Make no mistake, Eduwonk is aghast at this entire episode which really is ethically bankrupt on all sides. Nonetheless, assuming for a moment that it even is OK to try to bribe the media, isn’t this instance an appalling waste of taxpayer dollars? After all, Armstrong Williams’ defense partly rests on the argument that he’s a big No Child Left Behind supporter anyway so this money didn’t buy favorable coverage he would not have otherwise given. If true, the Gang That Can’t Flack Straight wasted almost a quarter-million on media that was already on their side! It’s not only nefarious, it’s inept, too!
Eduwonk’s outraged that Bush Administration lackeys do not use taxpayer dollars for more cost-effective, sensible, and strategic bribes than this! That money would have been better spent on more skeptical media. And it’s not like the Department doesn’t know who they are: They’ve been keeping score after all, as AP’s Feller reported last year!
More seriously, Democrats run the risk of overplaying their hand here. The Williams episode is truly egregious and possibly illegal. Rep. George Miller’s call for an investigation is the right move and it’s to House Ed and Workforce Chair Boehner’s credit that he is so far cooperating.
But, there is an enormous difference between the money going to Williams and the money the Department is giving to groups like BAEO. Tapped makes a move toward lumping it all together and others will no doubt follow that lead.
That’s a mistake because giving money to like-minded groups to help implement or advance policies (in this case by making parents aware of their rights under the law) is fair game. Eduwonk certainly has differences with BAEO and some other organizations the Department works with, but it’s their prerogative to fund them for legal activities. That’s what you get to do when you win elections. Clinton did it and Kerry would have also.
Conflating what is at its core a dispute about education policy with the Armstrong Williams incident, which crosses ethical and possibly legal lines, could end up minimizing the latter in all the noise. It will appear to the average person as, at best, the normal partisan back-and-forth and at worst as hysterical ideological sniping.
That would be unfortunate because this episode is a pretty graphic illustration of the kind of Bush Administration arrogance cum ethical relativism that is all too common and that Democrats have done a poor job driving home to the country. Stick with the Williams fiasco, it’s a clean hit.
Also, here is a bizarre article trying to justify why the payoff was OK…And Jenny D. notes that NCLB is one of the few (only?) progressive things this administration has done yet they’re systematically screwing it up. Meanwhile, Education at the Brink apparently doesn’t read public opinion polls, even the profligate spending Bushies couldn’t have paid that many people $240K. Besides, are people like Mike Casserly (pdf) and Kati Haycock on the take, too? Give me a break.