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September 22, 2009

NEA “Scandal”: Secretly Taped Conversation Appears to Have Violated State Laws

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Filmmaker and art community consultant Patrick Courrielche  has made a quite a splash on conservative talk shows by releasing audio clips and transcripts of a conference call that occurred August 10. The purpose of call, which was attended by artists, NEA staff, White House Office of Public Engagement and members of United We Serve, was to discuss engaging communities in the ideas of service, health care, education, and energy and the environment through the use of art.

In his interviews with Glenn Beck, Dennis Miller, and Fox Business News and in his blogging about this, Patrick Courrielche has not discussed how he came to have the recorded conversations, which may be a way of invoking his right to self-protection, since recording that call was illegal in several states where the participants are based.

Courrielche is listed on the United We Serve email list obtained by the Washington Times. He has stated that he was invited to participate in the call, and has blogged about the call, in one post referring to it as “my call,” thus implying he was present on the call. 

On Thursday August 6th, I was invited by the National Endowment for the Arts to attend a conference call scheduled for Monday August 10th hosted by the NEA, the White House Office of Public Engagement, and United We Serve… Discussed throughout the conference call… Throughout the conversation my inner dialogue was firing away questions so fast that the NRA would’ve been envious.

ABC News reports that Courrielche "secretly recorded" the call. 

Nowhere in the transcripts Courrielche has posted is there a reference to the call being recorded by United We Serve, by the NEA or by anyone else.  Informed or implied consent to record and disseminate the call was not given by any of the participants.

Courrielche’s business is listed in Los Angeles, California; the business has a Los Angeles-based phone number. At least fifteen of the participants were calling in from California, which has very strict eavesdropping and communication interception laws, stating that all parties on the call must be informed and aware that the call is being recorded.

Three callers were from Pennsylvania. Under that state’s current statutory language, consent of all parties is required to tape a conversation. Illinois law states that eavesdropping device cannot be used to record or overhear a conversation without the consent of all parties to the conversation. Three participants were from Illinois.

Again no one asked for consent to record the call nor was consent given. To secretly record a conference call and then disseminate the information is clearly reprehensible and unethical at a minimum. It is an "ends justifies the means" mentality and a cavalier approach to the law that marked the practices of the previous administration.  Whether Courrielche will be prosecuted for violating California law remains to be seen, but committing a crime in pursuit of exposing what possibly, just maybe, could be some kind of a violation is no small thing.

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