Newseum, dedicated to free press, pulls 'Fake News' T-shirts from its shop

"The Newseum has removed the 'You Are Very Fake News' t-shirts from the gift shop and online," a spokeswoman said.
by Ethan Sacks /  / Updated 
Merchandise sold on the Newseum website.
Examples of merchandise sold on the Newseum website.Newseum.com

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The Newseum, an institution with a mission "to increase public understanding of the importance of a free press and the First Amendment," has pulled from its store T-shirts that featured President Donald Trump's favorite pejorative against the media.

Shirts with the phrase, "You Are Very Fake News," emblazoned on the front were on sale for $19.97 on the merchandise page on the Washington-based journalism museum's website, along with a version of the familiar red "Make America Great Again" hat.

"The Newseum has removed the 'You Are Very Fake News' t-shirts from the gift shop and online," Newseum spokeswoman Sonya Gavankar said in a statement on Saturday. "We made a mistake and we apologize. A free press is an essential part of our democracy and journalists are not the enemy of the people."

There remains a wide variety of clothing with political messages or references for sale through the Newseum, including one with the words "alternative fact: a false statement delivered with deliberate intent to mislead or to deceive," a reference to a phrase a top Trump adviser used to defend then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer for inaccurately describing the size of Trump's inauguration crowd.

"All the merchandise in our store goes through a vetting process," Gavankar said in an email on Friday. "Of course, we’re well aware of the political temperature in the country, but we will continue to be a nonpartisan organization that champions the rights of all to free speech."

Gavankar added that those particular "Fake News" shirts were meant as a "satirical rebuke," and that the Trump hats have been for sale in the museum's shop since the 2016 campaign.

But the presence of the merchandise, which was first reported by media advocacy group Poynter, has outraged many journalists.

Jeff Jarvis, a professor at CUNY's Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, called the presence of the shirt in the online store "an outright attack on journalism."

"It was built entirely to pay tribute to the value of news and the value of truth, and to play into Trump’s hands this way is beyond belief," Jarvis said of the Newseum.

"If journalists aren’t going to stand up for journalism, who is?" Jarvis added. "It’s a form of self-loathing that I can’t comprehend."

It's a sentiment echoed by other journalists on social media.

Gavanakar noted that the museum has sold politically themed gear since it opened in 2008. When Barack Obama was president, she said, the shop carried items with his image and slogans.

Obama's most famous campaign rallying cries included "Yes We Can" and "Fired Up! Ready to go!"

Trump renewed his attacks on the media at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania Thursday night, calling the press "fake, fake, disgusting news."

Relations between the press and the White House have been especially strained in recent days, with White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders earlier Thursday refusing to disavow Trump's habit of referring to the press as the "enemy of the people" when confronted on the issue by CNN's Jim Acosta.

"It's ironic, Jim, that not only you and the media attack the president for his rhetoric, when they frequently lower the level of conversation in this country," Sanders said.

The backlash to the Newseum's "fake news" merchandise comes five months after The Washington Post reported that financial troubles may force the museum's parent company, the Freedom Forum, to sell the institution's seven-story building.

"I know the museum is in trouble, but if that’s what they're going to resorting to for funds, it should just shut down," Jarvis said.

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