Surprise! It turns out there is some wasteful spending going on in government. In the weeks leading up to the showdown in Washington, ABC offered story after story lamenting the “massive” government cuts resulting from sequester and warning of criminals running free and a “meat shortage.” Yet on the March 5 World News, David Kerley found that the government has spent $400,000 in the last two years alone on expensive portraits for top officials.
A shocked Kerley explained, “The 29th agriculture secretary? Well, you paid for his painting. The latest for Lisa Jackson, the outgoing EPA administrator, a $38,000 portrait. ..How about $41,000 for the Air Force secretary?” Pointing the figure at Barack Obama, the journalist continued, “We wanted to show you some of those portraits that you paid for. But the White House wouldn't allow our camera to go into any federal buildings to see those paintings.” [See video below.]
Anchor Diane Sawyer made a brief attempt at connecting this to sequester: “On the first full day after the $85 billion in budget cuts kicked in, some members of Congress have said it's time for all of us to tighten our belts.”
Yet, that was the only mention of the cuts ABC has fretted might effectively end air travel in America.
The official portraits of department leaders are a relatively standard and long standing practice.
During the segment, Kerley ambushed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. He badgered the cabinet official about whether the paintings should stop. Vilsack huffed, “You know, there are so many questions I'd be happy to answer about our budget. I just think that's a really small ball kind of question.”
In truth, $400,00 is a small amount of money, compared to overall government spending. But so are the $85 billion in cuts of the sequester. Yet, last Friday, news reader Josh Elliott hyped, “Jobs vaporizing, flights delayed, even criminals walking free.”
After endlessly hyping sequester, ABC doesn't have much ground to make populist complainsts about oil paintings.
A transcript of the March 4 segment Is below:
ABC GRAPHIC: Washington Watchdog: Taxpayer Dollars Used for Fancy Portraits
DIANE SAWYER: And now, we turn to another story. We're back in Washington. On the first full day after the $85 billion in budget cuts kicked in, some members of Congress have said it's time for all of us to tighten our belts. But ABC's David Kerley has been on the lookout. Tonight, it's our "Washington watchdog."
DAVID KERLEY: They are iconic. Washington, Jefferson, Franklin. Oil on canvas portraits. But Ed Schafer? Remember him? The 29th agriculture secretary? Well, you paid for his painting. The latest for Lisa Jackson, the outgoing EPA administrator, a $38,000 portrait. That's just ten grand less than what the average American makes in an entire year. How about $41,000 for the Air Force secretary? And $22,000 for a Commerce Secretary who served President Obama for only eight months. We found, in the past two years a alone, almost $400,000 spent on portraits. We wanted to show you some of those portraits that you paid for. But the White House wouldn't allow our camera to go into any federal buildings to see those paintings. Surprisingly, some of the oil portraits are commissioned while secretaries are still serving. 22,000 for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who we tracked down to ask is it time that we stop doing oil portraits of former secretaries?
TOM VILSACK [Bewildered, then laughs]: You know, there are so many questions I'd be happy to answer about our budget. I just think that's a really small ball kind of question.
KERLEY: Small ball?
STEVE ELLIS (VP, Taxpayers for Common Sense): It just shows how Washington has just become immune to the cost of things. 20,000 on a portrait? That's real money and that's real waste.
KERLEY: Today, the White House told us they're spending less on portraits than previous administrations. But what about saving even more? A 21st century alternative. Digital photographs printed on canvas. We took a shot and then we went to our local Costco. A week later, for less than $100 bucks– [Looks at his Costco digital painting.] Oh, not bad. David Kerley, ABC News. Washington. I think that can go right up on the wall. And it is canvas.