Smithsonian to Ollie North: You Can't Come In With Your Fox News Camera
Washington Post arts reporter Jacqueline Trescott reports on the front page of the Style section today that the Smithsonian Institution (with its fresh new contract with the Showtime cable network) is shutting Oliver North's Fox News Channel cameras out:
The Smithsonian Institution rejected a request from Oliver North to film a stand-up in front of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb. This is the latest flap in the Smithsonian's development of programming for a cable television network.
North, who hosts a Fox News Channel series called "War Stories," returned fire, condemning the Smithsonian's decision. He said in an opinion column that the museum's action raises questions about the propriety of the contract between Showtime Networks and the Smithsonian, which limits access of film crews.
Trescott's story is a reasonable recounting of the battle -- first revealed in North's column in Sunday's Washington Times. (Be sure that the Post hates following in the wake of the conservative Times.) But she omits a crucial fact: the Smithsonian institution is private, but receives most of its funding from the federal government. They explain: "The Smithsonian is a unique entity—an independent trust instrumentality—that is dependent for over 80 percent of its funding on the federal government (approximately 67 percent from direct appropriations and over 13 percent from grants from federal agencies.)"
Trescott has previously chronicled how liberal independent film makers have criticized the commercialization of these federally-funded museums, and now the conservatives are coming into the picture. She quoted North:
"In a series of written, e-mail, telephone and personal exchanges with Smithsonian officials we explained what we wanted to do, how we would do it and offered to compensate the museum for any expenses incurred," North wrote in his column. "What we didn't know was that the institution's management had concocted a secret, backroom deal with Showtime -- granting the premium cable TV channel, owned by media giant Viacom, exclusive rights to control all but 'incidental usage' of all video footage shot at the Smithsonian."
The museum did turn down the request initially, Brown said, explaining that the application was asking for "more than incidental use" of the site and the plane. The Showtime contract, which limits such use, has angered many independent filmmakers.
After North's producers appealed the first decision, Brown said she "offered the producer the alternative of shooting film at Air & Space's Udvar-Hazy Center [near Dulles Airport]. We also asked the producer to contact us in writing with any questions. We have not heard back."
In essence, the Smithsonian was telling the show they could film the plane but couldn't film a commentator talking in front of it.
Now that the dispute has gone public, Brown tried to spin Trescott: "We were surprised to read the column because we consider the request to be pending." If the Smithsonian wants to be true to the taxpayers who are footing the bills, they'll allow news crews of all kinds to film inside their museums.