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Payola at the Highest Levels
Posted by: Jon Henke on Monday, January 10, 2005

Dale has already addressed one aspect of the Armstrong Williams/Payola scandal. I want to address a few more...

1: Taking money in exchange for promotion is payola. It is not "plugola", as I note some bloggers are calling it. [for a description of the difference, read this]

Payola is illegal.


2: Armstrong Williams' agreement with the government....
stipulated that a public relations firm hired by the department would "arrange for Mr. Williams to regularly comment on N.C.L.B. during the course of his broadcasts," that "Secretary Paige and other department officials shall have the option of appearing from time to time as studio guests," and that "Mr. Williams shall utilize his long-term working relationships with 'America's Black Forum' " - an African-American news program - "to encourage the producers to periodically address the No Child Left Behind Act."
Taking money in exchange for promotion is quite clearly payola. The FCC requires that "[b]oth the person making the payment and the recipient are obligated to disclose the payment so that the station may make the sponsorship identification announcement required...".

This isn't a case of poor ethics. This is not simply "stupid ... unseemly, and ...tacky" as Jonah Goldberg describes it. This is a violation of federal law, "punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than one year or both".

Furthermore, this federal crime applies both to "the person making such payments"--[the Department of Education, possibly including Rod Paige]--as well as "the recipient"-- [Armstrong Williams].

If nobody else has called for it, let me be the first: I want to see jail-time, and/or substantive fines against all parties. And if that applies to each instance of payola....well, that'd be fine, too.


3: I'm a bit confused about why Oliver Willis is saying there is a "right-wing blackout" on this story. A brief scan of Memeorandum turns up 6 links from 4 Right-of-Center bloggers VS 3 links from Left-of-Center bloggers. It's an imperfect measurement, but I'd note that it's Right-of-Center [a reader informs me he is slightly left-of-center. That's what I get for commenting on the ideology of a blogger I don't read] blogger Jeff Jarvis who is leading a charge on this, as well as filing another FOIA request to push the story forward.

The Moderate Voice has a good compendium of takes on this issue.


4: The National Association of Black Journalists has released a statement:
NABJ calls on all media outlets radio, television and print that feature Williams show, use him as a TV commentator or run his syndicated column to drop him immediately.

I thought we in the media were supposed to be watchdogs, not lapdogs, said NABJ Vice President-Print Bryan Monroe...
...which is fairly ironic, considering the news they were making just a few months ago...
Sen. John Kerry got an enthusiastic response Thursday from delegates to the Unity 2004 convention for minority journalists.

There was applause nearly 50 times during his address. There was laughter when he took a shot at the Bush administration by noting that "just saying there are weapons of mass destruction (in Iraq) doesn't make it so." He got a standing ovation at the end.
I guess non-partisanship is en vogue again.


5: The NYTimes story notes that...
"The Clinton administration was probably even more active than the Bush administration" in distributing news segments promoting its policies, said Laurence Moskowitz, chairman and chief executive of Medialink, a major producer of promotional news segments.
Josh Marshall responds with...
This passage appears to remove the partisan dimension from the story. Yet it provides no examples of similar productions under the Clinton administration.
It's too bad Josh Marshall isn't an investigative journalist. If he was, he could have Googlef discovered this...



Yes, the Clinton administration was behind payola attempts to get media outlets to push messages that coincided with their ONDCP policy. Indeed, when Joe Lockhart was asked about it....

Q Joe, why is it not payola when the government provides television networks millions in remuneration for reviewing the scripts of some of their programs for antidrug messages, and then it's not announced at any point during the program that the government is not identified as an advertiser which, in effect, it could be considered --...he responded by giving the following defenses:
  • Ignorance: "I'm not sure I even know what the definition of payola is or how it applies here..." [and though he didn't mention it, you may recall, they weren't entirely clear on the meaning of "is"]


  • Diversion: "Secondly, you all know that there was legislation passed that provides for a government paid-for antidrug messages on the television networks, on radio networks, in newspapers, at a preferred rate." [yes, but advertisements are clearly advertisements....and not serruptitiously-bought and presented messages]


  • Admission: "Thirdly, there was an arrangement reached between the people who do the drug policy ads on the networks to work through alternative ways to get the message out." [yes....such an arrangement is called "payola"]


  • But it's for Your Good: "I think there is a real benefit to getting the message out." [yeah, well, participants in payola usually do think it's a pretty good idea]

This is by no means a new invention of the Bush administration. But it seems they are taking an old trick to new levels.

