Armstrong Williams (February 5, 1959 - present) is an African-American conservative political commentator. In 2005 it was revealed that he accepted money from the George W. Bush administration to promote the No Child Left Behind Act on his television and radio programs.
Williams, a conservative newspaper columnist, hosts a nationally syndicated television program called The Right Side as well as a daily radio program. He launched his own company, The Right Side Production, in 2003. It produces and sydicates his television program to outlets including Sky Angel Satellite Network, The Liberty Channel and other cable outlets. His company produces his radio program with Langer Broadcast Radio Network.
According to Williams' website, his newspaper column was syndicated by Tribune Media Services to "a wide array of African-American and mainstream newspapers". However, in January 2005, his contract was terminated over his paid but undisclosed advocacy for promoting Bush Administration education policy.
Williams is a protegé of Republican senator Strom Thurmond, a politician whose career was marked by his strong support for racial segregation. Williams later became vice president for governmental and international affairs for B&C Associates, an African-American public relations firm. At B&C Associates he "managed such individual and corporate clients as the acclaimed poet Maya Angelou, the Sara Lee Corp., Kinney Shoes, Shoney Inc. (a restaurant chain), and the Oprah Winfrey Charitable Giving Foundation." . He subsequently established his own PR company, the Graham Williams Group, in partnership with Oprah Winfrey's boyfriend, Stedman Graham.
Selling the Bush Administration's "No Child Left Behind" policy
In January 2005, USA Today reported that documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that under a $240,000 contract Williams would promote the controversial No Child Left Behind legislation of the Bush administration. According to USA Today, Williams was hired to "to promote the law on his nationally syndicated television show and to urge other black journalists to do the same." 
As part of the agreement, Williams was required "to regularly comment on NCLB during the course of his broadcasts," and to interview Education Secretary Rod Paige for TV and radio spots that aired during the show in 2004."
The contract with Williams was part of a $1 million contract between the U.S. Department of Education and the public relations company, Ketchum. Download Ketchum's request for increased funding for their "Minority Outreach Campaign," featuring Williams (132kb PDF file).
Melanie Sloan from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington told USA Today that the contract may be illegal "because Congress has prohibited propaganda," or any sort of lobbying for programs funded by the government. "And it's propaganda," she said.
After the USA Today revelations, Tribune Media Services terminated its syndication agreement with Williams. In a statement to Editor and Publisher, but not available on its website, TMS stated "[A]ccepting compensation in any form from an entity that serves as a subject of his weekly newspaper columns creates, at the very least, the appearance of a conflict of interest. Under these circumstances, readers may well ask themselves if the views expressed in his columns are his own, or whether they have been purchased by a third party." 
Williams told Associated Press "even though I'm not a journalist â?? I'm a commentator â?? I feel I should be held to the media ethics standard. My judgment was not the best. I wouldn't do it again, and I learned from it."
Williams later told the New York Times, "I'm no longer Armstrong Williams. I've become a noun. And in some cases, I've become a commodity." He also said that the substantial, negative media he had received was due, at least in part, to his being African-American. "The liberal elite despise black conservatives," he claimed. "I am a conservative who does not know his place. If I were white, they wouldn't care." Williams also told the Times that he had revised two chapters in his book The New Racism, to incoporate the experience. 
Rather than criticize the arrangement, White House spokesman Scott McClellan intially said it was a matter for the Education Department. According to Associated Press the Education Department said the deal was a "permissible use of taxpayer funds under legal government contracting procedures." 
As the controversy raged on, White House spokesman Scott McClellan remained non-committal on whether White House staff knew of the deal with Williams. "I'm not sure that senior staff was consulted before this decision was made. I haven't heard anything to that effect," he said.
Three days after the story broke, McClellan claimed he was unaware of the details of the contract and that specific questions should be directed to the Education Department. As to whether Williams should have disclosed the details of the contract in his columns and on-air appearance, McClellan would only concede that "those are all legitimate questions."
Asked whether he would investigate whether other journalists were on the payroll of the administration McClellan was elusive. "I'm not aware of any others that are under contract other than the one that's been reported on in the media," he said.
