The vision of Brian Lamb

Last week, President Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Brian Lamb, founder and chairman of C-SPAN. The White House said: “His dedication to a transparent political system and the free flow of ideas has enriched and strengthened our democracy.”

The award is well-deserved. At a time when televised public affairs was beginning its descent into an explicity subjective realm in which the news presenter became part of the news, Brian Lamb had a contrarian vision — to provide the public with largely unfiltered news and politics. What’s more remarkable, he sold that vision. These days, C-SPAN’s product is pretty much the only form of televised public affairs I can digest on a consistent basis.

I must add, however, that caller-based C-SPAN programs seem to have gone considerably downhill lately. Either I’ve become more critical or the callers have become progressively less cogent and more inane. This makes things entertaining when one is a guest, as I have been a few times, but the rest of the time it tends to yield an unwatchable (and unlistenable) program

On the other hand, the airing of these calls is part of what it means to have a transparent political system. You don’t just read the book, the book reads you.

UPDATE: My wife watched C-SPAN’s coverage of President Sarkozy’s speech to Congress. At one point, a Washington correspondent for Le Figaro took questions from callers, some of which were appalling. For example, one caller suggested that Sarkozy is Mossad agent.


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