Adelstein Demands Armstrong Williams Probe

Jan 13, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Democratic FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein on Thursday demanded that the agency launch an investigation into whether conservative TV commentator Armstrong Williams violated the law by failing to disclose that he had been paid by the U.S. Department of Education to promote the No Child Left Behind Act.

Word that Mr. Williams had received $241,000 from the Bush administration to promote one of its pet initiatives in his on-air appearances has already sparked a storm of controversy on Capitol Hill and in journalism circles. But Mr. Adelstein said Thursday the paid promotion also could run afoul of payola law that prohibits broadcasters from airing sponsored programming without disclosing the sponsorship.

Mr. Adelstein told reporters he had received a dozen complaints urging an investigation. Violations of the payola statute are punishable by fines of up to $10,000 and imprisonment for up to one year, he said. “We need to get to the bottom of these very serious allegations,” Mr. Adelstein said.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell, a Republican, declined to say whether he would order an investigation. “That was the first I ever heard about [the complaints], so I’m not going to say anything about it until I look at facts,” Mr. Powell said.

Credited for generating many of the complaints is the watchdog Free Press, a group that has posted an electronic complaint form on its Web site, freepress.net. The group said it has sent a letter of complaint with more than 12,000 signatures to all five FCC commissioners, and that the same letter will be sent to key lawmakers. The Bush administration’s contract with Mr. Williams was part of a $1 million deal with Ketchum Public Relations that included a series of advertisements and commentaries promoting the No Child Left Behind law on Mr. Williams’ syndicated show, “The Right Side.”