Sunday, December 4, 2016

Trip to D.C. filled with monuments and memories

Washington Monument dominates the D.C. skyline.
Wanting and needing a little time off from the rigors of retirement, the lovely Miss Wendy and I decided recently to visit Washington, D.C. It had been a decade or so since we last traveled to the nation's capital and we were mildly interested in revisiting a few of the city's monuments and museums, but mostly looking forward simply to getting away.

Turns out the monuments are still around and still pretty much as they were when we last visited -- the Washington Monument remains a dominant landmark; so, too, the Lincoln, FDR and Vietnam memorials. Collectively, they say much about who we are as a nation and people; who we honor and what we cherish.

A few additional memorials -- one honoring the men and women who fought and died in World War II, another raised in tribute to the man with a dream, Martin Luther King, Jr. -- add both a needed touch of diversity and salute for the "greatest generation".

Visiting the White House and showing our colors!
There were a couple of disappointments, thanks to the work being done to spiffy up the Capital and White House for next January's inauguration of The Donald, our presidential yam!

The iconic view of both iconic structures was blocked by workmen building the inaugural platform where our 45th president will be taking the oath of office next month and the viewing stand where the president and his immigrant bride will watch the inaugural parade.

But I digress!

What lingers about at the moment is our visit to the Newseum, an interactive museum that promotes free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment. It's an informative and entertaining way to spend a few hours, focused mostly on the history and importance of a robust and independent press. I'm thinking it would be a perfect place for the legions of "freedom-loving" Americans, certain the "mainstream media" is hopelessly corrupt, to explore their tribal beliefs.

Lincoln Memorial glows majestically during evening visit.
Two exhibits -- one detailing how many countries control the media, the other memorializing working journalists killed in recent years -- offer a compelling argument for the import and impact of a free and vibrant press.

There are also galleries filled with historic broadcasts -- Walter Cronkite announcing the death of JFK and Edward R. Murrow's spirited takedown of Joe McCarthy -- and an expansive collection of newspaper front pages, detailing most everything of significance from the signing of the Declaration of Independence to the election of Barak Obama.

One of the most memorable, if melancholy, exhibits is a memorial and remembrance of the coverage of 9/11. It includes the front pages of newspapers the day after the attack, the mangled and twisted broadcast antenna that once topped the World Trade Center and a documentary featuring first-person accounts from reporters covering the tragedy.

It's about as up close and personal a telling as I've seen, filled with much raw footage that captures both the massive scale of the attack and the impact it had on people caught in the toppling of the buildings. The film also serves as a stark reminder of both the danger reporters often find themselves in as they go about their jobs and the good work they do in keeping the public informed in a meaningful and timely fashion.

Newseum's 9/11 exhibit includes broadcast antenna from WTC.
This rich brew of journalism had me thinking back on my career as a reporter and editor -- I spent 40 years working for newspapers across the Southeast -- and the front row seat I had to the ups and downs of this stuff we call news.

It's been a while, given the turmoil that characterized my last few years in the business, since I've been able to fondly recall the work that I and my colleagues managed during the last decades of the 20th century; the "golden" era, some might argue, of journalism.

Thanks to the Newseum, I was able to remember and feel the thrill I experienced all those years ago when I first walked into a newsroom and the city editor handed me a press release to rewrite. It was a beginning! Little did I know at the time that, for me, it was to be the road less traveled; and, yes, it did make all the difference.

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