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David Shuster

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The Newseum's Shame

Posted: 07/04/2012 9:01 am

The Newseum is supposed to honor freedom of the press. So when a presidential candidate takes questions at an event there, reporters get to cover it, right? Wrong.

Last month, journalists were prevented from watching part of Mitt Romney's appearance at the Newseum. The Newseum had rented its hallowed halls and atrium near The Capitol to the Business Roundtable, a lobbying organization representing America's most powerful CEO's. The lobbying group chose to exclude reporters from the "question and answer" session of the program. So, in the shadow of a 74-foot marble engraving of the First Amendment's words about freedom of the press, Newseum staff cleared reporters from the room.

This wasn't an isolated incident. In March, at an earlier Newseum event also organized by the Business Roundtable, the featured speaker was President Obama. As soon as the president started taking questions from the CEO's, all reporters covering the White House and the Obama re-election campaign were ordered out.

In response to inquiries from several journalists (including myself), Newseum officials have politely but firmly stated that rental groups get sole authority to determine access to their private events. It's easy to understand why corporate titans representing the wealthiest of America's top 1 percent would love this arrangement. After all, no CEO wants to be publicly associated with having urged President Obama or Governor Romney to keep executive pay taxed at 15 percent while blue-collar worker salaries are taxed at 28 percent.

Here's what is baffling so many of us who treasure the Newseum: Why would it embrace these exclusive aristocratic salons? The mission of the Newseum is clear -- "to educate the public about the value of a free press in a free society." But as it stands, the Newseum, like so much of mainstream media today, now seems intent on collecting as much cash as possible.

How embarrassing. And how un-American. Most reporters aspire to inform our fellow citizens with honor and integrity. When the Newseum is willing to sell out and provide exclusivity in exchange for corporate cash, the entire journalistic profession is tarnished.

So, I'm urging all journalists and news consumers to TAKE ACTION. Join me in signing the Petition at Change.org/newseum. In doing so, you will send the Newseum a clear message -- that it should augment its current rental policies. If anybody or any group wants to rent space at the Newseum, events involving the President or Presidential candidates shall be open to the press.

This isn't too much to ask. Shouldn't there be at least one place in Washington, D.C. where candidates can't hide? The Newseum is supposed to be a paragon of journalistic openness and integrity, not a shallow enabler of Corporate America. The glorious building should honor the noble calling of a free press, not treat the first amendment as a mere wall decoration.

Join the cause. Take Action. Encourage the Newseum to change.

 

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