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Education agency paid commentator

The Education Department paid commentator Armstrong Williams $241,000 to help promote President Bush's No Child Left Behind law on the air, an arrangement that Williams acknowledged Friday involved "bad judgment" on his part.

In taking the money, funneled through the Ketchum Inc. public relations firm, Williams produced and aired a commercial on his syndicated television and radio shows featuring Education Secretary Roderick Paige, touted Bush's education policy and urged other programs to interview Paige.

Congressional Democrats immediately accused the administration of trying to bribe journalists. Williams's newspaper syndicate, Tribune Media Services, canceled his column Friday. And one television network dropped his program pending an investigation.

Williams, one of the most prominent black conservatives in the media, said he understands "why some people think it's unethical."

The Education Department contract, first reported Friday by USA Today, increased criticism of the administration's aggressive approach to news management. The department already has paid Ketchum $700,000 to rate journalists on how positively or negatively they report on No Child Left Behind, and to produce a video release on the law that was used by some television stations as if it were real news.

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