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Armstrong Williams and the Media Whores
2005.01.08 (Sat) 14:01
Armstrong Williams is, apparently, a well-known conservative television and radio commentator and columnist. That was news to us, but then he does seem to be just another conservative shill, and we tend to avoid such dubious sources of "news."
As it turns out, our tendency was right on the money. From a story first reported by USA Today, an AP article carried by ABC News states the following:
The Bush administration paid a prominent black journalist to promote President Bush's education law and give Education Secretary Rod Paige media time, records show.
Armstrong Williams, a nationally syndicated radio, print and television personality, was paid $240,000 by the Education Department to promote the No Child Left Behind Act.
The contract required Williams' company, the Graham Williams Group, to produce radio and TV ads that promote the controversial law and feature one-minute "reads" by Paige. The deal also allowed Paige and other department officials to appear as studio guests with Williams.
Williams, one of the leading black conservative voices in the country, was also to use his influence with other black journalists to get them to talk about No Child Left Behind.
Yes, Williams took money from the government — and if you pay taxes, that's your money — in exchange for plugging the Bush Administration's policies, specifically the Department of Education's "No Child Left Behind" fiasco.
So what's the problem? On Crossfire (a show deservedly criticized by Jon Stewart), Paul Begala laid it out (found via Wonkette):
The Bush administration has now on two occasions been cited by the Government Accountability Office for violating something called the Publicity and Propaganda Act, spending our taxpayers' money on propaganda, that is, putting out information, but not telling you that it's from the government. Now there's calls for this relationship to be investigated in the same way.
Don't you think that the administration has a problem when, on two prior occasions, they've been cited for violating the Publicity and Propaganda Act?
The AP article from ABC News quoted above also mentions this string of violations, including some still being investigated:
This is not the first time the department has come under fire for its publicity efforts.
The Bush administration has promoted No Child Left Behind with a video that comes across as a news story but fails to make clear the reporter involved was paid with taxpayer money. It has also has [sic] paid for rankings of newspaper coverage of the law, with points awarded for stories that say Bush and the Republican Party are strong on education. The Government Accountability Office, Congress' auditing arm, is investigating those spending decisions.
So it's taxpayer-funded propaganda, now? It almost seems like the Bush Administration is trying to become a fascist regime. As Begala mentions, this isn't the first time they've been accused of spreading propaganda — and hopefully they will be held accountable again.
But what does such accountability mean? We don't seem to recall any public outcry, or even so much as a whiff of perceived impropriety wafting through the press. With this kind of "accountability," what's to stop the administration from just doing this again and again? Oh, right — nothing, as evidenced by the fact that they have done it again and again.
Still, the blame doesn't rest entirely with our corrupt and/or misguided government officials; Armstrong Williams and the other media whores should be metaphorically drawn and quartered as well. An editorial on One Thousand Reasons brings up something we would like to address:
I had never heard of Armstrong Williams in part because I watch little television. Too many commercials for me, too much selling. But I wonder about his audience. Did they believe he was giving an honest opinion about a government program? Didn't they think it odd that he would be so high on a program that he would "comment on it regularly"? And did they buy? Did the quarter million lead them to demand NCLB from the local school districts? Did it make them more likely to vote for people like Bush who backed such a program? Of course it did.
While One Thousand Reasons provides some good commentary on the situation and some related issues, we feel they have not taken this particular point as far as they could have.
Did the audience believe Williams was giving an honest opinion about a government program? Well, why wouldn't they? We in the United States have been indoctrinated since the beginning of our education with the idea that we live in a society with a free press. This has the natural consequence of making us believe that the press is in no way controlled or influenced by those in our government; we naturally assume that the information presented to us by the media is non-partisan and factually true. Our assumption grants the media an enormous amount of power — the power to shape our beliefs, our knowledge, and our behavior.
As any Spider-Man fan knows: "With great power comes great responsibility." And as Jon Stewart pointed out on Crossfire, the media is not worthy of that power, and does not live up to that responsibility. The majority of media outlets no longer care about the facts — it's all about the bottom line. The recent election season emphasized this, as the media promoted the attack concepts that played such a large role in both parties' campaigns, becoming a part of the twisted political system rather than calling out the flaws of that system and weeding out the bullshit for the voters, which is the whole intended purpose of having a free press in the first place! The media sluts have become purveyors of fear and teasing — "Are your sneakers killing you? Tune in at seven to find out!" — just to get you to watch their news segments...and therefore watch their commercials...and therefore buy their sponsors' products...and therefore pay their salaries. In addition, it can't be ignored that many of these media companies are part of large corporate entities — the very same entities that are busy lobbying the government to shape legislation to serve their corporate interests. From a bottom line perspective, it sounds like the best course of action would be to cater to the government and thereby curry favor, so that they are more likely to agree to whatever it is you are lobbying for. How the hell does that engender a free press?
As Jon Stewart said himself, it's a sad state of affairs when one of the most reliable sources of news is broadcast on the comedy channel after a half hour of puppets making prank phone calls. The media whores — controlled by their corporate pimps — are addicted to ratings, and keep selling themselves just to get a fix. In a way, they are all being paid by the administration — Williams just had the distinction of receiving the check directly, without any middlemen. Even this is by no means unique; keep an eye out for the next media whore kneeling to worship Bush's staff. At a quarter of a million dollars per kneel, we're sure to have plenty more.
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[ Filed under: % Bush Watch % Government & Politics % Media & Censorship ]
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