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Changing the Channel

A Conversation with Brian Lamb

HUMANITIES, March/April 2003 | Volume 24, Number 2

NEH Chairman Bruce Cole talked recently with Brian Lamb about his pioneering role in television.

Bruce Cole: I’m a longtime admirer and it’s an honor to meet you. I taught at Indiana University for many years. You’re from Indiana as well, right?

Brian Lamb: First twenty-two years of my life.

Cole: You went to school there.

Lamb: I went to Purdue, the other Indiana university.

Cole: In those days in Lafayette, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Lamb: More than anything else I wanted to be an entertainer. I was a disc jockey. I did record hops. I played in a band. I was a drummer. In those early days I thought maybe entertainment might be it. But I wasn’t really that good.

When I left Purdue and went into the Navy, that began a whole new educational experience, getting out of Lafayette and seeing a lot of the world.

Cole: Can you talk about being a Midwesterner in Washington? Does that give you a different perspective?

Lamb: I was in the Navy, where you find a lot of people from everywhere. But I remember I was overwhelmed. I felt you had to prove yourself. I don’t want to overdo that, but the town isn’t the friendliest town in the world. There is an East Coast bias, based on lots of very bright people who went to Harvard, Princeton, Yale. You walk into the town, having been a Purdue graduate, and the first thing they think is you’re from a school “out there somewhere.”

Cole: Fly-over country?

Lamb: There’s an enormous number of people that think it’s strictly fly-over country. It takes a while to get used to that.

Cole: But eventually the various experiences you were having would come together. You already had run a successful radio show in Indiana--Dance Date, right? When was that?

Lamb: Dance Date was in 1961. I did it in my junior year of college. I loved Dick Clark and what he did with American Bandstand when I was a kid. When you’re young you copy everybody else. I built the sets, hosted the show, got the dancers, sold it to advertisers. It was a very important experience.

Cole: This marked the parameters of what you were going to do in the future?

Lamb: Absolutely. I started from scratch. In the early days of C-SPAN I did everything. Again, just trying things along the way and eventually you had something and it either worked or didn’t work.

Cole: After school came the Navy. What was that like?

Lamb: The Navy was probably the most important thing I’ve ever done. It took me into a world that I’d never been in. We were on the brink of war in Vietnam. I was twenty-two years old, and I was forced to grow up pretty quickly. I’d lived in a fairly sheltered environment: a small town, university in my own hometown, hadn’t traveled a great deal.

Cole: It was total immersion.

Lamb: Total. You wake up one day and you’re on a Navy ship, a huge ship weighing 13,000 tons, as I remember it, and you have 320 people on board and you are what’s called an officer of the deck, at age twenty-two.

Cole: You were going from almost zero responsibility to a massive amount of responsibility?

Lamb: Where you were accountable to people that you didn’t know and they didn’t know you and you prove yourself every day by the performance. You couldn’t fall back on your father or your mother or your friends in your hometown environment.

Cole: When you were in the Navy you were suddenly assigned to Detroit. What was that about?

Lamb: I was in Washington for two years--I was on a ship for two years and in Washington for two years in the Pentagon--and I wore civilian clothes every day, in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. That was Robert McNamara’s information arm--some would call it a propaganda arm.

I was in the audiovisual office, which was responsible for staying in touch and answering queries by the networks: ABC, NBC, and CBS.

In July of 1967, one of the deputy assistant secretaries came in and said to me, “Go home and pack your bag and take this tape recorder with you and fly to Detroit and report to the chief of police’s office.” Every time there was a news conference with the governor of the state, George Romney, I was to record it and then feed it back over a telephone line to the White House situation room. They would transcribe it and get it to the president.

I’ll never forget it. There were race riots and forty-three blacks were killed in Detroit in July of 1967, and two hundred people were injured. I arrived in the city with, I think, the 82nd Airborne.

