President Bush has rightly ordered his Cabinet departments to stop quietly paying opinion columnists to tout the administration's agenda.
It's not clear how widespread the practice was. Earlier, several agencies got into hot water for sending out video press releases done in a TV-news format with no mention of their government origins. That's something else the president should stop.
And then came the disclosure that the Department of Education, through a PR agency, had paid conservative commentator Armstrong Williams to promote the No Child Left Behind Act. It makes you wonder who else is on their payroll that we don't know about. Goaded by Democrats, Congress is making an effort to find out.
It's doubtful that Bush even knew about the practice or would have condoned it if he had. And the president seems refreshingly naive about the darker arts of public relations. He told reporters at his Wednesday press conference, "I'm confident you will be, over the course of the next four years, willing to give our different policies an objective look, won't you?"
The whole point of putting columnists on the payroll and producing press releases in the guise of news is to ensure that those policies don't get an objective look.
But the president pledged that, "we will not be paying commentators to advance our agenda. Our agenda ought to be able to stand on its own two feet."
That's a nice thought, but all administrations aggressively try to sell their policies. The same day the president spoke, the House Government Reform Committee reported that in 2004 his administration had spent a record $88 million on public-relations contracts.
Two feet, indeed.