[Paleopsych] NYT: TV Host Says U.S. Paid Him to Back Policy
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Sat Jan 8 16:15:37 UTC 2005
TV Host Says U.S. Paid Him to Back Policy
New York Times, 5.1.8
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
Armstrong Williams, a prominent conservative commentator
who was a protégé of Senator Strom Thurmond and Justice
Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court, acknowledged
yesterday that he was paid $240,000 by the Department of
Education to promote its initiatives on his syndicated
television program and to other African-Americans in the
The disclosure of the payment set off a storm of criticism
from Democrats over the Bush administration's spending to
promote its policies to the public. According to a copy of
the contract provided by the department yesterday, Mr.
Williams, who also runs a small public relations firm and
until yesterday wrote a syndicated newspaper column, was
required to broadcast two one-minute advertisements in
which Education Secretary Rod Paige extolled the merits of
its national standards program, No Child Left Behind.
But the arrangement, which started in late 2003 and was
first reported yesterday by USA Today, also stipulated that
a public relations firm hired by the department would
"arrange for Mr. Williams to regularly comment on N.C.L.B.
during the course of his broadcasts," that "Secretary Paige
and other department officials shall have the option of
appearing from time to time as studio guests," and that
"Mr. Williams shall utilize his long-term working
relationships with 'America's Black Forum' " - an
African-American news program - "to encourage the producers
to periodically address the No Child Left Behind Act."
Mr. Williams, 45, apologized yesterday for blurring his
roles as an independent commentator and a paid promoter.
"This is a great lesson to me," he told Paul Begala of CNN,
who himself has an off-air job as a paid Democratic
political consultant but discloses both roles.
Mr. Williams declined to blame the department for his woes.
"I can easily sit here and criticize the administration,"
he said. "But I got my own problems today, and that is what
I am trying to deal with."
The disclosure about the arrangement coincides with a
decision by the Government Accountability Office that the
administration had violated a law against unauthorized
federal propaganda by distributing television news segments
that promoted drug enforcement policies without identifying
their origin. More than 300 news programs reaching more
than 22 million households broadcast the segments. The
accountability office made a similar ruling in May about
news segments promoting Medicare policies, and the Drug
Enforcement Agency stopped distributing the segments then.
In a statement, the Department of Education said yesterday
that the deal was an appropriate part of its efforts to
explain its policy to "minority parents." The statement
said: "The contract paid to provide the straightforward
distribution of information about the department's mission
and N.C.L.B. - a permissible use of taxpayer funds."
John Gibbons, a spokesman for the department, said Mr.
Williams was the only broadcaster or journalist paid to
promote the policy. Mr. Williams and department officials
said the department's payments to its public relations
contractor, Ketchum, ran to $1 million.
House Democrats including the minority leader, Nancy
Pelosi, and Representative George Miller, senior minority
member of the Education and Workforce Committee, both of
California, released a letter to the president suggesting
"a deliberate pattern of behavior by your administration to
deceive the public and the media in an effort to further
your policy objectives" and urging disclosure of "all past
and ongoing efforts to engage in covert propaganda."
Questioned about the arrangement, Scott McClellan, a
spokesman for the president, referred reporters to the
Department of Education.
In an interview, Mr. Miller called the release of the news
segments and the payments to Mr. Williams part of "a very
dangerous practice that deceives the public" by concealing
the role of taxpayer dollars in promoting partisan
policies. "Are they funding propaganda?" he asked. "Are
they funding money to their friends?"
But public relations executives said that the government
distribution of prepared news segments without on-air
disclosures of their origin was a bipartisan practice that
predated the Bush administration.
"The Clinton administration was probably even more active
than the Bush administration" in distributing news segments
promoting its policies, said Laurence Moskowitz, chairman
and chief executive of Medialink, a major producer of
promotional news segments. After the Government
Accountability Office decision last spring, he said, his
firm began advising government clients to disclose each
tape's nature in its script.
The arrangement with Mr. Williams "is stupid, it is
unseemly, and it is tacky," said Jonah Goldberg, a
contributing editor at the conservative National Review.
The National Association of Black Journalists criticized
the administration and Mr. Williams alike yesterday,
calling on newspapers that use his column and television
stations that use his commentary to "drop him immediately."
"I thought we in the media were supposed to be watchdogs,
not lapdogs," Bryan Monroe, an official of the black
journalists' group and an assistant vice president at
Knight Ridder, said in the statement.
In an interview, Mr. Williams said his mistake was thinking
like a businessman, without worrying enough about
journalistic ethics. He began his career in politics as an
aide to Mr. Thurmond of South Carolina. He entered the
media business, he said, only after he became known for
publicly defending Justice Thomas, his former boss at the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, during his stormy
After that, he said, he continued to operate a small public
relations firm, Graham Williams, with his business partner
Stedman Graham, who eventually became known as the partner
of Oprah Winfrey and left the business. Aside from the
Department of Education, Mr. Williams said, his clients
were all private businesses. With about five employees, he
said, his company's revenue runs to about $300,000 a year
at most, and last year ended in a loss.
But then he also began writing his newspaper column,
syndicated by Tribune Media Services, which dropped him
yesterday. He said about 50 papers ran the column. He also
began broadcasting a syndicated conservative talk radio
show that eventually faded away. And more recently he began
a syndicated conservative television show, "The Right
Side," and another series for a fledgling African-American
cable channel, TV One.
Mr. Armstrong said his news show ran on cable channels
including Dr. Jerry Falwell's Liberty Television, Sky Angel
television, the Christian Television Network and a handful
of local stations. Yesterday, Mr. Williams was counting the
lessons learned. "I have realized, you know what? I am part
of this media elite club, and I have to be more
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