Tyler Green
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Exposing the Smithsonian’s spin as spin

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This is the most important point of the week: In today’s Los Angeles Times, Mike Boehm reports that Smithsonian secretary G. Wayne Clough “said Thursday that Republican House leaders’ threats of budgetary consequences factored into his Nov. 30 decision to remove a video from a National Portrait Gallery exhibition of work done primarily by artists who are gay and lesbian.” Boehm was reporting on Clough’s appearance at Town Hall LA, Clough’s first public appearance since censoring art in the NPG’s “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.”

Unfortunately, the timeline of events doesn’t jibe with what Clough said in Los Angeles: The first Republican threat to the Smithsonian budget came on Dec. 1, the day after Clough censored “Hide/Seek” by removing David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire in My Belly.” (The threat came from Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who sits on the Appropriations Committee.) Until Dec. 1, Congressional Republicans had not specifically threatened the Smithsonian’s federal appropriation; instead they merely pledged oversight and intensified examination. (It also appears unlikely that the Smithsonian was threatened with cuts in private conversations. On Tuesday Clough told the New York Times’ Kate Taylor that he has had no communication with House leaders who had threatened the Smithsonian.)  Clough’s censorship may have emboldened Republicans rather than sated them.

Then yesterday, MAN was the first to report that House Republicans’ initial proposed budget cuts don’t include cuts to the Smithsonian’s appropriation after all. (At least for now.)

I understand that the Smithsonian needs people to believe that cuts were coming if Clough didn’t censor the exhibition. Without that, Clough’s censorship looks particularly reactionary. Unfortunately for the Smithsonian, the timeline of actual events doesn’t support its spin.

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  1. Tyler, Boehner and Cantor actually threatened Smithsonian funding Nov. 30 in the CNSNews blog here: http://bit.ly/gsz6Jr

    And later that day, CNSNews president (and Catholic League board member) Brent Bozell asked congressional leaders to “investigate” the Smithsonian here: http://bit.ly/hxQteU

    I don’t know for certain, but it might be possible Clough somehow found out that CNSNews was baiting Congress when it asked leaders on the morning Nov. 30 if Hide/Seek should be canceled: http://bit.ly/dQDajY

    In any case, Congress had indeed begun their meddling almost immediately at the instigation of CNSNews. This is explained in our “Timeline of Smithsonian Censorship” exhibit at the Museum of Censorship, parked on the street right outside the National Portrait Gallery. (Happy to send you a PDF, Tyler.)

  2. Tyler Green says:

    Not quite. Read carefully what the House GOP said pre-censorship….

  3. […] Related: Jeffrey Goldberg has a good take on the whole controversy and Clough’s cluelessness over at The Atlantic. Plus: More on Clough’s inconsistencies here. […]

  4. […] in leadership: Before a single member of Congress threatened the Smithsonian’s funding, Smithsonian secretary G. […]

  5. […] from “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” he suggested he was worried about the Smithsonian’s federal […]

  6. […] threatened to sanction the Smithsonian with budget cuts.” That’s also in error. As I chronicled here in January, Clough censored “Hide/Seek” on Nov. 30. House Republicans made their first threats […]

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