Accept no substitutes

Payola News and Commentary

Just as record companies are attempting once again to kill off the payola/indpendent promoter system, the same persistant virus has been revealed to be hitting the news and commentary side of the media.

Rightwing spokesman, Armstrong Williams, has been shown to have been paid $240,000 by the US Department of Education [conservatives note this is your tax money too] to shill for No Child Left Behind. (see USA Today’s story).

The contract, detailed in documents obtained by USA TODAY through a Freedom of Information Act request, also shows that the Education Department, through the Ketchum public relations firm, arranged with Williams to use contacts with America’s Black Forum, a group of black broadcast journalists, “to encourage the producers to periodically address” NCLB. He persuaded radio and TV personality Steve Harvey to invite Paige onto his show twice. Harvey’s manager, Rushion McDonald, confirmed the appearances.

Williams says he was a strong believer in the NCLB to begin with, but that didn’t stop him for entering into a contract which seriously compromised his integrity. I am now glad to say that a full course in ethics is required at UNC’s Journalism School. I hope that Williams and others will take time to check out the classes and take a similar course themselves.

But Williams is only half the equation. Departments of government do have a duty to educate about their work but this project executed with too much secrecy became propaganda — not openness.

As USA Today reports:

Williams’ contract was part of a $1 million deal with Ketchum that produced “video news releases” designed to look like news reports. The Bush administration used similar releases last year to promote its Medicare prescription drug plan, prompting a scolding from the Government Accountability Office, which called them an illegal use of taxpayers’ dollars.

This is the kind of thing that was corrupting the music industry and should not be coming from government. The Clinton Administration was not immune from this kind of behavior as local reporter Fiona Morgan told us in Salon in January 2000.

Editor and Publisher reports that the Tribune Media Services is also questioning the columns that Williams wrote for their syndicate.
Four of his Right Side columns were in favor of NCLB.

1 Comment

  1. Paul Jones

    Williams called criticism of his relationship with the department “legitimate.”

    “It’s a fine line,” he said 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.

    Williams on Williams in Houston Chronicle

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