Buffy The Propaganda Payer? Obama Administration Accused of Asking NEA Artists To Promote the President and His Policies

WicksBuffy Wicks, deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement has been accused (with others) of encouraging artists supported by the National Endowment for the Arts to produce works supporting President Obama and his policies. The story first appeared in BigGovernment.com.

On the transcript of an hour-long conference call, Buffy Wicks states “We’re going to need your help, and we’re going to come at you with some specific ‘asks’ here,. But we know that you guys are ready for it and eager to participate, so one we want to thank you, and two, I hope you guys are ready.” Personally, I am more concerned about a high-ranking official using the verb “to ask” as a noun. That falls into the category of saying “my Bad” as an immediate cause to be sent to Gitmo for waterboarding and re-education.

The conference call was also arranged through United We Serve and included NEA Director of Communications Yosi Sergant and Michael Skolnik, political director for hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.

Yosi Sergant added his own questionable political and grammatical demand in naming an “ask”: “Pick — I would encourage you to pick something, whether it’s health care, education, the environment, you know, there’s four key areas that the corporation has identified as the areas of service. My ask would be to apply artistic, you know, your artistic creative communities’ utilities and bring them to the table.”

Skolnick added “[y]ou are the thought leaders,” Skolnik told the artists. “You are the ones that, if you create a piece of art or promote a piece of art or create a campaign . . . through this group that we can create a stronger community amongst ourselves to get involved in things that we’re passionate about as we did during the campaign but continue to get involved in those things, to support some of the president’s initiatives, but also to do things that we are passionate about and to push the president and push his administration.”

Critics are charging that this is nothing short of an effort to use of public-supported artists for “propaganda.” I am not sure that that is fair, but it is certainly true that liberals would have been outraged by the same statements from Bush officials. I honestly do not believe that this was an effort coercing artists or usurping the NEA, but it was clearly bad judgment on the part of these officials.

In the interest of fairness, I must confess that I have never liked this office, which is part of the Office of Public Liaison. The OPL has always been controversial since its time under Nixon and Chuck Colson. Nevertheless, if the office is composed of political operatives seeking to advance the President’s policies, it is going to reach out to artists and others to achieve that goal. The problem is that the NEA has always been controversial in the use of public funds to support artists. To add a political agenda or consideration will only serve to reinforce critics who want to cut the NEA funding entirely.

16 thoughts on “Buffy The Propaganda Payer? Obama Administration Accused of Asking NEA Artists To Promote the President and His Policies”

  1. Ten bucks says that after this conference call all the participant attended their respective vegan potlucks and UNIRONICALLY whined about the demonstratively false accusations of “astroturfing” on the right.

  2. I have to vote with Dredd and Buddha on this one. I agree that the NEA needs to keep politics at a distance, but this situation is a minor distraction, at worst.

  3. Thoughts from someone who won’t be a “thought leader” under Obama’s NEA:

    “…Shepard’s choice to become an instrumental part in creating brand Obama, given his street level marketing style, often illegal, provided a legitimacy that was certainly needed by the Obama campaign. Seeing Obama on every street corner in soviet-style branding (read “pro worker, average guy, savior”) was shocking precisely because of what Hedges describes as spectacle on the one hand, and the illusion of street cred provided by Shepard’s style on the other.

    I thought I was seeing Mao and Che everywhere, as though this was some populist uprising against the ruling class, against a cynically corrupt political class. Far from it. It *was* the ruling class inverting and misdirecting our anger in order to advance a corporatist political party and agenda. Genius. Horrendous. No doubt, it had a profound affect on all of our psyches.

    But “HOPE” should have read “HYPE” and “PROGRESS” should have read “REGRESS”. It was the epitome of bumper sticker politics: immediate gratification, feel good symbolism; very consistent with our hyperactive, but shallow corporate culture.

    What I feared most came true once Obama was elected; namely, acquiescence, justifications and silence on the part of most Obama supporters in the face of continued war crimes, increased military aggression, protection for financial criminals, putting a better face on our violence in the world, etc. All entirely predictable and predicted. Even if McCain had won, and he continued Bush’s policies (like Obama), do you think people would be as passive as they are now? Obama accomplished what no Republican could: defense of the indefensible and the silencing of dissent (self-censorship?) by his undeterred supporters.

    I was terrified when I saw those posters. It was a gift to the corporate state, and fit in neatly with their desire to redefine the presidency as a safe brand, street brand, brand Obama, never mind history, never mind imperialism, never mind a critique of corporate power. Just do it. Yes we can. Progress. Hope. And shut the fuck up. That was the message.

    Obama was overwhelmingly supported financially by the corporate class, contrary to the myth of the army of small donors accounting for the majority of money he raised. It was the most expensive campaign ever run. And now it is payback time for Obama. And it’s obvious.

    “Yes We Did!”, it is yelled as if punching a button in a booth is going to change the nature of capitalism’s amorality and our wars of aggression, or ease the suffering we have inflicted on the innocent. “Yes We Did (rebrand the U.S. empire in the interests of corporate America, and delude ourselves into thinking “change” was real)!”


  4. The problem with the NEA has been the same since its’ creation. It is the creature of whichever administration is in power, or you might not get your grants. Same problem with PBS. The problem with artists in general, though is that many have often been creatures of the wealthy, or have starved like Van Gogh eking out an unhappy existence.

