On March 19, 1979, C-SPAN first aired proceedings of the U.S. House of Representatives. American politics and media would never be the same.
Over the next 35 years, C-SPAN would expand its offerings to include coverage of the Senate, a wide variety of interview programs and live events, Book TV, radio broadcasts, and much more.
At the center of the C-SPAN story is Brian Lamb, who not only conceived the network but redefined the long-form television interview with a style that has been called stoic, spartan, laconic—and unbelievably effective in producing fascinating, revealing conversations.
Born in Indiana in 1941, Lamb told Reason that his interest in offering unmediated coverage of official legislative proceedings stemmed in part from his job in the Pentagon's public affairs office during the Vietnam War. "I kept saying to myself," Lamb recalled, "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."
Despite the immeasurable public value it provides, C-SPAN has never taken a dime of taxpayer money, always proudly insisting that it was "created by cable" and is funded by pay-television operations at no cost to taxpayers or cable subscribers.
In 2003 Reason named Lamb one of our 35 Heroes of Freedom, writing "The Great Stone Face of C-SPAN has produced more must-see TV than anyone else in the history of the medium. There's no reason to pick a favorite among the likes of Booknotes, Washington Journal, and all the other C-SPAN fare, but his greatest contribution may well be his first: turning a surveillance camera on the den of iniquity known as the U.S. House of Representatives." In 2012, Lamb stepped down as CEO of C-SPAN, though he still appears on the network.
In 2010, Reason TV's Nick Gillespie talked with Lamb about his attempt to get cameras in the Supreme Court (watch our video about that here). We also took the opportunity to have a wide-ranging—and distinctively non-stone-faced—discussion about the network, Lamb's views on politics, and a possible alternate career choice as a drummer for Merle Haggard or Brenda Lee. In celebration of C-SPAN's 35th anniversary, we're happy to release this conversation with Lamb.
About 40 minutes. Produced by Meredith Bragg. Additional camera: Dan Hayes and Joshua Swain.
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