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Last Updated: Monday, 10 January, 2005, 17:12 GMT
US columnist dropped over payment
Armstrong Williams
Williams said he backed Mr Bush's education plan
A top US black commentator has been dropped by a major syndication service for taking public money to promote President Bush's education policies.

Armstrong Williams last week admitted his firm was paid $240,000 (128,000) by the Education Department to promote the No Child Left Behind law.

In response, Tribune Media Services said it was halting distribution of Mr Williams' weekly newspaper column.

The conservative commentator later apologised for his "bad judgement".

However, Mr Williams said he would not return the money, because the Education Department also "bought advertising, and they got it".

'Conflict of interest'

Tribune Media Services said it accepted Mr Williams' explanation that the payment to his public relations firm, the Graham Williams Group, was for advertising on his radio and TV programmes.

"Nevertheless, accepting compensation in any form from an entity that serves as a subject of his weekly newspaper column creates, at the very least, the appearance of conflict of interest," it said in a statement.

"Under these circumstances, readers may well ask themselves if the view expressed in his columns are his own, or whether they have been purchased by a third party."

Mr Williams' revelations enraged the Democratic Party, which said it was a case of "Bush wasting taxpayers' money for political propaganda".

There have also been calls for Mr Williams to return the money.

A White House spokesman said last week that decisions concerning the contract with Mr Williams' firm were made solely by the Education Department.

The Department defended its move as "a permissible use of taxpayer funds under legal government contracting procedures".

It said it wanted to improve parents' understanding of the benefits of the No Child Left Behind law, which aimed to raise achievement among poor and minority children.

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