News & Views

Share some of my interests? Just want to start a correspondence? Please get in touch!

Just click this address to send me mail:

Published: October 1, 2005
WASHINGTON, Sept. 30 –

Federal auditors said on Friday that the Bush administration violated the law by buying favorable news coverage of President Bush’s education policies, by making payments to the conservative commentator Armstrong Williams and by hiring a public relations company to analyze media perceptions of the Republican Party.

In a blistering report, the investigators, from the Government Accountability Office, said the administration had disseminated “covert propaganda” in the United States, in violation of a statutory ban. The contract with Mr. Williams and the general contours of the public relations campaign had been known for months. The report Friday provided the first definitive ruling on the legality of the activities. Lawyers from the accountability office, an independent nonpartisan arm of Congress, found that the administration systematically analyzed news articles to see if they carried the message, “The Bush administration/the G.O.P. is committed to education.” The auditors declared: “We see no use for such information except for partisan political purposes. Engaging in a purely political activity such as this is not a proper use of appropriated funds.” The report also sharply criticized the Education Department for telling Ketchum Inc., a public relations company, to pay Mr. Williams for newspaper columns and television appearances praising Mr. Bush’s education initiative, the No Child Left Behind Act. When that arrangement became public, it set off widespread criticism. At a news conference in January, Mr. Bush said: “We will not be paying commentators to advance our agenda. Our agenda ought to be able to stand on its own two feet.” But the Education Department has since defended its payments to Mr. Williams, saying his commentaries were “no more than the legitimate dissemination of information to the public.” The G.A.O. said the Education Department had no money or authority to “procure favorable commentary in violation of the publicity or propaganda prohibition” in federal law. The ruling comes with no penalty, but under federal law the department is supposed to report the violations to the White House and Congress. In the course of its work, the accountability office discovered a previously undisclosed instance in which the Education Department had commissioned a newspaper article. The article, on the “declining science literacy of students,” was distributed by the North American Precis Syndicate and appeared in numerous small newspapers around the country. Readers were not informed of the government’s role in the writing of the article, which praised the department’s role in promoting science education. The auditors denounced a prepackaged television story disseminated by the Education Department. The segment, a “video news release” narrated by a woman named Karen Ryan, said that President Bush’s program for providing remedial instruction and tutoring to children “gets an A-plus.” Ms. Ryan also narrated two videos praising the new Medicare drug benefit last year. In those segments, as in the education video, the narrator ended by saying, “In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting.” The television news segments on education and on Medicare did not state that they had been prepared and distributed by the government. The G.A.O. did not say how many stations carried the reports. The public relations efforts came to light weeks before Margaret Spellings became education secretary in January. Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the secretary, said on Friday that Ms. Spellings regarded the efforts as “stupid, wrong and ill-advised.” She said Ms. Spellings had taken steps “to ensure these types of missteps don’t happen again.” The investigation by the accountability office was requested by Senators Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, both Democrats. Mr. Lautenberg expressed concern about a section of the report in which investigators said they could not find records to confirm that Mr. Williams had performed all the activities for which he billed the government. The Education Department said it had paid Ketchum $186,000 for services performed by Mr. Williams’s company. But it could not provide transcripts of speeches, articles or records of other services invoiced by Mr. Williams, the report said. In March, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel said that federal agencies did not have to acknowledge their role in producing television news segments if they were factual. The inspector general of the Education Department recently reiterated that position. But the accountability office said on Friday: “The failure of an agency to identify itself as the source of a prepackaged news story misleads the viewing public by encouraging the audience to believe that the broadcasting news organization developed the information. The prepackaged news stories are purposefully designed to be indistinguishable from news segments broadcast to the public. When the television viewing public does not know that the stories they watched on television news programs about the government were in fact prepared by the government, the stories are, in this sense, no longer purely factual. The essential fact of attribution is missing.” The office said Mr. Williams’s work for the government resulted from a written proposal that he submitted to the Education Department in March 2003. The department directed Ketchum to use Mr. Williams as a regular commentator on Mr. Bush’s education policies. Ketchum had a federal contract to help publicize those policies, signed by Mr. Bush in 2002. The Education Department flouted the law by telling Ketchum to use Mr. Williams to “convey a message to the public on behalf of the