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July 29, 2005
Armstrong Williams: Many Apologies, Light On Remorse

The Hill reports today that Armstrong Williams has positioned himself for a comeback after a disastrous fall from grace at the beginning of this year. When USA Today discovered that Williams had taken $241,000 to promote the No Child Left Behind program from the Department of Education without ever disclosing his relationship with the program, his credibility took a well-deserved beating. Williams lost his broadcast jobs and his syndicated column, and his business fortunes looked bleak.

Now the Hill reports that Williams has rebuilt his column and landed a new radio show in New York. He feels good about his comeback and wants people to know that he learned from the experience. However, he holds a grudge against conservatives who joined in the fierce criticism of his actions:

The 45-year-old commentator admitted he made a huge error in accepting Department of Education contracts to promote President Bushs No Child Left Behind initiative. But a bitterness lingers about how he was treated by the media and fellow conservatives.

Before the federal-contract flap, Williams said, I had put everything on the line, defending the right, supporting the right. None of the conservative [groups] came to my rescue. I was alone.

Williams admitted that he should have disclosed the existence of the Education Department contracts in his weekly column. But he notes that there was a disclaimer about federal funding in the television and radio spots that touted No Child Left Behind.

The media didnt care about that, he said. [Reporters] can opt not to write things in order to make their stories worthy of the attention theyre giving it. I was used.

It doesn't sound like Williams learned too much in the intervening time, except how to shift blame. Perhaps his commercials noted that some federal funding had gone into the spots, but his columns never revealed that he had joined the DoEd as a consultant. The amount of money he received -- almost a quarter-million dollars -- indicates that the relationship involved much more than a bit of funding for a couple of TV and radio spots.

Williams damaged the Bush administration and the credibility of conservative commentators while pocketing a substantial amount of cash. In that effort, he received plenty of help from the rocket scientists at DoEd who came up with the plan, of course. However, no one forced Williams to take the money or to keep it a secret from his readers, who assumed they read an independent assessment of NCLB instead of a paid PR campaign. The marketplace wondered how many others had gotten payola for their support of conservative causes, a backlash that hurt us all.

So please spare us the lingering resentment, as Bob Cusack notes Williams retains. Personally, I prefer a reinvigorated Williams than a sidelined Williams, as long as he remains credible and out of the reach of hidden funding. I can't abide a Williams who blames the conservatives for his woes -- the conservatives he stuck in the back for a fistful of taxpayer dollars. If he expected us to defend him for taking payoffs and committing flackery, then he still hasn't learned anything at all.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 29, 2005 5:06 PM

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