President Bush Wednesday evaded blame for his administration’s use of paid media commentators to promote his agenda, claiming such payments by the Education Department were improper and new leadership was now in place.
Rather than accept responsibility for the misuse of taxpayer funds, Bush leveled blame at officials at the Education Department for paying conservative commentator Armstrong Williams $240,000 to tout his landmark education plan, “No Child Left Behind.”
Bush said it was an improper use of government funds, and told a news conference: “I expect my Cabinet secretaries to make sure that that practice doesn’t go forward. There needs to be independence.”
Federal communications regulators earlier this month opened an investigation into whether Williams violated a ban on “payola” in promoting the education law.
Senate Democrats on Wednesday asked the Government Accountability Office to also investigate syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher, who had a nearly $22,000 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to help promote Bush’s initiative encouraging marriage.
Bush said the White House was unaware of the payments to Williams.
Asked what will happen to officials at the Education Department who made the decision to pay Williams, Bush said: “We’ve got new leadership going to the Department of Education.”
White House domestic policy adviser Margaret Spellings is replacing Rod Paige as education secretary.
“But all our Cabinet secretaries must realize that we will not be paying, you know, commentators to advance our agenda. Our agenda ought to be able to stand on its own two feet,” Bush said.
Williams has acknowledged that the Education Department’s outside media firm paid $240,000 to a public relations company he owns to promote Bush’s education act during a television show he owned and hosted.
U.S. law requires that radio or television stations, as well as individuals, disclose on air when they have received compensation to talk about a product or issue.
After the Education Department compensation became public, Williams admitted “poor judgment.”
He said he had been a strong backer of the law and that he was not influenced by outside parties. Tribune Co.’s syndication unit, Tribune Media, has canceled his column.