Fox distorts evidence to invent new White House/artists scandal

››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN

A FoxNews.com article distorted a report about a meeting Obama administration officials had with artists, falsely claiming that the report indicated that the White House "convened" the meeting in order to "push the president's domestic agenda." In fact, it reportedly was the artists involved -- not the White House -- that originally requested the meeting, and the Fox News article itself stated that one of the co-authors of the report that the article cited "said there was absolutely no pressure on any of the artists to follow a political line."

From the September 24 FoxNews.com article:

The White House convened a meeting of 60 artists to help push the president's domestic agenda in May, months before a controversial conference call with artists in August led to the reassignment and, on Thursday, the resignation of the communications director of the National Endowment for the Arts.

In what some critics are calling a "troubling" early effort by the Obama administration to politicize the NEA, rappers, dancers, writers and other activists from around the country were invited to a May 12 session next door to the White House, where they were "challenged to come up with promising and attractive ideas about how artists can work for the administration's agenda," according to a report written by organizers of the meeting.

[...]

One participant in the May 12 session "suggested the people in the room equaled a think tank to serve the administration's aims and asked how in practical terms we could connect to the administration's work," the report says.

[...]

It is the second such push to come to light, after an uproar over [then-NEA communications director Yosi] Sergant's statements on an Aug. 11 conference call with another set of artists, whom he asked to develop projects supporting initiatives on "health care, education, the environment" and other administration priorities.

Fox's claim that White House used meeting to push Obama "domestic agenda" contradicted by evidence -- including evidence it reported

Report's co-author "said there was absolutely no pressure on any of the artists to follow a political line" at White House meeting. In the first sentence of the article, Fox News claimed that the White House "convened" the briefing to "push the president's domestic agenda." Not until much later in the article, however, did Fox News report that the artists involved dispute both of these claims. In the 15th paragraph, Fox News reported that "[a]rtists who were present at the meeting in May said it was organized at their own behest." And the Fox News article reported in its 16th paragraph that one of the co-authors of the artists' report that Fox relied on for its article "said there was absolutely no pressure on any of the artists to follow a political line."

From the FoxNews.com article:

Artists who were present at the meeting in May said it was organized at their own behest to help promote "community, culture and the well-being of our nation."

Arlene Goldbard, a writer and one of the four artists who helped coordinate the process and prepare the meeting notes, said there was absolutely no pressure on any of the artists to follow a political line

"One staffer from the NEA spoke at the meeting. He extended greetings, talked briefly about the NEA, and took questions," Goldbard wrote in an e-mail to FOXNews.com.

"It is false to try to make anything more out of this. The meeting report is publicly available and speaks for itself."

Report Fox cited says artists' ability to "work with many public initiatives ... like job creation, education and labor" not part of briefing. The report, which was written by the artists who organized the meeting and which Fox News cited as the basis for its article, says that artists' potential roles in pushing several high-profile "public initiatives" were not part of the White House briefing -- a fact that appears to undermine the claim that the White House used the meeting to push its domestic agenda:

Second, almost every speaker assured us that the administration "gets it" when it comes to the importance of arts and culture to organizing for positive change.

This is encouraging, and as we understood going in, the opening exchange in a continuing conversation. After the briefing, we recognized there was ample room for mutual education, for artists and creative organizers to learn more about public policy and program development processes and how to work most effectively with the public sector; and for the administration to learn more about how artists and creative organizers can work with many public initiatives, including areas like job creation, education and labor, which were not represented at the briefing.

Fox distorts quotes to manufacture evidence of political pressure

Fox falsely suggested White House wrote that it "challenged" artists to "work for the administration's agenda." One paragraph after claiming that the White House "convened" the meeting, Fox News reported that the artists at the briefing "were 'challenged to come up with promising and attractive ideas about how artists can work for the administration's agenda,' according to a report written by organizers of the meeting" -- falsely suggesting that the White House wrote the report and acknowledged "challeng[ing]" the artists to "work for the administration's agenda." In fact, it was the artists -- not the White House -- that reportedly organized the meeting and wrote the report, and they did not allege that the White House actually "challenged" them to "work for the administration's agenda." Rather, the artists' report describes how, "overall," the artists "came away feeling."

From the report:

Overall, we came away feeling that there would be room at the table for artists and creative organizers to take part in conversations about relevant policies and programs; and that we were being challenged to come up with promising and attractive ideas about how artists can work for the administration's agenda and how artists' work can be integral to national recovery.

Fox failed to make clear that "participant" who suggested "serv[ing] the administration's aims" was not an admin. official. The Fox News article reported: "One participant in the May 12 session 'suggested the people in the room equaled a think tank to serve the administration's aims and asked how in practical terms we could connect to the administration's work,' the report says." But Fox News failed to explain that the "participant" who reportedly suggested this was a member of the arts community, not a member of the Obama administration.

From the report:

Q: William Cleveland, Center for the Study of Art & Community, noted that he appreciated [chief of staff for the White House Office of Public Liaison Mike] Strautmanis's words about seeking advice, input and connections. He suggested the people in the room equaled a think tank to serve the administration's aims, and asked how in practical terms we could connect to the administration's policy work.

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