Thursday, May 01, 2008


The new "Newseum" is regarded as something of a holy site among many people I work with, and my boss made the pilgrimage on the weekend it opened. I doubt I'll go see it (especially because you have to pay to get in), and the whole thing seems a trifle overblown and hubristic to me.

I'm glad to see someone else agrees:

[Walter] Cronkite is a kind of synecdoche for American journalism. His career traces the arc of the news business over the last 70 years, from the grubby, slightly disreputable trade of the early 20th century to the highly serious, obsessively self-regarding profession it has become, here in the first decade of the twenty-first. A college drop-out, plucky but unimaginative, Cronkite knocked around a series of newspaper jobs in the 1930s, followed the troops into Normandy, worked for a wire service after the war, and filed workmanlike copy all the while that was notable for nothing in particular. Then came television, and celebrity, which he acquired thanks to the unprecedented reach of mass media rather than through any peculiar merit of his own. From the 1960s onward Cronkite was transformed by some mysterious process into a figure implausibly larger than a newspaper hack, a spiritual force as imposing and weightless as a dirigible. He was an oracle, a teller of truths, the conscience of a nation, "the most trusted man in America."

American journalism followed the same trajectory into self-importance, borne aloft on the same draft of hot air and vanity. Our terrific country offers lots of ways to make a living, but with the possible exceptions of movie acting and architecture, only modern journalism would have the nerve to celebrate itself with something as gaudy and improbable as the Newseum. The Freedom Forum, a nonprofit foundation seeded with money from the Gannett newspaper chain, conceived and underwrote the museum for $450 million, and a half dozen newspaper and media companies kicked in another $122 million to pay for exhibits and other trimmings. That's $572 million--a lavish sum by any measure. It's especially impressive from an industry that is, according to its own incessant complaints, going broke.