June 17, 2008

Media Get Preview of "G-Men and Journalists"

The actual desk used by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. (Maria Bryk/Newseum)
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The actual desk used by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. (Maria Bryk/Newseum)

Newspaper heiress Patty Hearst’s kidnapping and the Unabomber’s capture are two of the stories included in the exhibit. (Maria Bryk/Newseum)
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Newspaper heiress Patty Hearst’s kidnapping and the Unabomber’s capture are two of the stories included in the exhibit. (Maria Bryk/Newseum)

Display case shows the FBI’s place in popular culture. (Maria Bryk/Newseum)
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Display case shows the FBI’s place in popular culture. (Maria Bryk/Newseum)

The Lindbergh baby kidnapping story, including the electric chair used to execute kidnapper Bruno Hauptmann, is part of the exhibit. (Maria Bryk/Newseum)
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The Lindbergh baby kidnapping story, including the electric chair used to execute kidnapper Bruno Hauptmann, is part of the exhibit. (Maria Bryk/Newseum)

Members of the media attend a press conference before the preview. (Maria Bryk/Newseum)
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Members of the media attend a press conference before the preview. (Maria Bryk/Newseum)

WASHINGTON — Members of the media got a sneak peek June 17, 2008, at the Newseum’s first major exhibit, "G-Men and Journalists: Top News Stories from the FBI’s First Century," three days before it opens to the public.

The exhibit, presented in conjunction with the FBI’s 100th anniversary, is an exploration of the sometimes cooperative, sometimes combative relationship between the media and the crime-fighting agency.

Newseum CEO Charles L. Overby and Executive Director Joe Urschel credited the FBI for the genesis of the exhibition.

"The FBI came to us," Overby said. "It was a great hook for us as a museum of news."

The FBI had a veritable treasure trove of artifacts — called "evidence" by the bureau, Urschel noted — that once were part of the popular FBI Tour at the Washington, D.C., headquarters. The tour closed for security reasons following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Among the artifacts included in the exhibit, some of which have never been on display for the public, are J. Edgar Hoover’s desk; gangster John Dillinger’s death mask; a courtroom replica of the Chevrolet Caprice used by the D.C. snipers; items used by agent-turned-spy Robert Hanssen to pass secret information to the Soviets; and the 10-by-12-foot cabin in which the Unabomber lived in rural Montana.

Other major crime stories include the siege in Waco, Texas; newspaper heiress Patty Hearst’s kidnapping; the landmark "Mississippi Burning" civil rights investigation; the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and the Oklahoma City bombing. Each case examines the role of the media and the impact — both positive and negative — press coverage had on the investigations.

Exhibits Director Cathy Trost spoke with a small group of reporters who were drawn to a 1940 Washington Daily News front page story that marked the creation of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. Trost cited the story as a classic example of the initially "symbiotic" and friendly relationship between Hoover’s FBI and the media. "In those days, an FBI story was a guaranteed front-page story," she said.

Urschel said the FBI went to "extraordinary lengths" to get all the artifacts the Newseum wanted, "and some objects we didn’t even know about," such as the homemade gun that was seized from the Unabomber’s cabin.

Newseum Deputy Director Susan Bennett illustrated the challenges of collecting artifacts for the exhibit.

"In some cases, the bureau knew they had an item, but didn’t know where it was, so they had to do a little detective work," she said.

Admission to "G-Men and Journalists," which runs through June 2009, is included in the price of a general admission ticket. Tickets can be purchased online, or by calling 888/NEWSEUM (888/ 639-7386).

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