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Smear: Using The NEA, The Administration Urged Artists To Promote Legislative Agenda

September 21, 2009 2:26 pm ET

Conservatives are accusing the National Endowment for the Arts of attempting to finance propaganda for the Obama administration.  In reality, the NEA and Serve.gov hosted a conference call to inform artistic leaders about opportunities to give back to their communities.

Smear: Using The NEA, The Administration Urged Artists To Promote Legislative Agenda

BigHollywood.com:

On Thursday August 6th, I was invited by the National Endowment for the Arts to attend a conference call scheduled for Monday August 10th hosted by the NEA, the White House Office of Public Engagement, and United We Serve. The call would include "a group of artists, producers, promoters, organizers, influencers, marketers, taste-makers, leaders or just plain cool people to join together and work together to promote a more civically engaged America and celebrate how the arts can be used for a positive change!" [BigGovernment.com, 8/25/09]

Glenn Beck:

It is there that I learned that Goebbels in Germany actually said they lost World War I because of propaganda from the West. They studied American propaganda coming from the progressives in the Woodrow Wilson administration. I learned that we had 150,000 political prisoners in this nation because people spoke out against the administration and the war. I'm going to show you the beginning of something that should scare the living daylights out of you. It is propaganda in America. The National Endowment for the Arts is now holding conference calls. [Fox News, 9/2/09]

Sources

Andrew Breitbart
Patrick Courrielche
BigHollywood.com
Glenn Beck
Fox News
Sen. John Cornyn

The Truth

The National Endowment for the Arts, along with Representatives from Serve.gov, did hold a conference call with groups to "join together and work together to promote a more civically engaged America and celebrate how the arts can be used for a positive change!" 

However, the paranoid right's characterization of the call is downright false.  Rather than promote the President's legislative agenda, the conference call was meant to urge listeners to organize and participate in volunteer service events.  That's it. 

Accordingly, representatives from Serve.gov participated in the phone call.  Serve.gov is an online resource allowing Americans to find volunteer service opportunities in their communities.  It is purely non-partisan and non-political

The Administration has begun this work with dramatic new investments in education, health care and clean energy, but we cannot do this alone here in Washington. Economic recovery is as much about what you're doing in your communities as what we're doing in Washington - and it's going to take all of us, working together.

The administration believes that in order to help those most effected by the economic crisis, Americans must reach out to others within their communities.  As President Obama himself said:

My Administration has already begun this work with dramatic new investments in education, health care and clean energy - investments that will create new jobs and lay the foundation for lasting prosperity.

But we cannot do this alone here in Washington. We can rebuild our schools, but we need people to be mentors and tutors in those schools. We can modernize our health care system, but we need volunteers in our hospitals and communities to help care for the sick and help people lead healthier lives. We can invest in clean energy, but we need people to use energy-efficient products in their homes and train for the green jobs of the future.

Lastly, in response to the political attacks, the National Endowment for the Arts released a statement saying:

On August tenth, the National Endowment for the Arts participated in a call with arts organizations to inform them of the president's call to national service. The White House office of public engagement also participated in the call, which provided information on how the Corporation for National and Community Service can assist groups interested in sponsoring service projects or having their members volunteer on other projects. This 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.

UPDATE: On September 22, the White House responded further. According to ABC News:

"The point of the call was to encourage voluntary participation in a national service initiative by the arts community," White House spokesman Bill Burton told ABC News. "To the extent there was any misunderstanding about what the NEA may do to support the national service initiative, we will correct it. We regret any comments on the call that may have been misunderstood or troubled other participants. We are fully committed to the NEA's historic mission, and we will take all steps necessary to ensure that there is no further cause for questions or concerns about that commitment."

[...]

White House officials say they are enacting specific steps to make sure such a call never happens again.

Today White House officials are meeting with the chiefs of staff of the executive branch agencies to discuss rules and best practices in this area, a conversation during which they will be told that that while White House lawyers do not believe that the NEA call violated the law, "the appearance issues troubled some participants," Burton said. "It is the policy of the administration that grant decisions should be on the merits and that government officials should avoid even creating the incorrect appearance that politics has anything to do with these decisions."

Additionally, the NEA released a statement saying:

Fact 1: The former NEA Director of Communications helped organize and participated in an August 10th conference call to introduce members of the arts community to United We Serve and to provide them with information on how the Corporation for National and Community Service can assist groups interested in sponsoring service projects or having their members volunteer on other projects.

Fact 2: The former NEA Director of Communications acted unilaterally and without the approval or authorization of then-Acting Chairman Patrice Walker Powell.

Fact 3: This call was not a means to promote any legislative agenda and any suggestions to that end are simply false. Rather, the call was to inform members of the arts community of an opportunity to become involved in volunteerism.

Fact 4: Some of the language used by the former NEA Director of Communications was, unfortunately, not appropriate and did not reflect the position of the NEA. This employee has been relieved of his duties as director of communications.

Fact 5: This call was completely unrelated to NEA's grantmaking, which is highly regarded for its independence and integrity. Artistic quality, excellence and merit are the guidelines for decision-making; favoritism or political affiliation plays no role in NEA grantmaking.

Fact 6: The NEA is a successful, independent federal agency that has supported the best of the arts and arts education for nearly 45 years. We take our responsibility to the American public very seriously and are committed to upholding this public trust.



 


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