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C-SPAN seeks new rules of openness from new Republican House Speaker John Boehner

CSPAN House coverage Screengrab 11-18-10

As the Republicans plan their transition to majority party in the House of Representatives, about-to-be-Speaker John Boehner is seeking ways to dramatize the operational differences between the new GOP leadership and the old pirates of Pelosi.

No, no beanies for freshmen.

But one theme of Boehner's is institutional openness and accessibility in contrast to another political party -- we'll call them Democrats -- that said the public could only read legislation after it was passed by an obedient majority, many of whose members are now, strangely enough, filing for unemployment insurance back home.

Sensing an opportunity, the soft-spoken folks over at C-SPAN are requesting reforms in the way full House sessions are televised into more than 100 million homes.

C-SPAN, as everyone knows, is a 31-year-old living national treasure financed by cable companies whose letters stand for Comprehensive-Substantive Programming Ad Nauseum. No "Speaking Like the Stars" contests on C-SPAN's three channels. In modern....

...Washington, C-SPAN has become the de facto national sedative for sanity in a hectic verbal swamp seething with name-callers and screamers. Keith Olbermann wouldn't even be allowed to buy decaf in C-SPAN's cafeteria.

When Armageddon occurs, C-SPAN will televise the mushroom clouds while taking viewer reactions to the end of civilization on phone lines for Republicans, Democrats and Independents.Impeach Everybody button

Despite previous rejections by speakers, last week Brian Lamb, the head calm person, patiently wrote Boehner seeking permission to control its own cameras during full House sessions.

Currently, the cameras are House-owned and stationary on the person speaking. No reaction shots, no House panoramas, in part because the person speaking often has little audience but clerks.

The House, in fact, almost always looks like everyone's on break. 

To back up his request, Lamb also commissioned a poll of 1,200 actual midterm voters. You may not be terribly surprised -- and please do not audibly gasp if you are -- to learn that an overwhelming number of respondents, +/-2.83%, agree with Brian on this whole openness thing.

Some 84% support House members using good old plain English without all that whereas and heretofore folderol.

Some 83% have the ridiculous notion that proposed legislation always appear online for anyone to read at any time, like an ATM for laws.

About 80% would like alerts when something big is about to happen, like a TV snooze alarm for floor votes.

Seventy-six percent think TV cameras should be allowed to show the entire chamber, break-takers be damned. And the same percentage thinks it a good idea if there are actual debates, you know, where somebody says something and somebody else responds, back and forth without Wolf Blitzer.

According to Robert Green, C-SPAN's pollster, the message of the results is: "Accept the Digital Age. The quickest way to rebuild confidence in the institution of Congress, now at an all-time low, is to make it accessible."

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: C-SPAN; CafePress

Comments () | Archives (5)

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The "head calm person" at C-SPAN, Brian Lamb, spent a "Q&A" hour with Keith Olbermann once, in what turned out to be a fascinating interview. Where do you imagine they had coffee?

Mac, in case you haven't watched a lot of Brian Lamb's work, every single interview he does is "fascinating." Brian Lamb is peerless when it comes to flat-out Q&A. One of my all-time favorite moments came when Mr. Lamb skewered the full-of-himself musician, David Crosby, in Q&A about a book Crosby had written. Crosby tried to wriggle out of talking about his sperm donation to Melissa Etheridge's childbearing efforts in her lesbian marriage. Crosby dissembled (badly) by saying he had not come on Booknotes to discuss his private life. Mr. Lamb looked at Crosby like he was an insect and said, "But David, it's in the book." Crosby melted like a small piece of ice.

Thomas Reed better keep his son far away from Bwaney Fwank. I am sure he would love to have him as a pwivate page pontificating pwersonal pwoblems.

I've been waiting for President Obama's promise of CSPAN coverage and "transparency" for two years now. We will see if this comes true or not.

John Jordan said: "Mac, in case you haven't watched a lot of Brian Lamb's work, every single interview he does is 'fascinating'."

Yes, John, Brian Lamb's work is excellent.

But you missed the illogic in Mr. Malcolm's assertion which was the focus of my comment: How could Lamb have presented a fascinating interview with someone Malcolm claims "wouldn't even be allowed to buy decaf in C-SPAN's cafeteria"?

An attempt at a cheap shot failed, revealing Malcolm's own ignorance regarding C-SPAN and, more important, the philosophy of the "head calm person" whom he was supposedly praising.

If Lamb looked at the world the way Malcolm does, there would be no C-SPAN for him to praise.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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