Theodore's World: The NEA, Obama, The Lies and the Cover-Up

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September 22, 2009

The NEA, Obama, The Lies and the Cover-Up


Big Hollywood

Today’s revelation is the extensive proof that shows the White House used the National Endowment for the Arts to push a political agenda favorable to President Obama. But it gets worse: the Administration lied about it, and tried to cover it up.

The background: an NEA spokesman participated in a conference call designed to encourage artists to further Obama’s legislative agenda. This was revealed back in August at Big Hollywood. What is new today is the full transcript of the call — and how clearly the NEA was involved in urging artists to propagandize for Obama.

Naturally, the NEA and the Obama administration denied this. According to the Los Angeles Times (in a blog post, of course, and not an actual newsprint story), the NEA denied any purpose to further a legislative agenda:

The NEA issued a statement saying that it took part in the conference to help inform arts organizations about opportunities to sponsor volunteer service projects themselves, or have their members take part in other volunteer efforts. “This call was not a means to promote any legislative agenda, and any suggestions to that end are simply false,” the statement said.

The White House similarly denied any desire to further a legislative agenda:

Responding by e-mail Wednesday, White House spokesman Shin Inouye said the Aug. 10 teleconference “was not meant to promote any legislative agenda — it was a discussion on the United We Serve effort and how all Americans can participate.”

Oh really?

If Big Media had been paying attention, it could have demonstrated these denials to be rank lies. But Big Media fell asleep, leaving isolated organs of conservative media to pick up the ball and run it down the field. So, now, today, the full transcript is revealed, showing how badly Big Media missed the story.

The newly revealed full transcript of the call clearly demonstrates that the NEA participated in an unseemly (and possibly illegal) effort to influence artists to propagandize on behalf of the president’s political agenda. Let’s look at some aspects of the call that make it clear that, as Patrick Courrielche says with admirable restraint: “The NEA and the White House did encourage a handpicked, pro-Obama arts group to address issues under contentious national debate.

Michael Skolnik

One of the first speakers on the call was Michael Skolnik, the “political director” for Def-Jam co-founder Russell Simmons. Skolnik made it quite clear that the artists were gathered together because of their support for Obama’s agenda.

Skolnik said that he had been “asked by folks in the White House and folks in the NEA” to “help bring together the independent artists community around the country.” He told the callers that “the goal of all this and the goal of this phone call” included the effort “to support some of the president’s initiatives” and “to push the president and push his administration.”

Skolnik cited the famous Obama Hope poster as “a great example” of “the role that we played during the campaign for the president.” He told callers that “the president has a clear arts agenda” and that “all of us who are on this phone call were selected for a reason” — namely, “you are the ones that lead by example in your communities. You are the thought leaders. You are the ones that . . . tell our country and our young people sort of what to do and what to be into; and what’s cool and what’s not cool.”

Far from taking issue with Skolnik’s highly politicized description of the purpose of the call, Buffy Wicks ( Wicks is the Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and served as the head of Obama’s Missouri campaign, and also as the campaign’s California Field Director) added to it. Like Skolnik, Wicks indicated that she was talking to a hand-picked group of Obama-supporting artists.

She told the assembled listeners that she has “really just a deep, deep appreciation for all the work that you all put into the campaign for the two plus years that we all worked together.” She said: “we won and that’s exciting, and now we have to take all that energy and make it really meaningful.”
Wicks said that “change doesn’t come easy, but then now that I’m actually in the White House and working towards furthering this agenda, this very aggressive agenda” she realized that there is a need to “engage people at a local level and to engage them in the process.” Towards that end, she told the artists, “we need you, and we’re going to need your help, and we’re going to come at you with some specific asks here.”

In discussing the “specific asks” she veered deeply into policy. Wicks identified four main areas where people can engage in “service.” Two of them seem relatively innocuous: education and community renewal. But the first two she mentioned are clearly two of Obama’s biggest hot-button issues: health care and “energy and environment” (as in cap and trade). Speaking of “context,” Courrielche reminds us that the “context” surrounding this call was that it took place in early August — at a time when Congress was headed into a recess, and it appeared that the Obama administration was losing the debate on health care.

