What if the next museum on the Mall was devoted to the media—where the American people could officially pay tribute to the many important contributions journalists have made to our culture?
American Indians finally got a museum on the National Mall this week, and there was a lot of excitement in the media. The Washington Post was so excited, it started to read like the Indian Museum Blog.
Seeing all those reporters running around that gorgeous new museum gave rise to an obvious question: Hey, why don't we journalists have our own museum on the Mall?
True, back in the '90s, the Newseum opened in Virginia to celebrate the media, and now it's moving to a new location "next to" the Mall. But being next to the Mall is like having your star next to the Walk of Fame. The Newseum isn't even part of the Smithsonian.
The time has come for a National Museum of the Media where the American people can officially pay tribute to the many contributions journalists have made to our culture. Like the American Indian museum, the media's museum shouldn't just dwell on the past. It should focus on the things leading news people are doing right now to better our world.
You enter the ground floor and find yourself in a glorious light-filled space, where an elegant mobile in the style of Alexander Calder slowly revolves overhead. Look closely, and you'll see that it's composed of the logos of the various media giants: Disney/ABC, Time-Warner/CNN, Fox, General Electric/NBC, Viacom/CBS. Intermingled among the logos are small translucent dollar signs. Round and round they all go, spinning and spinning, chasing each other in an endless circle.
Proceed straight ahead to the Age of Celebrity gallery. Here top celebrity journalists—Diane, Larry, Barbara, Matt, and Katie—run an obstacle course chasing the movie stars, famous murderers, and other celebs they need to interview to win the game. Bookers do most of the work here, plying their quarry with flowers, candy, and lavish hotel rooms, while the journalists race about in Town Cars, waving to fans. When someone notches a "get," a bell rings, and silver confetti rains down on the whole room.
Up the escalator is the Corridor of Ideology. Along one wall are portraits of leading conservative journalists; facing them on the opposite side are the liberals. The portraits are animated—like the ones at Hogwarts, only scarier—and they shout rude, disturbing insults at each other around the clock. "Liar!" "Child killer!" "Coward!" "Nazi!" Some of the screaming portraits look not so much like journalists as political operatives—a cool trick. A tiny subgroup of visitors adores this show and can stand there rapt for hours. But most wind up running down the middle with their ears plugged, desperately trying to find the next exhibit.
Which, as it happens, is the Age of Dinosaurs. This is a breathtaking diorama in which animatronic versions of various journalists from the 20th century fight to maintain their dominance, and their salaries, in a savage environment. The time is the present, and a violent electrical storm, the Internet, is wreaking havoc across the landscape. Watch as anchors, producers, and editors use primitive tools and increasingly desperate tactics to survive! There's a moment that always leaves the audience gasping, when the animatronic Dan Rather loses his loincloth.
After so much excitement, everyone needs a little refreshment. The media museum offers Romenesko, a cafe where at any hour of the day you can find real journalists gathered in a big circle, just shooting the breeze or playing a new parlor game that's a lot like Telephone. There are occasional moments of high excitement when somebody shouts a code word—e.g., "Howell resigned!"—and the journos jump up and form an ecstatic conga line that members of the public are welcome to join. Few do.
The museum's top floor has flexible studio spaces where media people can be observed engaging in the actual work of their calling. Some of these spaces are quite dull. In the White House 2004 area, for instance, the reporters spend most of their day staring at TV sets, reading e-mail from the campaigns, and crunching swing-state numbers on calculators.
But look, there's Kitty Kelley seated primly on a Victorian divan, holding court before a large group of journalists from big newspapers and TV networks. She seems to be giving them career advice, and they're hanging on her every word. Move closer, however, and you'll discover that they're not actually talking about journalism. Kitty is showing off pictures of the lavish Georgetown house she decorated with the proceeds from her best-sellers. The oohs and aahs are rapturous.
While the American Indian museum is full of inspiring exhibits and stirring tales of a noble people, the media museum has only one.
In a bare cubicle, a solitary blogger with chin hair has his laptop open and is watching the same video clip over and over: Dan Rather, down in the dinosaur hall, screaming as he falls into a volcano. After several viewings, the blogger flicks on a boom box. To the strains of triumphant march music, he parades around his cubicle waving, as if to a huge crowd. It's such an arresting sight, a crowd actually gathers and starts cheering him on.
We're thinking of adding this exhibit to the museum's permanent collection.