A few days ago, Sam Simon, one of the creators of The Simpsons, died from colorectal cancer.
Simon had made hundreds of millions of dollars from his involvement with the show and he was a philanthropist in every sense of the word, giving away a large chunk of that money to causes that meant a lot to him. Causes like animal rights.
He was also an atheist and he gave some money to support the 2012 Reason Rally and to American Atheists for some of their billboard campaigns, including this one:
How much money do you think that all amounts to? A few thousand dollars? Perhaps tens of thousands of dollars, if he was feeling extra-generous?
Either way, this headline from The Telegraph completely distorts the truth:
So does this one:
If anyone spent their fortune on atheist billboards, that would be a gigantic waste of money. The articles, which never actually justify the headline, include vague statements like this:
Using the “tens of millions” he made each year from The Simpsons, he helped fund the group’s regular “atheist billboards” campaigns, in which prominent signs urging people to dare to question their beliefs and ditch religion pop up in cities across the US.
During his lifetime, [Simon] donated an undisclosed amount of his vast wealth to American Atheists, which posts stridently anti-religion posters throughout the United States. Simon himself also helped organise atheist rallies.
That doesn’t mean a bulk of his fortune went to atheist causes, only that the donations came from his bank account.
But, just to double check, I asked American Atheists’ Communications Manager Danielle Muscato how much money Simon gave to the group. Was it a huge chunk of his fortune? She told me via email:
While we generally don’t disclose exact dollar amounts from donors, the implication that Sam Simon donated millions to us is false. He did sponsor a few billboard campaigns, and he was a life member of American Atheists, but his primary philanthropic interest was animals. To our knowledge, the vast majority of his giving went to his foundation, which focuses on that cause.
We will always be grateful for his support of American Atheists and our mission, but it’s simply not true that he donated “his comedy millions to [the] atheist cause.”
Muscato added that she would contact The Telegraph and The Independent to request clarifications.
(This article has been updated with additional information since it went up)