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.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.