Seems to me that it's time we send a little message back to Washington, by making an example of a public "servant". Somebody needs to pay the price for this.

UPDATE: Error Theory has an interesting post on some other legal implications for this sort of behaviour.


UPDATE II: Glenn Reynolds has an interesting TCS Column on this topic.
 
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Comments
You'll forgive me, folks, but after decades of payoffs in the form of "nod and a wink" to 'News' people who support liberals, and a government that went well out of it's way to "protect us" from Fox news, and other people on the other networks who dared to move out of the government-demanded liberal lockstep, I find it very hard to work up any outrage for this situation.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
Bit ... in a phrase that's simply moral relativity. Its ok if your side does it because, well, the other side did it first.

 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/
In a word, that's nonsense, because you're comparing apples and banannas, for two reasons.

1: You're suggesting that Mr. Wiliams wouldn't have taken up the cause had he not been paid... and I think we both know that's nonsense, given his history.

2: There's a major difference between someone calling himself a pundit, and someone calling himself a 'news' person.

And that second point is interesting, in light of the several blogs that have popped up in the last cycle, that are paid by pols to express opinions... opinions they'd have expressed anyway.

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
Two points, Bit:

1: It's illegal.

2: It's unethical.

If you'd care to disagree with either of those issues, lay out your case. Otherwise, I fail to see your point.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Yes, the Clinton administration was behind payola attempts to get media outlets to push messages that coincided with their ONDCP

Just to be a punk about this....but what is the statute of limitations for this sort of thing? Because I would assume you would want to see the same jail time and substantive fines in these cases, right? :)

Anyway I doubt this will come to anything. We're still waiting for the investigation into Sandy Berger stealing classified documents aren't we?

 
Written By: Shark
URL: http://
By the way, this traces back at least to Reagan, the practice of funnelling money to TV to make sure anti-drug messages get promoted...
 
Written By: Shark
URL: http://
I've already laid out the case of ethics, Jon. I see far less of a problem with Armstrong, than with the different news orgs. When I see the news orgs being brought to the bench one by one, I'll worry about a pundit.

As for the legality, I'll await the moral implications.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
I'll await the moral implications

You've already passed on the moral implications.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/
Whether it's "illegal" or not is perfectly impertinent. That's a piker's argument, and I am not suprised in the least to find it here. It is absolutely not "unethical", according to Williams' ethical code. This is self-evident, but people who don't understand ethics can be counted on to say asinine things about the subject.

Bithead enters a good point in the record, with his first post above. And I see no "moral relativity" in it. I don't see him arguing that any of this is any good. What I do see is a fine insinuation that none of the Right People were interested in this sort of thing before this case, and that that is a sick state of affairs for which Williams bears no responsibility.

As for history: we know that John Huang gave at least $25K to Lynn Cutler's and Ann Lewis' "Back To Business Committee", and that they subsequently sponsored "internet internships" as early as 1996. That was the year after Jane Sherburne's White House memo pointed out that The Lying Bastard was "roadkill on the information superhighway". It was also the year of the organized invasion of the Whitewater group in Usenet. I might be the only one who sees the dots, but, by god, I see 'em. Jesus only knows what else these rotten fux were involved in that we'll never see, but I'm with Bit.

Williams' move was pure chickenshit, at best, and I'd like to see him get a boot in the head, but it won't break my heart if he gets past this, because nobody is going to take a serious ethical lesson from his case, alone.

