The price of a career
Self-described commentator Armstrong Williams evidently set the value of his at just under $250,000. Documents obtained last week under the Freedom of Information act from the Department of Education revealed that Williams was paid $240K to promote the controversial No Child Left Behind act (NCLB) in black communities.
Some have decribed this as a tempest in a teapot, that the White House has been spending executive branch money for propaganda drives for a long time. Classic example: Nancy Reagan's Just Say No campaign. Initially, I agreed with this view, but then I came to realize that there is a crucial difference in this case. Indeed, Mr. Williams was paid for the same kind of service that Nike pays LeBron for, but Mr. Williams never appeared in a commercial. Every time he plugged the NCLB program, he was being paid to do so, but that fact was never disclosed, either implicitly as in a commercial, or explicitly as in a disclaimer.
So in effect, he took government money to ask people to support the program based on his image and reputation as a conservative commentator. This is misrepresentation at best and fraud at worst, and most likely. His career is already in the tank. His column has been dropped already, and it looks like his TV show is on the way out as well.
But the bigger question is this: what does this mean for the Bush administration? Who knew about the payments? Who had to authorize them? Some have speculated that such a trifling amount of money in the Department of Education would only need to be approved from within and that the President may well have known nothing about it. I suspect this is true.
It makes sense now why Rod Paige was one of the first secretaries to tender his letter of resignation to the President (on 11/15, two weeks after the election). After all, Paige was one of the few members of the cabinet who presided over a department that had begun to meet the President's policy goals. Obviously someone higher up found out what was going on, and the jig was up.
Rod Paige was the real idiot here. Besides being unethical he lost his credibility for free. Williams actually got $$ for it....
Several bloggers have already weighed in on the subject. Joe Gandelman presents the journalist's take on the ethics of the situation. LaShawn Barber presents an excellent piece on the implications of Mr. Williams' payoff for the black conservative community. Rob of Say Anything chimes in along the same lines with some thoughts on the GOP's credibility in the black community after this. EdWonk of the Education Wonks discusses Mr. Williams' actions from the classroom point of view.
Update: Baldilocks points out that Paige's resignation letter was dated even earlier. Nov. 5 to be exact. Makes you wonder why he was so eager to start clearing out his desk.....