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The Defense Department

Columnists getting paid to promote government programs, torture, a shock jock named Mancow -- the ConWeb sure spends a lot of effort justifying or trying to explain away things most people find abhorrent.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 1/19/2005

The ConWeb of late has expended a notable portion of effort finding ways to cover for, explain away or otherwise defend things that on first glance would seem to be indefensible.

Like, for instance, Armstrong Williams. NewsMax has contorted itself into positions previously considered humanly impossible to gloss over Williams' acceptance of $240,000 from the U.S. Department of Education to promote the No Child Left Behind education policy through his TV appearances and in his syndicated radio and TV shows and his newspaper column.

Original ConWeb stories and columns about the results of the investigation into the CBS Bush-National Guard memos story in the seven days after the story broke: 17 (, here, here and here WorldNetDaily, here, here, here, here and here ; NewsMax, here, here, here, here, here and here ; MRC press release, here; Accuracy in Media press releases, here, here and here)

Original ConWeb stories and columns about conservative columnist Armstrong Williams accepting $240,000 from the Bush administration to promote the administration's No Child Left Behind education reforms in the seven days after the story broke: 4 (NewsMax, here, here and here; Accuracy in Media, here)

Number of articles in ConWeb archives that come up in a search for "Armstrong Williams" prior to the controversy: More than 87 (, 18; WorldNetDaily, 11; NewsMax, 58 articles in Williams' column archive alone).

First, as the scandal broke, it ran to Williams' defense. "So what's the fuss about?" a Jan. 7 column asked. The article later pointed out something few others have noticed: Williams' claim that "his show is part of his public relations work." Did NewsMax know that all along? There's no disclaimer on any of the columns to that effect in NewsMax's column archive for him. (This is not the first time conservative PR flacks have posed as disinterested parties in the media; the conservative-leaning web site Tech Central Station is actually operated by a Washington lobbying firm.)

Then, in a Jan. 13 article, NewsMax tried to drag liberal radio host Ed Schultz into it, suggesting that he "admitted he was on the air thanks to the generosity of the Democratic Party." Wrong -- as even the story itself later details. The transcript NewsMax excerpts clearly identifies "Democratic donors" as Schultz's backers, not the party itself.

Despite the article contradicting itself, it still goes on to claim: "Mr. Schultz's position doesn't seem to be all that different from that of Mr. Armstrong, who maintains that he never touted a position on any issue that he didn't already believe in -- even if some cash did change hands." ("Mr. Armstrong?" NewsMax again demonstrates what happens when you don't have copy editors.)

But that's not true either. It has been documented (not only by Media Matters but by liberal-basher Daniel Flynn, author of "Why the Left Hates America," in a Jan. 11 article at Accuracy in Media) that the money did appear to change Williams' tune on No Child Left Behind. Prior to taking the money, Williams was attacking President Bush for dropping support for private school vouchers from the plan before its passage, saying that by doing so, "Bush scooped out the soul of his own education proposal." Flynn didn't turn on his conservative colleague completely, however; he cited several Democrats as examples of "countless lesser men than Armstrong Williams who have rebounded from bigger scandals."

NewsMax then moved on to an even more specious comparison on Jan. 14, using a Wall Street Journal article rehashing the old news that lliberal bloggers Markos Moulitsas Zuniga (of Daily Kos) and Jerome Armstrong (of MyDD) were paid consultants to Howard Dean's presidential campaign, calling it "a deal reminiscent of Armstrong Williams' arrangement with the Bush administration." NewsMax was careful not to report the full story about the two bloggers from the Journal article that would show that it wasn't reminiscent at all -- Moulitsas posted a disclaimer on his site about his work with Dean, and Armstrong stopped blogging completely while he was working for Dean. (Another example of what happens when you don't have copy editors, NewsMax insists that Moulitsas' last name is Zuniga; this explains why it's not.)

The article rehashed its bogus allegation against Schultz and added: " Al Franken's Air America radio network has a similar financial arrangement with party fat cats." As long as NewsMax can't tell the difference between private investment or properly disclosed consultancy fees and federal tax dollars paid to a media figure to promote a government policy, NewsMax leaves itself open to the question of just who the conservative "fat cats" are who have enabled NewsMax to lose more than $10 million since its inception.

Don't hold your breath, by the way, waiting for NewsMax to conform to the demands it makes of others.

