There have been some significant recent developments in the whole NEA conference call “scandal,” so rather than consign them to the next around the horn post, I figured I’d wrap them up for you here.
- The most important development is that Big Hollywood and Patrick Courrielche have finally released the full transcript and audio from the first conference call, the more controversial of the two. (My firsthand report on the August 27 conference call, which I don’t have a transcript of but was so inoffensive I can’t describe it as anything other than milquetoast, is here.) Here’s the transcript (with the “scary” parts conveniently highlighted for you in yellow or red):
As you can see, the highlighted portions include such SCANDALOUS passages as this question from the audience (page 44):
MS. BAN: 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 Serve.gov 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.
MR. SKOLNICK: Excellent point, Liz. Do Nell or Yosi, do you want to take that question?
MS. ABERNATHY: 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 Serve.gov 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. So if you’re interested in getting involved with OFA that’s run through the DNC now, I could probably put you in — I could help you with who to contact. I could get that information to Michael and he could get it out. We can’t sort of — as a representative of the corporation, I’m not capable of giving you more guidance than just sending you to the right person.
What’s that I read? Federal employees UNDERSTANDING THE LAW and FOLLOWING IT? Sacre bleu! I think I’m going to faint! HOW could our government have failed us so!?!?! And if that’s not bad enough, further investigation of the infamous HIGHLY PARTISAN “four service areas” indicates that they include such HIGHLY PARTISAN priorities as “getting kids library cards,” “food shelters,” “weatherizing homes,” and “children nutrition”!!!! And they give an example (the only example given, mind you) of an ideal service project that involves an artist organizing people in the community to PICK UP TRASH OFF THE STREETS and make a SCULPTURE OUT OF IT!!!! Good God, somebody hold me!!!!!
In case it wasn’t already obvious, this firsthand documentation makes clearer than ever that this was a premeditated, intentional hatchet job on the National Endowment for the Arts and Yosi Sergant specifically. Just to recap, Patrick Courrielche, a heretofore little-known filmmaker and marketing strategist who knew Sergant personally from the time when Sergant used to work for him, was invited to participate in the call and “participated” by dialing in, declining to announce himself like everyone else on the call did, secretly recording the entire thing, and shortly afterwards writing a paranoid concern-troll piece for a conservative website and sending the audio to Glenn Beck. (In fact, Lisa Derrick at HuffPo notes that Courrielche may have broken the law by secretly recording the conference call without the participants’ knowledge or consent. That would be one more law broken by Courrielche than by the NEA, if Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is to be believed.) Courrielche has since driven forward nearly every aspect of this story, slowly leaking out “new developments” and driving a hell of a lot of traffic to his website in process. And suddenly, he’s a hero of the teabagging right and quite a bit more famous than he used to be. Remember, this guy’s a professional marketing strategist. Coincidence?
- In other news, the Washington Times dug up a partial list of the people on the conference call provided by “a participant” (gee, want to take a wild guess which one it was?). Contra another false meme about this story, the list shows that the vast majority of participants were individual commercial artists and representatives of for-profit companies — people and organizations that are not now, nor will ever be grantees of the National Endowment for the Arts. Go ahead, see for yourself. (Though the Times‘s coverage has been quite slanted overall, to their credit they did print this cold shower of a letter-to-the-editor from Kevin Erickson of the All-Ages Movement Project.)
- The NEA finally responds with a statement from Rocco Landesman on why Yosi Sergant was reassigned. He is now listed as New Media and Special Projects Advisor. The LA Times has a further statement clarifying that the specific language that Landesman found objectionable was,
“I would encourage you to pick something, whether it’s health care, education, the environment. There’s four key areas that the corporation [the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that supports volunteerism] has identified as areas of service. Then my ask would be to apply your artistic, creative community utilities. Bring them to the table.”
- Commentary from arts bloggers: 99 Seats, who decries the hypocrisy; Mirror Up to Nature, who thinks it’s a-gonna get worse; Issac Butler, who wonders if we shouldn’t just let the NEA be the sacrificial lamb here.
- Commentary from people more famous than you or me: Andrew Sullivan dishes; ABC News reports; Anonymous Liberal adds perspective.
- And finally, looking to score some cheap political points with their base, a Senator and Representative are calling for investigations. And the White House, eager as it has been to dispose of controversy as quickly as possible, is now sending a memo telling officials to avoid “the appearance of conflict.”
If you’re reading this and wondering how to help, my advice would be to get off this site and visit some of the higher-profile stories on this (especially the more bipartisan ones) and represent your viewpoint. This issue has been much slower to surface on the liberal side of the blogosphere than on the right; it is a universal issue for them but only a niche issue for progressives. As a result, nearly every story on this is just littered by eloquent contributions in the comments like “Sounds like what Hitler did before killing all the Jewish people.” (For a demographic that delights in telling artists to “get a real job,” these people sure seem to have a lot of time on their hands.) A lot of people don’t have even a basic understanding of the facts underlying this story, because they never took the time to find out. For a great example of how to fight back intelligently and with zingers, see this post (and the comments too).
(UPDATE: Just like last time, news breaks just after I post. Yosi Sergant has resigned from his position and no longer works for the NEA.)