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Jewish World Review
Jan. 12, 2005
/ 2 Shevat, 5765
The ballad of Strong-Arm Williams
What I can't figure out is why you'd pay Armstrong Williams a quarter of a million bucks to talk about anything.
But Big Government, like the L-rd, works in mysterious ways. And with government geniuses dumb enough to hand out pundit payola, it's amazing these bureaucrats perform at all.
And so it came to pass that Williams South Carolina native and second-tier pundit signed a contract to use his media influence to push President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" education reform plan, particularly in the minority community. Some rocket scientist probably saw Williams flakking for the GOP on CNN and said with a start: "Hey! That's a black guy!"
Eventually, the cash came rolling in. Williams took it about $240,000 of it and never said a word. Not to his readers, not to his listeners and not to the actual journalists he occasionally worked with. A mere oversight, Williams insists.
Apparently the White House is unaware that, as a media figure, Williams has about as much influence in America's black community as John Tesh or Garrison Keillor.
You shouldn't have to tell a professional pundit who appears on news shows to debate issues of the day that taking money from the government to promote one of those issues and not mentioning it is something of a problem. The vast majority of real journalists (not me), professional editorialists (not quite me) and loud-mouthed media bloviators (that's the ticket) know this as well.
Williams didn't. In fact, he still doesn't. He's currently selling some cock-and-bull story about how other conservative commentators are on the dole, too, though he won't name even one. And he keeps insisting that all he's done is create the appearance of impropriety by taking federal money for paid ads in one of his TV shows.
If you want the unvarnished, non-government-subsidized truth, you won't get that from Williams. You'll have to read from his contract with the federal Education Department:
"The arrangement...stipulated that a public relations firm hired by the department would arrange for Mr. Williams to regularly comment on N.C.L.B. during the course of his broadcasts, that Secretary Paige and other department officials shall have the option of appearing from time to time as studio guests, and that Mr. Williams shall utilize his long-term working relationships with America's Black Forum an African-American news program to encourage the producers to periodically address the No Child Left Behind Act."
The first time Williams opened his mouth after receiving the money, he had to know in his gut it was wrong, that he was on the take, a sell-out, a sham, a puppet. But he got over it. Yes, $240,000 will do that, as evidenced by the fact that Williams still refuses to give any of it back.
Armstrong, listen to me: Give the money back. Resign from all media work. Spend a year doing p.r. or tsunami relief or writing for the New York Times something that has no connection to legitimate journalism.
Nobody should have to tell him that. He should know it. It's part of his job.
But perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that one corrupt commentator doesn't understand the rules when there's an entire network news division currently suffering under the same misconceptions.
Let's be clear: Nobody paid CBS News to run a bogus story, based on forged documents, attacking President Bush just weeks before the election. That's because nobody had to.
CBS News simply doesn't believe its reporting should be constrained by the facts. Dan Rather, according to the post-Memogate report, still believes his discredited, unfounded story is true and that the memos are real. Dan is so delusional, he probably still believes he's a journalist, too.
His employers share this delusion, as they continue to allow him to work as anchorman and "reporter" (wink, wink!) on "60 Minutes." And since the average age of the "60 Minutes" personalities is 85, Dubious Dan could still be at the "Fake But Accurate" network for years to come.
If CBS understood that the job of a newsroom is to report the facts as opposed to working with Kerry supporters to help invent them then Dan Rather would be co-hosting a QVC shopping show with Armstrong Williams.
Once again, nobody should have to tell this to CBS. They should know it. It's part of their job.
In fact, if CBS were to fire Dan Rather tomorrow and hire Armstrong Williams, it would actually increase their credibility. Then someone could secretly pay Williams to tell the truth.
There is, as far as I know, no amount of money that could convince Dan Rather to do the same.
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JWR contributor Michael Graham is a talk show host and author of the highly acclaimed "Redneck Nation: How the South Really Won the War." To comment, please click here.
© 2005, Michael Graham