What does this have to do with art?

Wicks discussed how the administration sees “service” as a “platform” by which the administration can take “folks who have just been engaged in electoral politics” and “engage them in really the process of governing.” The “service” certainly sounded like obeisance to leftist causes; Wicks described how she wants folks “to connect with federal agencies, with labor unions, progressive groups, face groups, women’s groups, you name it.”

Finally, we get to the comments of Yosi Sergant, the (former) Director of Communications for the National Endowment for the Arts. (Sergant was later reassigned after Glenn Beck played portions of the phone call on his TV show. Sergant is still with the NEA in some other capacity.)

Like Wicks and Skolnik, Sergant saw the call participants as Obama supporters. He says that the call itself is reflective of all the hard work that went down during the campaign, all the time and energy that each and every one of you put in, myself included, it’s paying off.

This is what we fought for. We fought for a chance to be at the table and not only at the table but we’re setting the table.

He said more than once that “this is a community that knows how to make a stink.” The NEA official then virtually ordered the presumably willing participants to create art that would support the president’s views on the policy areas previously identified by Wicks:

We are participating in history as it’s being made. So bear with us as we learn the language so that we can speak to each other safely and 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

Within 48 hours of this phone call, 21 arts organizations endorsed President Obama’s health-care reform plan. Within days, Rock the Vote started an all out blitz that included a “health care design contest.

I think for the people that are on the inside of government to talk for a minute about Organizing For America and the differences between Organizing For America and and what we can do to help on critical advocacy issues like health care reform, cap and trade policy, if that should help move policies through the government, because this is a really important role that our creative community can also play.

That question is answered by Nell Abernathy, the director of outreach for United We Serve, a federal agency run through the Corporation for National and Community Service (this is apparently the “corporation” to which Sergant referred). As you read Abernathy’s words, you can easily picture the wink and the nod as she explains that the federal agencies can’t explicitly advocate specific policy changes:

Yeah, I can address that a little bit, and the reason only a little bit is largely because in my role at a federal agency, I’m precluded from going too far down the specific steps what people can do to advocate. But we have to, for these legal reasons, remain really separate what we do here from what OFA is doing, and so they’re basically two separate goals with the same idea. We use the same techniques, organizing strategies, because basically they’re both run by people from the campaign. But and the United We Serve initiative is based on the direct service addressing needs through volunteering today bipartisan support ideas than OFA, which is obviously advocating for policy change on these specific issues.

Why this all is important!

NEA is encouraging artists to create propaganda for a president’s policy initiatives. This is a corrosive precedent — and what’s more, it illustrates the overarching danger of the Obama administration: government, by increasingly taking over various aspects of American society, threatens to bend society to the will of a single man.

If this arts group should be rallying around anything, it should be to directly help the arts community. The NEA’s mere participation in a meeting of this nature has put them and those invited in murky waters.

Setting up a propaganda machine is a dangerous precedent. The creation of a machine to address any issues, even ones with noble intentions, can be wielded by the state to create a climate amenable to the policies of those in power.

While much of the phone call was spent explaining the general concept of United We Serve – to be expected when explaining the infrastructure and rational for any national initiative – when the time came to get specific on what the National Endowment for the Arts wanted this arts group to do, it was simple and concise – create art focused on four main issues, and the two at the top of the list, and most mentioned throughout the exchange, were health care and energy & environment.


Obama with the NEA’s Yosi Sergant

EXPLOSIVE NEW AUDIO Reveals White House Using NEA to Push Partisan Agenda

Big Hollywood

Should the National Endowment for the Arts encourage artists to create art on issues being vehemently debated nationally?

That is the question that I set out to discuss a little over three weeks ago when I wrote an article on Big Hollywood entitled The National Endowment for the Art of Persuasion?”

