Forty years ago, one of the most momentous events in the history of politics and television took place: C-SPAN started broadcasting live, gavel-to-gavel coverage of the United States House of Representatives.
Long before reality TV shows like Real World, Survivor, Real Housewives, Big Brother, and Sober House, C-SPAN gave Americans direct access to one of the most powerful groups of people on the planet. For the first time in history, we could see our elected representatives debating, wheeling and dealing, freaking out, and occasionally falling asleep while debating government spending, foreign policy, and more.
Over the years, C-SPAN has expanded to include coverage of the Senate; daily public affairs shows featuring policy experts, activists, journalists, and lawmakers; long-form interviews with authors and other influential people; and coverage of events all around the country. In a world in which elite decisionmakers want to shield themselves from all forms of scrutiny and observation, C-SPAN performs the radical intervention of putting a camera on them while also engaging them in thoughtful, frank, and fair conversation.
For today's Reason Podcast, I talked to C-SPAN's founder Brian Lamb, who has managed to shine a bright light on the political process while simultaneously creating a model of civil discourse that is unmatched in cable news. The 77-year-old Indiana native tells me how working in the Pentagon during Vietnam inspired him to push for "openness" in government, why he's still pushing for cameras to cover oral arguments in the Supreme Court, and how C-SPAN expects to weather its next 40 years.
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