Bush was asked at the American Society of Newspaper Editors Convention in April 2005 whether the of government funding of Armstrong Williams and the use of video news releases was deceptive. "Yes, it's deceptive to the American people if it's not disclosed," he said. "Armstrong Williams -- it was wrong what happened there in the Education Department," he said. 
Following the revelations of the Williams contract with Ketchum, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington announced that it has filed Freedom of Information requests with 22 agencies requesting copies of all contracts with public relation firms.
The USA Today revelations caused controversy within the PR industry too. The day the story broke, the CEO of Edelman, Richard Edelman posted a note on his personal blog criticising Ketchum's deal with Williams. "This kind of pay for play public relations takes us back in time to the days of the press agent who would drop off the new record album and $10 to the deejay. It makes our industry's efforts to 'clean up' behavior in newly created PR markets such as China and Russia look decidedly ridiculous," he wrote.
"I know Ray Kotcher and Dave Drobis of Ketchum. I am sure that they would never tolerate this kind of contractual arrangement. I am also confident that they will take steps to assure that it never happens again," he wrote. While Richard Edelman was confident Ketchum's management would take a stand against the practice, O'Dwyers PR Daily noted that "Kotcher has not returned this website's phone and e-mail requests for comment."
"Some things are black and white. We need to set a very high standard of disclosure for our business, with total transparency on funding sources and mission. We should also eschew any practice that calls into question the integrity of the information being disseminated. Let's try to turn this negative for our industry into a positive, by making a long term commitment to the best ethical behavior," Edelman wrote.
Back to business
In the aftermath of the controversy there was some good news for Williams. In early March 2005 the New York Times reported that Williams had signed a contract to be the conservative co-host of a three-hour daily radio talk show on the WWRL station in New York.
Williams anticipated that the controversy over his Ketchum contract would be raised initially by callers: "You don't just recoup your credibility in two months. I'm going to have to spend some time earning the trust and credibility of others again. They can't just judge me by the rhetoric of my apology; they have to judge what I do." 
In a July 2005 interview with Bob Cusack from The Hill Armstrong said that he has (1) recognized the errors of his ways, and (2) resents the way he was criticized. He's managed to resurrect his career, hosting a radio show in New York and writing a new book to come out this fall, titled The New Racists: How Liberal Democrats Have Betrayed Minority Americans.
He also says he's bitter about how he was was treated by fellow conservatives during his payola-pundit scandal. "I had put everything on the line, defending the right, supporting the right. â?¦ None of the conservative [groups] came to my rescue. I was alone." The only conservative commentator Armstrong singled out for praise was Robert Novak. "[Novak] was a constant supporter. He was going through his own situation [on the Valerie Plame controversy], so we had a good pity party together," he said.
Ironically, he notes that he received his most sympathetic treatment from the New York Times, a newspaper reviled by the conservative movement for its alleged liberal bias. "If it werenâ??t for The New York Times," Williams said, "it probably would have been over for me." 
Contract Comes Back To Haunt Williams
In October 2005 Democrat Senator Frank Lautenberg released a letter from Education Department Inspector General John Higgins revealing that it was in contact with the U.S. attorney's office to investigate the Bush administration's contract with commentator Armstrong Williams. In a letter to Lautenberg, Higgins wrote "that during the course of our inspection of the Ketchum contract, we contacted the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia. We are currently working with that office on the matter." 
Lautenberg believes this indicates that civil or criminal charges could be filed over the contract. "The inspector general wouldn't refer this to the U.S. attorney unless there was evidence of misconduct that requires further investigating," Dan Katz, Lautenberg's chief counsel, told the Associated Press. 
Other business interests
Williams is also the CEO of the Graham Williams Group (GWG), which is described in his biographical note as an "international public relations firm with clients in entertainment, politics, business and charitable organizations". According to a biographical note some clients of GWG include "Century 21, Computerland executive Terry Giles and poet laureate Maya Angelou."
Williams is listed with the Premiere Speakers Bureau as available for key note presentations on "Business, Evangelism & Outreach, Patriotic" for $10,000 per presentation.
