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“Cable’s Gift to America” Celebrates 25th Anniversary of Public-Affairs Programming PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Feature Stories
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Tuesday, 16 March 2004 18:00
With political discourse defined by (and often limited to) spin and sound bites, it seems a particularly appropriate time to celebrate the presence of C-SPAN, the not-for-profit corporation that provides America (and the world) with coverage of U. S. government and important issues that’s richer and more in-depth than anything else out there.

C-SPAN (Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network) began broadcasting on March 19, 1979, reaching 3.5 million households with its first cablecast of the U.S. House of Representatives. Today, the flagship C-SPAN channel can be seen in 79 million households, C-SPAN 2 in 60 million, and C-SPAN 3 in 3 million. According to the network, 28.5 million people watch C-SPAN each week, and regular viewers watch an average of 12 hours a week.

Brian Lamb, now the chairperson and CEO of C-SPAN, presented the idea of a public-affairs network on February 13, 1977, and the company was incorporated in December of that year. C-SPAN began broadcasting the House of Representatives on March 19, 1979, and presented its first non-House debate programming on December 10, 1979.

The network began broadcasting 24 hours a day in 1982. C-SPAN 2 began on June 2, 1986, and live coverage of the U.S. Senate started a few months later. In 1993, C-SPAN received a Peabody Award for overall excellence by an institution. C-SPAN 2’s “About Books” weekend programming was launched in 1996. C-SPAN 3 began broadcasting in 2001.

Since its inception, C-SPAN has broadcast more than 24,000 hours of coverage from the U.S. House of Representatives. It is funded by the cable-television industry and does not receive government funding.

C-SPAN’s mission statement succinctly lays out the differences between itself and other television news programming:

“C-SPAN is a public service created by the American cable television industry:

“To provide C-SPAN’s audience access to the live gavel-to-gavel proceedings of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, and to other forums where public policy is discussed, debated, and decided – all without editing, commentary, or analysis and with a balanced presentation of points of view;

“To provide elected and appointed officials and others who would influence public policy a direct conduit to the audience without filtering or otherwise distorting their points of view;

“To provide the audience, through the call-in program, direct access to elected officials, other decision makers, and journalists on a frequent and open basis;

“To employ production values that accurately convey the business of government rather than distract from it; and to conduct all other aspects of its operations consistent with these principles.”

While C-SPAN might not be riveting television, it is clearly among the most important public-affairs institutions operating because of its reach and its unfiltered presentation of legislative activities. It has been an inspiration to many viewers, as evidenced by the essays re-printed here.

C-SPAN Spurred Many to Action

Last year, C-SPAN asked its viewers to submit stories of how the network’s coverage has affected their lives and moved them to get involved in politics or their communities. The 25 winning entries, plus 15 other “special recognition” essays are on C-SPAN’s Web site at (

The River Cities’ Reader here presents a handful of those essays, showing that C-SPAN’s contribution to American politics isn’t limited to what it broadcasts; the network is credited by several people for changing their lives.

Conservative, Liberal, or Moderate

I have been a liberal democrat all my voting life, as are my father and mother. We are African Americans, and the Democrat ticket is our voting birthright. In my mind, the conservative racist Republicans wanted to “turn back the clock” on any progress blacks have made over the past 40 years.

I began watching Washington Journal on C-SPAN about eight years ago. I love the call-in show and I am good at being able to get my calls answered (every 30 days, of course). In 1996, I called in on the liberal line. I firmly made my position known about the issue of the day. This was during the good ol’ days of Brain Lamb hosting on Mondays and Fridays. Brian said to me, “Caller, why are you calling in on the liberal line?” I answered, “Because I am a liberal.” He replied, “Caller, your views are clearly conservative,” and the guest agreed. I remember saying in a stunned and somewhat confused tone, “Well that is how I feel.” Brian began his regular spiel of insisting callers call in on the proper lines. On that day, I began re-considering my political position.

Today I am a registered Republican. I was a delegate at the 2001 Georgia State Republican Convention with Ralph Reed as the state chairman. I participated on committees to organize Republican rallies in my county. I am glad to be American thanks to C-SPAN and its “Conservative,” “Liberal,” or “Moderate” call lines.

