Sound-bites. Photo ops. Glitzy visuals. Attack ads. Prepared speeches. Cutesy one-liners tested on focus groups. Bumper stickers. Meaningless clichés. Cheap tricks. Tawdry politics. Cynical government. This is what high-minded Americans know has come to dominate our public life, and they say they would do anything to save our democracy from such a crass fate.
Brian Lamb doesn't spend much of his time denouncing the political culture, saving his efforts to actually provide an alternative. The creator of C-SPAN, the nonprofit, public affairs cable network, Lamb now serves as its CEO and chief on-air host. The integrated circuitry is not an outgrowth of CEO egotism; all on-camera moderators double as C-SPAN business executives, and Brian Lamb has not once uttered his own name in 16 years of airtime.
C-SPAN is a deadly serious, 24-hour news network which brings the political and cultural debate to the TV viewer un-edited. A White House press conference is carried in its entirety, as is a speech by Noam Chomsky at Howard University. As is a policy conference at the Cato Institute, the Freedom Forum, or the American Enterprise Institute. Yet the mainstay of C-SPAN continues to be nonstop coverage of the House of Representatives (C-SPAN1) and Senate (C-SPAN2) floor proceedings. It's an ugly job, but somebody's got to do it.
Before C-SPAN, nobody did. The broadcast networks, with the opportunity to reach tens of millions of viewers each half-hour, couldn't afford the low audience share which congressional debates, hearings, and policy conferences inspire. Only with the deregulation of satellites in the early 1970s and the deregulation of cable television systems in the late 1970s did the idea of C-SPAN make any sense. Only in the age of cheap transmission, abundant channel capacity, and free competition between video programmers could small audiences be served.
Lamb, who studied the economics of television in his days as an analyst in the White House Office of Telecommunications in the early 1970s, later moved into the cable TV business as a reporter for trade journals. In interviewing some key congressmen, he found that he could secure permission to televise Congress in action (which some people take to be one word): Uninterrupted, gavel-to-gavel coverage of the democratic process was just the sort of low-cost news and public affairs programming which the fledgling cable industry was looking for.
Several system groups backed Lamb's efforts, and the network was underway. Today it has an annual budget of $28 million.
For which it delivers just exactly the sort of product which the critics of American media have publicly propounded as the salvation for our political souls. Both sides of the spectrum have assailed the old broadcast network triopoly of news coverage: too corporate (says the left), too liberal (says the right), too sensationalistic (says everyone). In C-SPAN, Lamb has created a product alternative that is unassailable. C-SPAN is scrupulously nonpartisan, inherently patient, unerringly substantive. It is the policy wonks' DreamNet.
Which is somewhat curious, because the policy wonks in Washington have made nothing but trouble for Mr. Lamb. While often the recipient of industry kudos, his praises are sung only in the most patronizing ways in the inner councils of government. C-SPAN's existence is not the subject of laboratory study in the typical telecommunications policy shop; rather, analysts who claim they desire more of what C-SPAN delivers ignore the very reasons for C-SPAN's existence, or the factors which determine its future growth.
All of which is painfully apparent to Brian Lamb, a man who deadpans so well that his frustrated viewers have no idea whether he votes Democrat or Republican. So we should listen carefully when Brian Lamb elects to speak out, with conviction and opinion, in one area alone: communications policy and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Contributing Editor Thomas W. Hazlett, a former chief economist at the Federal Communications Commission and currently a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, interviewed Lamb in late December. He was accompanied by Washington Editor Rick Henderson.
Reason: Why do you ask for personal information from the people you interview?
Brian Lamb: For so many years on television and on radio, the experts that we hear from kind of parachute in from outer space, and we know nothing about them. There are certain reference points in life that seem to matter: Did you work in a political campaign? Where did you go to school? Where did you live? Are you married? Do you have kids? Who got you started? All that helps you understand why they think what they think.
Reason: Where were you born? What did your parents do? How was it growing up?
