Searchlights swept the sky as couples in tuxedos and gowns walked up the red carpet nearby. A camera rolled as one tuxedoed man was interviewed.
But rather than a Hollywood premiere, it was the April 11 gala for the Newseum, the Freedom Forum-backed museum that reopenen in Washington Friday at the foot of Capitol Hill.
Inside, a mix of government types, high-powered executives, and veteran newspeople took in the six levels of exhibits while noshing on everything from sushi to mini-cheeseburgers, catered by Wolfgang Puck, whose restaurant, The Source, is part of the museum complex.
There was FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, local newsfolk including Gordon Peterson of WJLA TV Washington, this year’s recipient of the Sol Taishoff Award (named after the B&C founder) from the National Press Foundation, Comcast Executive VP David Cohen (Comcast), and CNN political commentator Bill Schneider.
Puck himself was serving up his trademark California style pizzas and other fare from the foot court, barbecued chicken with carmelized onions, smoked salmon, perfectly cooked muscles. And for desert there was even a white chocolate wafer posing as the front page of a newspaper–The Newseum Gazette. "Newseum Opens" one chocolate headline read.
The museum is a mix of interactive exhibits and artifacts. There are a series of cubicles with video screens where visitors are asked to report on a protest at the zoo by interviewing various witnesses, providing pointers on fact vs. opinion. Close by is a row of green screens and teleprompters where kids of all ages can do their own standups from a variety of backdrops–White House, ,Capitol, Supreme Court–then watch them on teh newseum Website when they get home.
There are several sections of the Berlin Wall, complete with guard tower, a news chopper suspended from the ceiling, and a crumpled section of the antenna that once topped the north tower of the World Trade Center.
One room was dedicated to journalists who had died in the line of duty, with too many names imprinted on a two-story glass wall, and faces on another.
As my wife and I toured the News History gallery, walking past rows of newspapers and banks of screens with quizzes and some bios of iconic newsfolk, I read one about CBS Radio reporter Ike Pappas, who was an eyewitness to the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963, and whose account of that event has become one of the treasures the Newseum is in the business of preserving.
"That’s you," came a voice from nearby. I looked up and it was, indeed, Ike Pappas the reporter who had pushed forward to try and get in that last question to Oswald before he was to be hustled out to an armored car.
Later, I saw Pappas scanning the names on the wall in the memorial room, which includes several CBS journalists, among them Paul Douglas, a cameraman, and James Brolan, a soundman, who were both killed when a car bomb exploded near where they were working with reporter Kimberly Dozier. Ironicall, they were traveling with a U.S. Army convoy for a story about how Memorial Day was just another day in the war.
The new Newseum is an imposing structure with the First Amendment etched in stone on the outside in letters too bog to ignore–did you hear that, FCC–and a sweeping atrium that suggests openness and a large glass elevator that shouts "transparency."