Friday, January 21, 2005

Pyongyang on the Potomac: VI

Brought to you by American tax dollars

Disgraced media commentator Armstrong Williams is working overtime to restore his standing within Washington's political establishment. On Inauguration Day, Williams welcomed infuential conservatives into his Capitol Hill home for a breakfast to pay homage to seven prominent black Republicans, according to a story in the Washington Times.

"These are the people who are the architects and builders of the black conservative movement," Mr. Williams told a correspondent from the Times after he had presented honorees with a commemorative coin in appreciation of their service. In exchange, Williams' guests consoled the fallen pundit, whose direct line to the networks stopped ringing on January 7 when USA Today revealed that he was being paid taxpayer money to flack on air for White House policy. “I wanted him to know that he still has a lot of friends," said honoree Robert Brown, a former assistant to President Nixon.

Among those attending the breakfast was Sinclair Broadcasting chief David Smith, owner of the 62 local television stations that played a role in spreading Williams’ taxpayer subsidized propaganda to the masses. Armstrong and Smith are long-time friends, according to a recent story by Eric Boehlert. “[Smith’s] a huge Armstrong fan and he made him a priority at News Central” going so far as to offer the company limo to whisk Williams from home to studio appearances. How much had Smith known about Williams' $240,000 deal to shill for the White House? Congresswoman Louise Slaughter has written the Sinclair CEO to learn more.

The Washington Times fluffer goes on to downplay the ongoing controversy, writing that Williams had apologized for his "misstep." In this, the conservative Times joins the non-chorus of other right-wing media that have taken a pass on covering the Williams payola story. Terry Krepel of ConWebWatch writes that "NewsMax has contorted itself into positions previously considered humanly impossible to gloss over Williams' acceptance of $240,000." Elsewhere, Cybercast News Service, the faux news wing of arch prude Brent Bozell's Media Research Center, "has yet to devote an original news story to the Armstrong Williams scandal."

On Friday, Bozell's hatchet man Tim Graham wrote in to Jim Romenesko's journalism forum at Poynter to complain that the Williams story should have been back of the book news -- words for Graham to be impaled upon, if the resulting response from the Poynter community is any guide. Timothy Boone of the Advocate puts in this perpsective:

I wonder if Mr. Graham thinks news of a liberal pundit getting $240,000 from the government to push Clinton administration policies on TV, radio and print would [be] worthy of only a C-3 story. I could only imagine how conservatives would have reacted to tax dollars being used for that purpose.

Fair enough, but a government's buying favorable views from a member of the press should not be framed in conservative or liberal terms -- but as a clear violation of every conceivable standard of journalism -- and, possibly, of federal law. This is about neither right nor left, but right and wrong.

Meanwhile, Williams seems to think that the scandal ended with his January 9 apology via his website. His act of contrition, though, hasn’t turned the FCC from pursuing an investigation into illegal payola, a decision brought on in part by the nearly 18,000 letters of complaint sent by members of coalition partner Free Press.

A more genuine gesture from Williams would be to repay the $240,000 sum to the US Treasury. When asked earlier this month about this, Williams responded: "Why would I do that?."

Yesterday's party indicates that he's making better use of the money to grease society’s skids for a return to business as usual.

SIDEBAR: Follow this link for a taste of Williams in action.

Pyongyang on the Potomac: Part V
Part IV
Part III
Part II
Part I

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