Education chief defends deal with conservative commentator
Education Secretary Rod Paige yesterday defended payments to a conservative black commentator to promote the No Child Left Behind law as a standard "outreach effort" to minority...
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Education Secretary Rod Paige yesterday defended payments to a conservative black commentator to promote the No Child Left Behind law as a standard "outreach effort" to minority groups who stand to benefit most from the Bush administration's showcase education program.
Paige, the nation's first African-American education secretary, said in a statement that he was deeply disturbed by the bad publicity surrounding the $240,000 contract. He announced an investigation by the Department of Education's inspector general to clear up unresolved issues so as not to "sully the fine people and good name of this department."
A Senate appropriations subcommittee overseeing education spending has asked the department to turn over all records relating to the payments to Armstrong Williams, a prominent conservative TV personality, to plug the education law. The panel reminded the department of a federal ban on the spending of public funds for "propaganda" purposes.
The ranking Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee, Rep. George Miller of California, attacked Paige for not apologizing or pledging to put an end to "covert propaganda efforts."
At the same time, a Federal Communications Commission member asked that his agency investigate whether Williams broke the law by failing to disclose the money. Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, a Democrat, said the agency had received about a dozen complaints concerning the Williams arrangement.
In his statement, Paige said money paid to Williams' company, the Graham Williams Group, "went exclusively" to the production of advertisements promoting the No Child Left Behind law.
"The funds covered those costs alone and nothing more," Paige said. "All this has been reviewed and is legal."
Documents released last week by the department under the Freedom of Information Act stipulated that Williams would use his relationships with black television producers to encourage them to "periodically address" issues raised by No Child Left Behind. The contract also envisaged on-air interviews with Paige and other Education Department officials with Williams, host of a syndicated TV show, "On Point."
Williams has apologized for what he described as "a lapse of judgment" in agreeing to the contract, which he did not disclose to viewers. Like Paige, he has insisted he did nothing illegal.
A former school superintendent in Houston, Paige is to step down in the next few weeks after the expected Senate confirmation of his successor, Margaret Spellings, who previously served in the White House as Bush's top domestic-policy adviser.
The FCC development was reported by The Associated Press.
Information in this article, originally published January 14, 2005, was corrected January 21, 2005. A previous version of this Washington Post article incorrectly said that Armstrong Williams' syndicated television show is called "The Right Side." The TV show is called "On Point"; Williams' syndicated radio show is "The Right Side."
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