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More by the authorBiographyE-mail the AuthorGersh Kuntzman-American Beat
Space For Sale
After learning that a well-known commentator was paid $240,000 to praise a Bush initiative, our columnist contemplates his own promotional opportunities
WEB EXCLUSIVE
By Gersh Kuntzman
Newsweek
Updated: 4:37 p.m. ET Jan. 10, 2005

Jan. 10 - My favorite story last week was the admission by prominent conservative columnist and commentator Armstrong Williams that he accepted $240,000 in federal funds to promote and praise the "No Child Left Behind" Act in his columns and on his syndicated talk show. I love this story not because I enjoy seeing right-wing "journalists" exposed as hypocrites, seeing a right-led government be exposed for tinkering with the sacred Free Press, or watching the right-wing media try to pretend that Armstrong's creed-for-cash policy was as harmless as inane weatherman banter on the local news.

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I do enjoy all those things, of course, but my interest in the Armstrong Williams controversy is far more personal. After the Williams story broke last week, his newspaper syndicate, Tribune Media Services, canceled his column. And there was the predictable hue and cry from all the supposed media watchdogs. Alex Jones, of Harvard's Shorenstein media center, said Williams's work on behalf of the Bush administration was "propaganda masquerading as news" that would now "make any thinking person hearing any pundit speak want to say, 'OK, how much did they pay you to say that?'"

Jones, of course, needs to relax. The way I see it, Williams's biggest mistake was not in taking the government money, but in not being open about it. And that's where I come in. See, I can not only be bought, but at a surprisingly reasonable price. Williams needed $240,000 to become a Bush administration mouthpiece because, at least according to his Web site, he's "a principled voice for conservatives and Christian values in America's public debates" who brings "an independent view with a refreshing twist to the central issues of our day." I can be bought for far less money (even my Web site describes me as "a tabloid hack" who "appeals to the lowest common denominator" and brings "a completely compromised world view to the very peripheral issues of our day.")

So here then is a menu of options available to policy-makers, legislators, and even the makers of wonderful home products such as Heinz Easy Squeeze, which is not only easy for my 3-year-old to handle, but is still the best darn mass market ketchup available. (Okay, Heinz did pay me $150 to write that, but it represents my honest opinion of the quality of Heinz ketchup).

$250: For this low, one-time fee, I will insert a rather awkward parenthetical aside in a future column about how much more vibrant and manly Bill O'Reilly looks when he uses a loofah. For the same price, I will use the words "Bernard Kerik" and "family man" in the same sentence.

AMERICAN BEAT  
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$1,000: For this fee, I will write a column about how President Bush's initial $15-million contribution to assist victims of last month's tsunami was overly generous. I will argue, quite convincingly, that by giving very little money, the president was compassionately allowing the devastated nations to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. "This president should be admired for not giving in to the 'soft bigotry' of helping people who can darn well do for themselves," I will point out. "As the president always says, 'Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. But give 200,000 families a fish, replacement clothing, a new house and a rebuilt infrastructure and you create a generation addicted to welfare'."

$5,000: For this reasonable fee, I'll vehemently defend the president's plans to fix Social Security by taking on a trillion dollars of new federal debt to allow people to invest their retirement money in the stock market (which, as we all know, only goes up). For a nominal extra fee, I'll argue that it's perfectly reasonable to live on a diet of cat food, as many seniors did before Social Security existed. In fact, Friskies Buffet mixed grill is delicious! (Friskies did not pay for that plug, by the way.)

CONTINUED>>
Page 2: $25,000 and above

© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.

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