government, without disclosing to the public that the messengers were acting on the government’s behalf and in return for the payment of public funds,” the G.A.O. said. The Education Department spent $38,421 for production and distribution of the video news release and $96,850 for the evaluation of newspaper articles and radio and television programs. Ketchum assigned a score to each article, indicating how often and favorably it mentioned features of the new education law. Congress tried to clarify the ban on “covert propaganda” in a bill signed by Mr. Bush in May. The law says that no federal money may be used to produce or distribute a news story unless the government’s role is openly acknowledged THE TAKE ON POWELL Poor Colin Powell, he was mislead. Obviously bad intelligence wasn’t a problem when he was fighting in Vietnam. At least it worked for him, he got out alive. It was up to him to thoroughly check the intelligence not once, but through several top sources before making his speech to the UN. And what did he do when he discovered it was a sham while he was still Secretary of State, he said nothing. He just went along with the program and when he could see that the war was getting messier and messier and lives were being lost every day not to mention the overwhelming expense, he found an opportunity to get out while he could still save his ass and resign. Plus he probably also had to stay to protect his son’s job at the FCC so that Michael could finish the job of allowing a select group of large corporations control the main stream media. I’m sure that having been in combat and responsible for other soldiers lives, he feels there’s blood on his hands and some guilt. But, if there’s one thing Colin Powell learned while he was in the Bush Administration it’s Public Relations Damage Control. Now that Colin has other ambitions and is making over $100,000 per speaking engagement, and wants endorsements from the private sector, he has to clean up his image and show that as a former General in the Army he made a mistake and was mislead by what he described to Barbara Walters as “underlings” in the CIA not top officials giving misinformation. I doubt when he was an officer in Vietnam that he let his army privates tell him what decision to make. I wouldn’t be surprised if Karl Rove is doing his PR. Claudia Reame ZARQUAWI IS DEAD? The Media and most Americans are in an extended state of celebration. The body most certainly has been positively identified. Two five hundred pound bombs dropped from the sky got him. And yes, he must have been an inspiration to terrorists abounding in the area. But wait! Did Abu Mussab al Zarquawi really die? Or does this somehow bring to mind an old Union ballad about a union organizer called “Joe Hill”. “I dreamed one night I saw Joe Hill – as plain as he could be. I said, Joe Hill, you’re ten years dead. I never died, said he.” In the early part of the Twentieth Century Joe Hill was apparently framed by opposing companies and hung to death. However his death served to inspire others to fight on and achieve the rapid growth of the Union movement in the middle of the century. Of course, this is not to mean that, looking at the situation from our standpoint, that Zarquawi did not deserve his fate. The “inconvenient truth” remains – will his death, and possible Martyrdom increase that inspiration? Let’s face reality. Whereupon we look at our “insurgent” opponents in Iraq as evil and terrorists, they have also reason to view us as the same. They know that we are not occupying their land, creating deaths and chaos, just to promote democracy. After all, didn’t the Brittish use that same gag for sixty years while exploiting the Iraqi for their oil. How many of us even bothered to realize that many others including women and children died in the wreckage of the residence that was bombed to get Zarquawi. Since our forces were at the scene minutes after the bombs hit, couldn’t we at least have made an effort to surround the hiding place and possibly save some innocent lives. As the Arabs must view it, we showed there, as in many other incidents as well, that we had little concern for Arab lives, and took the cowards way out. What could be more effective to help stiffen the resolve of those who have little to lose, already resent us, and are dedicated to seeking vengeance. In this 2ond week of June, 2006, following the revelation of the slaughter of 24 civilians in Haditha, ( women and children among them) by enraged American soldiers, might not there be a clue for us somewhere that it’s time to end our bloody morbid thirst for oil and leave the Iraqis to themselves. Apparently our wealth and power breeds an arrogance which blinds us to the lessons of history. We can’t win in a faraway land we occupy without winning the “hearts and minds” of the indigenous people. We should have learned that in Vietnam. You don’t win their “hearts and minds” by killing them. And they certainly aren’t buying that phony propaganda that we are there for their interests rather than for our own. The Arabs have seen enough of that in the past. Perhaps Osama, himself, said it best, “We don’t hate you for your wealth and your culture. If that were the case we would have attacked Sweden. We hate you because you occupy our lands and exploit our people”. Just how many more must die before we stop “supporting our troops” by leaving them there? And how many more terrorists must we breed before disaster strikes again?

Ralph Shroyer 6-13-06


“Ronald Reagan was an anti-government, race-baiting, anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-intellectual individual. He cut tax rates on the rich in half. He had an incurable love affair with the industrial-military complex. He said that Medicare was socialism that would destroy our freedom. He inspired many individuals who hate government to go into government. He was the man most responsible for our decline.”