Lamb: I was born in Lafayette, Indiana, to parents who didn't graduate from college. My father ran a tavern for a long time, and then was a wholesale beer distributor. My mother was from Arkansas. I grew up in a wonderful little community that had really one high school, and then went to Purdue University which is in the same town. It cost me $125 a semester. I got a speech degree because they didn't have a broadcasting school and then went to the Navy when I was 22. That was a real important change for me.
I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, which was a big mistake. I got admitted to Indiana University Law School, moved for the first time in my life outside of the city, set up shop down there [in Bloomington], and lasted three days. I decided that I didn't want to go to school anymore, I didn't want to be a lawyer. I wanted to go into the service and did.
Reason: So three days of law school put you in the Navy?
Lamb: Absolutely. And I loved it. Best thing that ever happened to me.
Reason: This was what year?
Lamb: This was 1964 that I went in the Navy. I graduated from Purdue in '63.
Reason: Was Vietnam on the radar screen then?
Lamb: It was. There was a lot of tension in the air. In those days there was a draft. If you got married and had children, you didn't have to worry about it. But I wasn't married, haven't married, and didn't have children, and therefore it was something hanging over my head.
I could have avoided the draft by staying in law school, but the Navy looked attractive to me, looked like the right thing to do, so that's why I did it. By the time I got into the Navy in '64, we were very concerned that we were going to get shipped to Vietnam in '64 and '65. But we didn't.
I went to Norfolk, Virginia, was on a ship down there that traveled to the Mediterranean most of the time. After a couple of years I came to the Pentagon in the public affairs office in the Defense Department. I worked under the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, Arthur Sylvester, who you might remember was quoted early in the Kennedy administration as saying the government had a right to lie. That was one of my introductions to government and public affairs. Robert McNamara was the secretary of defense. I spent two years there in the audio-visual news department answering questions for the networks and the television medium and setting up news conferences. It wasn't an important job but for me it was a great window on the world and how the media interacted with the government.
I was increasingly dismayed by what I saw happening. And it was my first education into how news was made, and what motivated correspondents and what motivated the government, how government attempted to shade and cover up and lie, and how the media in some cases would be a willing accomplice.
Reason: What was your clearest recollection of this relationship between the government and the press?
Lamb: I always remember one particular facet of the weekly dissemination of news. Robert McNamara used to have a weekly meeting with the press on Thursday afternoons. It was held in his dining room. The media sat around his dining room table and asked him questions. Whenever they used the material they could only quote "U.S. officials."
The public never knew who those U.S. officials were, but it allowed the government to get its message out and it allowed the media to have a story. Every Friday morning in The New York Times a lead story said, "U.S. officials predict the bombing of the North will end in two months." And those 25 reporters sitting around the table all knew who said it, but the public never did, and at that time no one helped them understand it.
It seemed to me to be a fraud. I know the people involved in it then thought they were doing honorable work, and no one was per se lying at a particular meeting, although the secretary of defense didn't tell the truth all the time–we've learned that since then.
Reason: By his own admission.
Lamb: By his own admission. And I kept saying to myself, There's something wrong there. This ought to be an open situation, and the more closed it is and the more insular it is, the more both sides can fool the public for their own reasons. And we found ourselves in a major war, 500,000 troops deployed and 58,000 people killed.
The biggest problem with Vietnam was that it was evolutionary, step-by-step, day-by-day. It was Chinese water torture, drip, drip, drip. Before you knew it you had 500,000 troops there and there was never open discussion or a vote taken of any significance that the public participated in. Yes, there was a Tonkin Gulf resolution, but now we understand that the set-up for it was a phony.
Reason: How did C-SPAN come to be?
Lamb: C-SPAN was conceived from 1975 to '77 and started in 1979. You can credit one piece of technology–the satellite–and a group of human beings who were leaders in the cable television industry who said, when they were presented with this idea, "Let's try it." And it came at a time when there was a need for new programming.
Reason: For decades now, the government has said that it wants public affairs programming. But nobody seems to concede that deregulation has achieved exactly the goal the government sought through regulation of broadcasters. People complain about the broadcast networks, but none of them compare to C-SPAN.
Lamb: There's an enormous disconnect between what has happened and what people in the business of talking and thinking about television say has happened. I don't understand it.
