April 11, 2008

Politics, Media and Humor Highlight Dedication Ceremony

News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch (Sam Kittner/Newseum)

News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch (Sam Kittner/Newseum)

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (Dave Eggen/Newseum)

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (Dave Eggen/Newseum)

U.S. Rep. John Lewis (Sam Kittner/Newseum)

U.S. Rep. John Lewis (Sam Kittner/Newseum)

Chief Justice John Roberts (Dave Eggen/Newseum)

Chief Justice John Roberts (Dave Eggen/Newseum)

WASHINGTON — “This just in,” Charles L. Overby, chief executive officer of the Newseum, announced to invited guests at the opening of the Newseum’s dedication ceremony on April 11. “We have been overwhelmed this morning and this afternoon with visitors. We’ve had 8,000 people already.”(Get full grand opening coverage.)

That remark was met with hearty applause from the capacity audience of special guests, including representatives from the Newseum’s 15 founding partners, as well as journalists, political figures and trustees. Each of founding partners donated between $5 million and $25 million to the Newseum.

Michael Wilson, the Canadian ambassador to the United States, welcomed the embassy's new next-door neighbor to the neighborhood. “We are very, very close,” Wilson said. “Eight inches.”

The $450 million Newseum, which according to Overby took seven years to build, contains 14 galleries, 15 theaters and two broadcasting studios on seven levels.

One guest who was not able to attend the ceremony was comedian Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report.” Colbert sent a video message made especially for the Newseum’s opening.

In a takeoff on a segment of his show called “The Word,” Colbert said he had a “quibble” with the name Newseum, saying it “doesn’t quite capture what I think of as a proper place to celebrate the state of American journalism.” He spoofed the media, suggesting that the Newseum be called the “Newsoleum — joke’s on you, journalists.” But Colbert admitted that without the news, he “wouldn’t have a TV show.”

“We at the Times will always be here for Mr. Colbert,” Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman of The New York Times Co., said in his remarks. Sulzberger represented the New York Times–Ochs-Sulzberger Family, a Newseum founding partner.

Alberto Ibargüen, chairman of the Newseum, called the museum “deadly serious with a light touch.” “Let everyone know that today, free speech has gained another voice,” he said.

Al Neuharth, the Newseum’s founder, called the Newseum a “scintillating symbol of democracy on America’s Main Street.” He wanted members of Congress, two of whom were in the audience, to know that the First Amendment tablet on the front of the building should be a “daily reminder of the kind of laws they cannot make.”  

Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and John Lewis, U.S. representative from Georgia, each spoke about the importance of a free press and the role the First Amendment played in their lives.

“Without the press, the civil rights movement would have been like a bird without wings,” said Lewis, a civil rights pioneer. 

Pelosi, who said she grew up in a political family and read newspapers “morning, noon and night,” proposed that Congress enact a federal media shield law.

“What a great day to be a newspaperman,” said Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation, a Newseum founding partner. Both Murdoch and New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose media company also is a founding partner, invoked the memories of their late fathers in their remarks. Bloomberg said his father “valued our freedoms.”

John G. Roberts Jr., chief justice of the United States, gave the final remarks. He called the inscription of the First Amendment on the façade of the Newseum the “main and most vivid aspect of the museum.”

Roberts noted that other buildings in Washington bore inscriptions, but “an inscription on a building dedicated to the First Amendment could only proclaim that each of us have the freedom to choose our own inscription and to proclaim it to the world.”

Overby ended the ceremony by declaring that the Newseum was “officially dedicated.”

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