Uprising Against Williams

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The news that Armstrong Williams - syndicated columnist, radio show host, regular panelist on America’s Black Forum, and Negro darling of the right wing  - is a paid propagandist for the Bush administration should be the silver stake in the heart of a man who has built a career sucking the blood of Black people and the throbbing members – figuratively speaking - of the right wing.

I’ve long known that Williams is an idiot, an opportunist and, in a dangerous world, a small danger to sane and progressive people. A former legislative aide to segregationist South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond – the same Strom who had sex with and a daughter by a15-year-old Black maid and kept it secret for seven decades - and a confidential assistant to Clarence Thomas when he headed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Williams thrust himself into the limelight extolling “there’s-a- pubic-hair-on-my-coke-can� Thomas’ virtues during the hearings on his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Any Black man who considers Strom Thurmond his mentor and sings the praises of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is in my book someone to avoid as much as possible. Not to mention watch closely if he comes too near. Avoiding Williams may be a no brainer, but it hasn’t been easy: he’s ubiquitous in the terrified new world we live in, where if you’re not right wind, you’re wrong. And maybe even treasonous. Williams is anti-choice, anti-gay marriage, for the war in Iraq and for tax cuts to the wealthy, not surprising since these positions assured that he was on his way to becoming wealthy himself, as the hard right rewarded him monetarily for being their black political lap dog. According to his website, Williams’ fee for a keynote speech is $10,000.

Apparently collecting checks from a number of sources for positioning himself as a Black conservative in these revivalist days for the reactionary didn’t pay enough. Nor did whatever money he made as CEO of Graham Williams, a PR firm founded with Stedman Graham, Oprah’s boyfriend. Williams, like those non-existent whining, freeloading, evil welfare mothers he and his kind love to hate, wanted him a gov’ment check.

Friday’s USA Today reported that Williams got himself put on the roll to the tune of  $240,000, paid to him by the United States Department of Education (DOE) to promote Bush’s unsupported, under-funded, and just plain under-achieving No Child Left Behind education program. He kept the fact that he was being paid to shill for the administration secret as he extolled the program’s virtues in columns, on television and on the radio.

Let’s be clear: Instead of that $240,000 going to pay teachers, or buy computers, or improve school lunches so that at least a few children wouldn’t be left behind - or if they are, they won’t be hungry - it went into Armstrong Williams’ bank account. These are our tax dollars. And add to the money Williams pocketed another $700,000 the DOE paid to Ketchum Media, the advertising firm that surreptitiously hired Williams, also our tax dollars.

Unfortunately, the sure-to-be-overplayed report on the problems in the 60 Minutes segment on George W. Bush’s non-service in the National Guard, released today, and the subsequent firing of four white people, will likely overshadow the Williams story in mainstream media. Yet have no doubt that Williams’ conduct will, sooner than later, be laid at our collective feet, unless we move on to higher ground.

That doesn’t mean go hide in the figurative hills of our homes and jobs and hopelessness, although in these mean times silence and ducking are rampant, and sometimes tempting. Like millions of other people, I took action against the invasion of Iraq, to no avail. And while the stakes in the Williams case are a lot smaller than in the debacle U.S. adventure in Iraq, they’re made from the same cloth: A cynical, arrogant, rapacious government and a frightened, cynical populous. At least giving Armstrong Williams the collective boot from the halls of punditry and journalism is something we can achieve, unlike coming up with those non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

Why hide? There’s no need to, since with the exceptions of Clarence, Condoleeza, and Colin, Black people are invisible these days anyway. Me, I’m mad as hell and not going to take it any more! to quote Peter Finch in the film Network. Or better still as Bob sings, “Rise up fallen fighters/Rise and take your stand again. For he who fights and runs away/Lives to fight another day.�

Williams was fired on Friday by Tribune Syndicate, distributors of his column, and today Julian Bond informed me via email that America’s Black Forum has dismissed him as well. Stay tuned. An upcoming show will announce his dissing and discuss the pundit payola scam that brought him down.

Not only shouldn’t Williams make another dime pontificating, we should banish Armstrong from the media realm even if he's not getting paid. I’m writing every media outlet I know of and demanding that they get rid of Williams. (For a partial list of media outlets promoting Armstrong, go to www.armstrongwilliams.com or google him.) Whatever shred of credibility he’s managed to conjure up for himself out of whole cloth has vanished. The pundit not only has no clothes, but no heart, guts or balls.

While many knew before the story of the $240,000 retainer broke that Williams is a political opportunist, we now know that he’s also simultaneously a ‘ho and a pimp: Prostituting himself to the highest bidder (for a hilarious take on Williams selling out for cheap, read Farai Chideya’s This Negro For Rent on popandpolitics.com) and selling out Black folks in the process. The people he’s been pimping are us. Is it any wonder we all feel screwed?

Jill Nelson is an author who resides in Harlem 

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