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NCLB Outrages

"Meet the Press" Gang Kicks Around Armstrong Williams Debacle

Ohanian Comment:
Even without a money pipeline from the Oval Office, most journalists have rolled over for NCLB, spouting blather about jobs for the 21st century without bothering to examine the facts.

Great sound bite at the end.

NEW YORK Tim Russert and his guests on NBC's "Meet the Press" this morning briefly discussed journalistic issues surrounding Friday's revelations about commentator Armstrong Williams. A transcript of comments by Russert, Al Hunt (now of Bloomberg News), the BBC's Katty Kay, NBC's Andrea Mitchell and Byron York of the National Review, follows.

MR. RUSSERT: This was a jolting issue in USA Today newspaper on Friday, that, "Seeking to build support among black families for its education reform law, the Bush administration paid a prominent black pundit $240,000 to promote the law on his nationally syndicated television show and to urge other black journalists to do the same. The campaign...required commentator Armstrong Williams 'to regularly comment on NCLB [No Child Left Behind] during the course of his broadcasts,' and to interview Education Secretary Rod Paige for TV and radio spots that aired during the show in 2004."

Senators led by Democratic leader Harry Reid have written the president, Albert Hunt, to say that Mr. Williams should give the money back, that this was a violation against the law of blatant government propaganda.

MR. HUNT: Well, I don't know what the law is. It strikes me that it's not a very good use of taxpayers' money. It's certainly as egregious a journalist violation as one could engage in. Mr. Williams' column was yanked, as it should be. I will say this: Armstrong did deliver his promise, because I occasionally worked out at a gym and Armstrong's there, and he told me several times, you know, "Why don't you write about No Child Left Behind?" I don't know if I'm going to be on one of those government expense accounts or not but...

MR. RUSSERT: How many columns did you do?

MR. HUNT: I didn't do any. So I let him down. I'm sorry, Armstrong. Listen, I'll tell you this: I'll bet that there will be a great market for Freedom of Information requests in the next couple weeks because I suspect Armstrong Williams is not alone. There have been other people who've been doing this.

MS. MITCHELL: In fact, the Census Bureau has done this. The Department of Health and Human Services has done this in the past on Medicare and other issues. So they have gone to not just to journalists, but they have put out fake news releases...

MR. RUSSERT: Video news releases.

MS. MITCHELL: ...video news releases that are misleading to the average person who believes that they are news reports. And I think that the lines are so blurred. We have to also take a step back and ask, you know, "When did the lines become confusing to people, between what a real journalist is and commentary, analysis or political figures being used as commentators?" I mean, that's really the issue because with all due respect to Mr. Williams, he didn't rise through the normal track of journalism and...

MS. KAY: So a lot of people are seeing this, and understandably, after Mr. Williams' story, people are going to look at what they see on television and ask themselves, "How do I know that this reporter isn't being paid either by a government organization or by a business organization?" And that confusion is understandable, particularly since there has been an erosion of the lines of what is clear, objective news reporting.

We've seen the encroachment of entertainment into that field and also the encroachment of business and government interests paying for time in that field, and there does have to be a clarity here. The audiences need to know: Am I getting news, which is objective fact, which is being reported, or am I getting advertising or propaganda, which is being paid for by a government interest or a business interest, or am I getting entertainment, somebody's opinion? And it's not always very clear, and it should be clearer.

MR. YORK: You know, No Child Left Behind--a lot of conservatives hated it; a lot of Democrats hated it. The only way you could get somebody to say something nice about it is pay them $240,000.

— Meet the Press



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