Though I have better things to do, I actually read through the transcript of the call [the disputed conference call between NEA rep's and a volunteer group of artists] just now to see if there was really anything "explosive" inside. There wasn't.You can just see Breitbart and Beck salivating at the thought of some sort of Mapplethorpe-redux hitjob on the NEA. The good ol' days of the culture wars.
The post claims, as Beck did previously, that this call proves that the Obama administration is using the NEA for partisan political purposes, and strongly implies (without actually saying so) that NEA money is somehow being funneled to progressives causes.
But the call is actually far more benign. It appears to have been organized by a group of progressive artists who want to, through their art, raise public awareness about various issues they care about. Invited to participate on the call were a low-level staffer from the White House Office of Public Engagement and the former Communications Director at the NEA (he was apparently transferred to another position at the NEA after this story broke).
When asked to speak, the White House staffer gives some boilerplate talking points about how the art community can really make a difference politically if they put their minds to it. The NEA communications guy is then given a similar chance to talk and says much of the same things, indicating how happy he is to be working at the NEA and encouraging the artists on the call to get involved.
In terms of optics, it was certainly not a good idea for the NEA communications director to participate in such a call (which is probably why he is not the communications director anymore). That organization is not supposed to be involved in political advocacy.
But unless [conservative blogger Andrew] Breitbart's got a lot more, this is the political equivalent of jaywalking. Neither the NEA nor the White House organized this call and the staffers on the call basically gave boilerplate cheerleading remarks. There is nothing in the call that suggests that NEA money or grants were being funneled to progressive artists or anything of the sort. And the White House is of course free to participate on calls with supporters and encourage them to be pro-active. That's what the Office of Public Engagement does.
So far, thankfully, all it's provoked is a collective yawn in the rest of the country. However, do remember that said NEA communications director (Yosi Sergant) did take a bullet for this--consistent with the Obama strategy of diffusing culture-way fights by getting the lightening rod in question out of the spotlight asap.
Still no comment from Chairman Rocco, as far as I know.
PS. Even better/funnier take here. Yep, Sergant's been "Becked" alright.