- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Armstrong Williams yesterday said exposure of his $240,000 contract with the federal Education Department to promote the No Child Left Behind Act has taught him difficult lessons.

“You have to bear the consequences of your actions, and I have,” said Mr. Williams, whose syndicated column was dropped by Chicago-based Tribune Media Services after his contract with the Bush administration was revealed.

Mr. Williams, a leading black conservative commentator, said in an Interview with The Washington Times that “the area where I made a mistake was that I wrote about [No Child Left Behind (NCLB)] without disclosing it to people who run my column.”

The contract, first reported by USA Today last week, required Mr. Williams “to regularly comment on NCLB during the course of his broadcasts” and to interview Education Secretary Rod Paige on his nationally syndicated TV and radio programs.

Several news organizations and Democratic officials accused Mr. Williams of accepting “payola” and demanded investigations of what they called Bush administration “propaganda.”

Mr. Williams said he has learned an ethics lesson at a great expense.

“I’ve never had a government contract before. This is a learning curve for me, but I’m willing to step up to the plate and raise my standards,” said Mr. Williams, a former aide to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Mr. Williams has his own public-relations and consulting firm, the Graham Williams Group, in partnership with Stedman Graham, a millionaire Chicago businessman perhaps best known as talk-show host Oprah Winfrey’s longtime boyfriend.

Mr. Williams and his defenders point out that, despite his prominence as a TV commentator and editorialist, Mr. Williams has never been a reporter and never studied journalism.

Another friend and colleague, Raynard Jackson, a Republican political consultant, said if Mr. Williams simply had said, “I am not a journalist and I made a mistake,” the story would be over.

“The No. 1 thing he is guilty of is compromising his clients,” Mr. Jackson said. He noted that, in his first televised interview on CNN after the story of his Education Department contract appeared, Mr. Williams was ambiguous about his status as his journalist.

“Armstrong has created the problem himself because of the ambiguity he created about whether he is a journalist,” Mr. Jackson said. “The bottom line is, Armstrong did nothing illegal or unethical, because he is not a journalist. He simply compromised his clients, and that is something in [public relations] that you can never do.”

Mr. Williams said he initially was surprised by the “journalist” characterization.

“You know, I never knew people thought of me as a hard-core journalist,” he said.

In the 1980s, Mr. Williams began writing opinion articles for magazines like Essence and Reader’s Digest. His career as a syndicated columnist did not begin until he gained national prominence during the 1991 Senate hearings that confirmed Justice Thomas — then director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) — for the Supreme Court. Mr. Williams had worked for Justice Thomas at the EEOC and defended the nominee during the high-profile hearings.

“I wrote two op-ed pieces for USA Today and they printed them,” he said. “After that, I began syndicating a column myself and sending it out to newspapers and then later I got a national syndication.”

In addition to losing syndication for his newspaper columns after his Education Department contract was revealed, Mr. Williams also has lost his spot as host of the syndicated TV program, “America’s Black Forum.”

“TV One has placed my show ‘On Point’ on hiatus until they complete their investigation,” he said, “so I have paid a heavy price for this, but I have learned from it, and I will be OK.”



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