In a speech before a hometown crowd in South Carolina, Williams called the investigation into the $240,000 deal a "witch hunt" and vowed to continue the fight to restore his standing in the DC community that has served him so well. The audience gave their native son a standing ovation.
Williams maintained he was acting as "an entrepreneur" who had no formal training in journalism. That's funny, he seemed more than willing to play a journalist on television. He should have let on that he was just giving us the business.
He added that the FCC has no jurisdiction over him because he isn't a licensed broadcaster, a statement that seems blind to the FCC’s own rules on payola, which state “If record companies, or their agents, are paying persons other than the licensee to have records aired, and not disclosing that fact to the licensee, the person making such payments, and the recipient, are subject to fine, imprisonment or both.” [my emphasis]
Williams intends not to pay back any of the money he'd received unless forced. So let it be done.
Williams sad bid to restore his reputation in and beyond the Beltway seems to prove Edward Wasserstein’s point, made in a Monday Miami Herald column, that “the commentary arena is little better than an ethical brothel” where columnists have come to regard themselves immune to the consequences of their influence pedaling.
Williams was paid money to sell Bush’s controversial education policies to Black America. He did so in an egregiously dishonest fashion that violates any acceptable standard of journalism -- and, possibly, of federal law.
It’s not a time for barn raisings but humility, honesty and cooperation with the investigators who are sure to come knocking at Williams’ Northeast Capitol Hill door. If Williams knows of other media pundits on the dole -- as he claimed in a recent aside to Nation columnist David Corn -- let’s hear about them [Update]. The White House and members of the PR community who brokered these deals could open their books to the public. And if they’re not willing to help, our friends in the media reform community can persuade all actors that full disclosure is good for us all.
This is not about scoring partisan points. It’s about restoring honest politics to a system that has become tainted by easy money and cynicism. This is not a “witch hunt” as Williams and others have claimed, but an honest effort to reassert the standard that American journalism cannot be bought and sold. ///
[Jan 27 upadte: President Bush on Wednesday said the $241,000 deal between the Department of Education and Armstrong Williams was a mistake, one the president said he had made clear that other federal agencies should not repeat. President Bush also said the White House had not been aware of the payoff to Mr. Williams. " All our cabinet secretaries must realize that we will not be paying, you know, commentators to advance our agenda," President Bush said. "Our agenda ought to be able to stand on its own two feet."]
[Jan 28 Update: One day after President Bush ordered his Cabinet secretaries to stop hiring commentators to help promote administration initiatives, and one day after the second high-profile conservative pundit was found to be on the federal payroll, a third embarrassing hire has emerged. Salon has confirmed that Michael McManus, a marriage advocate whose syndicated column, "Ethics & Religion," appears in 50 newspapers, was hired as a subcontractor by the Department of Health and Human Services to foster a Bush-approved marriage initiative.]