There were tanks on the street corners. There were fatigues-wearing military people in the Cadillac Hilton, where we were all staying. It was a bit overwhelming. Even though we were in the middle of the Vietnam War and I was in the military, I had never quite seen anything like this.

I reported for duty in this small room, and in that room were Cyrus Vance, the deputy secretary of defense at the time; Warren Christopher, who was the deputy attorney general; John Doar, who was then an assistant attorney general and who went on later to be the Watergate counsel; a man named Dan Henkin, who was the deputy assistant secretary of defense; and Roger Wilkins, who was the top civil rights man in the Justice Department; and me.

Cole: That’s fascinating. Did you stay in Washington after?

Lamb: When I got out of the Navy, in December of 1967, I thought I wanted to be involved in politics.

Cole: You had decided that before?

Lamb: I had been a White House social aide for two years with Lyndon Johnson. I would work in the Pentagon in civilian clothes. I’d go home--I lived near the Pentagon--change into uniform, go to the White House, go through the event that was going on, go back to my apartment, put my civilian clothes on, and go back to the office. It was a crazy time.

Cole: You were there with Chuck Robb? [Charles Robb married the president’s daughter Lynda and later became a Democratic senator from Virginia.]

Lamb: Exactly. We were there at the same time.

I was in Chuck and Lynda Robb’s wedding. My official responsibility was escorting Mrs. Johnson down the aisle. She is one of my favorite people whom I’ve ever met in public office because she was so decent to everybody. For five years after I got out of the Navy and went back part of the time to Indiana, the only thing I was known to have ever done in my life was to escort Mrs. Johnson down the aisle.

Cole: Did you meet the president, Lyndon Johnson?

Lamb: I was the guy that introduced the guests that came through the receiving lines. I would park myself right next to him, guests would come up to me and give me their names, and then, as they would start through the receiving line, I would turn to the President and say the name and he would say, “Well, hi, Bruce. Nice to meet you.”

Cole: So you decided that you were interested in politics, you wanted to be in Washington. What happened then?

Lamb: Among other things, I talked to Senator Birch Bayh from my state about working for him. I interviewed the Richard Nixon folks in New York, who were gearing up to run in 1968. I came very close to getting a job that, in effect, would have been a personal valet for him--carry the bags and be the personal aide. That didn’t work out.

It’s just as well. I went back to Indiana, took a job with the old television station I’d been with, Channel 18 in Lafayette, and kind of decompressed. I got the bug in August to go back and worked on the Nixon-Agnew campaign in a very low-level position. I was paid four hundred dollars a month. I was on the road for ten weeks, out in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. That is the only campaigning I’ve ever done and or will ever do. I had gotten a bellyful of it at that point.

Cole: Did you learn things that would be useful to you in C-SPAN?

Lamb: I started down a road of asking the question: What do I believe in? What I was involved in was not only not important but it was, I think, a bit of a scam on the public. We would go into a community and spend a week there that would culminate in an event called “Speak to Nixon-Agnew,” in which the public was invited to come in and tell candidates Nixon and Agnew on an audiotape what they thought were the important issues. But it dawned on me in the middle of this that there’s no way that Richard Nixon or Spiro Agnew would listen to this. That was one of my first real educations about politics, and I was not very happy with it.

Having said that, the C-SPAN call-in show every morning, three hours a day, seven days a week, is the real thing. That old experience paid off. I was in a position to make a difference so that the public could really be heard, and it wasn’t phony.

Cole: Those call-in shows seem more civil than some of the ones I’ve heard on other networks.

Lamb: They’re more civil for a lot of reasons. One: because the hosts don’t hype them and don’t go for the jugular. And, two, people who call are basically coming into an environment that is much more civil on purpose. We also engage both sides. If you review most of the call-in shows--not all of them, but most of the call-in shows you hear on the radio--they’re usually one-sided.

Cole: I think it’s impossible to tell where your hosts are coming down. They’re basically facilitating these questions and getting the guests to answer them. I’d agree that it’s pretty civil.