Our network [will carry] a panel discussion among so-called media experts, and they will sit there and decry the state of current-affairs [programming] as if we don't even exist. They will appear on this network, in front of our microphones, saying, "What this country needs is an opportunity for people to be heard. What it needs is an opportunity for long-form discussion. What it needs is an opportunity for more voices out there to get a chance to speak their minds." And I'm sitting there watching, saying, "What's wrong with my brain–am I missing something here?"
Telecommunications is not a partisan issue. I have seen Republicans work very hard at preventing the new communications from coming along, and they're supposed to be interested in deregulation. I've seen Democrats very interested in deregulation, in opening it up. One of our great friends at this network was [former Rep.] Lionel Van Deerlin, who was chairman of the communications subcommittee in the House in 1976. Nobody alive, ever to serve in Congress, did more for the creation of new networks than Lionel Van Deerlin. And it was in the midst of a very partisan period.
Reason: And Van Deerlin was opposed by Barry Goldwater.
Lamb: He was opposed by Barry Goldwater.
Reason: The press routinely characterizes deregulation as pro-business, pro-monopoly, whereas the pro-regulation argument is given very different treatment as pro-consumer, and for the "public interest."
Lamb: I'll tell you one little story. I was asked to testify in 1991 about the 1992 legislation that [reregulated] cable television. I've been very careful not to be a part of the industry's lobbying effort, and to stay as independent as humanly possible. But when it came to our own livelihood being affected, I agreed to testify. [Rep.] Ed Markey [D-Mass.] was chairman, and I sat there and said, "If you pass must-carry and retransmission consent [the requirements in the 1992 cable bill that local cable systems carry every local broadcast channel even if they duplicate other channels' programming, or pay broadcasters who wish to charge for their signals], you will hurt C-SPAN–the only non-profit public affairs network in this country. You will hurt this network, we will be set back, our growth will be stymied, and we will lose homes."
At the same desk, [testifying] that same day is Larry Tisch, [CEO of] CBS, and he is protesting that if [the broadcast networks] don't get retransmission consent, and must-carry, they will be out of business. The implication was that they would be hurt badly.
In fact, there are 7 million homes in the United States that have lost C-SPAN because of must-carry and retransmission…
Reason: Seven million?
Lamb: Seven million.
Reason: Out of a universe of 60 million?
Lamb: Yeah. At one point or another, they either lost that subscriber entirely or got cut back on C-SPAN or cut back on C-SPAN2 or they lost C-SPAN2.
No one else had this kind of hit. No one was hurt as badly as we were. To this day we're hurt. We've spent thousands of dollars as a part of the court cases involved in this. I'm constantly bewildered about what is going on here.
Must-carry is the greatest travesty to ever happen to this network. I'm having intellectual problems with it. I'm not a lawyer, and I don't consider myself to be that smart, but I read the First Amendment and then I read the must-carry legislation and it doesn't go together.
In almost every case that we've been bumped [from a local cable system because of must-carry] it's been because of some shopping channel being brought in from 45 miles away, or the fifth public television station brought in from out of state, and I don't understand it. Essentially, the law is saying that the programs these channels show have a right to be carried while C-SPAN does not. I'm at a loss to understand how the First Amendment and the must-carry regulation, or for that matter retransmission consent, go together.
And when we [go to Congress] saying what we say, people look at me, pat me on the head and say, "Nice little boy–we're really proud of what you're doing." But we never have asked for a special favor. We've said, "Just treat us as a first-class citizen in this mix." And [this message] is not heard.
Reason: What does C-SPAN charge a local cable system?
Lamb: It's a per subscriber, per month figure of 6 cents. They get everything we have for one price.
Reason: Even C-SPAN3?
Lamb: Three's available to the local Washington cable systems. It's not on satellite yet. And we're waiting, again–and it's been an incredible wait–for the infrastructure to be opened up, because government can't make up its mind [on a telecommunications bill]. The rate regulation of 1992 and the restrictions put on to keep cable from getting into the telephone business, and vice versa, has kept a cap on this explosion that will occur.
