StanCollender'sCapitalGainsandGames Washington, Wall Street and Everything in Between

C-Span Should be Ashamed Of Itself

08 Jan 2010
Posted by Stan Collender

Forgive me for coming a little late to this party.  Honestly, I needed to test my thoughts before posting what you see below.

Here's my bottom line: I have no problem with C-Span requesting that it be allowed to cover what is currently expected to be behind-closed-doors negotiations on health care reform.  But C-Span made a huge mistake in releasing or leaking it's request or by not understanding that it was making the request in a way that was virtually guaranteed to be leaked by others.  In doing so C-Span inserted itself in the political process and inappropriately and quite unfortunately became part of the story.  You expect this from Fox; you recoil when it's done by a supposedly neutral observer like C-Span.

For anyone who has not paid attention to this story...on December 30, C-Span CEO Brian Lamb sent a letter to Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, and John Boehner asking that "all important negotiations" on reconciling the House and Senate health care reform bills be open "to electronic media coverage."  With Republicans effectively refusing to vote for the legislation no matter what, Reid and Pelosi essentially have agreed that House and Senate Democrats will work out the differences and come up with a compromise themselves.  C-Span was saying that it wanted to cover the Democrat-to-Democrat discussions even though they were going to happen outside a formal conference committee.

The problem is that C-Span either made the request publicly or was so politically naive that it didn't realize the letter was virtually guaranteed to become public.  The letter should have been sent just to Reid and Pelosi because they were the ones that would be arranging for the Democrat-to-Democrat discussions.  Including McConnell and Boehner, who are playing no part in these discussions but who made it clear that they don't want a bill to be enacted, virtually guaranteed that the letter would go public and that the private health care discussions would become the big issue they have become  (Look here and here for just two examples).

C-Span should have known better.  It should have also known that making the request as openly as it did and creating the issue it created virtually guaranteed that the request wouldn't be granted.

In other words, the request was appropriate; the way the request was made was inept, naive, and harmful.

You have to ask what C-Span really wanted.  If it was to bring attention to itself, it succeeded beyond it's dreams.  If it was to enhance it's reputation, it's failed miserably and hurt its credibility in the process.


I don't understand...

Obama made the "C-SPAN promise" repeatedly and publicly. What's wrong with it publicly reminding him of that fact? How does that result in C-SPAN making it a political issue?

Obama made it a political issue, intentionally, explicitly, and overtly.

Nobody else.

C-Span is supposed to be a

C-Span is supposed to be a neutral, objective reporting organization.  It doesn't run for office and isn't supposed to take positions on issues.

It didn't take any position on any issue.

C-SPAN didn't take any position on any issue regarding health care reform.

It asked that a process that had been promised, explicity and repeatedly, as to how issues would be decided, be followed.

Your logic seems to be...

1) Politician repeatedly promises that an impartial good-government group's procedures will be followed in tackling political issues. Politician repeatedly, overtly promises this (for his own political benefit).

2) Politician gets elected then blatantly renegs on promise.

3) The impartial good-government group reminds the politician of his promise.

4) "Shame, shame, on the impartial good-government group for politicizing this issue and becoming partisan. Shame!"


This logic is bizarre. (Not even considering the merits of whether politicians should be accountable for their overt promises.)

For a bit of irony, listen to the video clips I linked to, and how Obama talks about the importance of having the negotiations on C-SPAN being that it will "shame" politicians out of doing secret deals with each other and with interest groups like big pharma (his own ironic example) and the like.

BTW, on the merits, do you think Obama should be honestly critcized for breaking the C-SPAN vow? And apparently making it so cynically that he never intended to do anything like keep it -- at least judging by how quickly he made his own secret deal with big pharma, for staters?

It was an issue long before Brian Lamb brought it up -- I, for one, mentioned it in the comments here a couple months ago quoting liberal pundits in the NY Times criticizing Obama over it.

So again, let's not pretend this issue was just created by Brian Lamb.