Books by Williams
- Armstrong Williams, Letters to a young victim: Hope and Healing in America's Inner Cities, Scribner Paper Fiction, October 1996. ISBN 0-684824663
- Armstrong Williams, Beyond Blame: How We Can Succeed by Breaking the Dependency Barrier, Free Press, May 1995. ISBN 0-029353653
- The New Racists: How Liberal Democrats Have Betrayed Minority Americans (forthcoming)
- Graham Williams Group
- Sinclair Broadcast Group
- covert propaganda
- Medicare Prescription Drug Bill Vote Scandal, 2003
- Bush administration propaganda and disinformation
- Bush administration scandals
- Bush administration investigations
- Bush administration financial misconduct and lack of accountability
- Jonathan Gruber
- pundit payola
Government reports into Williams Ketchum contracts
- Department of Education Office of Inspector General, "Review of Department Identified Contracts and Grants for Public Relations Services" (ED-OIG / I13F0012), issued September 1, 2005; available in MS Word (432K) and PDF (214K) formats.
- Anthony H. Gamboa (General Counsel), "Letter to Frank R. Lautenberg and Edward M. Kennedy Subject: Department o Educationâ??Contract to Obtain Services of Armstrong Williams", Government Accounting Office, September 30, 2005.
- Anthony H. Gamboa (General Counsel), "Subject: Department of Educationâ??No Child Left Behind Act Video News Release and Media Analysis", Government Accounting Office, September 30, 2005.
- Gary L. Kepplinger, "Letter to Mr. Kent Talbert Deputy General Counsel Department of Education Subject: Department o Educationâ??No Child Left Behind Newspaper Article", Government Accounting Office, September 30, 2005.
- Federal Communications Commission: Notified Sonshine Family Television, Inc. of its Apparent Liability for Forfeiture in the amount of $40,000 and Sinclair Broadcast Group of its Apparent Liability for Forfeiture in the amount of $36,000 for violations of the Commission's rules. FCC No. 07-152, adopted August 27, 2007 and released October 18, 2007.
- FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief: Issued an Official Citation to The Graham Williams Group for violations of the statutes and rules administered by the FCC that govern sponsorship identification in broadcast programming. DA No. 07-3351, released October 18, 2007.
- Wikipedia article about Williams
- "Armstrong Williams", Townhall.com, accessed January 2005.
- "Armstrong Williams", Current Biography, May 2004.
- "Armstrong Williams:Archive", Townhall.com, accessed January 2005.
- Tribune Media Services, "Armstrong Williams", accessed January 2005.
- Premiere Speakers Bureau, "Armstrong Williams: One of the most recognized conservative voices in America", accessed January 2005.
- Greg Toppo, "Education Dept. paid commentator to promote law", USA Today, January 7, 2005. (Also archived on Common Dreams website).
- "Statement by Tribune Media Services", Poynter Online - Forums, January 7, 2005.
- People for the American Way, "Neas on Armstrong Willams "Payola" Contract: Unethical, Scandalous Waste of Taxpayer Dollars", Media Release, January 7, 2005.
- Dave Astor, "Armstrong Williams Column Axed by TMS", Editor & Publisher, January 7, 2005.
- Dave Astor , "Another Problem for Commentator Who Took Bush Money?", Editor & Publisher, January 7, 2005.
- Media Matters for America, "Armstrong Williams promoted Bush policies in writing, too", January 7, 2005.
- "Media Targets Armstrong Williams", NewsMax.com, January 7, 2005.
- Erica Iacono, "Ketchum embroiled in White House propaganda flap again", PR Week, January 7, 2005. (Sub req'd).
- Richard Edelman, "Pay to Play PR is Not On", Rich Edelman, January 7, 2005.
- Ben Feller, "Agency paid commentator to push Bush education plan: Officials defend it, but Armstrong Williams now calls criticism of the deal 'legitimate'", Houston Chronicle, January 8, 2005. (This is an Associated Press story).
- Howard Kurtz, "Administration Paid Commentator: Education Dept. Used Williams to Promote 'No Child' Law", Washington Post, January 8, 2005.
- "Administration Agitprop", Editorial, Washington Post, January 8, 2005.
