By Daniel Ford
Contributing editor Stephanie Schaefer, photo essayist Cristina Cianci, and I recently traveled to Washington D.C. in search of brunch, books, and booze.
Like dutiful citizens, we also made pilgrimages to the capital city’s monuments and museums. I’ve been a news junkie since birth and a journalist by trade, so the Newseum was at the top of my list of places to visit. From the display of daily newspaper front pages to the exhibit detailing the press reaction to Lincoln’s assassination, the museum didn’t disappoint.
Best enjoyed with a copy of coffee and a reporter’s notebook in your back pocket, these 15 newsy treasures should bring a smile to anyone with ink-stained hands.
Are You Experienced?
The “Reporting Vietnam” exhibit featured this 1960s outfit worn by guitar great Jimi Hendrix. I’m pretty sure my soul-eyed father would have ranked this on the top of his list had he been with us.
Unlike some of the other national museums in Washington D.C., the Newseum isn’t free. However, I felt I got my money’s worth just by standing close to the credentials journalist David Halberstam used while reporting in Vietnam from 1962 to 1964. Halberstam, who died tragically in a car accident in 2007, wrote some of the most important nonfiction books in U.S. history. His book The Best and the Brightest—a searing, in-depth investigation into the disastrous foreign policy developed toward Vietnam by the Kennedy and Johnson administrations—should be required reading for politicians and citizens alike. The same can be said for The Fifties, War in a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton, and the Generals, and The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War.
Cristina made the comment that she wouldn’t want to be the person in charge of hanging up all these newspapers from around the country and the globe. If anyone from the Newseum is reading this, I’m available should that person ever want to take an extended vacation.
Also, there’s a great quote by Daniel P. Moynihan above the display:
“If a person goes to a country and finds their newspapers filled with nothing but good news, there are good men in jail.”
Lincoln wasn’t portrayed all that well in the press during his time in office, but he was smart enough to recognize the importance of an active, questioning press. I doubt he’d be whining about debate rules because of some “tough” questions…
History of News
According to the Newseum’s website, its News History Gallery “showcases nearly 400 historic newspaper front pages, newsbooks and magazines” from “more than 500 years of news history.” I could have spent a small eternity in this exhibit.
Here are a few of my favorite front pages:
It wouldn’t be a Writer’s Bone post without some mention of Ernest Hemingway. Above are his credentials during World War II. It’s worth noting that Hemingway once commandeered a hotel in France after the Allies marched into Paris. Needless to say, alcohol was served liberally.
I remember buying all of the New York City newspapers the day after Sept. 11. I read most of The New York Times in the hallway of my high school before the first bell rang. I recall thinking that the words failed to capture the violence, tragedy, and sorrow featured in the graphic photographs on every page. Seeing all of the headlines from that day in one place gave me goose bumps and reminded me how essential media was in uniting the country in the face of that awful attack.
“Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever.”
The above is a bronze casting of Martin Luther King Jr.’s jail cell door in Birmingham, Ala. Behind this door he wrote his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which eloquently explained his civil disobedience doctrine. I reread the letter for the first time in a number of years while writing this post and it still holds truths this generation should embrace, including one of my favorite lines:
Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
One of the more haunting aspects of this memorial commemorating journalists who have been killed reporting the news is the empty space above the photograph display. We remain a world at war and press freedom is constantly under attack from unenlightened and paranoid forces. Future deaths in the pursuit of truth are inevitable. Blaming the media has always been en vogue (and at times deserved), however, it’s grossly unfair and irresponsible for leaders of any nation to question the central role the press has in shaping an informed, engaged citizenship. Now, whenever I hear politicians or pundits rant against the “morals” and “ethics” of today’s media, I’ll think of this memorial and be reminded that the freedom to type these words doesn’t come cheap.
The Writer’s Bone News Team
I wandered away from Stephanie and Cristina toward the end of our visit and ended up on the news thanks to one of the Newseum’s staff members. Jean, whose last name I didn’t catch, led me over to The Interactive Newsroom, put a microphone in my hand, and told me to read the script. He said improvising was allowed if I felt the need. Of course, I chose a news scenario from the Civil War and thought I nailed it.
Jean was less than impressed. He complimented my voice, but said I needed more energy and charisma (and probably a shave). So he added Stephanie! She didn’t allow me to post the video, but here’s an image:
Let’s just say Jean had no complaints about that broadcast thanks to Stephanie’s bubbly personality and friendly smile.
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