Angela Beckles
Onalaska, Wisconsin

The Best Resource for Political Education

I owe a lot to C-SPAN. No other resource – including world-class political-science courses, the world’s preeminent opinion and news magazines and newspapers, books authored by Nobel Laureates – has contributed more to my political education.

I “discovered” C-SPAN when I channel-surfed to a panel discussion on the Bill of Rights at the Libertarian Party National Convention in 1991. The panelists were actually excited about the Bill of Rights. The discussion was clear, authoritative, and rational. I was hooked – on C-SPAN and the LP.

Other action followed. I joined the LP. I attended monthly LP supper clubs. I staffed LP outreach booths on the Venice Beach boardwalk and other sites in L.A. I spoke on behalf of the LP at forums at UCLA, Loyola Marymount University, Santa Monica College, and L.A. high schools. I chaired the Westside LP. I edited The Los Angeles Libertarian, a 1,000-reader newsletter. I ran for office. I appeared on local TV.

I became a regular viewer of Washington Journal. I am also a regular caller.

Today I am running for Congress, California’s 36th district. I am using my candidacy as a platform to expose ticking time bombs. One example:

Generation after generation, the children of low-income Americans receive the worst K-12 education in the industrial world. Their “educations” consign many to lives of crime, welfare and Third-World jobs. These children deserve better.

I plan a new use of website technology to engage the opposition, the press and the people.

Mike Binkley
Torrance, California

The Greatest For(u)m

From the start, I was hooked. 24/7 it was on, and 18/6 I was watching. It was my second year of college at the University of California-Davis, where I was studying biology, and two years later I was studying community development with an emphasis in local media. My inspiration for changing my life’s path was C-SPAN.

By the time I had graduated from UC-Davis, I had completed an internship at Davis Community TV and had studied local media in Kyoto, Japan, and Taxco, Mexico. But, my dream of working at C-SPAN continued. After spending a year in Europe studying local media in Milton Keynes, England, and Madrid, Spain, I returned home still searching for my niche. After returning to school for a few years, I returned “home” to Davis Community TV and started working as a staff trainer and production assistant. I began making contacts countywide during an internship with Yolo Area Regional Network when I found my current job at WAVE TV in Woodland, California.

Over the past two years, I started modeling our programming after C-SPAN. The top priorities for us are fairness, quality, and education, all done in a simple, clear, and professional manner.

Now, we are working with Charter Communications, the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, and the cities of Woodland, Winters, Dixon, and West Sacramento to develop our own local version of C-SPAN on cable channel 18.

C-SPAN programming gives an invaluable forum for our nation to share information; now, we are working to imitate this same resource in Yolo County.

Steve Brust
Woodland, California

From Mommy to Mayor

I wasn’t much interested in politics. By the time I was 26 I was raising a family of six children. I loved being a mom and wife and eventually a grandmother. Who had time for politics? During the Gulf War, while searching television channels for information about the war, I discovered C-SPAN. Then came the Clarence Thomas hearings. But it was Washington Journal that hooked me, and I began to change.

At first I identified with the conservatives, but as I listened to both parties I recognized the spin delivered by our representatives and I began to change my views. Watching C-SPAN, I decided for myself what was true for me. I am now a moderate Republican.

During the Clinton years, I heard callers from the right with their biased views bashing Democrats. In the Bush term I hear the same kind of comments from the left bashing Republicans. Clearly, it’s the party they belong to that makes up their mind, not discernment. It’s all in the game of winning and having power.

I learned that, in order to make a difference in society, I needed to be active in my community. I started out as a city planning board member. Then I ran for city council and was elected four years ago. In November, I was re-elected.

Our city is a council/city-manager form of government. On January 6, 2004, I was sworn in as mayor of the city of Carnation, Washington.

If it wasn’t for C-SPAN... I wonder?

