No Silliness Left Behind

Share via

Rod Paige isn’t just an Education secretary, he’s an award-winning journalist.

Of course, his award came from a PR agency that had been paid $700,000 by the Education Department to, among other things, conduct a survey rating media stories about the No Child Left Behind Act. Articles were ranked by how frequently and favorably they mentioned the law, and got extra credit for fawning on the Bush administration and the Republican Party.

Given those conditions, Paige pretty easily got the top ranking for an essay under his byline in the Seattle Times. Sometimes if you want something done right, like getting good press, you’ve just got to go out and write it yourself.

Sens. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) have asked the Government Accountability Office to decide whether the Education Department broke the law in awarding the PR contract. Congressional appropriations can’t be used for propaganda aimed at boosting a political party or candidate.


About $100,000 of the $700,000 awarded to PR agency Ketchum went to the media survey; $120,000 paid for two video clips in the format of news stories, with actors playing news anchors talking up education programs. The Education Department says the videos were made last year, before federal budget monitors issued a reprimand for a similarly misleading video on Medicare.

Lest one think this kind of politics-fueled misappropriation of funds by the Education Department was an isolated incident, consider Lynne Cheney’s assault on the “National Standards for History,” a guide for American schools and parents, laying out what children should learn about the past. The complaint by the vice president’s wife against a government booklet that mentioned the standards led to the “recycling” of 300,000 copies, at a cost of about $100,000.

Granted, the history standards were a tad heavy on social guilt in their original version, which was widely faulted for slighting the U.S. Constitution, using derogatory adjectives to describe European migrants but not other groups, and so forth.

The current revision, however, represents the thoughtful efforts of 6,000 scholars, parents, teachers and business leaders to tell a balanced story about the past, one with significant roles for women and minorities and acknowledging dark moments in the nation’s history along with successes.

But Cheney doesn’t like them, apparently feeling they concentrate too heavily on the negatives and not enough on white male heroes such as Paul Revere and the Wright brothers. Cheney has no formal power in the administration, but to a working grunt in the bureaucracy, she’s still the boss’ wife. So the booklets are now history.

As they say these days in the Education Department, let no political silliness be left behind.