For months, the navel-gazing MSM breathlessly awaited the unveiling of “The Nauseum” (AKA, The Newseum) – its 250,000 sq ft shrine to … itself (AKA “press freedom”; USA Today founder Al Neuhart’s Freedom Forum foundation built the museum and foots most of the operational bills).

Finally, the glorious day arrived and was marked with a de rigueur black-tie wingding that enables ink-stained wretches to swill pricy hooch and eat fancy vittles on someone else’s dime. (MediaBistro posted photos from The Nauseum’s opening night gala on April 11th, which 3,000 journos attended, including NBC’s Tim Russert, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.)

The Nauseum is dedicated to self-absorbed media types, who love patting themselves on the back. This post is dedicated to frustrated Americans, who would love to flip them the bird.

“[T]he museum’s preening does call for some skepticism,” cautions New York Times cultural critic-at-large Edward Rothstein. He explains:   

Despite the notion that the press represents the voice of the people, it is not intrinsically representative, nor should it be. The results of its activities may sometimes be helpful for the body politic, but they could also be harmful. The press doesn’t have the responsibilities of government. It doesn’t have to balance competing interests openly in deciding what to make public, nor wrestle in public with competing demands on its actions. It doesn’t have to answer to anything but its reputation, its self-created mission and its bottom line. It may seek transparency, but it is almost never transparent.

The Newseum is so intent on promoting the idea of a free press that it blurs such distinctions and succumbs to a familiar and exaggerated form of press self-regard, cloaking the press in a virtuous mantle of public service. The idea is that the press has a mission to “do good,” to change the world for the better. …

As for the claim of serving the public good, can any vision of the good be so taken for granted? Press crusades have led to extraordinary reforms, and it is crucial that the press be free to pursue varied visions of reform, but sometimes the most difficult task is to report accurately despite one’s vision of the good or one’s desire to change the world.

While praising The Nauseum as “dazzling, innovative and absorbing, a first-class addition to the capital’s cultural institutions,” WaPo media critic Howard Kurtz nonetheless observes that it is “an overpriced monument to journalistic self-glorification” and “an overstuffed buffet, which diminishes its focus but increases the chances that you might find a few servings to your liking.” Freedom Forum CEO Charles Overby tells Kurtz that the Nauseam takes a “warts and all” – but as Kurtz notes, “the warts are small and strategically tucked away” (no kidding). He adds, “The uplifting aura that permeates the building seems at odds with the growing public distrust of the news business and the huge journalistic blunders that have pockmarked its reputation.” (BTW: MarketWatch’s media maven Jon Friedman offers a list of “exhibits” that should have been included.)

Kurtz certainly won’t get an argument from BusinessWeek columnist Jon Fine, who writes: “As far as dedicating a museum to a milieu I know well – one routinely accused of smugness, elitism, undue self-importance, and being thin-skinned – well, I might have preferred something modest in someone’s basement commemorating the indie-rock underground of the ’80s and ’90s.” But since “no one asked me,” he says the “striking-looking” and “impressive edifice” is “stuffed with enough effluvia to keep a media geek happy for weeks” and that these “artifacts [are] captured under glass, sometimes in temperature- and light-controlled environments, like something fragile or suffering from a dread disease.” He adds:

Almost everything about the Newseum is weird. The timing of its appearance suggests a kind of tone-deafness, since it arrives well into an era in which armies of annotators regularly and publicly attack the work and motives of those bringing them the news of the day. (They’re not always wrong, either.)

Its placement on such an august stretch of D.C. real estate implicitly puts the news biz in league with the powers it’s supposed to remain skeptical of, though anyone who has suffered through government-journalist group gropes such as the White House Correspondents’ Dinner knows how uncomfortably close those teams are in real life. The Newseum is a $450 million monument to what at heart is a simple, modestly paid profession. And as others have observed, it’s problematic when you erect elaborate monuments to yourself in the first place.

Speaking of group gropes, here’s how The Washington Post describes Saturday night’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, “an event that, after 93 years, has become as traditional, perhaps even formulaic, in its trappings as a recipe”:

Start with Hollywood glamour. Add heaping spoonfuls of bona fide Beltway celebrity, and stir. Top with the president of the United States. Place in an overly warm hotel ballroom for several hours, then serve.

Last night’s festivities, held at the Washington Hilton, made clear that the see-and-be-seen ethos of the event has overtaken its original purpose: to give awards.

The star-studded gala at the Washington Hilton was preceded by a garden brunch and followed by a plethora of before-and-after parties. The Washington Post’s Mary Ann Akers (AKA “The Sleuth”) reported that most attendees wouldn’t be getting goodie bags this year because they are “officially taboo for members of Congress and their staffs who, under strict new ethics rules, cannot take even the tiniest item from the swag bags.” But Capitol File magazine planned to give gift bags to journalists with “moleskine notebooks, fancy pens and [other high-priced stuff] from Saks Fifth Avenue” at its after-party at – wait for it – The Nauseum.

Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog, chosen an Official Honoree in the Political Blogs category by the judges of the 12th Annual Webby Awards (the Oscars of the online universe) along with CNN Political Ticker, Swampland (Time magazine) and The Caucus (The New York Times).

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