Sunday, January 16, 2005

Bush Jokes While Bin Laden Still At Large

When asked why the administration had so far failed to locate Osama Bin Laden, more than three years after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US, the president responded, "Because he's hiding."

--BBC News, Jan 16

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

White House Pays for Propaganda

SECAUCUS — The head of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy said it best. Alex Jones, on Countdown Monday night, insisted that the worst part about the CBS "Killian Memos" disaster was that it had overshadowed the Armstrong Williams "Pay For Praise" disaster.

Oh, no, it hasn't.

Mr. Williams has been fired — again — and he’s been quoted as saying there are others on the official Government Information Dole, and he is — in spirit at least — being copy-catted as far away as the nascent democracy trying to emerge in Iraq.

There, the political party of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi held a news conference in Baghdad to announce some of its candidates for the elections. It had a little surprise for the reporters who attended: One hundred dollars. The newspaper The Financial Timesreporting that after their statements, Allawi's colleagues invited each journalist to an upstairs room, and handed them each a hundred-dollar bill. American. A Ben Franklin for everybody in the house.

The newspaper reported that giving gifts to journalists was common in many authoritarian states of the Middle East, but the reporters at the news conference in question said it was not common practice in the post-Saddam Iraq. On the other hand, most of them also said they kept the cash.

Which is what Armstrong Williams continues to insist he's going to do — keep the $241,000 paid him by the Education Department to hype its "No Child Left Behind" program. It turns out he may need it.

"America's Black Forum," the long-running public affairs telecast co-anchored by NPR’s Juan Williams and the Fox sportscaster James Brown, says today it has terminated its relationship with Armstrong Williams. He had appeared as a commentator on the program, but its executive producer says that Williams’ "failure to disclose the potential conflict of interest" has led to his dismissal.
Then there is Sinclair Broadcast Group. The 39-station conglomerate — still infamous over its transformation of some Swift Boat Veterans’ malarkey into “news” — is now investigating Williams. Its counsel telling the industry newspaper The Hollywood Reporter that it too had a contract with Williams — as a consultant, and contributor to a Sinclair produced news broadcast called "News Central."

The lawyer says it is believed Williams interviewed Secretary of Education Rod Paige — from whose department Williams received the contract — on the Sinclair broadcast. Since its deal with Williams has already expired, Sinclair doesn’t expect to be able to do much even if the wool was pulled over its eyes. But what does it say when you’re being investigated for insufficient ethics by Sinclair?

Since USA Today broke the Williams story last Friday, one of the many questions asked has been: was that contract the only one? White House spokesman Scott McClellan says he doesn't know of any others, but a Fox News Channel commentator says he does — because Armstrong Williams told him about them.
Writing on the website of the magazine The Nation, David Corn says he encountered Williams in a Fox Green Room after the story broke and Williams told him, "This happens all the time. There are others."
Corn says he then asked Williams for the names of other conservative commentators who had accepted money from the Bush Administration... to which Williams replied, "I'm not going to defend myself that way."
Corn writes that even he could not tell if Williams was just covering his own butt, or if he really knew of other cases like his own. But apparently there's going to be a Congressional investigation. A spokesman for Ohio Congressman John Boehner, who chairs the House Education and The Work-force Committee, says on the Republican's behalf, "if what has been reported is accurate it is certainly indefensible — it is an inappropriate use of taxpayer money."

--MXNBC, Jan 11

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Bush Uses Taxpayer Dollars to Pay for Propaganda

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Bush administration paid a prominent commentator to promote the No Child Left Behind schools law to fellow blacks and to give the education secretary media time, records show.

A company run by Armstrong Williams, the syndicated commentator, was paid $240,000 by the Education Department. The goal was to deliver positive messages about Bush's education overhaul, using Williams' broad reach with minorities.

The deal, which drew a fast rebuke from Democrats on Capitol Hill, is the latest to put the department on the defensive for the way it has promoted Bush's signature domestic policy.

The contract required Williams' company, the Graham Williams Group, to produce radio and TV ads that feature one-minute "reads" by Education Secretary Rod Paige. The deal also allowed Paige and other department officials to appear as studio guests with Williams.

Williams, one of the leading black conservative voices in the country, was also to use his influence with other black journalists to get them to talk about No Child Left Behind.

The law, a centerpiece of President Bush's domestic agenda, aims to raise achievement among poor and minority children, with penalties for many schools that don't make progress.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Friday that the decisions on the practice were made by the Education Department. He did not directly answer when asked whether the White House approved of the practice, saying it was a department matter.

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 benefits of the law, the department said.

Williams called criticism of his relationship with the department "legitimate."

"It's a fine line," he told The Associated Press on Friday. "Even though I'm not a journalist -- I'm a commentator -- I feel I should be held to the media ethics standard. My judgment was not the best. I wouldn't do it again, and I learned from it."

Three Democratic senators -- Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Harry Reid of Nevada -- wrote Bush Friday to demand he recover the money paid to Armstrong. The lawmakers contended that "the act of bribing journalists to bias their news in favor of government policies undermines the integrity of our democracy."

