Armstrong Williams's conflicting statements on disclosure

Syndicated TV and radio host Armstrong Williams told USA Today that he “does not recall disclosing” his $240,000 deal with the Bush administration to promote its No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education bill on his TV and radio programs “to audiences on the air but told colleagues about it when urging them to promote NCLB,” But, notwithstanding that assertion, in numerous cable news appearances on January 7, the day USA Today broke the story of Williams' contract with the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), Williams made conflicting statements about the extent to which he had disclosed the contract to his audiences. Williams variously claimed that he did not recall if he disclosed; that he “made it very clear that we were being paid as advertisers”; that he “consistently” disclosed; and that he “periodically” disclosed.

On the January 7 edition of CNN's American Morning, Williams repeated what USA Today had reported, claiming he had disclosed the information to colleagues, but could not recall whether he had done so to an audience:

BILL HEMMER (co-host): Did you disclose to your readers, did you disclose to your viewers about the transaction?

WILLIAMS: Listen, I disclosed to different people whose airwaves that we use. I disclosed it to different commentators. I don't -- I can't recall whether I disclosed it to the audience or not.

Then, in an appearance on MSNBC Live, Williams seemed to change his position entirely, claiming that he had disclosed the information to his listeners:

WILLIAMS: On my own programming, Alex, I made it very clear that we were being paid as advertisers through Ketchum Communications for the Department of Education... So it's not as if I was doing something in an unethical way.


ALEX WITT (anchor): And Armstrong, when you say that you disclosed that you had this money coming your way from the public relations campaign, was that to your listeners or was that to the people with whom you worked?

WILLIAMS: To our listeners, to our friends that allowed us to come on and talk about No Child Left Behind.

Later in the day, Williams seemed to adjust his position again when appearing on CNN's Crossfire, claiming that he had “consistently” and “oftentimes” disclosed information surrounding the NCLB contract to his television viewers:

PAUL BEGALA (co-host): But let me start, did you disclose this payment relationship to your listeners and viewers when you talked about the No Child Left Behind law that you were paid to promote?

WILLIAMS: Yes, consistently on our syndicated television show.

BEGALA: There's been reporting that you haven't done so. Can you tell me how you disclosed it?

WILLIAMS: Well, we're associated with many different media outlets. We were subcontracting with Ketchum Communications. And they subcontract --

BEGALA: Which is a PR [public releations] agency, for people who don't know.

WILLIAMS: Yes. Right. And they subcontracted with us to promote No Child Left Behind as part of an advertising campaign, where we gave them two one-minute commercials within our syndicated television show. And we made it clear to our audience oftentimes that, even though that we're being paid by Ketchum as an advertising [sic] to promote this, we promoted this long before there ever was a Ketchum contract.

Finally, on the January 7 edition of FOX News' The O'Reilly Factor, Williams adopted yet another position, claiming that the information had been “periodically” disclosed to his audiences:

WILLIAMS: Well, let me explain something to you, though. On our show, where they pay for the advertising, we did periodically disclose to the audience that we were being paid.

BILL O'REILLY (host): No, but you have to say, though, if you're going to do any kind of work for the DOE, you have to say they paid for this every time. It's called full disclosure.

WILLIAMS: Oh, OK, I see your point.