UPDATE: The NEA has updated their statement to emphasize that Yosi Sargent remains with the agency, but in a different position: "As regards Yosi Sergant, he has not left the National Endowment for the Arts. He remains with the agency, although not as director of communications."
Sources familiar with the situation say that the move represents a significant step down and was the result of the controversy. Discussion about his new duties is still ongoing.
Glenn Beck has struck again.
Yosi Sergant, who recently popped up on Beck's radar for his involvement in a conference call on national service, has been asked to resign as communications director by the National Endowment for the Arts, sources familiar with the move tell the Huffington Post.
At issue was an August conference call in which the NEA encouraged select artists to participate in an administration project dubbed "United We Serve" and led by the first lady.
Beck attacked Sergant and the NEA on his Fox News talk show, accusing the agency of propaganda efforts similar to those used by Nazi Germany. And now Sergant has been tossed overboard, making him Beck's second victim in his campaign to rid the administration of perceived radicals, socialists, communists, fascists, anarchists and all other manner of nefarious influences.
Perhaps not coincidentally, both Sergant and Van Jones - Beck's first takedown - have roots in on-the-ground organizing and were tightly connected with the grassroots progressive community.
The NEA wouldn't comment on Sergant's situation specifically, saying that it was a confidential personnel matter.
The White House did not come to Sergant's defense but says it was not involved in asking him to leave. "The White House did not ask for Mr. Sergant's resignation," administration spokesman Shin Inouye told HuffPost.
But the NEA did provide this statement:
"On August tenth, the National Endowment for the Arts participated in a call 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. The NEA regularly does outreach to various organizations to inform of the work we are doing and the resources available to them."
[UPDATE: The NEA adds this line to the statement: "As regards Yosi Sergant, he has not left the National Endowment for the Arts. He remains with the agency, although not as director of communications." Sources familiar with the situation say that the move represents a significant step down and was the result of the controversy. Discussion about his new duties is still ongoing.]
An artist on the call recorded it and gave the recording to Beck, who played it on air as proof of a government conspiracy to co-opt arts organizations and warp the minds of Americans. "Your government is trying to trick you, use your tax dollars to change your mind. It's called propaganda. The people involved in the conference call, including the White House, knew that this was on the fence if not outright illegal," says Beck.
Sergant has a long history with the Obama campaign, having led the media effort for Shepard Fairey, the artist behind the iconic "Hope" portrait that Obama has credited with helping him win. (See this L.A. Weekly profile to get a feel for Sergant.)
On Sept. 1, Beck came after Sergant. After claiming that Nazi propaganda was based on America's early 20th-century progressive movement, Beck says that the progressives are at it again.
The Corporation for National and Community Service is a public-private partnership created in 1993 with a mission similar to one Obama pressed during his campaign, during which he repeatedly promoted national and community service.
For Beck, however, the service promotion is a specter of totalitarianism and he interviewed an artist who said that he was uncomfortable working in coordination with the White House.
The Washington Times editorial page also came after Sergant, asking if the NEA had invited artists to be on the conference call.
"The NEA didn't invite...We were a participant in a call. It was a third party that did the invitation," Sergant told the conservative page.
The Times published an invite that Sergant had sent out, saying it had caught him committing "official dishonesty." It's a nice gotcha, but would the Bush administration have cut such an aide loose?
Sergant didn't return a call and the NEA declined to comment further. Press officers with the Corporation for National and Community Service didn't immediately return calls.
Sergant is, by all accounts, a highly-talented grassroots organizer and promoter, but communications director for the NEA is a position that requires a high level of political dexterity: the arts agency is constantly under fire from extremist activists who see it as propagating a liberal, libertine agenda. The day the culture war is finally declared over, there will still be skirmishes over the NEA.
Beck, however, is now trolling for bigger fish. Shortly after taking out Van Jones, he sent a note to his followers instructing them: "FIND EVERYTHING YOU CAN ON CASS SUNSTEIN, MARK LLOYD AND CAROL BROWNER."
UPDATE: The initial story about Sergant and the NEA conference call first appeared on the conservative blog Big Hollywood, which is run by Andrew Breitbart, a friend and ally of Matt Drudge, who runs the Drudge Report. Breitbart first ran a blog post by the artist later interviewed by Beck.
Ryan Grim is the author of This Is Your Country On Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America