Lamb: The people who call in are anonymous; this is one of the things that most people don’t think about. If they weren’t anonymous, they wouldn’t say some of the things they do.

I just came back from London and Paris, where we had British and French guests on. There were Americans calling in saying things like “We saved your butt in World War II,” and, “What you’re doing now is despicable.” I mean strong stuff.

They wouldn’t say that to a Frenchman to his face. So that’s even less civil than it would be if you were one-on-one in person.

Cole: Let’s talk about how C-SPAN got started. There are foreshadowings of that in everything you’ve talked about, but what was the catalyst?

Lamb: I think the catalyst was a combination of things, including--and it’s never been easy for me to define this--but including my experience in the Navy and in the Pentagon and in the Defense Department. I got a firsthand education about how the media interacts with the government, and it led me to think that there could be a better way. I shouldn’t say “better way.” It was an alternative way. Better is in the eye of the beholder. There are people who genuinely love--and there’s certainly nothing wrong with it--CBS, NBC, and ABC evening news shows. They’re still very popular.

But they tend to be somewhat alike. They tend to come from the same part of the world: Sixth Avenue, New York. And even though it drives the folks that work there crazy when you say it, they all tend to read the same things and think the same things and therefore it all comes out the same.

What we’ve tried to do in the alternative media that came from cable is to have something that’s fairly unstructured, somewhat spontaneous, in-depth, long form. Back during the Vietnam War, I found that government can easily fall in the trap of lying to the public, and media can fall into the trap of sensationalizing everything.

I should say that I’m an information nut. I watch it all and enjoy a lot of it. I wasn’t sitting around being terribly offended as much as saying, there’s got to be a different way to do this.

Cole: Right. What were you doing at that moment when you decided this is how we should go?

Lamb: There was a very important time for me when I worked in the Office of Telecommunications Policy in the Nixon Administration. A man named Douglas Cater had gotten the Public Television Act of 1967 passed in the previous administration, but nobody was dealing with telephone and broadcasting and cable television and all of this. Clay Whitehead--we called him Tom--was in the White House and said, “You know, if we’re going to change this information structure and this telecommunications structure, it’s going to take a strong voice from the president.” He hired me in 1971 to go to work for him.

It was in that environment that plans were laid for this incredible thing called a communications satellite to be used domestically.

Cole: So when did you get the idea for C-SPAN?

Lamb: I got the idea to do something in the days I was in the Pentagon. Then I came out and went to work again in Indiana for a man named Richard Shively, who owned forty-five cable systems. Those were the days where cable was only retransmitting distant signals and your local channels. There was no original programming.

It changed right in front of your eyes. We went from three channels in the community to two hundred today.

Up until 1975, if you had an idea for television, you had to go knocking on the door of the networks in New York. That was the only way you could create a program. They were not very friendly and they didn’t want very many people like me coming around. They were making lots of big money and they had lots of control and they didn’t want to give up any of it.

Cole: You got the idea. How did it all come about, though? How did it turn from a dream into a functioning entity?

Lamb: A man by the name of Bob Rosencrans, and another man named Amos Hostetter--there were twentytwo men who came together to support C-SPAN in the early days, men who owned cable television systems and were looking for programming. They wanted almost anything in those days that was different. Again, when you went from the three commercial television networks and a little bit of public television to this enormous change, you started out by doing things as simple as staying on the air twenty-four hours a day. Television used to go off at one o’clock at night and come back on at six o’clock in the morning. Well, one of the first things that happened new and different is that there was a twenty-four hour channel. I think the first one was out of Sacramento. And Ted Turner’s was one of the early ones out of Atlanta. The second thing you did was provide movies without commercials, and that was done by Home Box Office. Home Box Office went to the satellite in 1975. That’s really where the big change was. You began to have full twenty-four-hour-a-day channels on religion and movies. You had a channel created that moved Madison Square Garden sporting events every night into your television. You used to get sports only on Saturdays or Sundays.

