What do Strom Thurmond, Ben Carson, President Donald Trump, and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas have in common? Aside from being some of the nation’s most controversial conservative political figures, they’ve also shared a close conservative confidante, Armstrong Williams, who is stepping into the spotlight once again with his possible purchase of D.C.’s Washington City Paper.
In a Dec. 7 e-mail, Williams spokesman Shermichael Singleton confirmed Williams has made a bid for the paper.
“Mr. Williams has always been committed to journalism, both print and media,” Singleton wrote. “His interest in WCP is out of respect and admiration for the history of the paper and the role it has played in D.C. As the media landscape changes because of technology, Mr. Williams understands the importance of preserving such institutions as the Washington City Paper, hence his interest in it.”
However, it is not Williams’ acquisition of a paper that is causing a “Beltway buzz,”. Instead, it is the type of paper he is eying, and its readership. Known for progressive prose and alternative stories, the publication is viewed by many as an unlikely match for Williams, who gained notoriety for his right-of-center views, his defense of Clarence Thomas during the 1991 Supreme Court confirmations, and as a campaign strategist for 2016 presidential candidate Ben Carson.
But Williams said that the unlikelihood of the match is one of the reasons the conservative operative wants to buy the paper.
“My goal is to make the City Paper so good people will be saying, ‘Are you sure Armstrong Williams is the owner of this paper?’” he told The Washington Post. “That would be a success.”
Unsurprisingly, City Paper employees don’t seem as optimistic about the news of their potential new boss. Mother Jones, who initially broke the story this November, reported that employees learned of Williams’ interest earlier that month. According to the Post, a number of these same staffers “have discussed the possibility of quitting.”
Williams’ acquisition of the City Paper, like many of his previous actions, is wrought with controversy and uncertainty. This is not Williams’ first entrepreneurial encounter with the media world, however.
Singleton described him as “the largest minority owner of broadcast television stations in the United States,” and noted that Williams attempted unsuccessfully to purchase Essence Magazine and D.C.’s well-known Capitol Hill publication, The Hill.
For more than three decades, The Washington City Paper has been a source of local political news in the DMV. Despite its longevity, readership and revenue have declined in recent years; in 2008, the paper declared bankruptcy.
The City Paper’s current owners, Nashville-based SouthComm, announced plans to sell the D.C. publication in October. A timeline for the acceptance or rejection of Williams’ bid has not been made public.