More NEA Scandal: Americans for the Arts Rips Washington Times’ “Poor Journalism”

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PropagandaRobert L. Lynch, the president and CEO of the powerful Americans for the Arts, has posted an uncharacteristically fiery and sarcastic response to a Washington Times editorial that, despite what certain bloggers suggest, may well propel the NEA-Obama-conspiracy mess further into the arms of the lunatic right-wing fringe.

Before reading Lynch’s response (containing possibly the most brilliant opening graph I’ve read in some time), it might be instructive to excerpt the Washington Times’ editorial:

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Last month, a top NEA official gathered artists and arts organizations in a conference call that also included a White House official and clearly asked the arts community to get behind the administration’s agenda, including the current top priority, health care. A mere 48 hours after the request, 21 art organizations led by an arts lobbying organization, Americans for the Arts, released the first of two public statements endorsing health care reform and urging Congress to act.

Such a meeting would be disturbing enough — a grant-maker backed by the White House asking grant recipients to support the administration agenda crosses the line from persuasion to coercion. Artists and arts groups that want funding from the NEA to continue cannot help but feel pressure to comply with the administration’s wishes. That alone is wrong.

However, when you add in the nearly $2 million the NEA handed out to those very arts organizations in the four months before the conference call — including more than $1 million in stimulus funds — it is time to start wondering whether a line has been crossed from merely unethical into the land of special prosecutors. Such an investigation might be the only way to get straight answers….

…here’s what then NEA Communications Director Sergant said on the conference call: “This is just the beginning. 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.”

….On Aug. 27 or 28, Robert L. Lynch, head of NEA grant recipient Americans for the Arts, met with Mr. Landesman. On Aug. 28, Mr. Lynch posted a preening podcast monologue about the event. The podcast was short on specifics, but there were tantalizing suggestions that Mr. Lynch’s discussion with the new NEA chairman had touched on health care and activism.

How tantalizing? Enough to cause Americans for the Arts to remove audio of the podcast from the Web page where it had been promoted. The disappearing act ended when The Washington Times called about the missing audio. Suddenly the audio reappeared.

….Mr. Lynch is important enough to have met twice with the Obama transition team to promote the idea of including money for the arts in the stimulus package, an idea that was adopted. Mr. Lynch’s organization is also an arts powerhouse; the affiliated political action committee gave $48,000 to Democrats in Congress during the last election cycle. So far this year, Americans for the Arts reports lobbying expenses of more than a quarter of a million dollars…

Here, then, is an excerpt from Lynch’s response:

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The White House and the NEA, which gives out grants, “pressured” 21 national arts organizations and a bunch of artists on a conference call to “comply with the Administration’s wishes” to advocate for health care which resulted in the release of statements endorsing health care reform and urging Congress to act. Plus, when the President and CEO of Americans for the Arts met with the incoming NEA Chair on August 27 or 28, as chronicled in a podcast by Americans for the Arts, Lynch must have been pushed into supporting health care reform because the podcast posted on his website mentioned it once, and then had a mysterious audio failure for a couple of days at the end of August. And when Ms. Picket called about the podcast it went back up.

Moderately interesting as fiction, this, however, is very poor journalism.

None of the 21 arts organizations, to my knowledge, were on the August 10 conference call, which was reported as for artists, arts marketers, and producers. So no opportunity to “pressure” there. Americans for the Arts did not even learn about the conference call until we read news reports about it in September. Additionally, artists, except for some writers, are not allowed to get direct grants from the NEA (even though they ought to be); but sorry, no pressure opportunity there either. And the health care statement by the 21 arts groups was begun and finished well before August 10.

…Americans for the Arts President and CEO Robert L. Lynch and NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman did not meet on August 27 or 28. They did meet earlier in August as chronicled in the informal podcast posted on the Americans for the Arts blog. They didn’t discuss health care. Ms. Picket never called about that podcast although our records do show that she called our communications staff to ask how much money we receive from the NEA.

…I am sure that Ms. Picket will find new tidbits to weave into her fiction simply because thousands of arts advocates have been talking about health care and the arts for many years now. What should not be obscured is that more than two million artists and some 5.8 million workers in the $167 billion nonprofit arts economy deserve decent health care. The arts are part of the solution. At the risk of giving Ms. Picket more unknown information for her to uncover just read our 1998 Monograph on the Arts in Medicine or our 2004 Monograph on the Culture of Care about the arts in U.S. hospitals.

…I hope you will address these inaccuracies accordingly and in guidance with your editorial policies. Should you wish talk about this further, I would be pleased to speak with you. Thank you for your time.

Americans for the Arts has also issued a finely detailed PDF outlining the inaccuracies of the Washington Times’ right-wing shill reporting.

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Bottom line: The Clyde Fitch Report has been warning the community and warning the community that the right-wing is going to restart the culture wars, to use the arts as a social wedge issue, to demonize American artists. If you deny it then all I have to ask is this question: What was Berlin in 1933 like? Tell us, we’d like to know.

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