Friday, July 08, 2011

Museum of the Fourth Estate

“Journalism is the first rough draft of history”
-Philip Graham

“Three Estates in the Gallery
yonder there
sat a Fourth estate more
important than them all.”
-Edmund Burke

On Wednesday, my Dad cleared his schedule and we headed downtown to go to the Newseum— the veritable Museum of the Fourth Estate. Years ago, when I was a teen, I remember my Dad taking the day off so we could go look at an Asian art exhibit at the National Art Museum. The memory stuck with me so much that earlier this year I was angling for my Dad to meet me in Japan and we would do a little father-son backpacking. That never happened because of his reticence, busy schedule, and ultimately the Japanese earthquake put that conversation to rest.

Anyway, we hopped the metro downtown, getting off at the Archives station. We walked past a fellow bootlegged passes to the museum. The backstory is that the Newseum is about $20 for entry but the tickets are good for 2 days. We debated supporting the entrepreneurial efforts of small business, but ultimately decided to do it the proper way.

We entered the museum (supposedly Washington’s number one attraction) and headed to the top to then work our way down. The vista of Washington’s fair skyline was magnificent, with white domed Capitol to the East and red-brick turreted Smithsonian to the southwest, all set against grey skies.

On the top floor was an interesting exhibit of how the story of Hurricane Katrina was told and the journalist efforts to do so. The exhibit chronicled the fight of the Times-Picayune to stay publishing as the levies broke and the diluvian waters filled Orleans, as well as the efforts of the Sun Herald in Mississippi. It also looked at the news failures of Katrina, including the rumors of rapes and bodies in the freezer of the Superdome, as well as the difference in titling to pictures of different races wading through water with provisions that were possibly not their own. The exhibit also focused the iconic imagery that came out of the floods, of people pleading for help in the face of neglect.

The next section, sponsored by News Corp and I chuckle at such irony, focused on the history of the “news” with an exhibit down the center on newspaper- from Gutenberg’s invention on down, and especially that of news in America. There were copies of papers like Domestick Intelligence, a newsbook considered to be America's first paper.  It was “published to prevent false reports.”

It continued on with various papers in British, French and Spanish America and on through the revolutionary rags of those who fought for independence (“These are the times that try men’s souls. –Paine)

There were parts showcasing deSales (the patron saint of journalists), and The Gentleman’s Magazine (the first weekly magazine, not the first porno). There were copies of civil war newspapers, with reporting from both sides, and on through the annals of history. Flanking the newspaper display were cases discussing other mediums of news. There was an interesting section on satire as news that looked at Laugh-in on to the Colbert Report. Also, on coverage of Watergate and what that meant for television. There were some very good movies on the power of the image and on media and civil rights (“Without press, the Civil Rights Movement would have been a bird without wings”). The part that caught my eye was on George Creel, the CPI and its role in censorship in WWI.

The exhibit continued with presidential photos, including some wonderful shots like LBJ in a field of yellow flowers; Reagan dressed kinda like a leprechaun; a poignant moment of Obama and the first lady in the elevator just before his inauguration.

There was an exhibit on news coverage of 9/11, and how it played all over the world. As part of the exhibit, there was a moving film on those who covered 9/11 on the ground and the emotions they felt trying to tell the story amid such chaos. The exhibit included a bit on the killing of Bin Laden for a nice bookend to the exhibit and story.

Continuing on, there was an exhibit press freedom around the world, with a color coded map of which countries have media that is free, partly-free and not free. There were also some interesting displays about the First Amendment and all that it entails (Quick, what are the 5 provisions offered by the First Amendment? My citizenship exam students would know the answer…BTW answer is in the comment section)

The exhibit continued with an exhibit on the history of television, and a wonderful section on Egbert Roscoe. Murrow. That isn’t a typo, that was Edward R.’s real name. Can’t blame Egbert for the change. Apparently Murrow was only 27 when he became the director of talk for CBS radio. The exhibit talked about Murrow’s reporting from London during the blitz, including the iconic photo of the iconic war correspondent with cigarette dangling over typewriter.

There was a moving video, narrated by Bob Edwards who wrote a good book on Murrow, chronicling his life and work. The film discussed how he baited McCarthy, who responded against Murrow’s “jackal pack” of reporters that hounded his hunts. The films also spoke about how Murrow clashed with his network because Murrow got on corporate nerves, and his transition to USIA.

On his USIA tenure, the film noted how he was making films on America for a global audience, including the civil rights documentaries (“The March") There was also a recreation of his desk, and a large emblem of the USIA under his tenure.

It was at this point I started humming with ideas. Despite the Newseum mission to exhibit the communication of information, and its exhibit on Murrow, there is no mention of public diplomacy. So my newest project is going to be to figure out how we public diplomats can get the Newseum to host an exhibition on public diplomacy.

The exhibit could highlight the work of the CPI, USIA, Voice Of America and Radio Free Liberty/ Radio Europe. All sorts of things could be tied in to make a phenomenal exhibit showcasing the role of public diplomacy during World War I & II and the Cold War. You could bring up the likes of Family of Man and Willis Connover and how Jazz was used as a form of cultural diplomacy/warfare. Also, bring up the Smith-Mundt Act, and why Americans don’t know about what is projected outward.

There is a serious and earnest need to do PD for PD. As public diplomats, if we are to tell the world America’s story, we must first tell America how such stories are told. I am going to write a longer blog about this, this will be an interesting new pet project, and the Newseum would be a logical place to put on such an exhibit.

Anyway, the exhibit continued with an interactive section on journalistic ethics and also how to be a tv reporter and photo journalist. There was also a section of the World Press Photos, as well as a supremely moving section on Pulitzer Prize photos.

On the whole, the Newseum was quite interesting. It was a good father-son bonding trip, and we finished enough of the museum that I didn’t feel a second trip back was necessary. Meanwhile, I am looking forward to figuring out how we can put a public diplomact exhibit up at the Newseum.

1 comment:

Paul Rockower said...

Answer to 1st Amendment Q:
1) Freedom of Speech
2) Freedom of Religion
3) Freedom of the Press
4) Freedom of Petition
5) Freedom of Assembly