White House amends rules after "inappropriate" NEA conference call

When the story of the conference call conducted by the National Endowment of the Arts first broke, the White House attempted to ignore it.  After Big Hollywood published the audio of White House officials presenting “specific asks” for grant recipients to plug Barack Obama’s domestic agenda, the media began pushing for more answers.  Jake Tapper reports today that the story has forced the Obama administration to do the obligatory issuance of “new guidelines” to avoid a repeat:

An August 10, 2009 National Endowment for the Arts conference call in which artists were asked to help support President Obama’s agenda — a call that at least one good government group called “inappropriate” — has prompted the White House to issue new guidelines to prevent such a call from ever happening again.

“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.”  …

After listening to the transcript and the audio posted at the conservative website BigHollywood.Breitbart.com — secretly recorded by Los Angeles filmmaker Patrick Couriellech — Melanie Sloan, executive director of the good-government group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), told ABC News that the call was “disturbing.”

“Government agencies are not supposed to be engaged in political activities,” Sloan said. “Here, because they didn’t veer off into ‘This is about the election,’ where you’d get into violations of the Hatch Act, it’s not illegal. But it doesn’t look good — it looks terrible. It’s inappropriate.”

The White House continues to insist that the allegations of politicization are “false and misleading,” but the call clearly attempted to push grant recipients into hitting the favorite themes of the Obama administration’s domestic agenda.  Anyone who listened to that call knew exactly what Sergant and Buffy Wicks wanted from the artist community — propaganda.  The demand for “specific asks” made it sound as though grant funding would depend or at least get influenced by that participation.

Congress should investigate this, although with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid in charge, they certainly won’t.  It will be up to Republicans to inform voters of this “disturbing” attempt to create a Ministry of Propaganda — and to make the argument for abolishing the NEA once and for all.  As long as government acts as a patron, the impulse to do what the Obama administration attempted here will be too strong for some to resist.