It's way too late for that.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two--four.net/weblog.php
I agree with almost everything you've said (charges need to be filed, and Paige has got to go at the very least), but since when is Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine a "right-of-center" blogger? I mean, he's a lifelong Democrat and an unwavering Kerry-voter. He's defended Bush against the character assassination of Fahrenheit 9/11, but that hardly qualifies him as right-wing. I'd say he's solidly center-left. I certainly hope this isn't one of those "anybody who supports the Iraq war/defends Bush for any reason on any particular charge is 'right-wing'" things.

 
Written By: Jeff B.
URL: http://
Jon:

I think you are more than a little hasty when you assert that Williams' behavior was "clearly illegal." There nothing clear about it.

Williams had been talking about NCLB anyway, so whether he was paid to "include program matter" is not exactly established. If he read announcements over the air that were written by the Dept. of Ed. that would be one thing. But simply talking about a subject that you had previously exhibited a great deal of interest in and routinely discussed prior to the PR contract does not necessarily constitute "payola." It doesn't even come close in my mind.

Furthermore, since when have you been so interested in enforcing to its fullest every law? It certainly is a rare libertarian who takes such a stance. From what you have written about it, I can only assume that you consider the law to addrees a problem that is malaum in se as opposed to malum prohibitum? So exactly who was it (other than Williams) who got hurt by the egregious violation?
 
Written By: MichaelW
URL: http://
Bithead enters a good point in the record, with his first post above. And I see no "moral relativity" in it.

One assumes then that there isn't anything morally reprehesible to you about this either, Billy.

Clearly Bit can't work up any outrage over 'this' bit of immoral behavior, because hey, its just more of the same only this time its his side engaging in it. His moral relevance doesn't come as a big surprise to me.

You, however, do surprise me.

Williams' move was pure chickenshit, at best, and I'd like to see him get a boot in the head, but it won't break my heart if he gets past this, because nobody is going to take a serious ethical lesson from his case, alone.

Oh, well of course.

Let's just forget it then, shall we? I mean who needs to be ethically consistent, really?
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/
McQ: "Moral relativity?" "Moral relevance?" Try "moral relativism."
 
Written By: Webster
URL: http://dictionary.com
Want some moral implications?

Tell us; where did Err American get it's funding? What, after all is Wiliams, but another Radio pundit, and columnist, ala Randy Whodes and Franken? I don't seem to recall anyone suggesting their actions were agaist any laws, when their babble was decidedly paid for.

What your doing here is allowing the Party of Clinton to decide what is and is not moral.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
When I saw the headline for this post I KNEW that it would somehow try to justify or condone the benahvior in question by citing "similar" or "analgous" conduct purportedly undertaken by and during the Clinton administration.

True to form: THIS BLOG DID EXACTLY THAT. Of course, even if true, the cited conduct is not comparable to the Williams' affair. Name one liberal pundit who took money from the Clinton administration while representing he or she was not. Name one.

Why not just say Williams was wrong and leave it at that?

Isn't it a principle of the Bush administration - a principle which this blog purportedly subscribes - that things that are wrong are wrong?

Pathetic.
 
Written By: mkultra
URL: http://
IIRC Tim Russert agreed to ask only questions that Hillary Clinton provided to him when she announced her senate run. To me, that is as bad as what Williams did. It's dishonesty.
 
Written By: AllenS
URL: http://
SHARK:
Just to be a punk about this....but what is the statute of limitations for this sort of thing? Because I would assume you would want to see the same jail time and substantive fines in these cases, right? :)
Good question. I don't know, but--frankly--I don't find that action as egregious as this current one.

BITHEAD:
I've already laid out the case of ethics, Jon.
No, you haven't. You've given no reason why it would be acceptable to serruptitiously take money to advance a position.

And before you say "yeah, but he already agreed with that position, anyway", let me point out that the contract stipulated a certain amount of time he was to give in exchange for that money.

It's unethical not to disclose financial interests, and it's illegal, as well. You've made no case...you've simply said "yeah, well they do it, too!" That's not a defense...it's tu quoque.