The fellow that put together the channel called Madison Square Garden was Bob Rosencrans. He is the same guy that said to me, when I made a presentation to cable television executives at the Mayflower Hotel in 1977, that we ought to do something beyond what’s been done so far in news and public affairs--he said--”I think I can help you.” He gave me my first check for $25,000 that allowed me to go to all the other members of the business and say, “How about your money? How about your effort? How about . . .”--and it led to this public affairs network we have today. It was started by twenty-two men who gave about $425,000. We had four people who worked there , and that’s how we started, by carrying the House of Representatives.

Cole: How many people do you have on staff now?

Lamb: Two hundred and seventy-five--still tiny in television.

Cole: What about that name, C-SPAN?

Lamb: The name, C-SPAN, was my idea and I wish I could pull it back. I never liked the name. I made a list of a hundred names and I ended up choosing C-SPAN because it was the alphabet soup that you had in the business, the ABC, NBC, and CBS. I said, “How can I create a name that will educate people how this is changing?” So I chose the name C-SPAN, which stood for Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network.

When we started, my board members thought this was going to be the House of Representatives channel. I knew at the time that, if we were going to be successful, we had to move beyond that. I mean watching congressional debates is not the most exciting thing that’s ever happened.

In the early days it was exciting because people had never seen anything like this. That’s why I snuck in the name “Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network,” not the “House of Representatives Network.” We have evolved. It’s just one thing after another, adding, step by step, in a way that never scared anybody or never cost so much that cable operators couldn’t afford it. It never suggested to people that we were creating something that wasn’t worth the cost.

Cole: You started with the House of Representatives? Then what happened?

Lamb: Then we added the National Press Club, seventy-five speeches a year. Then we added the Close Up Foundation, meetings with young high school students and congressional leaders; we’d do about four of those a week. Then we got a couple of cameras--Steve Janger of the Close Up Foundation bought $160,000 worth of equipment and gave it to us and said, basically, “You can have this equipment.” I made a deal with him that we would do four programs a week with the kids and we’d get to keep the equipment. When we weren’t televising the kids, we were doing hearings.

As time went by and the cable industry got more comfortable, we put more staff on, raised our rates, became a fulltime twenty-four-hour-a-day channel. The Senate went on in 1986. We added the second channel C-SPAN2. We now have the third channel C-SPAN3, which is in the new digital environment. We spend about $40 million a year in a business that, as you know, is huge. Forty million dollars isn’t very much money at this stage, but we have expanded far beyond the original House of Representatives.

Cole: And you put on call-in shows.

Lamb: Three hours every morning. The idea is we want to hear from sixty Americans or international callers, sixty voices in those three hours, calling in to experts and members of Congress and the Senate and journalists.

Cole: When did Booknotes start?

Lamb: Booknotes started in 1989. I just recorded the seven hundredth. We put together a program devoted to a hardback book--a nonfiction book--and set up a tradition that we’d only have an author on once. We’ve had seven hundred different people on since 1989. So we didn’t become a part of what often happens in this business—that you begin to play favorites, get the same people on.

Cole: And you have a lot of flexibility. You can take your cameras to many events where there’s an important speech or an important discussion, a wide variety of things.

One of the things I think is so wonderful about C-SPAN is that it gives Americans a close-up, unfiltered look at what’s going on: how their government functions, what people are saying about current events. It also has a real educative aspect to it now. Booknotes is one. I’m thinking also about the wonderful series you did on American presidents. That was certainly an in-depth look.

One of the things we’re doing here is an initiative on American history. As you know, there’s an appalling lack of knowledge of American history: what our institutions are, how the country has developed, who we are as Americans. And unlike a hereditary monarchy or a dictatorship, democracy is not automatically self-renewing. It has to be learned and passed on from generation to generation.

It seems to me there is a tremendous interest in history in the general population and in government, which is evidenced in part by that success of C-SPAN. This is a very, very important element in this whole struggle to try to get some more comprehension of who we are as Americans.

