Blaming “Mr. Armstrong Williams”

Topics: War Room,

There will be lots to say about the press conference President Bush just gave, but since we started off today bringing you news of yet another pundit paid to pimp for a Bush administration policy, we’ll first share this little exchange.

Q Mr. President, do you think it’s a proper use of government funds to pay commentators to promote your policies?

PRESIDENT BUSH: No.

Q Are you going to order that 

PRESIDENT BUSH: I expect my Cabinet secretaries to make sure that that practice — there needs — doesn’t go forward. There needs to be independence. And Mr. Armstrong Williams admitted he made a mistake. And we didn’t know about this in the White House. And there needs to be a nice, independent relationship between the White House and the press, the administration and the press. And — so no, we shouldn’t be going forward. Yes, sir?

Q So Mr. Williams made a mistake, but —

PRESIDENT BUSH: Who?

Q Mr. Williams made a mistake. Did the Department of Education make a mistake?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Yes. They did.

Q And what will happen to the people that made this decision?

PRESIDENT BUSH: We’ve got new leadership going to the Department of Education. 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. And I’m confident you’ll be, over the course of the next four years, willing to give our different policies an objective look. Won’t you? Yes. I can see that.



So, at first, the president wanted the buck to stop with “Mr. Armstrong Williams,” as if the Bush administration were not also a party to the unethical — and probably illegal — deal. Then, when asked if the education department was not also responsible, Bush brushed off the notion that anyone will be held accountable. Rod Paige has left the education department, so problem solved! Given the administration’s record of not holding high-level officials responsible for their blunders, we shouldn’t be surprised. But with the news that the department of health and human services had a similar arrangement with Ms. Maggie Gallagher, you have to wonder just how many more federal agencies have pundits on their payrolls.

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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