Rep. George Miller of California, the top Democrat on the House education committee, asked for an inspector general investigation into whether the deal with legal and ethical. He and other Democrats also wrote Bush to call for an end to "covert propaganda."

The department's contract with Williams, through the public relations firm Ketchum, dates to 2003 and 2004. It follows another recent flap about the agency's publicity efforts.

The Bush administration has promoted No Child Left Behind with a video that comes across as a news story but fails to make clear the reporter involved was paid with taxpayer money. It has also paid for rankings of newspaper coverage of the law, with points awarded for stories that say Bush and the Republican Party are strong on education. The Government Accountability Office, Congress' auditing arm, is investigating those spending decisions.

The GAO has twice ruled that the Bush administration's use of prepackaged videos -- to promote federal drug policy and a new Medicare law -- is "covert propaganda" because the videos do not make clear to the public that the government produced the promotional news.

"There is no defense for using taxpayer dollars to pay journalists for 'fake news' and favorable coverage of a federal program," said Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, a liberal group that has tracked the department's spending.

--CNN, 1/8

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Conservative Rehnquist Criticizes Neo-Cons!

Ailing Chief Justice William Rehnquist (news - web sites) said in a report released Saturday that judges must be protected from political threats, including from conservative Republicans who maintain that "judicial activists" should be impeached and removed from office.

"The Constitution protects judicial independence not to benefit judges, but to promote the rule of law: Judges are expected to administer the law fairly, without regard to public reaction," the chief justice, whose future on the bench is subject to wide speculation, said in his year-end report on the federal courts.

The public, the news media and politicians certainly are free to criticize judges, Rehnquist said, but politicians cross the line when they try to punish or impeach those making rulings they do not agree with.

His comments come as the new Congress faces what many predict will be a contentious battle over President Bush (news - web sites)'s nominees to the federal bench. And if his health forces Rehnquist to retire, there would be more partisan wrangling over his successor.

The 80-year-old chief justice has been absent from the Supreme Court since he disclosed in late October that he was being treated for thyroid cancer.

Since 2000, when Republicans took control of the White House and both houses of Congress, many conservative critics have focused their ire on "judicial activists" on the bench.

In his report, the chief justice did not name names but instead spoke of his concern for the "mounting criticism of judges for engaging in what is often referred to as `judicial activism."'

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), for example, has repeatedly threatened to impeach liberal-leaning federal judges for their rulings, such as the ban on school-sponsored prayers.

"A judge's judicial acts may not serve as a basis for impeachment. Any other rule would destroy judicial independence," Rehnquist said. "Instead of trying to apply the law fairly, regardless of public opinion, judges would be concerned about inflaming any group that might be able to muster the votes in Congress to impeach and convict them."

As the chief justice of the United States, Rehnquist leads the federal judicial system as well as the Supreme Court. Since taking office in 1986, he often has used his year-end report to set forth his views on controversies affecting the judiciary system. The controversy over political leanings of judges and their rulings is one of them.

Yet despite Rehnquist's reputation for conservatism, he has been just as willing to fault Republicans as Democrats when their actions and ideas threaten the courts.

In the late 1990s, for example, he faulted Senate Republicans for blocking votes on the judicial nominees of President Bill Clinton (news - web sites). More recently he faulted Senate Democrats for blocking votes on Bush's nominees.

In both instances, he said the nominees deserved a hearing and an up-or-down vote.

DeLay often has criticized judges when he thinks they have overstepped their authority.

"Many of these judges begin to grow drunk on their own power," " DeLay said in 1997. "Why shouldn't the people have a right to impeach these out-of-control judges?"

Last year DeLay called for Congress to enact legislation that would remove certain issues, such as the Pledge of Allegiance, from the jurisdiction of the federal courts.

DeLay was reacting to the ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (news - web sites) that held that Congress' inclusion of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance used daily in many of the nation's schools amounted to an unconstitutional official endorsement of religion. The Supreme Court, though divided on its reasons, later set aside that ruling.

Although Rehnquist and DeLay may agree on the preferred outcome on these issues, the chief justice said the proper way to challenge a misguided ruling is to appeal it to a higher court.

"The appellate process provides a remedy" for those who believe a judge has erred, he said.

And over time, the public can change the courts, he said, by electing presidents and senators who reflect their views.

Rehnquist is fond of citing the example of President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s. In his first term, a conservative Supreme Court struck down many of the president's New Deal laws.

After his landslide re-election in 1936, Roosevelt struck back and proposed to change and expand the membership of the court. Although his "court packing" plan failed, president, who was elected to an unprecedented four terms, succeeded nonetheless, Rehnquist noted.

"President Roosevelt lost this battle in Congress, but he eventually won the war to change the judicial philosophy of the Supreme Court. He won it the way our Constitution envisions such wars being won--by the gradual process of changing the federal judiciary through the appointment process," he wrote.

During his second term, Roosevelt replaced five retiring conservative justices with New Deal liberals and transformed the high court for the next generation.

In the 18-page report issued Saturday, Rehnquist, whom court officials say has been working from home, made only a brief reference to his illness.

"On a personal note, I also want to thank all of those who have sent their good wishes on my speedy recovery," he wrote.

--AP News, Jan 2