FCC Joins Critics of Pundit’s Contract to Push School Law
The Federal Communications Commission has issued a citation to the commentator Armstrong Williams and his company for promoting the No Child Left Behind Act over the TV airwaves without disclosing that Mr. Williams was a subcontractor in a Department of Education effort to bolster public support for the law.
The citation was made public Oct. 18, the same day the FCC proposed fines totaling $76,000 for two broadcasters that aired syndicated shows featuring Mr. Williams without disclosing his arrangement with a public relations firm that contracted with the department to promote the law.
In 2003, Mr. Williams accepted $240,000 under the contract, but he did not mention the arrangement when touting the NCLB law on the air. Under the subcontract with the firm, Ketchum Inc., Mr. Williams and his Washington-based company, among other things, were to provide advertising time on his own syndicated show for messages about the law and opportunities for then-Secretary of Education Rod Paige and other officials to appear as guests to discuss it.
Because Mr. Williams is not licensed by the FCC, the commission may not propose to fine him without first issuing such a citation. But if Mr. Williams were to persist in discussing the NCLB law under the same arrangement, the FCC could seek to fine him as much as $11,000 per violation, according to the citation. That’s unlikely because Mr. Williams is no longer a subcontractor.
The commission proposed a fine of $40,000 for Sonshine Family Television Inc., whose station WBPH-TV in Bethlehem, Pa., aired five episodes of “The Right Side with Armstrong Williams.”
Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. was hit with a proposed fine of $36,000 for airing an episode of “America’s Black Forum,” featuring Mr. Williams.
The stations’ airing of the segments without clarifying Mr. Williams’ arrangement undermines public trust in the media, FCC commissioners said.
Mr. Williams did not respond to a request for comment, but he has apologized for his actions, saying that, in hindsight, the arrangement “represents an obvious conflict of interest.”
Vol. 27, Issue 10, Page 19