Make the Connection! (between Armstrong and Oprah)
One of the interesting little tidbits of info that came out of the Armstrong Williams pay-for-punditry story is his association with Stedman Graham, the perennial fiance of Oprah Winfrey. The genesis of their relationship is unclear. They either met while working together at B&C Associates (A North Carolina PR firm which once represented Winnie Mandela) or when Williams was working for the Oprah Foundation. In any case, they were close enough by 1990 to go into business together as "Graham-Williams Group" which was originally branded as a sports marketing firm. A 1991 article lists GWG clients as including Oprah, Save the Children, Everson Walls and Sheridan Broadcasting. By the fall of '91, Williams was making a name for himself as Clarence Thomas' number one defender, which led to the creation of his GWG-produced and Heritage Foundation-sponsored radio show in November of '92. Graham began his own firm, S. Graham and Associates in December '92, and remained a consultant at GWG until Williams bought him out in 1994. And there their paths would seem to diverge...or not.
Williams originally excused his actions by saying that NCLB is something he believes in, so promoting it for pay wasn't unethical. Whatever you think of his logic, he does have the bona fides as a NCLB promoter in other aspects of his life. (Although, when you are a PR person by trade, are there any aspects of your life untouched by your clients?) Williams serves on the advisory board (along with Ohio's infamous Ken Blackwell!) of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, a pro-voucher, pro-charter school, NCLB booster that recieves funding from the usual right-wing suspects, including the Bradley Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. No, not John Boy and the gang, but the family who put the Wal in WalMart. BAEO made headlines when the Department of Education awarded them a 2.5 million dollar grant to promote NCLB in heavily black cities. (Do I detect a trend?)
Graham, on the other hand, serves on the board of advisors for the Children's Scholarship Fund. The CSF was founded by John Walton and investor Theodore Forstmann. Yes, the WalMart Waltons again. The CSF provides partial scholarships for low-income students to attend private, parochial or "home" schools. (In the case of "home schooling" the scholarship helps pay for tuition at an approved cyber-school. Does Rick Santorum know about this?) CFS is affiliated with Children First America (formerly CEO America, which apparently also had Ken Blackwell on the board.), another school-choice oufit funded and organized by rightwingers. When CFS wanted to announce its first big scholarship lottery in 1998, who did they turn to? Why none other than Oprah! Oprah has featured charter schools on her show and financially adopted the Walton-funded Young Women's Leadership Charter School in Chicago.
So does Graham have an incentive beyond his personal beliefs to promote school choice and charter schools? According to his website, the Department of Education is a client for his "customized training and leadership development programs." I'd FOIA that contract pronto, if were the GAO!