- Armstrong Williams, "My apology, Townhall.com, January 10, 2005.
- Dave Astor, "Several Papers Nix Self-Syndicated Armstrong Williams Column", Editor & Publisher, January 10, 2005.
- David Corn, "Armstrong Williams: I Am Not Alone", The Nation, January 10, 2005.
- Media Matters of America, "Armstrong Williams's conflicting statements on disclosure", January 10, 2005.
- Andrew Wallenstein, "Sinclair Investigates Commentator Williams", Reuters, January 11, 2005.
- "White House says Armstrong Williams case was isolated incident", WTVM9, January 11, 2005.
- Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, "CREW Files 22 FOIAs Today to Uncover Government Agency Dealings with PR Firms; Armstrong Williams DOE Contract May be Tip of the Iceberg", Media Release, January 11, 2005.
- Laurie Spivak, "The Conservative Marketing Machine", Alternet, January 11, 2005.
- Public Relations Society of America, "Statement on Disclosure of Financial Interests", Media release, January 11, 2005. ("PRSA strongly objects to any paid endorsement that is not fully disclosed as such and is presented as objective news coverage,"PRSA President and CEO Judith T. Phair stated.)
- "Richard Edelamn blasts Ketchum for "Pay for Play" deal", O'Dwyer's PR Daily, January 12, 2005.
- Stuart Elliot, "A Paid Endorsement Ignites a Debate in the Public Relations Industry", New York Times, January 12, 2005.
- Clarence Page, "Leave the Payola Pundits Behind," Chicago Tribune, January 12, 2005.
- FireArmstrongWilliams.com (a site campaigning against Williams).
- Dave Astor, "More Cartoons Satirize Armstrong Williams", Editor & Publisher, January 12, 2004.
- "Senate committee leaders want Paige to explain department's PR deals", WBNS-10TV Columbus Ohio, January 13, 2005. (This is an Associated Press story.)
- "Armstrong Williams' Big Move," Black Commentator, January 13, 2003.
- Jim Drinkard, "Bush criticizes Education Dept.'s payout to Williams", USA Today, January 13, 2005.
- "Education chief orders probe in Williams deal", Newsday, January 13, 2005. (This is an Associated Press story).
- Dave Astor, "Ed. Secretary Defends Payment to Armstrong Williams", Editor & Publisher, January 14, 2005.
- Neil Roland, "FCC Orders Probe of Commentator Williams's TV Shows (Update2)", Bloomberg, January 14, 2005.
- Anne E Kornblut, "U.S. Contract with TV Host to Be Reviewed", New York Times, January 14, 2005.
- Public Relations Society of America, "Statement on Senate Investigation of Government Public Relations Contracts", Your Leaders Speak Out, January 14, 2005
- Christopher Lee and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, "Firms Fear Backlash From Williams Case: Public Relations Industry Takes Offensive To Protect Lucrative Federal Contracts", Washington Post, January 18, 2005.
- Ray Kotcher, CEO of Ketchum, "OP-ED: Williams scandal is a 'transformational event' in PR", PR Week, January 13, 2005. (Sub req'd)
- Julia Hood, "Editorial: Ketchum must accept share of responsibility regarding the Armstrong Williams imbroglio", PR Week, January 17, 2005. (Sub req'd)
- Erica Iacono, "Ketchum pins liability for DoE disclosure on Williams", PR Week, January 17, 2005.(Sub req'd)
- Julia Hood, "Harris Diamond discusses Council's position on 'pay-for-play'", PR Week, January 18, 2005.(Sub req'd)
- Armstrong Williams, "OP-ED: NCLB controversy will be worth it if industry learns from errors made", PR Week, January 19 2005.(Sub req'd)
- Keith O'Brien, "Ketchum amends policies in light of Armstrong Williams flap", PR Week, January 19, 2005.(Sub req'd)
- Stuart Elliot, "Public Relations Industry Debates Payments to Commentator", New York Times, January 19, 2005.
- "Ketchum regrets 'lapse in judgement'", O'Dwyers PR Daily, January 19, 2005.
- "Heads should roll", O'Dwyers PR Daily, January 20, 2005.
