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NCLB Outrages

Armstrong Williams Had Plenty of Company

by Michelle Pilecki

The dust stirred up in January about the US
Department of Education paying commentators to promote the No Child Left Behind Act has finally produced the promised report, though less press coverage than the original brouhaha.

But kudos to USA Today for being the first (and best), reporting that the DOE gave nearly $4.7 million to various organizations "to promote administration education priorities since 2002," usually without disclosing the government funding. Editor & Publisher follows suit, noting:

The report said The Dallas Morning News, The Sacramento (Calif.) Bee, the Mobile (Ala.) Register, and The Grand Island (Neb.) Independent were among the papers that published op-eds by authors who failed to disclose they were receiving DOE money. Separately, the office of Rep. George Miller (news, bio, voting record) (D-Calif.) determined that additional opinion articles ran in papers such as The New York Sun.

The Dallas Morning News had the grace to blush and apologize: "We had no idea that [the op-ed writer] had 'government financial sponsorship'" as director of one of the groups accepting DoE funds. The Morning News also published its own story, later picked up by the Knight-Ridder-Tribune wire, about the report. "People looking at advertisements or reading their local newspapers would have had no idea that what they were reading was bought and paid for with their tax dollars," the story quotes from a statement by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee who requested the review. [Disclosure: Rep. Miller, whom I have never met, has also written for the Huffington Post.]

As the USA Today story notes, some of the DOE's promotional money wasn't exactly monitored well. "[M]ore than $1.7 million went to outside PR contracts for which officials couldn't produce all of the materials, including one $1.6 million contract to ZGS Communications that [Inspector General John] Higgins still wants to review." Other disputed contracts include: $631,775 to the Cuban American National Council, "which the report says had yet to produce anything." And $2,650 to North American Precis Syndicate (NAPS), "which produced what amounted to a 284-word infomercial for the National Center of Education Statistics Web site."

The report stops well short of characterizing as "covert propaganda" the material produced by the 10 of 11 groups who did not disclose their funding from DOE, as required by law. E&P adds: "The Inspector General did conclude that it was improper for organizations to use DOE grant money to produce and disseminate public materials without including a disclaimer about funding, and said the appropriate course of action is to recover grant monies paid to these groups."

— Michelle Pilecki
Huffington Post


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