WorldNetDaily and have been virtually silent about Williams; both reprinted a syndicated column by Michelle Malkin complaining that mean ol' lefties are now accusing her of being paid off as well. It took more than a week for any non-syndicated WND columnist to weigh in, and that was Joseph Farah on Jan. 17 (he wrote about the report on the CBS News' Bush National Guard story, which was released after the Williams scandal broke, the day after its release, on Jan. 12), and he's more offended about the use of government money to tout "intrusive, unconstitutional federal policies on education." And Slantie winner Mychal Massie weighed in on Jan. 18, devoting most of his column to pointing out the alleged foibles of those who have criticized Williams. He revived his insistence that Senate minority leader's statement that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' legal opinions were "poorly written" somehow translates into "a racist, hate-filled screed." You sure you aren't talking about yourself, Mr. Massie?

The attention of WND and CNS has instead been directed elsewhere -- such as telling us why it's OK for Americans to torture detainees in Iraq and elsewhere.

Farah complained in a Jan. 11 column that we weren't being mean enough in the War on Terror. He called the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal "that tempest in a teapot" noting: "We're going to have to do things in this war that you don't do at Georgetown cocktail parties."

And that would, of course, involve torture. So Farah tries to define it down: "But what is torture? Interrogators are trained to use tough methods to extract information, but not to cross certain lines. Now those lines are increasingly moving and getting blurrier all the time because of criticism from arm-chair generals like Teddy Kennedy."

So it's not the interrogators' fault that prisoners are being tortured, it's Teddy Kennedy's. Huh?

Farah's not the only one trying to make torture patriotic. ran a Jan. 14 column by Frank Salvato ("a political media consultant and managing editor for") that, hiding among all the I-don't-defend-what-happened-but statements, tries to make the case that the bad guys have it coming to 'em anyway:

As the champions of freedom and democracy, we need to understand that sometimes, in our efforts to defend, attain and enable those very principles, we might have to do distasteful and perhaps "politically incorrect" things.

But when the choice is between the evils of whistling while you make naked terrorists form a human pyramid and hooded cowards sawing the heads off of innocent kidnap victims the choice should be clear. It is astounding that for some people it is not.

So we should whistle while we cut off their heads? So confusing.

Slightly more popular than torture are morning-radio shock jocks. NewsMax paid tribute to one named Mancow Muller in a Jan. 10 article touting his intention to fill the void when fellow shock jock Howard Stern departs the airwaves for satellite radio. Mancow, who calls himself a "conservative libertarian," also appears regularly on Fox News Channel's "Fox & Friends."

NewsMax tries to whitewash Mancow's past, writing that he "characterizes his shock jock phase -- both the dirty skits and the publicity stunts -- as something he did 10 years ago." Well, not exactly:

  • During appearances on "Fox & Friends" shortly after Paula Zahn left Fox for CNN, Mancow performed an on-air skit with an actor he said was portraying Zahn. He hit the actor in the face, knocked him down and shouted, "I'll kill you, Paula. We will kill you, Paula." He also made an off-color remark about Zahn that refers to the anchor's hobby as a cello player.
  • Mancow has had many run-ins with the FCC in the past few years alone. Between 2000 and 2002 his Chicago radio station was fined $42,000 by the FCC for indecency on Mancow's show. This was followed by a payment of $300,000 by his employer to settle all outstanding indecency complaints. Mancow's response to the fines? Suing a man who had filed FCC complaints over his show for $3 million (later dropped).
  • Mancow's employers are used to shelling out money on his behalf; in 2000, a former employer paid $1.6 million to former Chicago Bears player Keith Van Horne to settle a lawsuit over defamatory statements Mancow made on the air about Van Horne. Among the things Mancow called Van Horne: "psychotic," "nuts," "extremely violent," "over the edge" and "a Charles Manson who works out," He added: "He is trained in killing people. This man should be put behind bars. He is dangerous. ... If they find my body in a sewer in the next 24 hours, somebody say it could be Van Horne."
  • In 2001, Mancow settled another defamation suit filed by the wife of fellow Chicago shock jock Steve Dahl after Mancow called her a "slut" and a "whore" who engaged in "bizarre sexual conduct" in on-air remarks.
  • Selected excerpts from Mancow's memoir "Dads, Dames, Demons and a Dwarf" have been reprinted in Hustler.

Hey, if NewsMax can find a way to gloss over a columnist getting paid for pushing government propaganda, it can certainly find a way to make a shock jock look squeaky clean.

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