(Of course, it's hardly the only overtly repeated-on-video health reform promise Obama is breaking these days.)

Posts like this make you seem like a Democratic partisan

Perhaps this was a shot across the bow of all politicians warning them not to use C-Span in their political grandstanding? Is there any reason to believe that C-Span wouldn't have done the exact same thing if the party of the misleading grandstander was (R) rather than (D)?

This site too often focuses on the mote in the Republicans eye while ignoring the beam in the Democrats'. Posts like this only furthers the impression of a lack of political independence.

Good for Brian Lamb. It's

Good for Brian Lamb. It's true the Democrats behave as if they are a tyrannical power. But Congress is not a tyrant. At least officially not yet. So I don't understand how Lamb addressing his letter to ranking members of both the majority and minority parties is inappropriate. To me, it is common courtesy, if not standard protocol. Why is that shameful?

Obama is on tape saying at least 8 times during the campaign that the healthcare debate would be televised on CSPAN. He used CSPAN as a campaign tool. He is the one that politicized CSPAN, not Brian Lamb. Considering Obama's lack of U.S. Senate legislative experience, maybe his numerous pledges to televise the healthcare debates were simply naive. Or, more likely in my opinion, he was shrewdly using CSPAN for political gain. Either way, he had no right to commit CSPAN to covering anything. It appears to me that since Obama used CSPAN as a political lever, and failed to honor it, then Mr. Lamb decided to indirectly hold him accountable.

When George H.W. Bush said "read my lips", the media ran story after story about the failed campaign pledge to not raise taxes. Obama has failed to honor many campaign pledges. But you decide it is "shameful" for Lamb to indirectly hold Obama accountable for one of the many pledges he has failed to honor.

I expect this site to consistently trash Republicans and Fox News. After all, that's what you do, albeit under the pretense of opinions about fiscal policy. But slamming Brian Lamb for following what I assume is standard protocol about how to address a letter to Congressional leadership? Brian Lamb? Really?


Obama is on tape saying at least 8 times during the campaign that the healthcare debate would be televised on CSPAN. He used CSPAN as a campaign tool. He is the one that politicized CSPAN, not Brian Lamb.

Exactly right.


As a 68 year old guy - 4 years retired - who of course watches C-Span a lot - you need to know that C-Span is far from being neutral! . . . Think David Brooks or David Broder style neutral. Brian Lamb himself is clearly further to the Right - Brit Hume on a nice day. . .

This request in question would never have happened if the GOP was the majority in Congress.

C-Span: Tactic vs mission

C-Span's mission is the un-mediated distribution of legislative action. It has been doing it for decades and has previously seen no need to release a letter and issue a press release asking for access to legislative action.

That's why C-Span has been criticized, rightly in my view, for its grandstanding request for coverage of the health reform reconciliation discussions between Senate and House.

This request gives the impression that C-Span has a motivation to embarass the President or the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.

Re: Tactic vs mission


Well, OK. You manage to convey the issue succintly which is much more than the original confused post. So, what, in your view, was C-Span's motivation if it's never engaged in this type of behavior before?

Final word

Jon Stewart. 'nuff said.

What is wrong with wanting to

What is wrong with wanting to see what conceivable rationalle Senators can give for the Ben Nelson exemption or wanting to see the fun of House milloinare taxers v Senate cadilac plan taxers go at each other?

C-SPAN and Health Care

All these complaints about what Obama promised re: the health care debate being on C-SPAN: Why did no "journalist" on the campaign trail ask Obama if, as President, he also planned to put himself in charge of the Congress? Does he, indeed, have the authority to force Congress to televise itself? This is nonsense.

You might add Jeffrey

You might add Jeffrey Goldberg's recent posts about raving anti-Semitic call-ins permitted on C-Span with nary a peep from the hosts to the list of their recent, less-than-exemplary behavior. Given their special mandate I think it makes sense for someone to find out what, exactly, is going on over there.

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