- "Ketchum and Council Issue Strong Statements on 'Pay for Play' Controversy", Holmes Report, January 24, 2005.
- Cliff Kincaid, "USA Today Vs. Armstrong Williams", Media Monitor, Accuracy in Media, February 2, 2005.
- Timoth L. O'Brien, "Spinning Frenzy: P.R.'s Bad Press", The Ledger.com, February 13, 2005. (This is a synidcated New York Times article).
- Anne E. Kornblut, "Commentator Caught Up in Controversy Tries to Move On," New York Times, February 17, 2005.
- "Analysis: No Easy Fixes to Complex Ethical Issues Presented by Williams Case", Holmes Report, Volume 5 Number 8, February 21, 2005.
- Anne E. Kornblut and Ben Sisario, "Columnist Under Fire Gets Show on Radio", New York Times, March 3, 2005.
- "Armstrong Williams Gets Radio Gig", Editor & Publisher, March 3, 2005.
- Raymond A. Edel, "Fired conservative lands at WWRL", NorthJersey.com, March 11, 2005.
- "ANALYSIS: Kotcher discuss impact of DoE episode on Ketchum", PR Week, April 1, 2005. (Sub req'd).
- George W. Bush, "President Addresses American Society of Newspaper Editors Convention", J.W. Marriott Hotel Washington, D.C., April 14, 2005.
- "Review of Formation Issues Regarding the Department of Education's Fiscal Year 2003 Contract with Ketchum, Inc. for Media Relations Services", Department of Education, April 15, 2005.
- "White House Is Impeding Armstrong Williams Probe, Dem. Lawmaker Says", Editor & Publisher, April 15, 2005.
- Brian Faler, "Hiring of Commentator Is Called Poor Judgment: Report: Education Dept. Broke No Law", Washington Post, April 16, 2005.
- Anne E. Kornblut, "Inquiry Finds Radio Host's Arrangement Raised Flags", New York Times, April 16, 2005.
- "Warnings on Armstrong Williams ignored, report says", Seattle Times, April 16, 2005.
- Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten, "Inquiry Finds White House Role in Contract: An aide apparently knew of the Education Department's $240,000 deal with a journalist," Los Angeles Times, April 16, 2005.
- Greg Toppo and Mark Memmott, "Report: No ethics breach in Education Dept.:Inquiry doesn't say whether deal was â??covert propaganda', USA Today, April 17, 2004.
- Dave Astor, "Columnist Group Prez Criticizes Armstrong Williams Probe", Editor & Publisher, April 18, 2005.
- Margaret Spellings, "Bungling at top sabotaged worthy education goals: Problems at department must be fixed from within", Houston Chronicle, Op-Ed, April 24, 2005.
- Brian Friel, "Chain Reaction", GovExec.com, June 15, 2005.
- Bob Cusack, "With new book, radio program, Williams is making a comeback", The Hill, July 29, 2005.
- "Dept. of Education Releases Report on Payola Controversy", Editor & Publisher, September 6, 2005.
- Greg Toppo, "Report: Education Dept.'s PR funds need oversight", USA Today, September 9, 2005.
- Nancy Benac, "GAO: Education Department Broke Rules", Washington Post, September 30, 2005. (This is an Associated Press story).
- Dave Astor, "Armstrong Williams May Return Some DOE Money", Editor & Publisher, October 03, 2005.
- Sen. Frank Lautenberg, "Lautenberg: U.S. Attorney Investigating Payments by Bush Admin. to Journalist Armstrong Williams", Media Release, October 14, 2005.
- Nancy Benac, "Probe of Armstrong Williams Widens", San Francisco Chronicle, October 14, 2005. (This is an Associated Press story).
- "Review of Armstrong Williams contract referred to U-S attorney's office", WALB-TV, October 15, 2005.
- Greg Toppo, "Senator: Charges possible over Williams contract", USA TODAY, October 17, 2005.
- Greg Toppo, "Pundit Armstrong Williams settles case over promoting education reforms", USA TODAY, October 20, 2006.
- John Stauber, Where's the Outrage Over Obama's Health Care Propagandist, Jonathan Gruber?, PRWatch.org, January 14, 2010.