The Newseum—the living paean to the First Amendment—has been sold. Well, its building has, at least. The long-struggling museum announced last week that it sold its prominent Penn Quarter building to Johns Hopkins University for a whopping $372.5 million. But this isn’t the end of the Newseum; it’s currently on the hunt for a new home in the D.C. area. As journalists, you’d think we’d be a bit sad to see the Newseum, in its current form, go. Eh.
Over the years, the Newseum has demonstrated an innate ability to pander to our profession’s most self-indulgent tendencies. Of course, the museum does contain exhibitions of defining moments of modern history—the 9/11 gallery, a bit of the Berlin Wall, Pulitzer-winning photographs—but for every worthwhile exhibition, there always seems to be one that skews toward naval-gazey. Below, we highlighted the Newseum’s most self-indulgent exhibitions from over the years.
1. Anchorman: The Exhibition
Since it opened its doors in 2008, the Newseum has struggled to, well, lure people through those doors. It sought to change that in 2013 with an exhibition celebrating one of the best movies to lampoon the entire industry which the Newseum is a living monument to: Anchorman. The great thing about Anchorman is that it’s a movie that’s laughing at, not with, the world of broadcast news. But with Anchorman: The Exhibition, the Newseum demonstrated a remarkable feat of completely missing the joke. That, in and of itself, is a feat worthy of being in a museum.
2. Louder Than Words: Rock, Power, and Politics; Elvis! His Groundbreaking, Hip-Shaking, Newsmaking Story; Woodstock at 40: The Rise of Music Journalism
Call it baby boomer pandering. These musical exhibits aren’t really about news and would fit in better at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame or Graceland. But since the Newseum has to get bodies in the door, nostalgia-fueled shows like these show up frequently. Video interviews with Bono and Village People costumes don’t tell the story of how music events and the coverage of them changed journalism practices, but they do interest older visitors from out of town and create plenty of merchandising opportunities.
3. CNN Politics Campaign 2016: Like, Share, Elect
People are still reeling from the 2016 election—and for good reason. But of the many narratives to emerge in the election’s aftermath, the one that’s still brought up is how much the news media messed up in the election cycle. No network did worse than CNN, whose breathless recapping of Trump’s campaign felt more like a cynical reality show than thorough election coverage. Case in point: CNN partnered with the Newseum for a “one-of-a-kind immersive experience” that told the story of the 2016 election in real time. Oops.
4. Inside Tim Russert’s Office: If It’s Sunday, It’s ‘Meet the Press’
Meet the Press host Tim Russert’s sudden death in 2008 prompted an outpouring of overwrought, tearful tributes and remembrances from famous fans and casual viewers alike. It also prompted the Newseum to turn the contents of Russert’s office into an exhibit where viewers could examine fascinating items like folded newspapers, framed pictures of his kid, and a CVS bag. The result was somehow both voyeuristic and boring, and still managed to make journalists seem like total slobs.