Lamb: Well, I’m a work in progress. It’s not a case of where I’m the knowledgeable one sitting on the top of the mountain saying “Listen to me.” I’m sixty-one, and for the last twenty-five years I’ve been involved in this enormous educational process.

Cole: You have said before that you weren’t particularly well read. Clearly, that’s changed. When did you take up reading as a consuming interest?

Lamb: I give credit to two men: Warren Burger and Tom Wolfe.

In all fairness, I had an excellent liberal education at Purdue. I read all the classics. I just wasn’t ready. I had no idea what I was doing. I was a C student among these incredibly bright kids that were As and Bs. They just seemed to know everything, and I was intimidated by it.

Until I was about forty-five I usually read the mass circulation books that everybody was talking about. I remember reading a book by Stewart Alsop and was intrigued by him, and there were some others. But Tom Wolfe’s book, Bonfire of the Vanities, to me was just so real. I remember getting up in the middle of the night to finish it. In 1986 Warren Burger [the chief justice of the United States] had introduced me to a book called Miracle in Philadelphia, by Catherine Drinker Bowen. I was a member of a committee that Warren Burger headed on the bicentennial of the Constitution. He handed everybody this book, and I read it, and I loved it. She was able to write about the Constitutional Convention in a way that I could understand. I just have gone crazy ever since then. I can’t explain it.

You can make fun of me doing this, but I’ve been to every presidential gravesite. I’ve been to every vice presidential gravesite. I’ve learned to be a historical tourist. Richard Norton Smith started me off.

Cole: He visited every presidential gravesite, too, right?

Lamb: Yes. He started at age nine.

You can do it whenever you want to. You can start whenever you want to. The trick is wanting to learn.

Most people in the country are not that interested in learning, I’ve found. They aren’t that well read. But there are people--I called them the 10 percenters--who are into all this. They read newspapers. They go to historical events. They watch history on television. They watch C-SPAN. They are information junkies.

I don’t think the people interested in us changes on a percentage basis. They’re either interested or they’re not.

Cole: You’re saying twenty-eight million viewers?

Lamb: Exactly. Our polls show that exact figure. It’s easy--the people who buy things like USA Today and the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal watch Meet the Press and This Week with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday morning. Those are the people who are the junkies.

Cole: Do you have a profile of your viewers--

Lamb: We do. There’s only one number, though, that sticks out. Ninety-plus percent of our audience votes.

Cole: That’s interesting.

Lamb: And that’s higher than anybody else’s audience. Everything else is fairly normal: number of women, men, age groups. Seventy percent of our audience is under fifty. There’s a perception that it’s an older audience. Well, those that have lots of time watch it longer, but in prime time even though we don’t do quarter-hour Nielsens, we know our biggest audience is everybody else’s biggest audience.

Cole: So they’re watching you instead of somebody else?

Lamb: Yes. It’s going to be relatively small compared to ABC, NBC, and CBS, but it’s going to be in the ballpark when you look at the two hundred channels that are on cable, that split it up, ones, twos, ones and twos.

Cole: I’m a C-SPAN junkie. I’ve watched stuff that even surprised me that I’m watching.

Lamb: So do I.

Cole: It’s just something about it that’s compelling.

Lamb: Well, recently we had the Israeli ambassador on live. This man was put on the spot about a lot of things, including the settlers’ question over in Israel.

Then I tuned over to C-SPAN 2 and Margaret Thatcher was giving a speech live for the Heritage Foundation. As you know, you just keep doing that every day and you begin to accumulate bits and pieces that you never would get anywhere else.

Cole: What about younger viewers, say thirty and under?

Lamb: Fifteen percent of our viewership, according to our polls over the years, is under twenty-four.

If you go into most high school classrooms and ask them how many people watch C-SPAN, you’ll get 10 percent. If you go into an audience of presidential classroom seventeen-year-olds who have come to Washington to visit that week or into any group of high school or college kids who are interested in politics, you’ll get 100 percent of the hands going up.

