Brent Bozell is afraid of ants

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

All I want to know is what took Brent Bozell so long?

Sure, the right-wing warrior sounded the alarm about a gay-themed art exhibit at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. And yes, Bozell, with the help of top House Republican leaders, Fox News and the rest of the GOP Noise Machine, was able to get one piece of the exhibit pulled; a four-minute video that featured, for symbolic reasons, 11 seconds worth of footage showing ants crawling across a crucifix.

But c'mon, that crucial Smithsonian concession came on December 2, days after rabble rousers at the Media Research Center started airing concerns about the suddenly objectionable, privately funded exhibit, "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture."

When did "Hide/Seek" and its more than 100 piece of art actually open to the public? October 30. That's right, the gallery was able to showcase the exhibit unfettered for nearly an entire month. (Doesn't anyone at the MRC read the Washington Post?)

How come Bozell didn't protect unsuspecting art patrons from traveling to a gallery that was hosting an mature-themed exhibit about gay artists and stop them from being exposed to….gay art? (And "displays of Male genitals"!) If Bozell and teammates at Fox News are truly going to defend traditional values and protect us from "blasphemous" art, they can't sit on their hands for nearly 30 days while these types of crimes against the taxpayers play out in broad daylight. Nay, while they're flaunted in broad daylight.

Bozell is calling for Congressional hearings to find out who okayed "Hide/Seek" and who led the "direct assault on Christianity." (Heads must roll!) But I think that misses the real stumble here, which is why I'm calling for Congressional hearings to find out why Bozell and his arts patrol team missed the Smithsonian blockbuster for nearly an entire month.

Because honestly, if Bozell and his buddies aren't going to be vigilant about this kind of "hate speech," who is? Did you know that on November 21, the Smithsonian sponsored Family and Friends Day? Who knows how many innocent friends and family were subjected to objectionable art while Bozell's team was asleep at the cultural war switch?

And during the Christmas season!!

Ugh, if you think you've seen this exaggerated Passion Play before, it's because you have. In late 1994 and in early 1995, House Republicans lead by the newly elected Speaker, Newt Gingrich, ignited all sorts of short-lived cultural wars based around the issue of federal funding. Chief among the targets at the time was PBS, which Gingrich dismissed as the "this sandbox of the rich" and vowed to cut off government support.

Of course, the Republican attempt to defund public broadcasting failed and soon Gingrich found himself out of a job.

Fast-forward 15 years and Bozell's MRC salvo represented an opening shot from the It's-Our-Money brigade of the conservative movement. And yes, it's the same right-wing media brigade that was rendered oddly silent during the Bush years when Republicans in control of the federal government ran up unprecedented deficits. During that period, there was very little crowing from the far-right media about how your tax dollars were being spent. There were virtually no complaints about "willy-nilly spending" as Bozell now calls the Smithsonian funding. (And no, I don't think Bozell has ever raised an objection to how the military plows through taxpayer dollars.)

But now, flush with the illusion of grand power that comes with controlling the House -- it's the same illusion that played out following the 1994 Republican Revolution -- conservatives demand microscopic oversight of federal spending that pays for stuff they don't like.

Like gay-themed art. Or art in general, for that matter.

What's different though, between when conservatives waged cultural wars in the 1990's and now, is that the media landscape has changed dramatically. Today, Bozell's mad dash to find those responsible for the Smithsonian's alleged attack on Christianity is immediately embraced by Fox News and AM radio and the fact-free right-wing blogosphere because this is the kind of nonsense the GOP Noise Machine desperately wants to push, just patented foolishness that insults everyone's intelligence involved.

Let's be clear. No matter how many times people on Fox News lie about it, no taxpayer money was used to mount the exhibit. (Instead, dozens of donors and outside organizations paid for it.) But a-ha! The gallery itself receives federal funding. True. It received $5.8 million this year, which comes out to about $15,000 per-day. That money goes towards paying for the care of collections exhibited at Smithsonian venues, as well as for salaries for staff and curators.

The "Hide/Seek" exhibit will run for approximately 100 days, which means the gallery will receive about $1.5 million from the federal government during that time period. Although, of course, while the exhibit runs it only takes up one portion of the gallery, which means that that daily $15,000 allowance is used in other ways. But let's pretend all that money went to housing "Hide/Seek" and put into context how much it cost U.S. taxpayers, whom Bozell and company are suddenly so very concerned about.

Fact: The annual federal budget for 2010 was $3.5 trillion. So what we're talking about here is a manufactured art controversy regarding federal funding to the Smithsonian National Gallery that constitutes about 0.00005 percent of the annual budget.

Good to know.

And yes, media right-wingers yelling about the exhibit stress that the show reveals the skewed "priorities" of liberals. This, while conservatives wage a rhetorical war over 0.0 percent of the budget.

Again, good to know.

And note that those panting about "Hide/Seek" generally have no idea what they're talking about, on a variety of levels. For instance, note this claim from professional cultural victim Bill Donohue, of the Catholic League, who wants the Smithsonian completely defunded [emphasis added]:

Why should the working class pay for the leisure of the elite when in fact one of the things the working class likes to do for leisure is to go to professional wrestling? And if I suggested we should have federal funds for professional wrestling to lower the cost of the ticket, people would think I'm insane. I don't go to museums any more than any Americans do.

And Donohue's losing battle with reality:

The Smithsonian museums reported 2009 attendance of 30 million, up from 25 million the previous year. This marks the first time attendance has risen to 30 million since 2001.

The whole kerfuffle is just pure anti-reason run amok and dressed up as moral indignation by today's cocky conservative media.

Who knew Brent Bozell was afraid of ants?

Media Research Center
L. Brent Bozell
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