So I played hooky this afternoon in DC and I am in a position to save you a whole museum on your next trip: the Newseum is really a self-important, self-congratulatory, vacuous disaster. So you can be sure not to go in by accident, it’s the interesting-looking glassy one across Pennsylvania from the old National Gallery.
A news museum presents an intrinsic problem, admittedly: how do you prevent it from becoming a museum about the news, that is, the events in the news, rather than about the press, TV, and other media? This one, for example, devotes a lot of space to a piece of Berlin Wall and even a three-story guard tower from it; why that piece of history? Still, I think a serious effort could have worked. But this is just a bunch of eyewash and puffery.
It has the lowest ratio of content to building volume of any museum, possibly excepting the awful I.M. Pei National Gallery addition, and what’s there is pretty thin. There are a bunch of stages on which you can interview your friend and take home a video file of it; you know, just like what you can do at home with your own video camera. There’s a pompous room about ethics, with softball questions and not much real conflict (no, you shouldn’t photoshop pictures or pose them for effect, though Matthew Brady did and we sort of forgive him). There’s an absolutely enormous video screen that was showing Obama’s press conference (on Fox, hmm) but of course there are only so many pixels to go around, so it was an enormous, fuzzy, TV, actually not as good an experience as the TV you can watch at home. Want to know about the ongoing financial meltdown of dead-tree media, and what it means for society? about concentration of media outlets in large multinationals? Sorry, not here, folks. Why not step this way and look at the cool satellite phone in this vitrine?.
The nadir and literal low point, though, was an exhibit about the FBI and the press in the basement, and if J.E. Hoover’s ghost didn’t control this piece of whitewash (both of the Bureau and the press that enabled its subversion and incompetence over the years), I can’t explain it.
Oh yes, admission is $20 (the nerve!). But there’s pretty good food in the cafe downstairs.