Yosi Sergant : The Next Van Jones?

By Gorman Gorman

Sep 10, 2009 3:51pm

 ABC News' Yunji de Nies reports: Last week, FOX News' Glenn Beck spent a solid amount of airtime blasting Yosi Sergant – then-National Endowment for the Arts' spokesman – accusing him and his agency for using government tax dollars to create propaganda for the Obama Administration.  Today, the NEA says Sergant has been reassigned.  So is he the next Van Jones?

At issue: a conference call Sergant led on August 10th.  A number of artists and arts organizations were invited to participate, via email.  One line in the invitation Sergant sent on August 6th reads, "A call has come in to our generation. A call from the top. A call from a house that is White. A call that we must answer."

On that conference call, Sergant appears to encourage the listeners to create art to further the Administration's agenda – by promoting the United We Serve campaign and create art specific to areas of health care, education and the environment.  LA filmmaker Patrick Couriellech was on the call and secretly recorded it. 

He told Beck, "We were told several times throughout the conference call that we were selected for a reason, that these are the people that helped Obama come into the office. They used the HOPE poster and the will.i.am as specific examples of how this group played a role in getting this man elected."

Couriellech blogged about the call and turned the recording over the Beck because, "This is not what the government was meant to do it.  And this is not what the National Endowment for the Arts was meant to do.  They are there to promote the arts, increase access to the arts and be a leader for education in the arts.  Not the push issues."
 
Sergant seemed to know he may have been treading shaky ground.  In another portion of the call, he says, "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.  We're still trying to figure out the laws of putting government websites of Facebook and the use of Twitter.  This is all being sorted out.  We are participating in history as it's being made, so bear with us as we learn the language so that we can speak to each other safely.  And we can really work together to move the needle to get stuff done."

Sally Gifford, a spokeswoman for the NEA, said that Sergant had been reassigned, but declined to comment further, calling this a "personnel matter."  In a written statement the agency defended the conference call, saying that they had participated in it, "with arts organizations to inform them of the President's call to national service.  The White House Office of Public Engagement also participated in the call, which provided information on how the Corporation for National and Community Service can assist groups interested in sponsoring service projects or having their members volunteer on other projects.   This call was not a means to promote any legislative agenda and any suggestions to that end are simply false."

Administration spokesman Shin Inoyue said, "The White House did not and has not asked for him [Sergant] to resign," and referred the matter back to the NEA. UPDATE: Inouye said the White House does not believe the incident reflects a politicization of NEA funding.  “The United We Serve effort is an attempt to get Americans from all walks of life to answer the President’s call for people to get involved with their communities,” he said.

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