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RATHERGATE VS. PAIDPUNDITGATE

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By thisistwitchy  •  January 10, 2005 04:07 PM

I’ve done tons of CBS blogging below, but make no mistake: I’m still steamed about the Armstrong Williams/Department of Education payola mess. Williams’ apology is terribly disingenuous. First, he mischaracterizes the nature of his contract. It wasn’t just about running “a paid ad” on his TV show. It was about going on other TV shows and pushing No Child Left Behind, interviewing Secretary of Rod Paige about the NCLB, and urging others to do the same–and failing to disclose his payoff all the while.

Next, Williams conflates his support for “school vouchers” with his taxpayer-subsidized support for NCLB. The act was signed in January 2002. The voucher provision pushed by Rep. John Boehner was killed before the law passed. There is a watered-down “public choice” section in the law. But there is no “school voucher” provision in NCLB. There wasn’t one when it was signed. There wasn’t one when Williams got on the take last year. And there isn’t one now.

“I hope that we can put this mistake behind us,” Williams writes. “We?” I’ve met Williams before, appeared on his show to talk about Invasion, and sat next to him once at a Washington dinner. He seems like a nice guy. But he is in denial. How can he put anything behind him when he has not yet acknowledged what he did wrong? (Dan Flynn tears apart Williams’ apology, too.)

Meanwhile, I’m also put off with some conservatives who are minimizing both the media ethics aspect (“Hey, what’s the big deal? Armstrong was just getting paid to say something he already believes”) and the taxpayer accountability aspect (“The Clinton adminstration did this too;” “What’s the big deal? It was only $241,000.”) I heard these excuses yesterday when I guest-hosted on WABC-AM and I’ve been reading them on conservative Internet forums.

Fortunately, not all conservatives believe that morally equivalent spin. And as blogger Dirty Harry points out in a helpful round-up, many other right-of-center bloggers have come down hard on the Williams/DOE scheme (as opposed to wagon-circling mainstream media types still defending Dan Rather).

It will be interesting to see which, if any, mainstream print pundits weigh in on the Armstrong/DOE morass. Liberal journalist David Corn is reporting that Williams told him that there are “others” who have done what he has done:

“This happens all the time,” he told me. “There are others.” Really? I said. Other conservative commentators accept money from the Bush administration? I asked Williams for names. “I’m not going to defend myself that way,” he said. The issue right now, he explained, was his own mistake. Well, I said, what if I call you up in a few weeks, after this blows over, and then ask you? No, he said.

Does Williams really know something about other rightwing pundits? Or was he only trying to minimize his own screw-up with a momentary embrace of a trumped-up everybody-does-it defense? I could not tell. But if the IG at the Department of Education or any other official questions Williams, I suggest he or she ask what Williams meant by this comment. And if Williams is really sorry for this act of “bad judgment” and for besmirching the profession of rightwing punditry, shouldn’t he do what he can to guarantee that those who watch pundits on the cable news networks and read political columnists receive conservative views that are independent and untainted by payoffs from the Bush administration or other political outfits?

This may be the only time in history that I say this, but David Corn is right. Williams should name names or stop his CYA smear tactics. Either way, the inspector general’s report on this promises to make very interesting reading. Kudos, by the way, to Rep. Boehner for joining the call to investigate the Williams’ payoff.

Principled conservatives in Washington do exist.

Update: Speaking of principled conservatives, LaShawn Barber weighs in on Williams’ abysmal apology. Casey Lartigue notes a reader who says “Slap him.” And there’s an ongoing debate at C-log.

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