Now that Armstrong Williams has recognized that his acceptance of a quarter million dollars to shill for the No Child Left Behind act was an instance of “bad judgment” on his part, it is presumably only a matter of time till he mounts the pulpit of Larry King Live and announces his decision to undergo a full-fledged program of journalistic ethics recovery, presumably under the guidance of some such worthy as Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Dr. Phil, or perhaps, if he turns out to need a truly thorough journalistic dunking, Tom Rosenstiel.
But once we get past Williams himself, how about this?
Everyone has quickly and rightly connected the Armstrong Williams story to earlier instances where the administration used government funds to produce pro-Bush political propaganda. There were the phony news segments produced for the Department of Education to push the No Child Left Behind Act, similar phony news segments produced for HHS to push the new Medicare law, and the Department of Education ratings system devised to rate how different news outlets ranked on No Child Left Behind act orthodoxy and the Republican party’s commitment to education.
But there’s something else that links all these instances together. They were all contracted through one PR firm: Ketchum.
I don’t know anything about the company. Just on a lark, I looked up the political giving of the CEO, Ray Kotcher, and noticed that until 2004 he — and what appears to be his wife — seemed to give exclusively to Democrats. In 2004, he had a change of heart, however, and gave $15,000 to RNC. Perhaps it was the war on terror. Who knows?
In any case, with talk of investigations already in the air and House Republicans consenting at least to one of the Williams deal, perhaps a way to narrow the focus would be to simply find out which other branches of the government Ketchum was working for and what services they provided.
Late Update: A little more digging.
There seems to be relatively little reporting on the Kentchum dimension of all these instances of the Bush administration’s taxpayer-funded political propaganda. So it’s hard to see just who at Ketchum or which divisions of the company were doing the work for the administration. But you’d figure it’d be their Public Affairs branch or their Washington lobbying shop.
It turns out that a big part of Ketchum’s Washington operation is something called The Washington Group. TWG was founded in 1997 by three former Democratic Hill staffers. But Ketchum bought them out back in 2001 — actually two days after President Bush’s first inauguration, on January 22nd. And in the spirit of the times, Ketchum quickly began trying to help TWG bulk up on its Republican connections. In October, for instance, former Congresswoman Susan Molinari was installed as President and CEO of TWG, in order to provide the firm’s clients with what Ketchum CEO Ray Kotcher described, it would seem rather presciently, as “a strong campaign-style approach to public affairs.”
A year and a half later, Carlos Bonilla joined TWG as a senior vice president after leaving his post as special assistant to President George W. Bush for economic policy. “Carlos Bonilla,” said Molinari when Bonilla signed on, “brings an invaluable combination of White House policy and D.C. politics to The Washington Group.” In January 2004, Molinari was appointed President of Ketchum Public Affairs, a post she continues to hold in tandem with her job as CEO of TWG.