BECK:
Whether it's "illegal" or not is perfectly impertinent. That's a piker's argument, and I am not suprised in the least to find it here. It is absolutely not "unethical", according to Williams' ethical code. This is self-evident...
I don't think the illegality of the matter is quite irrelevant, Billy. Rule of law, you know. Whether you agree with that, however...that's pretty impertinent.

As far as this being "self-evident[ly] "absolutely not "unethical", according to Williams' ethical code" -- you'll have to take that up with Armstrong Williams, who said "I feel I should be held to the media ethics standard. My judgment was not the best. I wouldn't do it again..."

He also pointed out that "This represents an obvious conflict of interests".

So perhaps you should stop and think before you shoot your mouth off about Williams "ethical code".


JEFF B:
since when is Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine a "right-of-center" blogger?
Isn't he? In every instance in which I've read him, I've had the impression that he was right-of-center in the libertarian vein. Chalk it up to my unfamiliarity with the guy. I'll update the post.

MICHAELW
Williams had been talking about NCLB anyway, so whether he was paid to "include program matter" is not exactly established.
You must have missed the part where the undisclosed contract "arrange[d] for Mr. Williams to regularly comment on N.C.L.B. during the course of his broadcasts," that "Secretary Paige and other department officials shall have the option of appearing from time to time as studio guests,".

Arguing that he might have done that, anyway, is akin to arguing that a contract killer might have killed somebody anyway--what with him being a killer and all--so a person taking out the contract should be held blameless.

Furthermore, since when have you been so interested in enforcing to its fullest every law? It certainly is a rare libertarian who takes such a stance.
You don't think it's very "libertarian" of me to think it reprehensible that the government can serruptitiously pay pundits to advocate for partisan policies?

Funny, but I think it's exceedingly libertarian. I don't want our government paying for propaganda...and certainly not without full disclosure.

BITHEAD:
Tell us; where did Err American get it's funding?
From investors, and not from the government. It was in all the papers, Bit.


MKULTRA
When I saw the headline for this post I KNEW that it would somehow try to justify or condone the benahvior in question by citing "similar" or "analgous" conduct purportedly undertaken by and during the Clinton administration.
Look, you twit. I specifically decried what the administration did. I specifically did not "try to justify or condone the benahvior". Read for comprehension, ok?

I merely brought up the previous undisclosed pay-for-play to point out to our partisan peers--who can't seem to remember anything that happened before January 20, 2001--that this has been a long-standing issue.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Henke: go find an endorsement of "the rule of law, you know" from me in all my life. Go ahead. I'll wait.

As for Williams: it obviously was not a conflict of interest when he did it. He might satisfy you with protestations at this point, but you're pretty easy.

Bruce: Don't "assume" anything like what you seem to be, mate. You could refer to my expressed desire in the last line of my previous comment. Do you think I just sprinkle lines like that for local flavor, or what? If anyone suggested "forget[ting] it", it wasn't me.

It's just that, after everything we've been through in the past decade or so, this is a pretty goofy stretch of the line to be laying out mines and refinforcing.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two--four.net/weblog.php
Bithead, the difference between Franken and Williams is that everybody knew Franken was a whore.

There is a distinction between believing something was morally wrong, and believing it should be prosecuted. It isn't a sign of moral relativism to think that Williams shouldn't be prosecuted, because not every thing we find morally repugnant is a prosecutable crime, nor should it be.
 
Written By: Wacky Hermit
URL: http://organicbabyfarm.blogspot.com
go find an endorsement of "the rule of law, you know" from me in all my life. Go ahead. I'll wait.
Unremarkably, you'll find that your endorsement is irrelevant to anything about which I have written here.

But if I have need of it, you can be sure I'll ask first.

it obviously was not a conflict of interest when he did it.
Yes. It was. He concedes that fact, now. He simply violated the ethical standards to which, he ackowledges, he is subject.