The question still requires debate but the facts do not. The NEA and the White House did encourage a handpicked, pro-Obama arts group to address politically controversial issues under contentious national debate. That fact is irrefutable.

Film Producer Accuses NEA of Enlisting Artists to Push Obama's Domestic Agenda

FOX News

Courrielche said officials on the hour-long call -- including NEA Director of Communications Yosi Sergant and Michael Skolnik, political director for hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons -- encouraged the artists on the line to create works of art in their respective fields related to health care, energy and the environment.

"What I heard was a well thought-out pitch to encourage artists to create art on these issues," Courrielche told "We were told we were consulted for a reason, and they specifically stated those issues as the issues we should focus on, to plant the seed. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see what they're attempting to do."
"The word volunteerism was never used," Courrielche said. "Service was the word being used and it was in specific areas, those being health care, energy and the environment."

The "potential propaganda machine," Courrielche said, is concerning on many levels.

"The issue that troubles me the most is that the NEA was set up to promote the arts," he said. "If you have a meeting where you're trying to set up a machine that does your bidding, a propaganda machine, that's not what the National Endowment for Arts is for."

Wild Thing's comment........

The NEA’s mission is to support excellence in the arts, bringing the arts to all Americans, and providing leadership in arts education. Its slogan is “A great country deserves great art.” The NEA is NOT supposed to be used as a propaganda vehicle by the executive branch.

Along the lines of "those who forget history are bound to repeat it". Propaganda is bad enough, but paid for with our tax dollars is corrupt to the core. Obama is corrupt and dangerous!!!

From the above picture at MindReign:

"In 1944 US soldiers received a copy of 'What is Propaganda?' before entering Germany. It explained the impact Nazi propaganda had on the German people. The information was designed to assist the US soldier in dealing with a brainwashed and morally bankrupt people. This pamphlet gives a snapshot of life in Germany at the end of WW2. Most propaganda in Germany was produced by the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. Joseph Goebbels was placed in charge of this ministry shortly after Hitler took power in 1933. All journalists, writers, and artists were required to register with one of the Ministry's subordinate chambers for the press, fine arts, music, theater, film, literature, or radio. The reprint of this rare book will be welcomed by scholars of the period as an indispensable primary source offering a valuable perspective on the formation and development of Nazi ideology."

.... Thank you Jim for sending this to me.

Posted by Wild Thing at September 22, 2009 05:45 AM


Yeah-why is the NEA gettin' involved with this mess? Coming from a more "creative" background with music, drama and band, I'm dismayed and disgusted. Not all artists are liberals, but the NEA is pushing it too hard. They should stay neutral and get out of it. It's none of their business. What next? Jay-Z and Kanye get Kennedy Center Honors awards?

Posted by: Lynn at September 22, 2009 08:19 AM

"thought leaders"

Chilling words, dangerous words.

Hitler had a willing audience of creative people in the early decades of the 1900's - read about the gatherings of artist, musicians and writers that hung out in Europe all discussing Socialism and Progressivism. It was a new way of governing then and many thought it the next step in the evolution of humanity.

That worked out well....

Posted by: yankeemom at September 22, 2009 08:58 AM

Yeah the NEA goes back to when Hitler was hanging Wallpaper.

When the NEA takes Federal money to pay for a Mason jar, crusafix then they pee in the jar put in the cross and call that ART, that is a waste of money. Thats the kind of 'art' our tax dollars are going for.

Posted by: Mark at September 22, 2009 11:54 AM

Using my tax dollars to pay a group of professional artists to campaign for obama's political programs is pure corruption. Of course, corruption is the obama game plan.

The NEA is mostly liberal to begin with. Using the arts as propaganda has been used for centuries by rulers. Look at the stuff you see coming out of N Korea or Cuba. obama is a sleazy bastard thinking he is a ruler rather than a servant of the people.

Posted by: TomR at September 22, 2009 02:36 PM

I agree with all of you so much.

Posted by: Wild Thing at September 23, 2009 12:29 AM