The current administration prides itself on its moral clarity, even as some of its members shroud unethical policies in secrecy. On Jan. 7, light was shed on this hypocrisy, as USA Today reported that a government agency, the Department of Education (DOE), had spent $241,000 to bribe conservative talk show host Armstrong Williams into promoting the president's No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) on his radio show and in his columns.
The contract with Williams, according to the USA Today article, required him to "regularly comment on NCLB during the course of his broadcasts” and interview ranking department officials. In return, Williams was rewarded taxpayer money.
Williams, who received his kickback through the independent Ketchum Inc. public relations firm in an apparent attempt by the DOE to mask the dealings, has admitted wrongdoing and has been reprimanded through the cancellation of his syndicated column and unavoidable damage to his reputation.
Sadly, Williams was not the only public figure to be paid off. A Jan. 26 article in The Washington Post reported that another writer, Maggie Gallagher, was paid $21,500 by another agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, to write glowingly of Bush's proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
However, Williams and Gallagher ought to shoulder only a fraction of the blame. The true abuse of power came directly from the source of the bribes, the government agencies themselves. Since when is a branch of the government allowed to mold public opinion by clandestinely compromising the objectivity of the press?
These episodes involving Williams and Gallagher are only two in a line of administration follies involving the manipulation of the press. According to the USA Today article, Williams's $241,000 was a part of a larger $1 million deal with Ketchum to disseminate propaganda through a thinly disguised veil of journalistic credibility.
Other parts of the Ketchum deal included last year's fabrication of fake video news reports featuring government employees posing as reporters. These segments were also intended to gain public approval for NCLB by tricking Americans into believing that they were watching objective news reporting, a tactic that has been declared both illegal and dishonest by watchdog groups.
The Government Accountability Office, the official bipartisan congressional watchdog group, rebuked the Bush administration for the fake news reports, calling them an illegal use of taxpayer money. The Williams and Gallagher deals are nothing less: disgraceful attempts to garner public support through the illegal use of government appropriations.
Such actions are propaganda that is illegal and expressly forbidden by Congress: Section 626 of the 1999 Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act "prohibited agencies from using appropriated funds for publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States unless authorized by Congress,” according to the Office of Legislative Policy and Analysis.
According to an editorial in The Washington Post, the ranking members of the House Education Committee, Democrat George Miller and Republican John A. Boehner, have both called for an internal DOE investigation into the Ketchum contract. When the investigation takes place, those responsible for the manipulation of public opinion must be brought to justice.
Kiran Bhat. Kiran Bhat is a senior who loves the Washington Redskins, 24, Coldplay, Kanye West, Damien Rice, Outkast and Common (Sense). He aspires to be the next Sanjay Gupta. He will miraculously grow a Guptaesque telegenic face and sculpted body by the age of 30. In … More »