If we had to choose what freedoms set America apart from other nations around the globe, freedom of the press would be at the top of the list. We are a nation of news junkies, whether that news arrives on our doorstep in the morning or is pulled up on an iPad while we sit at Starbucks. Rarely do we think what a gift it is to have access to the news from so many different sources not controlled by our government.
The color-coded Press Freedom Map at the Newseum brings that fact home. Those nations colored green (the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Western Europe), the fewest on the map, are the ones that boast a free press. Those countries designated by yellow (most of South America and India), have a press that is partly free, while the red-colored countries, most of those on the map, do not have a free press.
That exhibit alone is worth the price of admission to the Newseum, a glittering crystal building on Pennsylvania Avenue, fittingly within shouting distance of the Capitol and the White House. Yet there is so much to see here that paying a hefty price for a two-day admission ticket is, in the end, a bargain. On the ground floor, a three-minute film outlines what exhibits—permanent and current—are in the museum. Some exhibits, like the News History Gallery with newspaper front pages through history, are hard to rush through.
Three short films, playing in small rooms off the News History Gallery, pull no punches, scrutinizing the press for how the news is gathered. Watergate’s “Deep Throat” is perhaps the most famous “anonymous source” in history. One film examines whether the press has become too dependent upon nameless sources for headlines. An ombudsman jokes that quoting a “person close to the White House,” might mean “that bum in Lafayette Park.” An editor and reporter from Newsweek discuss the fallout after the magazine ran a story, based on an anonymous source, that American interrogators at Guantanamo flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet. Later found to be untrue, Newsweek ran a retraction, a big black eye for any publication, but not before the story sparked riots and killings in Afghanistan.
The fall of the Berlin Wall, a major news event, features a section of that famous barrier pockmarked and covered with graffiti. It is the largest display of the original wall outside of Germany. Also on display is a headless statue of Lenin along with a photograph showing celebrants bringing down the monument to the Communist leader.
The radio tower from the World Trade Center dominates the exhibit on September 11, 2001. Newspaper headlines on one wall bring home the horror of that day. A side room shows a film on the day’s tragic events.
Campaigns are news and the Newseum devotes space to past ones as well as the one now dominating the daily news. On display is the white board on which NBC’s Tim Russert wrote “Florida, Florida, Florida,” a prescient view of which state would determine the Bush-Gore election.
Katie Couric’s interview with Sarah Palin was a game changer. Relive that moment by viewing Katie’s detailed notes and the navy blue suit that she wore. And because this is a news museum, headlines and happenings in the current campaign are constantly updated.
Don’t miss the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph gallery. You will probably recognize many of these iconic photos, from the marines raising a flag on Iwo Jima (Joe Rosenthal, Associated Press, 1945), to a young woman, her hands reaching out as she screams over the dead body of a fellow student at Kent State (John Paul Filo, Valley Daily News & Dispatch, 1971). There is an explanation beside each explaining how the photo came about.
What the Pulitzer Prize photos bring home is that gathering the news is sometimes dangerous even deadly. There is a glass case displaying the tools of the trade which now include besides a laptop flak jackets, like the one worn by ABC’s Bob Woodruff when he was injured in Iraq.
A Journalists Memorial, a Tribute to Those Who Have Died Pursuing the News, covers an entire wall at the Newseum. Unfortunately, the ranks continue to grow, reminding all of us the prize that others pay bringing those headlines and photographs to us each day.
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