Cole: Do schools use your series like the presidential series?

Lamb: Let me tell you a story that will illustrate what I think you would be interested in.

We have this presidential time line that we made. It’s a huge poster, six feet wide, four feet in length. You see lines for every one of the forty-two men who have been president with a color scheme and bars that show whether they were in the military, whether they were governors, House of Representatives, Senate.

You can also see this enormous line for the military, under Zachary Taylor. He’s the longest serving military man of all the presidents. And you can see a huge line under Jerry Ford for House of Representatives. You can stand back and also see where there were as many as eighteen all alive at the same time.

We have offered this time line, free, to any teacher and we already have fifty thousand requests from teachers of high school or middle school. We don’t charge them anything; we’re not selling the list; we have no ulterior motive. We want them to introduce their kids to C-SPAN.

By the time it’s all over we’ll give away sixty or seventy thousand of these.

Cole: But if you’ve got to come and get it, you really have to want it. I think you’re doing things at C-SPAN that we’re also trying to do here at the NEH. This is really an excellent, excellent example.

Lamb: And, as you know, we’re interested in what you’re doing at the NEH. I want to make it clear that when I started in this whole thing that I did not have, per se, a goal of improving the country. It’s easy for me to say today that the goal was to change television, to democratize television, to hear more voices, to hear more sides.

It takes on a life of its own after you’ve done it for twenty-five years, as I’ve done it. I think if it educates people, fine; if we get better voters, which we’re not, that would be good, too. But that’s not a goal of mine and we’re not social engineers. We try to educate people, but we have a very limited amount of money to do that. That, frankly, was the ulterior motive of going to the teachers: that the teachers introduce the kids to this.

Cole: You get this ripple effect?

Lamb: Yes, this ripple effect. And we have a tremendous website. For instance, transcripts of all seven hundred Booknotes are on this website. And you can watch most of them as well.

Cole: Let’s talk a little bit about Booknotes. How do you decide which books you’re going to talk about?

Lamb: A lot of it is obvious. But I think a lot has to do with what I don’t know, and I don’t know a lot of things--an example, Margaret McMillan’s Paris 1919. I had never read a book about the Versailles Treaty Conference, and when it came along, it looked like a great opportunity to learn what that was all about. Those six months back in 1919 were probably some of the most important months in our history. That treaty reoriented the whole world.

I have found that there are a lot of people like me out in the world that are interested, but either haven’t had the time or haven’t had the access, and so I choose books based on diversity, based on political points of view, based a lot on history and biography, based on things I don’t know anything about, or if I do know something about it, that this is an author that ought to be heard. There’s just no scientific way to describe it. You hope that every week you interest enough people that it’s worth doing.

Cole: Do you get suggestions? People write you and say: Look, we think you’ve got to do this one?

Lamb: Absolutely.

Cole: What’s next for you for C-SPAN?

Lamb: There is no identifiable next. There’s not like three more channels we want to do particularly. There are other channels we can do. I think what we’re going to do in the next few years is try to fine tune what we have and try to figure out a way to streamline it a little bit--and I mean a little bit, I don’t mean a lot--and just try to make it better.

Cole: It sounds like you could see this idea, realize a need for more voices, as you said, and then one thing came after another, after another, after another, after another.

Lamb: The ingredient in C-SPAN that everybody should think about is that we are the only network that doesn’t have to make a profit. If you don’t take that out of the equation, you could never do this.

I’m not even sanguine about the long-term future of C-SPAN. Who knows what will happen ten years from now? Right now there’s a total commitment on the part of the cable television industry and the satellite providers, but what happens if the economic model changes down the road? It’s got to have a funding base.

Cole: Do you see implications with the Internet?

Lamb: I don’t know. One of the things I learned watching it through the years is that it’s pretty hard to put an industry out of business. Smart business people figure out how to survive, if they’ve got a base. And the cable business in this country is enormous.

