On Friday, the Newseum will unveil two new artifacts in its News Corporation News History Gallery: a pair of broken eyeglasses and a legal pad scrawled with handwritten notes. These artifacts may appear unassuming, but they tell powerful stories about freedom of the press in the United States.
The legal pad, slightly scuffed and crumpled-looking, belongs to Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold, who won a Pulitzer Prize in April 2017 for his investigation into claims that then-candidate Donald Trump had promised to personally donate $1 million to veterans groups. At the top of his notebook page is the question, “Last personal donation from Donald Trump?” Fahrenthold’s investigation revealed that Trump had exaggerated and misrepresented his philanthropic giving.
Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron said that Fahrenthold had “reimagined” investigative reporting as he worked to expose the true record of Trump’s charitable giving. The legal pad on display at the Newseum was central to Fahrenthold’s innovative reporting method, which involved frequently sharing photos of his notes on Twitter, along with updates on his progress and calls for suggestions from the public. This crowd-sourcing approach was lauded by the Pulitzer Prize Board for improving transparency and boosting trust in the investigative reporting process.
The other artifact to be unveiled Friday is a pair of glasses, one of the temples snapped off, which belonged to Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. On May 24, Jacobs was attempting to interview Montana’s Greg Gianforte, then-candidate for a hotly contested seat in Congress, when Gianforte lost his temper and tackled Jacobs to the ground, breaking his glasses in the process. Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault, to which he later pleaded guilty. He also made a donation to a press freedom group. The assault on Jacobs was the latest in a series of incidents in which journalists were roughed up or arrested while reporting in the United States. The attack was condemned by press freedom watchdogs and members of Congress, and led to a public outpouring of support for Jacobs. Media experts trace the assault on Jacobs and other incidents to the anti-press vitriol of the Trump administration.
“These two artifacts tell important stories about how journalists work, and the threats they face, even in the United States,” says Patty Rhule, director of exhibit development at the Newseum. “David Fahrenthold unleashed the power of Twitter to report on Donald Trump’s claims of charitable contributions. Ben Jacobs’s broken glasses are a reminder that sometimes, people in power push back violently against journalists.”