A century from now, presidents and students will be reflecting on the fate of freedom and the exchange of ideas that unfold on C-SPAN today, and can be viewed on C-SPAN video archives that tell the story of democracy and America in news cycles measured in minutes, hours, years, decades and centuries.
We learned this week that Brian Lamb, the founder and CEO of C-SPAN, will be succeeded in April by Susan Swain and Rob Kennedy, who will become co-CEOs, while Lamb remains as executive chairman and host of his interview program, “QA.”
In free nations, there is nothing more indispensable than a free press providing an informed citizenry with the ideas and information without which freedom would perish. I would call C-SPAN the broadcaster of record for American democracy, and its video archives the homepage for serious discourse about democracy. “Book TV” is incomparable. The history on C-SPAN 3 is a goldmine. The video archive is a treasure trove.
While our politics have become a shouting match of pander and slander, name-calling and talking points, celebrity media and instant misanalysis, C-SPAN shines as an exemplar of what a free press in a free nation should be.
Watch C-SPAN and search the archives for great truths and inspiring tales about Reagan and Roosevelt, the Mercury astronauts and the female astronauts, Hemingway in history and Fitzgerald on the rich, the New Deal and the Civil War, and watch the stories and then read the books about Washington and Lincoln, the Clark Gable and George Clooney of C-SPAN.
This is the story of America. You can watch it using a button on your remote or a click on your iPad.
Brian Lamb joins my personal Mount Rushmore of media, along with Edward R. Murrow, who embodied integrity and courage in journalism; Newton Minow, who served President Kennedy, brilliantly championing a television that would rise above a vast wasteland; Walter Cronkite, who earned the title of most trusted man in America; Ted Turner, who brought more news to the globe than any person in history; and Katharine Graham, Ben Bradlee and Woodward and Bernstein, who knew that the daily newspapers I love so much can change history and serve democracy by courageously reporting the news.
Paul Farhi, in a perceptive comment in The Washington Post, noted that Lamb is that rare founder of major media who did not become super-wealthy. Yet what Lamb has done is far more precious, lasting and enriching than anything money can buy.
We live in an age of great public distrust of institutions, especially politics and including media. Yet C-SPAN has earned the trust of multitudes holding diverse and conflicting views. C-SPAN respects its audience, letting the protagonists tell their own stories and letting the viewers make their own decisions.
As Swain told me Tuesday for this column: “We are mature enough as a country to give the public access to important actions that affect all of our futures. We need more confidence in the public to open up our institutions to them, including the Supreme Court.”
I propose that the Supreme Court televise a handful of cases on a trial basis.
When the justices, by way of the Citizens United case, have more impact on our elections than any Americans since the Founding Fathers, the public deserves full access. I would trust all nine justices to be mature enough to maintain the dignity of the court rather than seek a sound bite on cable, or an appearance on “Dancing With the Stars.”
I suspect that somewhere in America today there are young boys and girls inspired by their teachers to learn more about some great public figures. After school these students will Google the names, and might well end up in the C-SPAN archive.
Upon such things, future best-selling novelists, heroic astronauts, cancer-curing scientists and history-changing presidents are born.
Not bad, for TV.