Cole: This situation is something like the early days of satellite, right?

Lamb: What are the geniuses of technology going to cook up? The geniuses knew back then that when you compress, compress, compress, you get more and more channels out of one pipeline.

When I look at this thing, I don’t know what it’s going to look like in ten years. I just know that there’s an enormous appetite for entertainment and information. There’s also an enormous appetite for people to make money.

What is going to happen with the Internet and the capacity? It’s all a matter of whether that pipeline that’s built out there can have the capacity to carry television programs with high resolution.

Is this ever going to go to the Internet? I’m not smart enough to know. As long as there is a cable industry that has capacity, my supposition is we’ll be there.

Cole: With running C-SPAN and reading all these books and traveling around, do you have any free time? And if you do, what do you do with it?

Lamb: Well, this is my life, and it’s not stressful. You just lay it down day after day. Free time is simple things: movies, music, friends.

I just came back from Paris and London. We did three shows while I was over there. We were there for nine days, and there were two or three days off in the middle of that where you just absorb the culture. That’s kind of the way I’ve done it for twenty-five years.

If I wasn’t doing this, I’d have to invent something.

Cole: So it’s a great job?

Lamb: For me it’s the best thing humanly possible. I couldn’t imagine anything else or what it would be. I don’t remember when I did anything else, although I do remember that I had about ten jobs before I came to this job, and every one of them had some value to what I’m doing now. A lot of them were in this town: UPI Audio for a while, and United States Senate press secretary for a couple of years, three-and-a-half years with Tom Whitehead at the Office of Telecommunications Policy, the two years in the Pentagon and at the White House and the Johnson years--four years with a cable television magazine, getting to know the business--all that led up to being this generalist.

Actually, I’m at the age where I spend a lot of time stepping back so that the younger folks who are at C-SPAN can make the decisions and make the place run. If I left tomorrow we wouldn’t have a situation where everybody says, “Oh, he’s not here any longer,” so it doesn’t exist. Most people in this country who watch C-SPAN have no idea who I am.

Cole: Well, I was going to say, “I know you are the moving force behind all this, but I’ve heard that your name has never been mentioned on C-SPAN.”

Lamb: My name has been mentioned, but I haven’t mentioned it. I’ve never said my name on C-SPAN. The host is never a part of the announcement.

Cole: Like in commercial television, right?

Lamb: Just like in commercial television. We are, in every single way, the antithesis of commercial television.

Cole: Once you were on the other side--you were in a political job here in town. When you were in that job, did you think you were treated fairly by the press?

Lamb: Yes. I have always been personally treated fairly. I’ve never, for any serious reason, been misquoted in the press. I have a high opinion of journalists as a profession. I love what they do--it’s incredibly important.

Cole: What about the journalists who are becoming so prominent on television these days?

Lamb: The celebrity thing is out of control. There are celebrities that I enjoy, but I think to a fault we celebrate celebrity every day, every hour, every minute, to the point where a lot of people think that’s the only thing that matters. And I think that’s too bad.

But, again, it’s a free country. We are relatively free in the sense that you can say just about anything. The business is an unwieldy business that no one ever will control. People like to think that big corporations control it. Big corporations have the biggest chunk of it, but they can’t control what’s said.

Somebody who is often criticized by the media--Matt Drudge--has provided a simple opportunity for unhappy journalists to undermine their own organizations by just telling him things that he puts on the Web. He blows the thing wide open, and it drives everybody crazy.

Americans are very much like that. Even if you’re associated with a big organization, you love the opportunity to tweak the big shot or to stop somebody who is trying to prevent you from learning something. That’s in our blood and I think it will always be there.

The celebrity thing, it’s fun for people, so you’re not going to eliminate it. It’s never going to stop.

Cole: Well, thank you very much for spending time with us. It’s been terrific.

Lamb: I‘ve enjoyed it.