Reason: How has that happened?
Lamb: Business types look at the world and say, "I'm not going to venture into a field that's unknown until I'm told that the government isn't going to put the clamps on me again." The greatest thing about business is that when you can create and you have an unlimited field and no one's there to stop you–and you can create, and create, and create, and sell, and sell, and sell–all kinds of new things happen. Now the lid's on.
Reason: Because of the rate controls?
Lamb: Because of the rate controls, and because all through the years Congress has said, "We'll take care of this broadcaster group, and this cable group, and this telephone group, and we'll keep you all happy in your little monopolies, and we won't let you compete in each other's world, and everybody's going to be happy."
What also has been at work here is that members of Congress see an opportunity out of each one of these industries to generate PAC money. The industries are only playing the game according to the rules. They're going to give the maximum amount of money and the politicians are sitting there saying, "We need the maximum amount of money to run our campaigns." Telecommunications has been this humongous tin cup for politicians for a lot of years, and it's gotten to the point where you've got to watch very carefully to see why a new piece of legislation is dropped in the hopper because it could do nothing more or less than generate tremendous amounts of money into the political coffers of both parties. [The industries] must contribute to the campaigns of people, not just from their districts, but from outside because these committees have so much power.
C-SPAN has no real clout. In the end members of Congress really don't want to be seen and heard like we've shown them. They [prefer] that the process not be seen. And lately there have been a couple who admit it. Freshman [Rep.] George Nethercutt [R-Wash.] is on the record saying that because we're here, we're the problem.
They only want things to be open so much. We've asked to put our own cameras in the chamber of the House and the Senate, and have been laughed at behind the scenes. [Congress has always controlled the cameras.] We've made some inroads, but we're a long way from getting to the real story of what goes on in Washington, D.C.
Reason: So much of it goes on at the markups and the committee meetings that you can only cover selectively.
Lamb: Now we're allowed to show all committee meetings, but for 15 years John Dingell [D-Mich., former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee] wouldn't allow cameras into a markup. We asked at the beginning of the 104th Congress to cover all markups, all conferences, all committee meetings, and were given that in the rules of the House.
But now what happens in conferences is we show up with our cameras, and they'll have a public meeting, and then they'll shut it down and do private meetings until they get their decisions made, and you'll never see how the deals are cut. Then they'll come back to the public meeting and we'll be able to show the last hour of the debate, but you'll never know how staff put the whole thing together behind the scenes. I suspect you're never going to know. I think people will find ways to not show the public how the decisions are really reached.
Reason: You are in an unregulated sector, you don't have a public interest obligation, you don't have a license from the FCC, you're out there in the unregulated world, yet somehow this oasis of information and objectivity has blossomed. How did C-SPAN become C-SPAN?
Lamb: The short answer is that [fairness] was our objective and we stuck by our objective–that was our mission.
I took at face value what people were saying–in the government and in the media and in business over the years–that all they really cared about was fairness and objectivity. And the closer I got to it, the less I believed it.
I'm not trying to do an "Aw shucks" routine here, but I'm a little guy from a small town in Indiana who believed in all those civics teachers. When I came here, looked at it up close, saw it first hand, I said, "This is not what I was taught. This is just not the way that they told me in civics class that it was supposed to be."
I've been enormously lucky to have had some tremendously honest businesspeople who trusted me and supported me–and now us–to get this job done. I can take you to no less than 15 human beings and say these people made this place work because they learned what we were really up to, and then they really believed, and now they are our strongest supporters. They would kill for us. They are cable television executives who have been slammed by Congress saying, "They're nothing but greedy people–all they care about is money." But they did create an institution that truly belongs to the public.
I never believed in the Fairness Doctrine. I thought it was the biggest joke in the history of the world. To put a government official in the Federal Communications Commission and say, "You decide what's fair" is outrageous.
Then we came [along] saying, "We're not going to make money," and we got support from all these different cable television executives, and they've never ever interfered with us, ever. At the base of most American businesspersons, once you scratch through all the nonsense, is a very honest individual who wants to do the right thing. That's what I've experienced here. And that story is never told because the press doesn't particularly care about it–they don't want to say anything nice about people in business.
