The White House said Monday that the case of the Education Department (search) paying a conservative commentator to plug its policies was an isolated incident, not a practice widely used by the Bush administration.
With the Education Department still defending its $240,000 contract with syndicated columnist and TV personality Armstrong Williams (search), White House spokesman Scott McClellan was cautious in choosing his comments.
"Questions have been raised about that arrangement, it ought to be looked into, and there are ways to look into matters of that nature," McClellan said. The spokesman did not say precisely who should look into it, and stopped short of backing an inquiry by the department's inspector-general, as some lawmakers have sought. He noted that department lawyers have taken up the matter.
McClellan said the news media "ought to be reporting in an objective, unbiased and fair manner."
"The government certainly has a responsibility to help when it comes to providing accurate information and helping to adhere to that principle," he said.
McClellan said he knew of no other contract in the administration like the one Williams had. He also hinted that Williams shared the blame.
"There are also questions about whether or not this commentator should have been disclosing the information publicly," McClellan said.
The contract required Williams' company to produce radio and TV spots featuring one-minute "reads" by Education Secretary Rod Paige (search) and to allow Paige and other department officials to appear as studio guests with Williams. The commentator also was to use his influence with other black journalists to get them to discuss No Child Left Behind (search), a centerpiece of President Bush's domestic agenda, which aims to raise achievement among poor and minority children and penalizes many schools that don't make progress.