Neas on Armstrong Willams "Payola" Contract

Unethical, Scandalous Waste of Taxpayer Dollars

Washington – Ralph G. Neas president of People For the American Way today called on the White House to immediately ask all federal agencies to disclose any public relations contracts with news commentators, and any programs that seek to disguise the release of agency information as real news stories put out by independent news organizations.

Neas’ comments came on the heels of the disclosure that the Department of Education paid conservative commentator Armstrong Williams $240,000 to promote the controversial “No Child Left Behind” education legislation under a contract with the public relations firm Ketchum. Among other services, the firm provided videotaped releases designed to look like local television reports, and rated journalists’ coverage of the program.

“There is no defense for using taxpayer dollars to pay journalists for ‘fake news’ and favorable coverage of a federal program. It’s a scandalous waste, it’s unethical and it’s wrong,” said Neas. “It reminds me of the old ‘payola’ scandals in radio. Armstrong Williams received $240,000 of our tax money – yours and mine – to create propaganda for a government program. If that’s not illegal, it ought to be.”

Neas noted that a similar Ketchum contract with the Department of Health and Human Services used the fake television reports, judged by the General Accounting Office to be illegal. Reports this morning also disclosed that the White House’s Office of National Drug Control policy spent $155,000 on fake television reports under a contract with a former journalist.

“More than a million tax dollars have been spent on these outrageous programs already. There may be more. Congress should investigate, and the White House should immediately call for full disclosure of all such contracts throughout the federal government,” said Neas. “This is not a fine line. It is a bright, clear line between government and the operation of a free and independent press that should not be crossed.”

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