison, who conceived and planned the ads for Love, left an initial message that he was willing to talk about the ad content. After that, he did not respond to numerous Insider calls.
Love Advertising's main client is Gallery Furniture, famous for those ubiquitous "saves you money" pitches by owner Jim "Mattress Mac" McIngvale. He says Love did not ask his permission before producing the Buchanan ads, and he did not seem offended by the content.
"I saw the ad, but I had nothing to do with it, you know," says McIngvale. Since Buchanan is not a furniture industry competitor, McIngvale had no problems with Love working with the Reform Party. He makes it clear he does not back Buchanan.
"Naw, I'm a [George W.] Bush supporter," avers the store owner. "I'm far and away from [Buchanan]; I ain't going that route."
The person who connected Love to Buchanan was Houston's Clymer Wright, Buchanan's national finance chairman. Wright is famous for ramrodding the petition drive and referendum that imposed term limits on Houston city government.
"All of the California Hispanic liberal politicians went bananas over it, but obviously it's having the effect that was intended," chuckles Wright.
He dismisses Rodriguez's charge of racism as "ridiculous." "Just somebody looking for a way to stay in business and keep on the payroll."
The production company that filmed the Buchanan commercials is VTTV, owned by Vic Tamborella. His other clients include the Houston Astros and Bob McNair's NFL Houston Texans. Both are image-conscious outfits unlikely to welcome any involvement, however peripheral, in a racial controversy. Tamborella claims no one told him they were offended by the ad content.
"No crew member that worked for us complained to us directly. I have a Hispanic employee here that was one of the key grips on that shoot. He just laughed it off; it didn't bother him at all, and I did ask him."
Astros public relations chief Rob Matwick says he'd be troubled if one of the team vendors had participated in an ad with anti-Hispanic overtones. "I'd be concerned about that, but I haven't seen the ads, so it would be tough for me to make a judgment on whether I'd consider them to be racist."
Tamborella declined to say whether he was unhappy with the scripts.
"I can't say that I personally have to agree with the content always on any of the productions I do," explains Tamborella. "We're a vendor for the advertising agencies in town, and it's just like any other product where we're doing the commercials for Kmart or whatever. It doesn't mean I endorse the store or the product, and it's the same thing with this campaign."
It's a position that Rio Bravo's Rodriguez calls an abdication of responsibility.
"I think it's one thing to just take money for doing a job," says the filmmaker, "but there's got to be some conscious thinking about the client you accept and the product that you make. We all need to make a living, but there certainly is a point where you have to stand up for something."
On the other hand, Love Advertising has found a new loyal customer.
"The ads are absolutely great," raves Wright. "I'm so impressed with Love I'm going to use them on any campaigns I run from now on, because they are really fantastic!"
Guess it's one of those Love and hate propositions.
With Friends of the Court Like These...
Just three months ago, county GOP chair Gary Polland orchestrated an abortive attempt to pressure a Houston appellate judge to reverse his opinion overturning the state homosexual conduct statute. Now, Polland has injected himself into another inflammatory case before the same 14th Court of Appeals.
This time Polland is weighing in with a friends-of-the-court brief on behalf of J. Mark and Karla Miller. The couple sued HCA Inc., owner of Houston's Women's Hospital of Texas, for using extreme measures to keep their 22-week-premature daughter alive after her birth in 1990. Sidney Ainsley Miller survived but suffered irreversible brain damage. A jury awarded the family $65 million (see "A Question of Life," by Brian Wallstin, February 5, 1998).
At least one courthouse source believes Polland intervened to make it more politically palatable for GOP judges to uphold the judgment against the hospital for keeping the child alive.
The appeal was submitted to a three-judge panel in 1998. Since hospital lawyers successfully pressed Justice Don Wittig to recuse himself, the current panel consists of Justices Paul Murphy, Maurice Amidei and Richard Edelman. Court guidelines call for a ruling within six months after arguments, but the panel has yet to deliver an opinion.
The case poses this irony: A GOP leader who champions the party platform's right-to-life position is in effect arguing that a family has the right to deny life-prolonging treatments to a newly born baby. Polland listed three religious leaders as sponsors for the brief. They are Rick Scarborough, pastor of Pearland's First Baptist Church and a conservative figure involved with the Texas Right to Life anti-abortion group; and Rabbis Joseph Radinsky and Roy Walter.
In the brief, Polland accuses the hospital of trying to play God by over-riding the wishes of the parents and employing "experimental, life-threatening treatment" to keep Sidney alive. He argues that under the Texas Family Code, parents have the sole right to decide what medical treatment should or should not be given to their children.
"If hospitals and other care providers take it upon themselves to disregard a parent's decision not to permit experimental medical treatment on their children," asks Polland, "will a church or school that disagrees with a parent's decision regarding religious or moral training be permitted to interfere with impunity?"
In his argument for parental responsibility, Polland cites a 1965 case, Griswold v. Connecticut. That also happens to be a key case used by defenders of a woman's right to reproductive choice in Roe v. Wade, the landmark case legalizing abortion.
The Millers' attorney, Mike Sydow, says he had no role in bringing in Polland. That was done by the parents and pastor Scarborough. A Houston Press feature on Polland (GOP Inc., by Tim Fleck, July 20) included accusations that Polland's firm had unfairly influenced a judge against Sydow in an unrelated civil dispute over legal fees.
"My relationship with Polland, you've just got the tip of the iceberg," replies Sydow, "and none of it is good. I'm not a fan, and I was not involved in that in any shape or form and wouldn't be."
According to the brief, any fees to be paid Polland would be directly from the child's father. Sydow says that if he has anything to do with it, Polland won't receive a cent.
"Mark doesn't have the money to pay him, and I've got the contingent fee agreement on the case," says Sydow. "And I can tell you absolutely and unequivocally that I'm not splitting fees with Polland." Of course, if the judgment is affirmed, Miller will have the ability to pay Polland.
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Sydow denies that the GOP chairman's brief is an attempt to exercise political influence over the judiciary. In fact, he claims the real pressure in the long-stalled case comes from the other side.
"It's incredible to me that these defense lawyers are now suggesting we're putting on political pressure," scoffs Sydow. He says HCA Inc., the parent company of Women's Hospital, is owned by Richard Rainwater, a key supporter of Governor Bush.
Rainwater "essentially owns the governor, who may be the next president of the United States, who appoints these judges and will elevate them to the federal court of appeals or whatever they want if he gets elected."
Get the idea that the politics of this case make the Bush-Gore donnybrook seem like a polite croquet match by comparison?