I have no problem saying that, because I've seen it first hand, and I've seen [businesspeople] be a lot more honest in the end than some people in my own profession, meaning the media business. Because people in the media business are no more honest than people in business. They just like to think they are.
Reason: How many people watch C-SPAN?
Lamb: I have absolutely no idea.
Reason: You never look at that?
Lamb: Never, ever, ever look at that.
Reason: Do ratings services rate C-SPAN?
Lamb: They do not. And actually it hurts us with [the media]. There are several things that the press demands you be involved with in order to cover you in any extensive way. One is personality. Two: ratings. Three: profit. And four: advertising. If you don't move money to somebody's bottom line, or if you don't move money in the stock market, or if you don't look and walk and talk like a business, the press automatically loses interest.
Reason: What's your annual budget?
Lamb: Our annual budget is somewhere around $28 million, I say around there because we're right in the middle of a change in the fiscal year.
Reason: You have about 200 employees?
Lamb: 220 employees. But we are really small. I mean, if you compare us with the size of CNN, the Washington bureau alone, they probably have about 380 employees. We have 40,000 square feet; they have something like 70,000 square feet of space down there.
Where we have an annual budget of $28 million, they have annual [revenues] of something like $700 million. They're a for-profit business, and we're not. We're apples and oranges, we're different organizations, we have a different reason for existing.
We have no need for ratings, because the minute you put ratings on to this, then we start making decisions based on what will people watch, in order to bring eyeballs to advertisers, in order to bring profit to the bottom line. And that's not our goal.
Reason: What about the viewers? You've done some surveys.
Lamb: We know, for instance, that no more than four out of 10 [cable viewers] ever watch C-SPAN. That's not a scary figure, because most cable networks have a dynamic like that.
Roughly 90 percent of our viewers vote. We know that. We also know that it's a normal audience, it's not a super-educated elite audience, it's not a public television audience. Something like 15 percent of our audience is under 24 years of age. It's about the same number of Republicans, the same number of Democrats, 20-25 percent independents. We have fewer black viewers than the population at large–it's something like 8 percent of [our viewers], and the population is 12 percent. Five percent of our audience is Hispanic, when Hispanics are 9 percent of the population.
A lot has to do with who buys cable. But we know that our audience is active, it's more diverse than the callers are.
Reason: You take about 11,000 calls a year.
Lamb: We probably take more than that now.
Reason: How have you been surprised by the callers?
Lamb: I've been surprised at the extraordinary breadth of intelligence in the country, people who know on every issue, more than the experts who live and work here. [Callers] who are experts on history, who have had first-hand experience in an industry in the middle of a debate can call up and say, "I don't know what you're doing out there, but I've worked as an airplane pilot for the last 25 years, and you've just got it wrong."
We've also learned that the people who call the call-in shows are very aggressive people who have strong views and often strong negative views about everything. They're angry, so they go to the phone, they pick it up and say, "I'm going to have my say-so." And that's fine.
You know there's a lot of anxiety among media folks in this country about the anger in the call-in shows. Well, there are people in this country who are angry, so let them talk. You know, the more they talk the better off it is. Let it rip, let people say what they want to say.
You have viewers who watch all day. But that's a minor percentage. Then you have viewers who watch one hour a week. But this is a country where 70 percent of the people find what they want to watch by using a remote-control device. That's the way they find C-SPAN.
Guests will often say after they've appeared here, "I've never gotten as much feedback from any program that I ever appeared on." There's a very simple reason: When they appear here, we run [the show] three or four times, in different time zones, at different times. So the chances of people finding a face that they recognize and that they want to hear from is much greater here than it is in any other place in television.
The Today show comes on from 7 to 9 in the morning and that's the last time you see it. If you'd get a sound bite on CNN it might run 12 times during the day and somebody would say, "Oh, I saw your sound bite." Here, they'll see your whole discussion.
