February 5, 1959 |
Marion, South Carolina
|Occupation||TV host, radio host, columnist, political activist|
Armstrong Williams (born February 5, 1959) is an American political commentator, author of a conservative newspaper column, and host of a daily radio show and a nationally syndicated TV program, called The Right Side with Armstrong Williams. During the early years of the George W. Bush administration, he received $241,000 from the Department of Education to promote the No Child Left Behind initiative; exposure of these payments ultimately lead to the cancellation of his syndicated column with Tribune Media Services. He later co-hosted a daily radio program with Sam Greenfield, broadcast on WWRL in New York City.
A native of Marion, South Carolina, Williams was reared on the family’s tobacco farm with nine other siblings. He displayed an early gift for public speaking, winning a high school orating contest in 1976. Graduating in 1981 from South Carolina State University, he received his B.A. in Political Science and English. He is a life member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.
In 1997, Williams was sued for sexual harassment by Stephen Gregory, a former YMCA personal trainer whom Williams repeatedly promoted, eventually to executive producer of his show The Right Side. The case was settled out of court. In his book Blinded by the Right, journalist David Brock claimed that Williams made a pass at him in Williams' apartment.
An entrepreneur and third-generation Republican, Armstrong Williams was formerly vice president for governmental and international affairs public relations firm, B&C Associations. He also served as confidential assistant to the chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas), presidential appointee to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, legislative assistant to the U.S. Representative Carroll Campbell (former governor of South Carolina) and legislative aide and advisor to U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond.
In 1991, Williams began his radio career at WOL in Washington, D.C.. Four years later, in 1995, Williams' local show was syndicated by The Talk America Radio Network. In 1998, Williams united with The Salem Radio Network, which syndicated his national radio show to 26 of the top radio markets in the country. In 2002, he reunited with the Newark, New Jersey-based Talk America Radio Network.
From 2002 to 2005 Williams hosted On Point with Armstrong Williams, a monthly primetime television special that aired on cable network TV One. A joint venture among Comcast, Radio One, and Right Side Production, On Point with Armstrong Williams included guests such as former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
In 2003 he launched his own company, The Right Side Productions, which produces and syndicates his television program to media outlets including Sky Angel, The Liberty Channel, etc. jointly with Langer Broadcast Radio Network.
In 2004, Williams was appointed by President George W. Bush to the President’s Commission on White House Fellows. The Commission's responsibility is to select qualified candidates to serve as Fellows to Cabinet-rank offices. Past fellows have included Cheney, Powell and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. Williams has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, and NPR as a guest commentator. He joined the lineup at WWRL's "New York's Urban Talk" in March 2005 as co-host with Sam Greenfield on Drive Time Dialogue.
Williams is a National Board member of the Carson Scholars Fund, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit charity that was founded in 1994 by Johns Hopkins Pediatric Neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson to recognize and reward students in grades 4-11 who strive for academic excellence (3.75 GPA or higher) and demonstrate a strong commitment to their community.
"No Child Left Behind" controversy
In January 2005, USA Today reported that documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that Williams had been paid $240,000 to promote the controversial No Child Left Behind Act. USA Today claimed Williams was hired "to promote the law on his nationally syndicated television show and to urge other black journalists to do the same".
As part of the agreement, Williams was required "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". The contract with Williams was part of a $1 million contract between the U.S. Department of Education and the public relations company, Ketchum Inc.
Melanie Sloan from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington told USA Today that the contract may be illegal "because Congress has prohibited propaganda ... [A]nd it's propaganda". United States Representative George Miller (D-CA), a member of the House Education Committee, called the contract "a very questionable use of taxpayers' money" that is "probably illegal".
After the USA Today revelations, Tribune Media Services terminated its syndication agreement with Williams. In a statement to Editor & Publisher (not available on its website), TMS stated: "[A]ccepting compensation in any form from an entity that serves as a subject of his weekly newspaper columns creates, at the very least, the appearance of a conflict of interest. Under these circumstances, readers may well ask themselves if the views expressed in his columns are his own, or whether they have been purchased by a third party". Williams told the Associated Press "even though I'm not a journalist — I'm a commentator — I feel I should be held to the media ethics standard. My judgment was not the best. I wouldn't do it again, and I learned from it."
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said it was a matter for the Education Department. According to Associated Press the Department of Education stated that the deal was a "permissible use of taxpayer funds under legal government contracting procedures". McClellan remained noncommittal on whether White House staff knew of the deal with Williams. "I'm not sure that senior staff was consulted before this decision was made. I haven't heard anything to that effect", he said. Three days after the story broke, McClellan claimed he was unaware of the details of the contract and that specific questions should be directed to the Education Department. As to whether Williams should have disclosed the details of the contract in his columns and on-air appearances, McClellan would only concede that "those are all legitimate questions". Asked whether he would investigate whether other journalists were on the payroll of the administration, McClellan replied, "I'm not aware of any others that are under contract other than the one that's been reported on in the media."
Following the revelations of the Williams contract with Ketchum, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington announced that it had filed Freedom of Information requests with 22 agencies requesting copies of all contracts with public relation firms.
The USA Today revelations caused controversy within the PR industry as well. As soon as the story broke, Edelman Public Relations' CEO Richard Edelman posted a note on his personal blog criticizing Ketchum's deal with Williams. "This kind of pay for play public relations takes us back in time to the days of the press agent who would drop off the new record album and $10 to the deejay. It makes our industry's efforts to 'clean up' behavior in newly created PR markets such as China and Russia look decidedly ridiculous", he wrote. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) issued a statement saying "the relationship should have been disclosed up front, no question".
On September 30, 2005, the Government Accountability Office released a report concluding that the payments to Williams were illegal on the part of the Department of Education because the government's role in the public relations effort was not disclosed.
Other business interests
Williams is also the CEO of the Graham Williams Group, which is described as an "international public relations firm with clients in entertainment, politics, business and charitable organizations". 
Books by Williams
- Armstrong Williams, Letters to a young victim: Hope and Healing in America's Inner Cities, Scribner Paper Fiction, October 1996. ISBN 0-684-82466-3
- Armstrong Williams, Beyond Blame: How We Can Succeed by Breaking the Dependency Barrier, Free Press, May 1995. ISBN 0-02-935365-3
- He Said/He Said, John Cloud, Washington City Paper, Jun. 13 - 19, 1997.
- Mr. Righteous, David Plotz, Washington City Paper, Feb. 10 - 16, 1995.
- A LOTT OF IRONY FOR TRENT INTERVIEWER, New York Magazine, Deborah Mitchell & Beth Landman, June 29-July 6, 1998.
- Out of Order; How same-sex harassers beat the rap, Joseph Landau, The New Republic, May 5, 1997.
- Lott Interviewer Faces Sex Harass Suit; Ex-employee claims gay advances, Carolyn Lochhead, San Francisco Chronicle, June 18, 1998.
- $5000 An Idea, Full-Service Maggie Gallagher, now available for outcalls in D.C. area, New York Press, February 8, 2005
- Armstrong Williams.com
- USA Today coverage
- UsaToday report on Williams
- USA Today report on Williams
- Editor and Publisher
- White House release
- US Newswire release
- Edelman Public Relations
- Public Relations Society of America
- CNN coverage
- TMS Features
- This article uses content from the SourceWatch article on Armstrong Williams under the terms of the GFDL.