He may have rationalized it at the time, but he's realized that his rationalization was in error. And he's said so. I'm disinclined to take your word for Williams ethical standards over that of Williams.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
From investors, and not from the government. It was in all the papers, Bit.


Ah. So it's OK if the party out of power pays for such things.

Got it.

Bithead, the difference between Franken and Williams is that everybody knew Franken was a whore.


So how does that change the lefgality, or the morality involved.... which supposedly is where all this outrage is coming from? Nobody seems to be able to direct themselves at that point. Why?

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
Ah. So it's OK if the party out of power pays for such things.
No, it's OK if non-governmental investors pay for such things in an open, disclosed manner.

Really, Bithead, what part of the law I cited is hard for you to understand? I find it remarkable that you think taxpayer-funded Government Payola is in any way similar to private investment in a radio corporation.

 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
"Unremarkably, you'll find that your endorsement is irrelevant to anything about which I have written here.

But if I have need of it, you can be sure I'll ask first."


(cackle) Good deal. Reciprocally, you can save that "rule of law" horseshit for its solicitors.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two--four.net/weblog.php
I'm not interested in the law, unless both sides are willing to abide by it... and the left has ignored both the letter and spirit of the law for decades. at which point, it comes down to the morality issue.

When I see the left screaming about the issues I've brought to the table, I'll consider Amrstrong fair game.

Not until. Because if I do, what I'm really asking for is for the Dmeocrats to beat me and mine about the head and shoulders with a law they've considered themselves immune to for decades.

How is saying somehting for pay, something you'd say WITHOUT pay anyway a conflict of interest? If it can be demonstrated that support of NCLB is not something he'd have done otherwise, you MIGHT be able to convince me there was a conflict there. as it is, I see none.

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
When I see the left screaming about the issues I've brought to the table
Which is to say, you don't actually care about the rule of law, or the moral issue, at all. You just don't like it when you get beat at that game.

Got it.

Tell you what: I'll buy your defense, provided you never again bitch about something being done by Democrats, unless the Republicans have never, ever done something similar. You have no principles, except machiavellian advantage for your team.

Which is fine. I just wish you'd be upfront about that.

How is saying somehting for pay, something you'd say WITHOUT pay anyway a conflict of interest?
Lack of disclosure. Oh, and there's the matter of the law involved.

Besides, you'd be hard-pressed to convince me that, without the private contract, Williams would have been providing the same broadcast time to the NCLB act.

Even aside from the partisanship problems, *every* broadcaster knows what constitutes payola, and they know the penalty.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
When they've been immune to the law for decades, and thus built up the kind of advantage they have, I'm less concerned than I might be for the law myself. I am understandably reluctant to, as I've suggested, allow the party of Clinton to define what is and is not moral.

And so if every broadcaster knows about payola, why is Err America still on the air?

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
First: I don't accept your suggestion that one side more than the other has "been immune to the law for decades".

Second: you don't have to let the party of Clinton define what is and is not moral. You've sunk to the lowest level you can imagine, and justified it by believing you didn't get there first.

As a matter of substance, there's not a whit of difference between what you advocate, and the behaviour of those like Oliver Willis that I criticized here.

That's your peer group, right there.

Third: You keep alleging some misbehaviour on the part of Air America. Lay it out. What indisclosed pay-for-play has there been?
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Damn... if this was being buried by the right wing blogs, judging by Memeorandum, it's an almost total blacklist by the left wing blogs on the CBS report.
 
Written By: HH
URL: http://tvh.rjwest.com
Jon;
Then explain the Clinton administration.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
Explain what about them?
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
If the Clinton administration was subject to the law, why is Clinton still walking the streets?


(Other than he's looking for a date, I mean)


 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
It wasn't pursued. (and it wouldn't apply to Clinton, himself, but to the people in the relevant deparment who signed off on it)
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Saluti da scrivi blog http://www.blog-buster.net
 
Written By: Rasputin
URL: http://www.stpetersburg.it/

 
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