Yvonne Funderburg
Carnation, Washington

Reinforcing Concern and Enthusiasm

C-SPAN is important to me because of the detailed coverage it provides on a wide range of current issues, and because of the fact that both liberal and conservative points of view are presented. In my opinion the major contribution comes in the discussions sponsored by such organizations as the Brookings Institution, the Cato Foundation, and many others from across the political spectrum.

Watching such presentations I came to realize the significance of such issues as budget policy, tax reform, environmental protection, and trade policy, and how these issues affect, or will soon affect, all of us. Seeing the people dealing with these issues day-to-day in a format that permits extended discussion, and questions and answers, really brings these issues home.

As a result of observing these discussions over time, and discussing the various points of view presented, a number of us in Fairhope, Alabama, decided to form a grassroots civic organization that we call Citizens for Responsible Government. Read about us and our issues of concern at ( We meet monthly to discuss issues, then take action such as sending letters to the editor, contacting our federal, state, and county elected officials, and providing our neighbors with information about our issues of concern.

The C-SPAN programming such as Washington Journal, the various House and Senate committee hearings, the think-tank sponsored discussions, and of course the live coverage of the House and Senate, reinforce our concern and enthusiasm, and help keep us going when it almost seems hopeless.

Edward Lawrence
Fairhope, Alabama

Entering the Tax Fray

Taxes. That word made me tremble like a 97-pound weakling, afraid of being pushed around and not knowing how to fight back.

Then one morning as I watched C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, I marveled as the guest, Amity Shlaes, spouted tax verbiage with an eloquent ease. Ms. Shlaes, a tax maven, was polished and passionate but her strength was her education. I envied her knowledge and was moved to act. I would find a tax topic – something a lightweight could tackle – and after studying it, I would enter the tax fray.

It didn’t take me long. My county legislature was debating the fairness of its sales-tax distribution formula. Instead of yawning, I went to work. I read the newspapers. I attended a county legislature meeting. I spoke with public officials. Soon I was confidently spouting phrases like “taxable assessed value” and “equalization rate.”

One snowy night at a public forum, I stood before 15 sober-faced county legislators. With wobbly knees but an unwavering voice, I expressed my opinion – my village was getting the short shrift. The local public-radio station picked up the story and featured my voice in a sound bite. I felt like a tax-maven-in-waiting!

So what have I gained? I have a greater appreciation for hard-working public officials. Oh, and the mayor put me on the Tax & Service Equity Committee so I can continue my education. Thank you, C-SPAN, for giving me the push I needed.

Dianne Morrison
Potsdam, New York

C-SPAN Shaped My Life

One night on television I came across a group of Koreans sitting on a panel on C-SPAN. There were large posters of Korean children in poverty behind the panel and the facial expressions of the panel members depicted a sense of sorrow.

The event discussed the role of a not-for-profit organization called Helping Hands Korea and what it was doing about the North Korean refugee crisis in China. The different speakers explained the current situation in China and the obstacles they face in saving the refugees.

A panel of North Korean refugees who survived the ordeal shared their experience through a translator. The translator wasn’t effective in expressing their horrors and pain, but I was able to understand the speakers because I am a Korean-American myself. Their stories brought me to tears of sympathy and anger.

The event concludes with a U.S. Senator as the final guest speaker to address this issue and the actions he would take with the Chinese government. Ignorant of politics, I was taken aback when I realized that he represented my own state of Kansas, Senator Sam Brownback.

This program by C-SPAN shaped my life from a business major to a political-science and economics double major with a focus on international studies. I have interned for the senator and I have personally met him often. I am currently on his Asian-American steering committee for his re-election in 2004. I am aspiring to work in foreign relations for the U.S. state department.

Jon Thyng
Wichita, Kansas


C-SPAN has become the only safe refuge, my oasis. And I ask myself: “Why? What makes C-SPAN a cut above the rest?” Though much of your success has to do with your programming style and your mission to present all views in any given venue, there is something more. And one day, it dawned on me. It’s the people! It’s us! The junkies who are hooked and addicted to your incredible programming, which encourages viewers to become more actively involved.

