The Virtues of C-SPAN

"The Virtues of C-SPAN," The American Enterprise, 1997.


With a healthy, unexciting breakfast, you need a zesty appetizer to start the day. I receive mine from c-SPAN, where the morning talk show, “Washington Journal,” gets my parti-san juices flowing. A liberal and a conservative politician pick articles from the morning paper and usually get into an argument. They spin, they bicker, they exchange barbs. I love it.

C-SPAN, two educational channels funded by the cable television industry, is known for providing “unfiltered” news including live coverage of floor debates in the U.S. House and Senate, unabridged taping of campaign stump speeches, and similar political jousting. Yet the same network famous for providing the most partisan news is also considered the most objective. Why? Because C-SPAN lets politics appear as it is, with all its partisan slants. Sometimes the slant is obvious, as when a Democrat or Republican states his party’s position, and sometimes it is concealed behind the desire to appear “nonpolitical” (or “bipartisan”). C-SPAN tol erates both: It doesn’t dismiss people’s opinions merely because they are partisan, and it doesn’t dismiss the aspiration to rise above partisanship merely because the effort often fails or is insincere.

Brian Lamb, the head moderator, and his able assistants do something almost never done on the major networks. They listen and they question; or rather, they listen so that they can question. Lamb’s purpose is to enable the talker to make his point, not to embarrass him. But to do that, he asks for evidence, for a source, for an example, for consistency, or-when it’s a wanderer-for the point. Sometimes the result is to embarrass an ill-informed caller or a biased guest, but that is not the intent. The intent–though Lamb doesn’t boast of it–is to educate.

UNZ [pdf]