This is the only place in the history of electronic communications where someone can approach a microphone with a speech, stand in front of the microphone, and complete their thoughts without any interference, whether it's an elected representative in the House of Representatives or the United States Senate, or whether it's somebody who's at the National Press Club.
I was watching Richard Leakey on this network this morning talking about Kenya and he could say everything he wanted to say within that hour and no one was going to interfere with him. That's a dynamic here that very few people understand, and that is the biggest change that we have contributed to communications–that there are thousands of people who have stepped in front of a microphone over the last 16 years who have been able to say everything they've wanted to say.
Reason: How do you select the journalists, how do you select the symposia, how do you select the books?
Lamb: The same way any other editorial group selects anything. And the luxury that we have here [is that we can ask], "All right, did we have the other side on a week ago, and do we need to put this side on now?" Decisions aren't reached that way in other places. Their drive is rating points. That's their success mark, the sales and the advertising. We are able to sit back and say, "Did we have the lobbyist on today, and did we get the anti-lobbyist position on?" That's a great luxury, and that's what drives us all.
Reason: Has providing an unfiltered message caused Congress to change at all?
Lamb: It's hard for me to know, because there's so much change in the media at large. I think the biggest change hasn't been what we've done–the biggest change is the multiplicity of choice. And added to that is that 85 percent of the American people have a VCR, 15 percent [subscribe to] an on-line service, and radio's been deregulated. So you have this tremendous choice out there of radio stations to listen to. You've got video games. People no longer get up in the morning and say, "What is the Today show doing for me today?" They get up and they really, literally have choice.
In an interview that was on this network a couple of years ago, George Will talked about how he gets up every morning and plops an audio book into his tape recorder and listens to that. We now can control our lives. If you're controlled by the media world, well, then it's your fault and you can't blame the media.
There's so much choice out there–175 channels on a satellite service, there will soon be that same number of choices on cable–you no longer have to march to anybody's drum. And I think that's more important than whether we have changed the coverage itself, because we're just one of very many choices we have on the dial.
Reason: But even so, some personalities have benefitted very much from having access to the airwaves unfiltered. Newt Gingrich, in particular, was a master of using one-minute speeches. Would there have been a Republican Congress had it not been for C-SPAN?
Lamb: I have no idea. I don't think there's any question that Newt Gingrich took full advantage of the opportunity to speak directly to people in the country via C-SPAN, but so did Al Gore. Al Gore used C-SPAN as much as Newt Gingrich did, in a much different way. He was chairman of the committees [in the Senate]. He often would call hearings during recess periods when everybody else went home and we'd cover them in their full five- day sessions. But we're here to be used, and this is the way this country ought to operate–when you're now elected to Congress whether you are a Republican or a Democrat you are assured you can talk back to the constituents via electronic media.
The great frustration in days past was you'd get elected to the House or the Senate, you'd come to Washington, and from that moment forward, if you were going to speak back to your constituents you had to speak back through a television station or a radio station in the community and that reporter in Washington had to give you permission. That's no longer the case.
We fit in by having a direct pipeline back, that, by the way, not everybody watches. There was a time when if ABC, NBC, and CBS carried a president's speech, everybody in the country watched it because they had no other place to go. Those days are over. If you're a president in the future, you'll have to go back to the days of Abraham Lincoln in having to get people's attention through a lot of different ways.
Reason: People generally agree that you do a better job in your pursuit of fairness than has ever been done, but for some people the belief remains that Noam Chomsky or Ralph Reed or others not exactly in the mainstream should be on C-SPAN more. What kind of pressure do you feel to expand the debate outward?
Lamb: Not much, because we have already expanded the debate outward. I'll give you some examples: Every [election] year we cover the Libertarian Party convention in its entirety. We covered the Unity Convention in Atlanta of Hispanics and blacks and [other] minority groups. Before the Million Man March we covered Khalid Muhammad, which made a lot of people furious and outraged.
We have 17,000 hours a year to fill on the two networks, but we only have 25 cameras–that's the real hang-up. We can only afford to do so many things, and there has to be a point where we say, yes-no, yes-no. The public doesn't realize how many mainstream people get "no" because we just don't have the time. And keep in mind that the base of this network, the most important part of it, [is televising] the House and the Senate, in their entirety, every day. Everything else we cover is just icing on the cake.
