Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Armstrong Williams: A Public Relations Case Study from 2005

I dug up an old college paper after reading: Campaign Vets: Ben Carson's Manager Is Bullying Him

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COM 362
Fred Slocombe
2/22/05

Public Relations Case Study: Burden of News: What is News and what is not?

Ketchum Communications, which is owned by Omnicom, set up a Public Relations contract between Armstrong Williams and the Department of Education to promote President Bush's No Child Left Behind program. According to Ray Kotcher, CEO of Ketchum, "Ketchum was awarded the contract from the Department of Education through a competitive bidding process two years ago" [2003].

In December of 2003 Sinclair Broadcasting Group's "News Central" division produced a television program that featured an interview with Vice President Dick Cheney. “News Central Analyst Armstrong Williams” conducted the interview. According to New York Times columnist Frank Rich in an article published Thursday, January 13, 2005, Armstrong Williams was the only person at that time that was able to sit down with the Vice President for an in-depth interview.

Sinclair Broadcasting Group is a corporation that owns a large number of local television stations that are all affiliates of major networks. The website for Sinclair Broadcasting Group is www.sbgi.net which proudly states "Sinclair's television group includes 20 FOX, 19 WB, 6 UPN, 8 ABC, 3 CBS, 4 NBC affiliates and 2 independent stations and reaches approximately 24% of all U.S. television households."

According to Greg Toppo of USA TODAY in an article Posted 1/7/2005, "The campaign, part of an effort to promote No Child Left Behind (NCLB), required commentator Armstrong Williams "to regularly comment on NCLB during the course of his broadcasts," and to interview Education Secretary Rod Paige for TV and radio spots that aired during the show in 2004."

"According to a Freedom of Information act obtained by USA Today, Armstrong Williams was encouraged to use contacts with America's Black Forum, a group of black broadcast journalists, "to encourage the producers to periodically address" NCLB. He persuaded radio and TV personality Steve Harvey to invite [Education Secretary] Paige onto his show twice. Harvey's manager, Rushion McDonald, confirmed the appearances." (Toppo)

Armstrong Williams never revealed that he was under a contractual obligation to the Department of Education, persuaded other journalists to act on his behalf without disclosing full knowledge of his contract with the government, created paid video press releases with the aid of Sinclair Broadcasting, under the "blanket" of News Central's new feed service,

After USA Today broke the story, there was an immediate and fierce reaction to Armstrong Williams' actions. Tribune Media Syndication Services terminated his contract, which effectively cut his column from about 50 newspapers.

According to Richard Prince of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education wrote that The syndicated TV show "America's Black Forum" and The State, the newspaper in the capital of Armstrong Williams' home state, South Carolina, have dropped the commentator in light of the disclosure that Williams' firm accepted $240,000 from the Education Department to promote the No Child Left Behind Act.

According to Richard Prince, Williams claimed that his actions had nothing to do with public relations, and that the Department of Education only bought ad space on a television show that Armstrong owned and hosted.

Following Armstrong Williams disaster that hinged only on his disclosing his contract ahead of time, Three more people were revealed to have been paid to promote a government program without disclosure: Syndicated columnists Maggie Gallagher was paid 21,500 and Michael McManus was paid $10,000, by the Department of Health and Human Services to develop policy on strengthening marriage. Later, not for pay, they wrote about the policy in their columns without disclosing their contracts.

Finally, Jeff Gannon, who worked for GOPUSA, happened to have access to the White House already and had the bright idea one day to start up a website called Talon News Service, and tried to become what he though was a journalist.



My questions are:

1.      How do you define the difference between a qualified journalist and Public Relations Practitioner?
2.      Do journalists have the right to cross the line into Public Relations? Do PR Practitioners have the right to cross the line into journalism?
3.      When was the last time you saw a public service announcement with the disclaimer “This message brought to you by the Department of Education”? Or The Centers For Disease Control? When did it start being OK for the government to not identify itself as the source of a message?


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Greg Toppo, Education Dept. paid commentator to promote law; USA TODAY  Posted 1/7/2005 12:17 AM Updated 1/7/2005 11:16 AM). www.usatoday.com

Frank Rich, All The President's Newsmen; New York Times, January 13, 2005. Reprinted at www.commondreams.org

Ray Kotcher, Williams Scandal is a 'transformational event' in PR; PRWEEK January 13, 2005. www.prweek.com

Richard Prince, 2 More Drop Armstrong Williams. January 12, 2005; Journal-isms. The Maynard Instutute for Journalism Studies. www.maynardije.org/columns/dickprince/



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