Johns Hopkins is buying the Newseum building in Washington, D.C., ending a depressing saga. The Freedom Forum, which ran the failed institution, made predictable brave statements about soldiering on, but the Newseum is dead, and deserved to die.
It is tragic, however. There should be a museum in the nation’s Capital chronicling the history of Freedom of the Press in America: John Peter Zenger, Nellie Bly, Horace Greeley, Hearst, Woodward and Bernstein, New York Times v. Sullivan, the Pentagon papers, the Boston Globe’s exposure of the Catholic Church child molestation cover-up and so much more. The problem is that today’s journalists no longer believe in or can be trusted to practice the kind of journalism that the Newseum celebrated, but had to pretend they did or the place would be more of a memorial than a museum.
Here , for example, was a laughable section, since removed, from 2009—you know, after the news media mugged John McCain, attacked Sarah Palin relentlessly for lacking “qualifications” to be Vice President while coronating Barack Obama, whose qualifications for the Presidency were far fewer, and generally acted as part of the Democratic Party’s campaign organization because electing a black President justified abandoning all objectivity and independence:
News Sometimes Gets a Partisan Slant
Patriot journalists in Colonial America didn’t always tell all sides of the story. They mostly told one side- their side. They were far from “objective” -a word that journalists would not use to describe their work until the late 19th century. Anyone and anything were fair game for the “scandalmongers” of the Colonial era. Their mixture of news and opinion was the forerunner of advocacy journalism in the United States- a style of partisan commentary that eventually found its way into editorial pages, which were introduced in the 1850s, and then into talk radio and internet blogs.
The museum about our vital democratic institution of a free and independent pressthus became one more tool of propaganda to ensure the continued abuse of power and influence by the news media for partisan objectives. The hypocrisy was palpable. In 2018, journalists pressured the Newseum to pull “fake news” T-shirts from the gift shop.That critical if disturbing part of the history of Freedom of the Press had to be ignored, censored, hidden away, denied….like so many other stories and facts that an ethical news media would feel it had an obligation to the public to cover.
Speaking of gifts shops, the Newseum’s was larger than its exhibit on journalism ethics. One could say , I guess, that the entire building was an exhibit about ethics: the absence of them.
The Newseum had become a monument to the corruption and abandonment of professional ethics by a core democratic safeguard in the throes of its own accelerating institutional rot. If its screaming hypocrisy had embarrassed journalists into correcting the doomed course of their once-honorable profession and doing their jobs, the place might have justified its existence. As anyone can see who opens an edition of the New York Times—the best of our papers, remember—can see, however, their arrogance and hypocrisy is beyond correction.