    Anyone with talent, who wants to make it their life, faces this dilemma. Either get a patron with bucks, or starve. Diego Rivera for instance, was supported by the Communist Party. When he was hired by the Rockefeller to do the mural at Rockefeller Center, it was their understanding that he wouldn’t embarass them. If he didn’t have the Party behind him, he might not have been so daring. And so it goes.

    As to expressions like “my bad” or the abbreviations of whole thoughts, they set my teeth on edge. The same holds true though when a woman refers to her breasts as “the girls.” I hate euphemisms and I hate the deterioration of language brought about by the modern world of communication. This of course identifies me as the old fart I am.

  5. I have to go with Dredd on this one. As far as propaganda goes, this is amateur night. Then again, everything Colson has ever touched turned to crap so I’m not too shocked. One of my favorite Carlin jokes is the only reason Colson found Jesus is that Jesus didn’t see him coming. Not a fan of the NEA. There are better ways to fund artists if that’s the goal. As a propaganda organ for the President? I think they are demonstrating how well that’s working in this instance. Art and propaganda can mix (see WWII posters from any side – some of them are art), but the result is not always propaganda. I think I can safely say that no one was ever brainwashed by an NEA project. Except maybe Colson. And that statue covering twit Ashcroft, but I digress.

    For true masters of the dark art, see the Pentagon, any lobbyist, anyone in television/radio/internet advertising management or news “delivery” (as opposed to actual journalists – you know, the people who have a real job), the Chinese government and Hollywood.

  6. mini cabbages with butter? Ok, they were sold to me that way ok. One must wonder the value of them but they are rich in B Vitamins. Thats good enough for me. I can get over the taste, now tripe, meudo, charizo and/or liver. NOT A CHANCE. But every part of aa cow must be used. I don’t like cow or animal tongue. Now, that is defined.

  7. Prof. Turley and Jill have it exactly right on this issue. Conservatives have been trying to eliminate NEA funding for years, and the fact that this conference call even took place provides great ammunition for those who believe that tax dollars should not be used to assist the arts. And yes, I would have been outraged had the Bush administration attempted something similar. It was bad enough that scientific reports were routinely edited for political purposes during his reign.

    Ms. Wicks needs to be returned to the real world to seek alternative employment opportunities, as should anyone else involved in this cheap propaganda scheme.

  8. Slickone – I have asked. Usually I’m just ignored, although occasionally some kind soul does define it for me, usually with an air of superiority at my ignorance.

    IIRC, as far as I can figure out, probably means “If I Remember Correctly.” Oh, and BTW, in case you haven’t run into that one, means “by the way.”

    Your first paragraph nails it as far as I’m concerned. “My bad,” is a way of saying “I was mistaken,” without actually having to say “I didn’t have my brain engaged so I resorted to talking like a three year old, but since I’m adorable you don’t require a bald faced admission that ‘I screwed up’.”

    I have no explanation whatsoever for “veggies,” other than it being an attempt to making brussels sprouts sound more appealing, a wasted effort once one comes face to face with those uninspiring little cabbages. One of these times I’ll find a reason to hold forth on my opinion of those pitiful little critters that retailers are passing off as chicken, but for now, brussels sprouts will have to suffice. IMHO while I’m ROTFL.

  9. Leah,

    I could not agree more in what you say. But then again, some people have nothing else to say and feel obligated to say something. Here in lays a central question: My Bad? What does that really mean? Does it mean that excuse me but I was too stupid to think straight, so I am sorry or I am being a smart ass with nothing really constructive to say and I certainly don’t mean, that I was wrong in the least?

    What I have learned is if: You can cipher through the BS some people have some really interesting things to say. But then again, I have found out here, that if you do not understand what someone is saying. Just ask them.

    I have no clue as to what this means, will you define this”IIRC”? Thank you.

  10. What happens to “thought leaders” and artists who aren’t with the program? What if they look at Obama’s positions on these very issues and do some really in your face pieces that disagree with Obama’s actions? What if they point out that many of Obama’s programs are exactly the same as Bush’s?

    I’m guessing this isn’t what “the ask” is about.

  11. I may be missing the central point here, but you’ve touched on what is to me a very annoying aspect of reading on the internet, or for that matter listening to people talk these days.

    I guess I can live with “LOL,” and acronyms like “IMHO” although I frequently find myself sitting and staring at my computer screen, wondering what that person is trying to say. IIRC still sounds to me like some kind of secret government agency that is probably up to no good. But when it comes to the one noted above, that being “my bad” from people who are presumably grown-ups, it sets my teeth to grinding. I don’t know if it’s ignorance, or just plain laziness, or trying too hard to be precious. I have an almost visceral reaction to someone asking me online for my “addy” or “addie.” (That’s “address” for all you English speaking types.)

    Thinking back, it seems to me it started with calling vegetables, “veggies,” Then carbohydrates became “carbs,” and away we went with inventing a kind of shorthand speech that would never get past a 5th grade English teacher.

    Now a question becomes an “ask?” Lord help us.

  12. That was how Der Fuhrer started to win zee war. Well heck that has been used a long time before that and it just was not put in print. Sig Hiel.

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