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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: The odor of exploitation

by John Brummett | September 23, 2021 at 2:58 a.m.

It's one thing for Mike Huckabee to co-own a publishing company achieving enrichment by putting out superficial right-wing agitprop for children.

In 2014 the former governor reported earning $2.9 million from his publishing enterprise, which markets ideologically conservative pamphlets, books, DVDS and streaming services targeting kids.

It's just another tragic example among many of the cynical financial exploitation by right-wing celebrity of the ethically bankrupt Trumpian culture.

And soon the exploitation of right-wing celebrity probably will install an Arkansas governor from this former governor's family.

But it's quite another thing for the state education department of Arkansas under the current administration to use federal pandemic-relief money to buy a half-million dollars' worth of the former governor's pamphlets on how kids should cope with the coronavirus up to and including the erroneous statement that masks were not recommended for virus prevention.

I'm told that the offending phrase was only in the online version, which is now being taken down, better late than never, and was corrected in printed versions distributed to schools.

Everbright Media is a Florida concern founded a decade ago by Huckabee and a co-investor. Under a publishing line called Learn Our History, it has put out children's materials extolling Donald Trump and deploring the supposed lying evil of the modern news media and modern public and higher education.

It targets pliable parents of guileless children, in other words.

Consumer complaints--as reported by the Daily Beast, an online site founded by legendary magazine editor Tina Brown and calling itself a "high-end tabloid" for aggressive political reporting--indicate that the company uses sometimes a Trumpian marketing plan. That's one by which purchasing one book can, by the fine print, result in one's credit card purchasing automatic renewals of later editions or other books about the perils of socialism and critical race theory and such.

One marketing tactic touted on Facebook was a "patriotic bundle" package including pamphlets purporting to tell the real story of Trump's presidential accomplishments. Another was to say that purchases of books produced "points" that parents could use toward tuition costs at any of a number of participating church colleges.

It's Consolidated Right-Wing Claptrap Incorporated.

That's private enterprise, albeit its underbelly. If our state's former governor--and future first pop--wants to make money that way, and if people want to send him money for such things, that's between the private exploiter and the privately exploited.

But it's an issue for all of us that state Education Commissioner Johnny Keys said, yeah, sure, when a Huckabee employee came to him with an idea for a coronavirus pamphlet for kids and designs on getting some of the federal pandemic relief money targeted for schools.

And it's an issue for all of us when Key has his staff solicit that Huckabee salesman for another volume.

That was $240,000 for the first and will be $260,000 for the second.

I don't know how much ventilation improvement in our schools could have been provided by Huckabee's half-million-dollar helping from the pandemic pot. Not much, probably.

I don't know how many masks schools could buy wholesale with that amount of money. A bunch, probably.

But I do know that there is at the very least a strong appearance of impropriety by the Hutchinson administration when it bites to the tune of a quarter-million dollars at a pandemic-exploitive sales pitch by a former Republican governor's company and then volunteers to send another quarter-million for an update.

Before the advent of the new and relaxed public ethics of Trump and Huckabee, and before the new wasteland frontier of American tribalism, appearances of conflict were to be avoided because they could prove as corrosive to public trust as actual inappropriateness.

But this was more than appearance. The books were bought not just from a former governor, but from a firm with a history of targeting children with blatant partisan political advocacy.

Even if the content of these virus books is acceptable, at least as corrected, the issue remains whether a significant public service was performed by lathering a half-million dollars on Huckabee's company.

Might there have been another less-expensive way? Are there smart-enough people working in the office complexes of the education and health departments to put together children-targeted materials with no increase in salary and at minimal cost for printing and distribution?

Or how about local control? How about the state sending that kind of information to local superintendents with a request that it be considered locally for dissemination?

You have to think there was a way for the Hutchinson administration to communicate with school kids on the virus without lathering hundreds of thousands of dollars on a former Republican governor's partisan and ideological publishing scheme.

Imagine how many pamphlets instructive in Trump-imitative hairstyling that Huckabee could print with our schools' half-million dollars.

And by the way: Does anyone else remember Republicans preaching government spending restraint?


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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