People For the American Way

As Smithsonian Continues to Duck Controversy, PFAW Report Draws Lessons On How Not to Respond to Political Bullies


Contact: Drew Courtney or Miranda Blue at People For the American Way

Email: [email protected]

Phone Number: 202-467-4999

A new report from People For the American Way draws lessons on ways institutions can respond to right-wing-generated controversies, by evaluating the chain of events that led to the Smithsonian’s removal of a work of art from the National Portrait Gallery.

The PFAW report, How Not to Respond to Political Bullies, evaluates the right-wing media storm and knee-jerk reaction by Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough that led to David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire in My Belly” being pulled from the National Portrait Gallery’s groundbreaking Hide/Seek exhibit, and puts the scandal in the context of previous censorship debates.

The report is meant to add balance to the Smithsonian’s planned public forum about the censorship controversy, which, according to the Los Angeles Times, seems designed not for exploring the roots of censorship, but for “sweeping recent events under the rug.” Last month, PFAW filed a public records request with the Smithsonian to learn more about the decision process that led to the work’s removal. The institution has not yet provided any records.

“The Smithsonian did absolutely the right thing in hosting the Hide/Seek exhibit, but it made a big mistake in instantly caving to the right-wing propaganda attacking the show,” said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way.

“The Right’s media-to-politician-to-media echo chamber is powerful, and adept at pulling national controversies out of thin air. We hope that by stepping back and examining the dynamics of the Hide/Seek controversy and the Smithsonian’s response to it, we can help future targets of right-wing attacks respond in a way that avoids panic, demonstrates accountability, promotes honest discussion, and protects the values of the First Amendment.”

The full Right Wing Watch: In Focus report, How Not to Respond to Political Bullies: Lessons from the Smithsonian’s Response to the Manufactured Right-Wing Controversy over Hide/Seek is available online and for download at: