On August 10, the National Endowment for the Arts, the federal agency that is nation's largest source of funding for the arts, held a conference call with some 75 artistic leaders to discuss ways in which those leaders could "help lay a new foundation for growth, focusing on core areas of the recovery agenda – health care, energy and environment, safety and security, education, community renewal."
Patrick Courrielche of Big Hollywood, who participated in the conference call, reported that there were a number of high-level White House officials present, including Yosi Sergant, the Director of Communications for the National Endowment for the Arts, and Buffy Wicks, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. Callers were openly encouraged to back the president's message, as they had during the campaign.
We were encouraged to bring the same sense of enthusiasm to these 'focus areas' as we had brought to Obama’s presidential campaign, and we were encouraged to create art and art initiatives that brought awareness to these issues. Throughout the conversation, we were reminded of our ability as artists and art professionals to 'shape the lives' of those around us. The now famous Obama 'Hope' poster, created by artist Shepard Fairey and promoted by many of those on the phone call, and will.i.am’s 'Yes We Can' song and music video were presented as shining examples of our group’s clear role in the election.
Courrielche reported that NEA representatives on the call asked for support for the President's major legislative initiatives (health care and cap and trade) from the arts community. The legality of this open politicization of an organization explicitly created to advance the arts (not a political agenda) was later called into question by George Will.
"This is just the beginning," NEA officials told callers. "This is the first telephone call of a brand new conversation. We are just now learning how to really bring this community together to speak with the government. What that looks like legally?…bare with us as we learn the language so that we can speak to each other safely…" (My emphasis).
Initial investigations by the Washington Times suggested further wrongdoing. Sargent told the Times that the NEA had not sent out invitations to the conference call, a claim that was later exposed as a lie when the paper posted screenshots of the invitation, which clearly shows that Sargent himself sent them out.
Within two days of the conference call, according to a piece from the Washington Times, 16 arts organizations endorsed the President's health care plan (public option, and all). Those same organizations received nearly $2 million in grants from the NEA during the four months prior to the conference call.
The same day the Times published these facts, Sargent was 'reassigned.' The NEA released a statement that claimed that the August 10 conference call "was not a means to promote any legislative agenda and any suggestions to that end are simply false. The NEA regularly does outreach to various organizations to inform of the work we are doing and the resources available to them."
But Courrielche disagrees, saying,
It is not within the National Endowment for the Arts’ original charter to initiate, organize, and tap into the art community to help bring awareness to health care, or energy & environmental issues for that matter; and especially not at a time when it is being vehemently debated. Artists shouldn’t be used as tools of the state to help create a climate amenable to their positions, which is what appears to be happening in this instance. If the art community wants to tackle those issues on its own then fine. But tackling them shouldn’t come as an encouragement from the NEA to those they potentially fund at this coincidental time.
This is pretty much where the controversy stands. It seems apparent that the administration attempted to use the NEA to produce art that would promote key White House proposals.
The Washington Times is not satisfied, and has realized that it would be futile to rely on the mainstream media to report on this controversy. After all, a Nexis search for "Yosi Sargent" returns exactly zero results from the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, and MSNBC. The one result from the Washington Post mentions Sargent in passing, while attacking Glenn Beck (who also aired a segment on the conference call).
So the Times recently published a list of questions about the NEA conference call participants that they will try to answer, and they are asking for help from center-right bloggers, seemingly the new Fourth Estate. These questions are all ones that any investigative reporter should ask, and they are all questions the MSM will ignore:
Have these individuals been involved in Democratic politics? Are they campaign donors? To whom? Since the Aug. 10 conference call, have any of these individuals been involved in political activism related to health care, environment or education, the subjects suggested by the NEA in the call? Are they members of any of the 21 arts organizations that endorsed health care reform two days after the call? Are any of them involved in other arts groups funded through the NEA or through state-level arts agencies funded by the NEA? Do they have a history of being involved with dubious causes such as 9/11 "Truther" statements? How many of them have written for The Huffington Post (we've noticed a couple)?
Major media outlets have been scooped on every story exposing high-profile wrongdoings in the Obama Administration since summer began. Why should the Times expect this story to be any different? Bloggers and independent journalists or reporters for smaller media outlets have exposed controversies behind the politicized firing of Gerald Walpin, the suppression of an EPA study for political reasons, Van Jones's dubious affiliations, and ACORN's willingness to aid in child prostitution and tax evasion. The MSM either cannot or will not compete with this impressive record of investigative journalism boasted by the center-right online community.
If these instances are any indication, the MSM will not pick up on the story (at least until it has blown over or a Czar has been fired), and center-right bloggers and activists will have to do the legwork. Media watchdogs have turned into media lapdogs, and, left unchecked, will allow the administration to dole out taxpayer dollars to the arts community to promote its own political agenda.
Wicks summed up very clearly the NEA's intentions in this conference call:
we can really work together to move the needle and to get stuff done. Pick - I would encourage you to pick something whether it's health care, education, the environment, you know, there's four key areas that the corporation has identified as the areas of service.
My ask would be to apply artistic, you know, your artistic creative communities' utilities and bring them to the table.