Officials at the Newseum backtracked Saturday after facing intense criticism, and said they will no longer sell “fake news” t-shirts online or at the museum’s gift shop. The museum, though, will continue to sell other merchandise associated with President Donald Trump, including “Make America Great Again” hats.
Despite outrage over its sale of the controversial merchandise, the Washington, DC museum initially said Friday that it would continue selling the “You Are Very Fake News” t-shirts.
A spokesperson defended the merchandise, claiming that it reflected “differing viewpoints” consistent with the free speech it champions.
But on Saturday, the Newseum made an about-face. “We made a mistake and we apologize,” it said in a statement. “A free press is an essential part of our democracy and journalists are not the enemy of the people.”
The Newseum, which was founded in 1997 to celebrate journalism and the free press, will continue to sell hats with Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan in its gift shop and online. The Newseum was selling the fake news t-shirts for $24.99, and the “Make America Great Again” hats sell for $14.99.
From the early days of his presidential campaign to today, Trump has made hostility toward the news media one of his trademark policies. At his political rallies, Trump supporters often curse reporters and express hatred for a free press.
During a speech in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on Thursday night, Trump repeatedly denigrated “the fake, fake, disgusting news” media, calling reporters “horrible, horrendous people” and accusing them of making up stories.
At the rally, when Trump mentioned the press, the crowd responded with boos and jeers, with some chanting, “CNN sucks.”
The Newseum defended the sale of the MAGA hats as an example of free speech. “As an organization that celebrates the rights of people from all political spectrums to express themselves freely, we’ve historically made all types of political merchandise available for our guests to purchase,” the spokesperson said Saturday. “We continue to do so in celebration of freedom of speech.”
The Newseum is funded by Networks and their parent companies, and philanthropic orgs—all with employees who devote their lives and livelihoods to stand for everything that is *not* fake news. This is unwise and I encourage the Newseum to rethink this. It’s an insult. https://t.co/al2SJQ5iH5
— Soledad O'Brien (@soledadobrien) August 3, 2018
Journalists expressed a feeling of betrayal when they learned of the sale of the fake news t-shirts.
“The Newseum is funded by Networks and their parent companies, and philanthropic orgs — all with employees who devote their lives and livelihoods to stand for everything that is *not* fake news,” broadcast journalist Soledad O’Brien tweeted Friday. “This is unwise and I encourage the Newseum to rethink this. It’s an insult.”
The current home of the Newseum, on Pennsylvania Avenue, a stone’s throw from the Capitol was built in 2008 at a cost of $450 million. Prior to moving to Washington, the museum was located across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia.
The Washington Post reported earlier this year that the Newseum is facing severe financial problems. There has speculation that it may be forced to abandon its prime location for less expensive accommodations.