Saw conservative pundit Armstrong Williams making his mea culpa for this in front of the actual Bill O’Reilly yesterday.
Seeking to build support among black families for its education reform law, the Bush administration paid a prominent black pundit $240,000 to promote the law on his nationally syndicated television show and to urge other black journalists to do the same.Sigh. This whole thing could have very easily been avoided—as Mr. O’Reilly suggested—by merely issuing a disclaimer at the end of each broadcast/advertisement in which Mr. Williams touted the merits of NCLB. It’s astonishing what simple methods people can use to keep themselves out of trouble. It’s even more astonishing how often people pass by such methods.
The campaign, part of an effort to promote No Child Left Behind (NCLB), required commentator Armstrong Williams "to regularly comment on NCLB during the course of his broadcasts," and to interview Education Secretary Rod Paige for TV and radio spots that aired during the show in 2004. [SNIP]
Williams said he does not recall disclosing the contract to audiences on the air but told colleagues about it when urging them to promote NCLB.
To his credit Mr. Williams appeared to be quite willing to shoulder the blame and accept the punishment for his unethical conduct (example: his column was dropped from the Chicago Tribune).
But what of the DOE and its outgoing secretary, Rod Paige? (One wonders whether this sort of thing played a role in his retirement.)
The contract may be illegal "because Congress has prohibited propaganda," or any sort of lobbying for programs funded by the government, said Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "And it's propaganda."Indeed it is. But the White House is defending the DOE’s tactic.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Friday that the decisions on the practice were made by the Education Department.Before last year’s presidential election, many Republican/conservative bloggers chided some liberal/leftist bloggers for being subsidized by groups such as Media Matters and Moveon.org. Looking back, at least these liberals/leftists were honest about the fact that they might possibly be dishing out propaganda to their reading public. It is similar to the ingredient and warning labels on consumer products: the "buyer" knows what he/she might be getting.
The Education Department defended its decision as a "permissible use of taxpayer funds under legal government contracting procedures." The point was to help parents, particularly in poor and minority communities, understand the law's benefits, the department said.
Is the contract between the DOE and Mr. Williams illegal? I don’t know. I do know, however, that this situation is an ugly stain on both Mr. Williams’ reputation and on that of the Bush Adminstration, whether the latter knew of these types of arrangements or not. It’s all about transparency.
There have been a lot of so-called scandals perpetrated upon the Bush Administration, from the bogus AWOL allegation to the bogus armor controversy. With that in mind, it would seem to behoove the Administration to send the word out to its cabinet to be mindful and vigilant regarding any other types of questionable activity, regardless of technical legality.
I guess they missed this one.
By the way, if any organization is willing to pay me to be a
shill advocate for republican/conservative matters, you know where the donation button is. :-)
I’ll be sure to let my august readers know up front for whom I’m talking.
UPDATE: Says La Shawn:
Reinforcing the black-conservatives-are-sellouts stereotype, Williams has just handed to liberals, on a plate made of pure gold served by a well-dressed butler in a most tastefully decorated setting, enough fodder to keep them gobbling for months to come. In the aftermath of John Kerry’s demoralizing defeat in a failed bid to lead the free world, liberals have found the scandal they’ve been searching for. Thanks, Mr. Williams.Exactly right.