Reason: What do you think of the talk radio explosion? When the Fairness Doctrine was eliminated in 1987, the percentage of informational formats in radio took off.
Lamb: Deregulation saved FM radio and talk saved AM radio. I'll go a step further–satellite radio will spawn some fabulous opportunities for people. When a car can roll down a road and listen to a satellite channel, I can't wait. C-SPAN's going to be there.
Reason: I beg to differ with you, but knowing how rapidly the FCC licenses new competitors you can wait….
Lamb: (laughter) I like talk radio, I listen all the time. I love being out in my car driving across the country listening to all the different shows. I'm a big fan of the idea, and I don't worry about it. If we can't survive talk radio, we aren't much of a democracy.
There's a sense [in Washington] that only a certain group of people should be controlling the air waves, because they're more responsible and they have the right kind of opinions, and they're not going to take things too far. The great thing about talk radio is, the more you have, the better it is. The more voices you have, the more chance you have of giving everybody a chance to have their say-so, and we'll be a healthier place to live.
I listen to Mario Cuomo on Saturday mornings in Washington, D.C., and I listen to Rush Limbaugh on my radio on the [taped] replay when I get up in the morning, and I listen to Michael Reagan, and I listen to Gloria Allred when I'm in California, and Michael Jackson who we've simulcast on this network, and Tom Leykis from California, who's a big liberal, and Ron Smith from Baltimore–you can just go down the list of all these people. I love to listen to different viewpoints. The last thing I want is a journalist to tell me what I can listen to. I don't want the government to tell me what I can listen to.
I would trust the public at large any day to make a decision over what is good and bad and how many choices there are out there before I would a government based in Washington. And that's not being critical of the government, it's just the nature of the beast. The government feels like it has got to help everybody and protect everybody and to prevent people from hearing things that are bad or negative. And that's not real life.
Reason: So you're not exercised about this threat of media concentration people talk about.
Lamb: I'm not. I'm not worried at all that Rupert Murdoch or Ted Turner or Time Warner or any of these people is going to become too big, as long as there is total deregulation. Let a thousand flowers bloom. Don't put an artificial government [barrier] in the middle of this.
We're going to make it because one thing we know about this country is that it loves diversity. It loves choice.
Reason: What about the current efforts to regulate the Internet?
Lamb: The Internet might turn out to be the most important deregulation of voices in the history of the world, and it's unlimited. It will go forever. If you put restrictions on the Internet, people will get around them. They will figure out ways to send information in code. They'll get around anybody that stands in authority in the middle and says don't do that.
We're better off just having people set by example what they think is right and wrong and putting down obscenity and libel laws when people do go over the line and let it be decided in a court of law. It's clumsy, but having some human being, the czar of the Internet, sit somewhere and decide what is right or wrong, will not work, it will not last, and in the end it will be a waste of time.
Reason: The V-chip is very popular with liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans. What do you think about the regulatory measures proposed to deal with violence on television?
Lamb: I wish it would work, but parents have the ultimate responsibility and it's hard for me to know how you're going to determine who judges what's violent.
I don't happen to like violent movies. I don't go to them. But I don't have any children either. When I was being brought up my parents created the environment for me, but they basically left me alone and I had to learn to not like or like things on my own. And no matter how moral they were or no matter what their rules are, today I have a whole different set of rules than what they had.
There's an awful, awful lot that comes out of Hollywood I think is despicable–for example, the Oliver Stone movies as history/entertainment. I don't like what he's done with the movies, so I don't go to them. I worked for Richard Nixon, and we saw what Richard Nixon was all about and the mistakes that he made. I don't need somebody skewing the facts to know that it didn't work out too well for him.
But I am devoted to history, and this network is devoted to history. We like to tell it like it was and like the historians see it, or go back and look at the documents and let you make up your own mind.
However, Oliver Stone should be able to be in business forever. If people want to go watch that stuff, that's their business. Should the government regulate that? Of course not.
Reason: Thank you.