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  2005-01-08-Frank Lautenberg-Armstrong Williams 

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2005 blog


Keeping up with Jewish officeholders

Lautenberg joins Kennedy, Reid
in denouncing payments to journalist
,  Jan. 8, 2005

U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) has denounced the Bush administration for paying conservative radio commentator and columnist Armstrong Williams $240,000 "to skew his reporting to promote the No Child Left Behind Act."

In a letter co-signed Jan. 7 by Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Lautenberg said the money paid to Williams should be recovered by the administration, and that President George W. Bush should disclose if any other journalists were paid to promote presidential policies.

Lautenberg, Reid and Kennedy said the payment to Williams may have violated laws against "covert propaganda," and added, "we believe that the act of bribing journalists to bias their news in favor of government policies undermines the integrity of our democracy.  Actions like this were common in the Soviet Union, but until now, thought to be long extinguished in our country."

Asked about the payments—first disclosed in a Jan. 7 article by Greg Toppo in USA Today—presidential press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Clinton Township, Michigan, that the decision to pay Williams was made by the Education Department, not the White House.  A reporter noted that the General Accounting Office also had found that the Office of Drug Policy broke federal law by paying for "covert propaganda story packages."

McClellan said he thought the drug policy office "had stopped doing it...and we think those were appropriate steps to take," but he sidestepped the question about Williams.

USA Today quoted Williams, a former aide to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, as saying he promoted the "No Child Left Behind" educational initiative because "it's something I believe in."  According to MSNBC, the $240,000 contract developed by the Ketchum Incorporated public relations agency called upon the Williams-owned company, the Graham Williams Group, to create commercials to be read by Education Secretary  Rod Paige about the program, and also for Williams to interview Paige and other Education Department officials on his show.  Furthermore, Williams was to use his influence with other African-American journalists to win support for the program.

Williams told the Associated Press on Jan. 7 that while he was a commentator, not a journalist, "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."

Lautenberg, Kennedy and Reid, in their letter, said "good government means that our citizens can trust that government policies put the public's interest first. We don't need 'payola' and public relations to educate our kids. We need good teachers, good schools and good standards."
      Donald H. Harrison