No Wonder Ben Carson’s a Crook, Armstrong Williams is his Business Manager

So the latest outrage from this generally wasteful, secretive, disgraceful cabinet: Dr. Ben Carson, the current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, allegedly spent $31,000 on dining accessories.

If any of this sounds familiar, it should: People get mad, there’s an investigation, the money looks long gone, the guy doesn’t pay it back…

It’s happened before. But not with Ben Carson but with Carson’s alleged business manager Armstrong Williams. (If you pay taxes, this guy Williams owes YOU money.)

George W. Bush 2000s: Not Fake News, but VNRs

The mid-2000s were marked not by “fake news” of the Russian destabilize-democracy-and-overwhelm-the-information-space-of-free-and-open-societies variety but “fake news” of a far more sinister (but thankfully less effective) type: VNRs or Video News Releases. Originally used by corporations to help seed desperate-for-cheap/free-content local news broadcasts by producing PR pieces that looked like news broadcasts, some geniuses in the Federal government got in on the VNR game. All sorts of agencies got in on the game, but none of course would do the work themselves. When President Bush’s landmark No Child Left Behind (NCLB) bill was making the rounds, the government turned to the true pond scum of Washington and the planet to help sell it…PR firms.

PRWatch tells us that in the early 2000s the Department of Education’s Office of Public Affairs (OPA) was under the gun to deliver communications to help hype up the President’s signature education bill. Ketchum Inc was awarded an “indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity” (IDIQ) contract with an option to renew. They were to basically manage everything — get the word out, create VNRs, the works.

Now it’s easy to think Williams was just the passive, unwitting recipient of money from fast-talking PR people acting on behalf of the government. But the record shows that Williams in fact was aggressively pushing the Education Secretary. Williams at the time had a PR firm called Graham Williams Group (GWG) and Williams proposed that:

GWG can help win the battle for media space by drawing upon our long-standing relationships with The Russ Par radio show, Stevie Wonder’s KJLH (CA), and Sinclair broadcasting (which owns 63 network affiliates) and America’s Black Forum (which has been carried by network affiliates for over 25 years), to promote [NCLB].

The amount Williams was charging the Education Department, he told both the Education Department and later its Inspector General, was significantly below his usual PR rate but he was willing to bite the bullet because “he believed in NCLB (No Child Left Behind.)” So the guy was even saying he was doing the Education Department a favor by charging so little. The Education Department then ordered Ketchum to work with Williams’s GWG group and and for him to produce tv/radio ads and talk positively about NCLB on on his radio show “The Right Side.” (To make things even more sleazy & galling, there were arrangements for “bonus” ads during Black History month and Rev. Martin Luther King’s birthday.)

So big surprise, the campaign was a disaster and undisciplined and ineffective. There were no agreed upon standards to assess Williams’s performance nor was there any requirement for someone to verify that this scheme offered best value-for-money for the Federal government (and its taxpayers.) For fun, the “commercials” also weren’t targeted all that well: “Neither the Department nor Ketchum identified indicators that the demographic makeup of the GWG audience was not consistent with the audience targeted by the Department” (so they advertised to the wrong people.)

There’s a temptation to overreact to what is going on here (using public/taxpayer money to support a political initiative and advocacy) but the more practical issue is how dumb this was. Armstrong Williams wasn’t someone who moved the needle or changed many minds. Who cared what Armstrong Williams said? Well the stupid government seemed to think he was worth about $240,000

To be clear: There is nothing wrong with shilling or selling out, it’s a proud tradition in American history. The problem is that Williams and people like him are using taxpayer $$$’s to sell out. Working people are subsidizing their paydays. Williams and other grifters would be much better served (and far more ethical) if instead of fleecing and dumb government bureaucracy ultimately propped up by working people, they would go to some souless financial services firm and suck them dry with invoices… And not deplete the US Treasury.

Armstrong Williams to date has not written a check to pay back that $240,000

A stinger missile costs about $40,000, an aircraft carrier costs about $14billion, a mile of interstate highway about $20million. We need every dime we can get.

Armstrong Williams — it’s time for you (and your other taxpayer-robbing patron) to pay UP & pay taxpayers BACK!

— The Editorial Team

Stay tuned at for new dispatches in the coming months

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