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Old April 26th, 2008, 12:35 PM
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Default A Shining Star on Pennsylvania Avenue

At 6th and Pennsylvania here in Washington, about halfway between the White House and the Capitol, across from the National Gallery of Art, and a block down from the National Archives, stands the brand new Newseum, a museum devoted to the history and practice of journalism. It's been open for about two weeks, and has created an absolute sensation here in town.

This is not a Smithsonian museum. Even though I love the Smithsonian--Air and Space, National Gallery, the new Indian Museum, Natural History, the Sculpture Garden and all the others--for me the Newseum will have a permanent place in the pantheon of great things to do in this city.

On the facade of the marvelous contemporary building, facing Pennsylvania Avenue is a 74-foot-tall marble tablet, inscribed with the 45 words that, in my opinion, should mean as much to Americans as the flag:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

And yet, according to Paul Sparrow, the vice president of the Newseum, who took us through on an insightful personal once-over the other day, not one in ten Americans can begin to list the freedoms granted in that magnificent statement. The facade is lighted at night, so that even Presidents on the way to deliver the State of the Union have the opportunity to read the First Amendment, if they care to.

I cannot begin to tell you of the power of this place. Every turn is full of surprises and jaw-dropping amazement. Imagine riding in a huge glass elevator and rising past eight 12-foot sections of the original Berlin Wall, plus an East German guard tower. Then, as the elevator continues, you pass a charred and twisted piece of wreckage--from the top of the World Trade Center. At the top of the building you leave the elevator and begin to work your way down. It could easily take two days to see it all. It is beyond belief, and as inspirational a place as I've seen in years.

With Terry and me on our tour was my old friend Bob Dotson of NBC News and his wife, and we four vowed that we would get together again and spend the time necessary to really see the place.

Afterward, Bob and I went to work on the CINE documentary film awards show that we did in the large theater in the Newseum that evening. I wrote the show and was one of the producers; Bob was the emcee. I must say that it really was a privilege to be deeply involved in one of the first "events" at that glistening new showplace. We had many wonderful people in attendance, and it came off very well. It was the 50th Anniversary CINE Awards show, and having it at the Newseum showed that "everything old is new again."

Come to our wonderful city and see this wonderful place.

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