Frohnmayer denounces Bush for failing to defend NEA

March 24, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- John Frohnmayer, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, broke weeks of silence since his firing to attack President Bush bluntly yesterday for lacking the courage to stand up to Patrick J. Buchanan's assaults on the federal arts agency.

"Pat Buchanan is a Frankenstein monster that George Bush helped to create," Mr. Frohnmayer said in a speech to the National Press Club.

He also said Mr. Bush was getting "incredibly bad advice" on how to handle the controversy over funding for the arts that has become a cutting issue in the presidential campaign.

Mr. Buchanan, a Republican presidential candidate, has used campaign ads that attacked Mr. Bush, featuring footage from a movie partly subsidized by the NEA that depicts gay men dancing in leather and studs.

Mr. Frohnmayer said that on Feb. 20 -- just two days after Mr. Buchanan's surprisingly strong showing in New Hampshire's presidential primary -- White House Chief of Staff "Sam Skinner called me in and handed me my hat." Mr. Frohnmayer will leave office May 1.

Mr. Frohnmayer said the Bush administration had succumbed to panic in asking for his resignation.

The White House had no comment yesterday. But when Mr. Bush accepted Mr. Frohnmayer's forced resignation last month, he distanced himself from his embattled arts chief by saying: "Some of the art funded by the NEA does not have my enthusiastic approval."

In an often emotional speech received with a standing ovation, Mr. Frohnmayer defended artistic expression as an essential part of free speech. He compared NEA grants to federal matching funds for political candidates -- government support to make sure that a wide diversity of voices are heard.

"The arts need defending because the arts are speech," Mr. Frohnmayer said.

Taking note of published reports quoting Republican National Committee Chairman Richard N. Bond as saying the NEA should be abolished, Mr. Frohnmayer said: "How cowardly; how ignorant; what a craven example to the rest of the world. I fervently hope the president will reject such rubbish."

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