Column: This space for rent

By Eric Naing

Through the Department of Education, the White House paid conservative commentator Armstrong Williams $241,000 in taxpayer dollars to promote its No Child Left Behind policy. This incident has raised a number of questions about the Bush administration’s relationship with the media, but the only question I’m interested in is how can I get a piece of that action?

I may not be as famous or experienced as Mr. Williams, but I can sell myself out with the best of them. Come on President Bush, give me a shot. I’ll gladly sacrifice what little journalistic integrity I have for you. In fact, I’ll do it for half of what you paid Armstrong. Who am I kidding? I’ll do it for $20 (that’s still more than I get paid now). Furthermore, I don’t even have to write about NCLB. I’ll gladly pimp one of your lesser programs – we all know Healthy Forests Initiative needs some love. Plus, if you hire me, you’ll reach an audience of six, maybe seven, people each week.

In his columns, Armstrong Williams wrote that NCLB “has provided more funds to poor children than any other education bill in this country’s history.” That praise is small potatoes. If I were given that money I’d write something along the lines of “Because of NCLB the Allies were about to defeat Germany in World War II.” Or maybe “NCLB was the inspiration for the hit television show Seinfeld.”

Of course, I’m just a lowly student writer so it really wouldn’t make a huge difference if I sold my soul. Armstrong on the other hand is a nationally syndicated columnist and political commentator. The fact that he took this money without disclosing it represents a massive breach of trust with the public.

But this is hardly the first time the Bush administration has been caught tampering with the national media. In the past they have produced and distributed phony news stories about NCLB, their education ratings system and their new Medicare law. Furthermore, the Bush administration used conservative commentator and self-proclaimed “Prince of Darkness” Robert Novak to reveal the identity of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame in retribution for her husband’s anti-Bush remarks. All this corruption gives me a throbbing headache. Good thing I have the power of NCLB to soothe my aching head and give me a good night’s sleep.

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    Chances are that this journalist-for-hire scheme doesn’t stop with Williams. When asked about this ordeal, Williams told The Nation’s David Corn “This happens all the time. There are others.” If this is true then any journalist could possibly be on the White House payroll. Either Williams or President Bush needs to come clean or else the reputations of every conservative commentator out there will be in question.

    A free and open media is one of the fundamental building blocks of democracy, and President Bush is undermining ours. This is a White House that despises an independent media. They refuse to answer questions directly and show hostility to journalists that try to hold them accountable for their actions.

    Whether it was not questioning President Bush’s Iraqi WMD claims or believing in the alleged ties between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein, the media in general has been asleep at the wheel these past few years. If there is a lesson to be learned, it is to think for yourself and always question what you are being told, whether it comes from the White House, The New York Times or even me. You never know who has an agenda.

    If actual journalists maintain the same moral standards as I do, then this country really is in trouble. We need to fight for an independent media at all costs. And by the way, did you know that that NCLB died on the cross for our sins?