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Yosi Sergant Speaks

Morgen on February 10, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Yosi Sergant, you may recall, was the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) official who took the fall for the infamous conference call last summer exposed by BigJournalism.com for organizing media propaganda in support of the White House political agenda. The NEA initially defended his role in this affair, but he was demoted from his Director role and ultimately resigned in September 2009 as the controversy continued to swell within conservative media.

Sergant recently spoke about the affair at length with his friend and blogger Hillel Aron from the USC Annenberg School of Journalism’s Neon Tommy blog. Regardless of my political differences with Sergant and the writer, I found the entire piece fascinating as a tale of an enterprising young activist’s rise from obscurity to semi-prominence within an Administration he worked so passionately to elect into office. Only to have this same Administration unceremoniously dump him to the curb when his well-intended, if poorly thought out, actions related to the aforementioned conference call resulted in a PR problem for the White House.

I really encourage you to read the whole thing, but this segment nicely sums up the essence of Sergant’s story:

“Didn’t it piss you off that no one spoke up for you?” I asked Yosi.

“No, I got it,” he said.

“Really?” I asked incredulously, “cause you spent two years of your life helping this guy become president, and no one came to your defense. I’m pissed. Why aren’t you pissed?”

“I wasn’t worth defending.”

“Really?”

“I don’t believe that what I did was wrong,” he said, “I believe that what I did came at a time when all the focus was on health care reform, and that that’s where they needed to put their time and energy… could they have stood up for me if they wanted to? Sure. Am I worth the political capital? They had just lost Van Jones.”

He paused, lost in thought. “I think they made a bad decision to put me in a job without giving me any kind of guidance, not providing me with any kind of mentorship. That was a bad decision. I’d never worked in government before. Where’s the handbook? Maybe they made assumptions that at this level, you’d better be that good.”

I believe the real tragedy, and still untold story here is that Sergant took the fall for playing only a very small part in a concerted effort by the White House Office of Public Engagement to organize support for the President’s policy agenda. With the arts community and other progressive activist organizations of all stripes. An effort which at a minimum skirted the bounds of legality based on anti-lobbying laws. In fact, White House documentation I posted on back in September seems to leave this beyond any doubt as far as I am concerned.

Sergant is not completely blameless in this whole affair, and I do not buy his claim that the NEA call was not intended to facilitate policy support for the White House. He also could have turned down the job at the NEA since he knew he did not have this type of experience. But I do believe he was unfairly singled out, and whatever I think of his politics it is unfortunate that he now has a black mark on his resume due primarily to the ineptness and irresponsibility of more senior White House staff. Unfortunately the entire country is also paying the price for this.

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Category: Politics |

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