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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

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