GAO: Bush Team Broke Law With ‘Covert Propaganda’

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By: E&P Staff

The Bush Administration violated laws prohibiting the use of covert propaganda when it secretly paid broadcaster/ columnist Armstrong Williams to promote its education policies, and by hiring a public relations company to analyze media perceptions of the Republican Party, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said Friday.

Williams received about $240,000 from the federal Department of Education. Tribune Media Services dropped Williams’ syndicated column in January when it learned about the payments.

In its account Saturday, The New York Times said the report “provided the first definitive ruling on the legality of the activities….In a blistering report, the investigators, from the Government Accountability Office, said the administration had disseminated ‘covert propaganda’ in the United States, in violation of a statutory ban.”

The Education Department has defended its payments to Williams, saying his commentaries were “no more than the legitimate dissemination of information to the public.”

The GAO’s report also uncovered a previously undisclosed case in which the Education Department had commissioned a newspaper article. The article, on the “declining science literacy of students,” was distributed by the North American Precis Syndicate and appeared in numerous small newspapers around the country, according to the report in the Times. The government’s role in the writing of the article, which praised the department’s role in promoting science education, was never disclosed.

The investigation was requested by U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and carried out by the GAO, an independent nonpartisan arm of Congress.

Rep. George Miller, a Democrat, said in a statement Friday: “This latest report confirms that the Bush Administration broke the law when it wasted taxpayer dollars to promote its own political agenda. … Legislation is now pending in Congress to ensure that similar abuses of the public trust do not recur, and we should pass that legislation immediately.”

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