Editorial: Out Like a Lion
C-SPAN founder and CEO Brian Lamb, who is giving
up the reins of the public affairs cable network he
has guided for more than three decades, likes to
tell this story:
Lamb was once offered the opportunity to sit with iconic radio broadcaster Paul
Harvey at a hall of fame induction ceremony in Chicago. Being from Indiana and
having grown up listening to Harvey, Lamb jumped at the chance. “I had never
met him and obviously he was a giant in the industry, so I said, ‘Hey, that’s terrific.’”
Lamb went to Chicago, put on his tux, and was introduced to Harvey, who
stood “in all his regalness. And Paul Harvey looks at me,” says Lamb, “takes my
hand and says, 'You know, what you have done for this country is just extraordinary,
how you have brought people together with the founding of ESPN.’”
Lamb figured it had just been a slip, and later told Harvey he had been trying
to get him for an hour-long profi le interview. “Why would a sports network be
interested in interviewing someone like me?” Harvey asked.
“I was crushed,” says Lamb. “Paul Harvey had no idea who I was.” With
apologies to the late radio icon, he must have been confused. In this business,
not recognizing Lamb puts you in the vast minority.
Brian Lamb helped change the face of television and the nation’s perception of
politics. Lamb came to Washington and found it fascinating, and he thought the
country might think so too, provided they had a chance to see it in action. Working
in his favor, the national appetite had already been whetted by the Watergate
hearings on PBS, which showed just how fascinating some of that sausagemaking
could be. Lamb came up with the idea for the Cable-Satellite Public
Affairs Network in 1975; the switch was turned on four years later.
With C-SPAN, Lamb made the daily business of politics into something worth
viewing, combining his love of Washington’s inner workings and his journalist’s
passion for telling the story to others. In another life, he had been the Washington
bureau chief for a cable trade publication. Through C-SPAN, his vocation
became his calling.
A CBS Radio White House correspondent tweeted last week that in honor of
Lamb’s announcement, the Supreme Court should allow cameras into its oral
arguments, something Lamb and C-SPAN have been pushing for years. That is unlikely,
but it would indeed be fitting.
Lamb is not disappearing by any means. He has a three-year contract to remain
with the network to help strategize and continue to proselytize about the value of
letting the people see their government in action, or “inaction,” as the case may be.
Thankfully, C-SPAN is more than Brian Lamb, as he is the first to point out.
The nonprofit has depended on the cable industry for support from the outset.
Without the initial seed money of $25,000 and continued backing for 35 years,
says Lamb, “we wouldn’t be here. This whole world is pegged toward the bottom
line, and this place has never made a dime for anybody. The industry has spent a
billion dollars in these 35 years for a product that is nothing but public service.”
And it has been money incredibly well spent, as has Lamb’s career in sharing
his vision for open government with the world.