News & Politics

The Newseum Is Shutting Down. What Happens to Its Artifacts?

“If anyone else wants to open a journalism museum, they can call me,” says one prominent editor whose stuff was on display.

Photograph by Sam Kittner/Newseum.

After years of weak revenue and inflated executive salaries, the Newseum is shutting down at the end of this year. No longer will media-savvy museum-goers have access to its trove of artifacts, including the Watergate Hotel door that burglars broke though in 1972, the desk that Tim Russert used on Meet the Press, and the eyeglasses that Congressman Greg Gianforte knocked off reporter Ben Jacobs’s face during that infamous body slam. What, then, will become of the journalistic totems the Newseum has collected?

It depends. The museum’s primary financial backer, the Freedom Forum, will continue to own all the items that have been donated outright to its permanent collection. Those will go into storage at a facility outside Washington. The Freedom Forum plans to loan them to other institutions when appropriate, and it hasn’t ruled out creating a new version of the Newseum in a different location at some point.

But many of the artifacts had been loaned by their owners, and those are all head-ed back where they came from, according to the museum. That’s disappointing news for some of the media figures to whom they belong. Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold says he’ll be sad to get back the notebook he used for his Pulitzer Prize–winning 2016 series on Donald Trump, which has been on exhibit the past two years. “But I think my daughter will be even more bummed,” he says, because a Pulitzer-day photo of Fahrenthold and the then four-year-old had also been on display. “Although she’s very humble about it, she is aware that she is in a museum in Washington, DC. Now she’s got to earn her way back somehow.”

What will the owners do with these returned objects? Many pieces will likely end up in a closet again. After Charles Lane loaned the Newseum a copy of the “hacker’s newsletter,” a fake publication Stephen Glass made to cover up his fabricated reporting at the New Republic in the late 1990s, it was set under soft lighting in a handsome glass case. When it comes back to him, Lane—now an editorial writer at the Post—says he’ll probably just return it to his boxes of memorabilia. “And if anyone else wants to open a journalism museum,” Lane says, “they can call me.”

This article appears in the December 2019 issue of Washingtonian.

Senior Writer

Luke Mullins is a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine focusing on the people and institutions that control the city’s levers of power. He has written about the Koch Brothers’ attempt to take over The Cato Institute, David Gregory’s ouster as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, the collapse of Washington’s Metro system, and the conflict that split apart the founders of Politico.