JWR Roger SimonMona CharenLinda Chavez
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Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / April 21, 1998 / 25 Nisan, 5758

Mona Charen

Mona Charen

The patriot's channel

A CALLER TO C-SPAN a few months ago said the following: "Brian, in Japan, they have a tradition of naming extremely important individuals as 'national treasures.' If the U.S. were to institute such a policy, the first person to be so honored should be Brian Lamb."

Brian Lamb, founder and leading light of C-SPAN, is a national treasure. His network does more to inform and enlighten the American electorate on matters of political and civic importance than anything else in the whole modern maze of television.

In part, that is because C-SPAN, unlike all of its electronic media competitors, is Brian Lamb religiously devoted to the printed word. On the morning journal program, for example, viewers are asked to do exactly what the guests do: select stories from their daily newspapers and discuss them. C-SPAN sternly discourages the kind of calls other networks welcome -- the "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it anymore" type. Lamb and the other judicious C-SPAN hosts turn the callers back to the newspapers, back to facts, back to words.

C-SPAN assiduously cultivates utter impartiality -- and succeeds to a remarkable degree. Lamb is beloved by liberals and conservatives alike because they perceive him to be scrupulously fair. Naturally, because he deals with the public and because he dwells on political matters, Lamb also comes in for a fair amount of abuse from the kook and crackpot brigades. They phone in with regularity to upbraid him for giving too much time to their enemies and not enough time to their friends. The right-wing and left-wing nuts spew equal amounts of venom -- and their foolishness is revealed starkly by their chosen target. If you are paranoid enough to believe that Brian Lamb -- Brian Lamb! -- is biased or unjust, then you should be phoning a psychiatrist, not a talk show.

In a media world of bitter partisanship and division, Brian Lamb's unflappable impartiality is something of a work of art. So is his patriotism.

C-SPAN is a celebration of democracy. It is based on the notion that an informed electorate will have the wisdom to make good decisions. C-SPAN is the enemy of self-dealing, corruption and all forms of insiderism. If there is an unspoken theme of C-SPAN's coverage, it is reveal, reveal, reveal. Lamb always asks who owns what. He asks who is married to whom. He rarely fails to mention where someone used to work and who his or her parents are if it is relevant.

C-SPAN has taken its cameras into every corner of the world of government, from congressional offices doing ordinary constituent service to New Hampshire breakfasts where presidential aspirants test their stump speeches. The watchful C-SPAN eye has covered every political convention. Yes, Republicans and Democrats certainly. But also Libertarians, American Communists and anybody else who can claim a spot on the ballot.

C-SPAN isn't just about Washington, and it isn't just about government. It, like its founder, is in love with America. The C-SPAN school busses, which range over the whole country, offer peeks into interesting historical sites, grand natural beauty and ordinary classrooms. The Alexis de Tocqueville Tour revisited every stop of the famous chronicler's 1830s visit.

And while the network constantly reminds us of our past, it has stayed on the cutting edge with a very sophisticated web site that can hyperlink faster than I can log on.

On Sunday evening, Lamb hosts the best interview program on television, "Booknotes," an hour-long talk with authors of political or historical works. You can then read the first chapter of all books featured on the program on the C-SPAN web site.

There are some cable companies that discipline wayward customers by putting C-SPAN on every channel when the bill has not been paid. How droll. But how insulting to a channel that does so much to enhance our appreciation of the ongoing American experiment.

Brian Lamb is a very modest man who will cringe to read these words. If I had told him of my intent to praise him in print, he would have found a million arguments against the idea. So, I didn't call him. You can't always consult national treasures.


4/19/98: Child-care day can't replace mom
4/15/98: Tax time
4/10/98: Armey states obvious, gets clobbered
4/7/98: A nation complacent?
4/1/98: Bill Clinton's African adventure
3/27/98: Understanding Arkansas
3/24/98: Jerry Springer's America
3/20/98: A small step for persecuted minorities
3/17/98: Skeletons in every closet?
3/13/98: Clinton's idea of a fine judge
3/10/98: Better than nothing?
3/6/98: Of fingernails and freedom
3/3/98: Read JWR! :0)
2/27/98: Dumb and Dumber
2/24/98: Reagan reduced poverty more than Clinton
2/20/98: Rally Round the United Nations?
2/17/98: In Denial
2/13/98: Reconsidering Theism
2/10/98: Waiting for the facts?
2/8/98: Cat got the GOP's tongue?
2/2/98: Does America care about immorality?
1/30/98: How to judge Clinton's denials
1/27/98: What If It's Just the Sex?
1/23/98: Bill Clinton, Acting Guilty
1/20/98: Arafat and the Holocaust Museum
1/16/98: Child Care or Feminist Agenda?
1/13/98: What We Really Think of Abortion
1/9/98: The Dead Era of Budget Deficits Rises Again?
1/6/98: "Understandable" Murder and Child Custody
1/2/98: Majoring in Sex
12/30/97: The Spirit of Kwanzaa
12/26/97: Food fights (Games children play)
12/23/97: Does Clinton's race panel listen to facts?
12/19/97: Welcome to the Judgeocracy, where the law school elite overrules majority rule
12/16/97: Do America's Jews support Netanyahu?

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.