Friday, April 11, 2008

A Louvre For Lies

The triangle is finally complete: journalism schools; journalism awards; and now, in time to quench the public thirst, a journalism museum in DC called, wittily, the Newseum.

Since American journos love to honor themselves while stroking each other, an official base celebrating the profession is long overdue. The one remaining task is to pour a few million gallons of warm tree sap over the building and let it harden into a nice, rich amber cage -- preferably with Wolf Blitzer, Brit Hume, and the entire MSNBC roster trapped inside.

Why such harsh words when I've yet to set foot in the place? Surely, there are exhibits that'll stir my admiration for the free press, yes? Well, based on the New York Times' ga-ga review of the joint, I seriously doubt it. However, reporter Edward Rothstein does note that:

"[F]or all the celebration of the news industry, care is taken not to descend too deeply into puffery. Along with the many testimonials to journalistic courage and a memorial to journalists who lost their lives on the job, there are examples of distortions that mar the profession: the frauds perpetrated by a Pulitzer Prize winner or by a trusted reporter; the distorted reporting that led The Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., to acknowledge in 2004 that in the 1960s it had given the 'front-page news' of the civil rights movement 'back-page coverage'; or even Peter Arnett’s 1991 broadcast on CNN that seemingly swallowed the Saddam Hussein government’s account of the United States having bombed a 'baby-milk plant.'"

In other words, "distortions" that reinforce the larger, elite definition of "journalistic courage." And given all of the outright lies and true press distortions about U.S. policy toward Iraq, the most significant example offered (according to the Times) is that fucking Peter Arnett story about the "baby-milk plant"? Wow. Accuracy In Media should get a royalty check from the Newseum for that.

I wonder if the Newseum celebrates the alternative press? Shows how Gary Webb was sold out and destroyed by the San Jose Mercury News over his contra/cocaine series? Illustrates the corporate centralization and cheapening of what remains of the news media? Features tributes to press critics like I.F. Stone and George Seldes?

How about a Hall of Selective Editing, like when Pol Pot died, mention of U.S. diplomatic support for the exiled Khmer Rouge was airbrushed from the moralizing obits? Or the continual omission and downplaying of the U.S. role in the Timorese genocide?

Maybe a Freedom Through Unity exhibit, where in the build-up to the 1986 Congressional vote to aid the Nicaraguan contras, both the Times and the Washington Post published a combined 85 op-eds that were nearly 100% anti-Sandinista. Or one of my favorites, the Times headline after the Sandinistas were defeated at the polls in 1990: "Americans United In Joy." Yes, I remember the massive, spontaneous public celebrations that clogged American streets back then. The Times, as always, accurately captured the mood of the moment.

Also, I trust that the Newseum does not overlook women's contributions to the freedom of the press. Hopefully, there are plaques honoring the careers of Claire Sterling, Katharine Graham, Shirley Christian, and Judith Miller.

For me, though, no Newseum worth its name would be complete without acknowledging the patriotic efforts of Woodrow Wilson and his Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, who cleansed American journalism in 1917 via the Espionage Act, seizing the subscription lists of Emma Goldman's Mother Earth and Alexander Berkman's The Blast, while revoking the mailing privileges of some 75 newspapers deemed anti-war and, naturally, anti-American.

Now that would be a kick-ass exhibit. Maybe provide old copies of the Milwaukee Leader for visitors to wipe their shoes on, just to give them a little taste of those times.

Oh -- don't forget to visit the gift shop on your way out. Newseum tote bags are now 20% off, and the Thomas Friedman t-shirts come in Xtra Large.