White House dodging questions on Armstrong Williams scandal

Tracy Van Slyke

From yesterday's White House press briefing… Q: How many journalists does the administration have on its -- under contract to promote its programs? And what are the guidelines that you spoke of earlier this morning? You were very vague, and I'd like to know what they are. MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not aware of any others that are under contract other than the one that's been reported on in the media. And questions have been raised about that arrangement. It ought to be looked into, and there are ways to look into matters of that nature. As a matter of principle, we believe very strongly that the media ought to be reporting in an objective, unbiased and fair manner. And so that's the principle upon which we believe people should be guided. And the government certainly has a responsibility to help when it comes to providing accurate information and helping to adhere to that principle. Q: It's your job, too, isn't it? MR. McCLELLAN: That is my job. Q: The point is you have hired someone. And why did you, and who would do this investigation? MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of the specific contract you're referring to, I don't know all the details of that contract. The Department of Education can provide you with information on the specific details within that arrangement. But I think I made it very clear as a matter of principle what our view is, and I think the Department of Education Counsel's Office looked into the matter and reviewed it. There are also questions about whether or not this commentator should have been disclosing this information publicly. And so those are all legitimate questions. Q: So he wasn't properly supervised in that respect, or he didn't have the proper guidance to know how he was to behave? MR. McCLELLAN: Well, see, that's one of the questions you might want to direct to Department of Education because I'm not sure about the specific details within this arrangement. But as a matter of a principle, I think our view is very clear. Q: Just to follow up, will you check as far as you can to see if you're paying any other journalists? MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know of any. Obviously, decisions are made by individual agencies. I'm not aware of any other arrangements of that nature. Q: Was anyone at the White House aware of the fact that Armstrong Williams was on the payroll? MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure that senior staff was consulted before this decision was made. I haven't heard anything to that effect.

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Tracy Van Slyke, a former publisher of In These Times, is the project director for The Media Consortium.
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