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January 14, 2005
President Bush Decries Armstrong Williams Arrangements

In a surprising but welcome slap at the rationalization provided by his own Cabinet officer, President Bush scolded the Department of Education for its surreptitious arrangement with conservative commentator Armstrong Williams. Bush not only denounced the payola, but called for all levels of government to learn from this mistake:

President Bush expressed disapproval Thursday of the Education Department's decision to pay conservative commentator Armstrong Williams to promote the government's education policy. Bush said he wants his Cabinet to prevent a recurrence.

There needs to be a clear distinction between journalism and advocacy, Bush said in an interview with USA TODAY, which reported last week that Williams had been paid $240,000 to advocate for the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. ...

In the interview, Bush said, I appreciate the way Armstrong Williams has handled this, because he has made it very clear that he made a mistake. All of us, the Cabinet, needs to take a good look and make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again.

After both Williams and Education Secretary Rod Paige initially apologized for the scandal, both men retreated in the past few days into denials of wrongdoing. Williams now says the controversy is a "witch hunt" aimed at his minority status and conservative views, while Paige insists that the contract only concerned advertising and not surreptitious advocacy -- propaganda, in other words. However, the contract explicitly states that the payments obligated Williams to "comment regularly on NCLB during the course of his broadcasts" as well as influence his TV producers to promote NCLB.

Neither Paige nor Williams has learned a thing from this experience. Williams has already been fired from just about every job he held as a result of the payoffs; he certainly won't recover his credibility by trying to BS his way out of his new identity as a government shill. Paige still remains as Education Secretary, but only until Bush names his replacement. Right now, I'd advise the President to make that his highest domestic priority.

Arsenio Hall once embarrassed Bush's father by referring to him as the world's biggest pimp after the IRS took over management of the Mustang Ranch, a legal Nevada bordello. Bush 43 needs to distance himself from this episode of prostitution in order to avoid the same comparisons, and he needs to clean house at Education as an object lesson for other policymakers with dumb ideas about promotion.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 14, 2005 7:30 AM

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