Too much of a presidential campaign is conducted in private, where special audiences get to see and hear things that the public does not. Some closed-door meetings are inevitable, and even defensible. But when the private conversation takes place after a public speech, and cameras and reporters are unceremoniously ushered out of the room so that only members of the Business Roundtable can ask questions, the public is being squeezed out. And when such a meeting happens in a building called the Newseum, dedicated to free speech and free press, the closed doors are especially forbidding.
The Washington-based Newseum, which recently rented meeting rooms to the Business Roundtable for speeches by President Obama and Mitt Romney, should pay a little more attention to how its renters use the space. When the Obama and Romney events convened in conference rooms at the top of the Newseum, photographers and writers were ushered out so that CEOs could parry with the candidates in private.
Newseum spokesman Jonathan Thompson said that events sponsored by the Newseum are always open to the press. And the Business Roundtable meetings did take place in separate rooms away from the exhibits, which include a media ethics center and the “Cox Enterprises First Amendment Gallery.” But given that the building’s facade, facing the National Mall, is boldly inscribed with the text “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . .” the Newseum could lean on visitors to remember that, as well.