Now that the Newseum has sold off its prime piece of Washington, DC real estate and prepares to close early next year, where might it land – it, indeed, it lands at all?
The Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation in Maryland would like the Newseum to relocate in its county (which, for the geographically challenged among us, is where you can find Bethesda).
That would be the perpetually-challenged institution’s third home.
But even as that wooing process gets underway, concurrent plans are underway to scatter the collection into a storage facility and, in some cases, to return items to donors.
The dismantling of what was supposed to be a monument to the First Amendment and a free press.
What was unveiled ten years ago amidst much fanfare on the most expensive piece of real estate ever to trade hands in the District seems to be going out with a whimper, despite the brave words of its officers and those of the Freedom Forum – the once high-profile defender and teacher of journalism around the world.
Now, the Freedom Forum is the holder of some of the Newseum’s largest debts – the result of founder Al Neuharth’s dream of “a marker right here on Pennsylvania Avenue that the First Amendment is the cornerstone of our democracy,” (in the words of then CEO Charles Overby) turning into a cash sinkhole.
“The Washington Post” over the weekend published this excellent piece on what went wrong with what was supposed to be a tribute to the power of journalism.
The Freedom Forum had a reputation for excess, so it wasn’t a shock that it plunked down $100 million for a parcel on Pennsylvania Avenue with a prime view of the Capitol — a record-setting sale.
To pull off the real estate deal, the foundation had to make a choice: pay for the building in Washington or continue to maintain its network of overseas offices, which supported democratic ideals.
“We chose Washington,” Overby told the American Journalism Review in 2001.
That underlined portion indicates the devil’s bargain that was struck.
In the end, it became, not necessarily a tribute to journalism, but to one man’s ego.
And that’s a shame. (See next story)