Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Vacation 2010: DC - Newseum.

CAUTION: All-out journalism geekfest ahead!

For a time, the Newseum was just a website I'd visit to see "Today's Front Pages," a regular feature that I use with my budding journalists. That site was also a source for First Amendment posters or reporter T-shirts and mugs. I knew that the site's sponsors, the Freedom Forum, had a museum in Virginia, but since I was unlikely to be in the DC area, it never occurred to me to visit. Then the Virginia version of the Newseum closed to make the big move across the Potomac, and in 2008, the website I so frequently visited started to entice me, its siren song pleading with me: "YOU HAVE TO SEE THE NEWSEUM."

Why is that? Well, to start with, this place is one giant tribute to the First Amendment.

A GIANT tribute. Literally. Right out there, carved in the front fa├žade.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that I'm a big fan of the First Amendment. My students probably wish I weren't so passionate about free religion/speech/press/assembly/petition. But to find a museum that celebrates this fundamental right? HEAVEN.

Beyond the chest-thumping civics-lesson motif, though, there's much to see and do to learn about journalism and communications. We spent part of our Monday at the Newseum, but because of our scheduled Capitol tour, we couldn't stay as long as I would've liked. That night I was almost nauseous because I knew I'd missed parts of the museum and didn't know when I'd ever be able to get back there. Thanks to my brilliant husband, a Plan B was devised so Katie and I could return to the Newseum the following morning. Whew. Below are highlights from both days' visits.

It all starts with the giant screen in the atrium, complete with AP images from around the world.

It's fascinating to see artifacts from some of the biggest news stories of our time.

Berlin Wall and guard tower

The Newseum has eight 12-foot concrete sections of the wall, which makes this the largest Berlin Wall display outside of Germany.

9-11 Gallery

With Sept. 12 newspaper front pages as a backdrop, the antenna from the WTC's north tower is the centerpiece to the 9/11 Gallery.

Also on display are items that belonged to photojournalist Bill Biggart, the only journalist killed that day. A video also tells his story.

In addition to a video, "Running Toward Danger," the gallery includes a section of the fuselage from the United plane that went down in Shanksville and a piece of concrete from the Pentagon.

The "G-Men and Journalists" exhibit features evidence from famous FBI cases. It was surreal to see the Unabomber's cabin, for instance. It was helpful to see a mock-up of the DC sniper's car, too, since that let me envision how he was able to shoot his victims without being spotted.

How strange to see the electric chair used to execute Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the man convicted of killing the Lindbergh baby, along with a courtroom model of the ladder used in the kidnapping.
And then there were Patty Hearst's coat and gun from the SLA's 1974 bank robbery. In cases like Patty Hearst's, I've read about and seen photos of the major players and events countless times, so seeing these artifacts in person was fascinating.

In another part of the museum was a recreation of Tim Russert's office. I loved watching him and along with many others, mourned his death in 2008.

His famous "Florida, Florida, Florida" whiteboard (actually, a reconstruction Russert created) is accompanied by whiteboards fans left in his memory.

I loved seeing all the papers, books and photos on and around his desk.

This portrait of Russert, made by his son, Luke, was on his office door.

His wooden plaque, "Thou Shalt Not Whine," reminds us of his work ethic,

as does this revised draft of his notes for a Meet the Press episode. A renowned preparer, Russert and his staff spent a full week getting ready for the hour they'd be on the air each Sunday.

At one point during our Tuesday visit, Katie and I rode in the huge glass elevator that takes guests from the lower levels to the top. Along the way we saw the news helicopter that's suspended over the atrium.
From this higher vantage point, we could see that the chopper had once belonged to our local TV station.

Speaking of vantage points, we got some fresh air on the Greenspun Terrace.
Since the Newseum is on Pennsylvania Avenue, we had a great view of the Capitol.

Even my Flat Raider had to get in on this picture!

Looking the other way down Pennsylvania, we could see the Smithsonian castle (far left) and the Federal Trade Commission.

Looking right across Penn, we saw the National Gallery of Art.

This view is the background for ABC's This Week with Christiane Amanpour. The studio is right there inside the Newseum.

Elsewhere in the museum was a special Elvis exhibit.

And we just THOUGHT we'd seen everything Elvis in Tennessee!

Of course, this is the NEWSeum, so most of the collection reflects news reporting and reporters.

This area overwhelmed me. It was filled with historic newspapers, having so many that the publications were displayed in stacked drawers. It would take days to pull each drawer out and really do each paper justice.

And then there was this:
The Watergate door! You know, the one with the taped lock that alarmed the office building's security guard? That one. This door gave the first "report" of the break-in that led to a president's downfall.

Of course, Woodward and Bernstein's reporting had something to do with bringing that break-in and cover-up to light. Woodward's notes are on display here (although most Watergate-related Woodward and Bernstein documents are housed at the Ransom Center at UT).

Since I show All the President's Men to my journalism students each year, I loved seeing these items!

We also discuss journalists who will protect their sources' identities at all costs, like Vanessa Leggett. Leggett was jailed for 168 days for refusing to turn over her notes to a grand jury.

JFK assassination coverage is another topic in our journalism history unit, so it was interesting to see the UPI teletype machine along with the bulletin announcing that President Kennedy had been shot.

Helen Thomas in her red suit was a common sight at White House press briefings.

But this balcony railing from the National Press Club was a reminder of how hard it used to be for female reporters. For years, women were only allowed in the press club if they stayed in the balcony behind that railing.

Yet another highlight: the First Amendment Gallery. Each of the First Amendment rights are represented.
I teach Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) each year. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that students don't shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate. Students who wore black armbands to school during the Vietnam war should not have been punished because the armband was a form of symbolic speech, the court said.
It was crazy to see the armband Mary Beth Tinker wore to school, the very piece of fabric that set this case in motion.

Another area pays tribute to journalists who have died while covering the news.

Near that memorial is a map indicating limits on press coverage around the world.

Also nearby are these items that remind us the dangers journalists face while trying to do their job.
Among items on display is Bob Woodruff's flak jacket,

and Daniel Pearl's laptop and passport. Somewhere I read about Angelina Jolie's visit to the Newseum and her interest in these items. Jolie played Pearl's wife in the film A Mighty Heart.

On a much lighter note, I was tickled to find these in the restroom:
Funny headlines! These tiles were in my toilet stall. (Yes, I took pictures in the bathroom! Doesn't everybody?)

I have the book of funny headlines with this title, so I was especially thrilled to see this tile! What a nice way to enhance the visitors' experience, even when they're making a pit stop.

While my attention was focused mostly on print, broadcast journalism was well represented, too. Edward R. Murrow's trenchcoat, records and other documents paid tribute to that newsman, and a whole gallery was devoted to great moments in TV news.

The interactive area was Katie's favorite part of the Newseum. Here she played a bunch of news games on touch screens.

She also got to try her hand at TV reporting in this special studio area. First, she read her copy in front of a green screen.

Then we got to see her report on the monitors.

On our Tuesday return visit, Katie persuaded me to join her in a report from Capitol Hill.

OK, so we went through the "Be a TV Reporter" line more than a couple of times!

Katie had fun making the reports, and I had a blast watching her!

It's not hard to guess what her favorite part of the Newseum was. As for me, I can't begin to come up with even a top 10! It was heaven for this news junkie, but I really think it'd be interesting for any American who values our freedoms and the free flow of information we're so proud of.

BONUS FEATURE! Here are two of Katie's news reports:

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