I’ve taken your message to heart in many ways, but my favorite involves a 97-year-old neighbor who recently moved to Cumberland, Maryland, all the way from England. Her name is Lily Harrison, and because of you, she has now published her first book. One weekend, you introduced us to an elderly African-American gentleman who had written an autobiography with the help of a man who willingly spent hours taking notes, doing interviews, and bringing this man’s story to life. After that program, a voice inside my head kept urging me to tell Lily’s story, too. As I began to listen to this adorable woman reminisce and conjecture, I was amazed at the thoughts and wisdom that seemed to flow continually from someplace deep inside. I grabbed my tape recorder, knowing I had been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and after two years of laughter, tears and, storytelling at its finest, her autobiography, The Corridor of Doors, was born. There has to be a reason why her words have drifted so effortlessly from heart to page. And I say to myself, “Thank you C-SPAN.”

Lily’s book was published by, and she presented the first copies to her family last Christmas. Since then, she has sold 200 books and is thinking of writing a second book.

Jody Walker
Cumberland, Maryland

A Sea of Possibilities

After the events of September 11, 2001, C-SPAN’s continuing coverage of related topics was exciting and concise. Yet two broadcasts in particular were especially meaningful for me that autumn and helped me choose a path for my education and life.

On December 4, 2001, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Vern Clark, appeared on Washington Journal with Peter Slen, discussing the Navy’s role in Afghanistan. Just three days later, on Pearl Harbor’s anniversary, Admiral Clark once again appeared on C-SPAN at a memorial service that was especially poignant in light of September 11. It was a stirring broadcast and I knew somehow I’d become a 21st Century patriot!

My family and I have always been interested in naval history. However, I was ready to participate, not just listen or watch! The horrific attacks our country endured in New York, Washington, D.C., and nearby Pennsylvania painted the backdrop; C-SPAN supplied the direction for me. I researched military options for teens – those not old enough to enlist. I discovered the United States Navy Sea Cadet Corps on one of the C-SPAN military links.

Today, I’m a Seaman Apprentice, USNSCC, Cleveland Division. I’ve slept on the USS Cod, a retired submarine for advanced training, attended Camp Perry for naval-cadet boot camp, trained in color guard and more. .As a high-school student, I have more direction than just about anyone I know in my age group. Naval ROTC, the US Naval Academy – there’s a sea of possibilities!

Gavin Wandrey
Chagrin Falls, Ohio

“Here Is the Truth You Were Seeking”

In June and July 2001, the C-SPAN School Bus visited the upper Midwest on a trip that changed my life. Among the locations covered were the Little Big Horn battle site, Mt. Rushmore, and the Crazy Horse Monument.

Since 1994, I had been studying the Wounded Knee Massacre, planning to open a museum to tell the Lakota side of the story. Until the School Bus visit to the area, the plan had hinged on what options were available and the probability of success of the project.

The call-in comments and questions from viewers made my decision for me. I was shocked and dismayed at how few people knew and understood the Lakota story. Many people even suggested more monuments to the white settlers.

One caller, though, asked why more of the truth about the history of the area could not be told. The reply from a park ranger at Mt. Rushmore was that this was probably because we could not be proud of what we did there.

Three days later, I left for Wall, South Dakota, to find a location for Wounded Knee: The Museum. The site was chosen in August 2001; construction and remodeling completed by December 2002; and museum exhibits researched and completed by June 2003. The museum opened its doors on July 1, 2003, less than two years after the C-SPAN broadcast. To that caller and all the others who search for understanding, we can now say, “Here is the truth you were seeking.”

Steve Wyant
Fort Collins, Colorado

Contest winners © C-SPAN. Used with permission. For all the winning entries, visit (

C-SPAN can be found on the Mediacom cable system on channel 14. C-SPAN 2 is shown on channel 43.

C-SPAN’s Campaign Cam Contest for Students

May 17 Deadline

C-SPAN is running a “Campaign Cam” contest for videos produced by middle- and high-school students. The videos should be less than 10 minutes and explore an issue of interest, including presenting a persuasive point of view. Entries are due May 17 and will be judged on capturing the contest’s themes, the quality of expression, persuasiveness, and creativity. Winners will be announced June 3 and will be aired on C-SPAN channels.

For rules and more information, visit (
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