March 20, 2004

C-Span has ruined our country!

The Weekly Standard chimes in to let us know that today is C-Span's 25th birthday:

Brian Lamb, the network's founder, told Broadcasting magazine in 1980 that part of C-SPAN's mission "is to show that [politics] isn't always exciting." Exciting or not, C-SPAN has become a cable TV institution that has, quite literally, shaped the way constituents view their representatives, even those that former representative B.F. Sisk (D-Calif.) once called the "nappers and nosepickers," according to a 1979 article by the Los Angeles Times. Viewers could see their representatives in law-making action minus the commentary and analysis of reporters. Since day one, the network has broadcast over 24,346 hours of House floor proceedings. On March 19, 1979, the live broadcast could be seen in 3.5 million households. Today, 87 million homes have C-SPAN.
Well, yes, in theory "viewers could see their representatives in law-making action," but how many actually do? How many have time for this sort of thing? C-SPAN's own surveys say that 22 million tune in each week-- breaking down to 30% Democrats, 26% Republicans, 28% Independents. Pew concurs. And, not surprisingly, tend to be much better informed, vote more frequently, and are far more likely to ring up their representatives.

But those are just numbers. What does C-SPAN actually mean? Brian Lamb is probably right when he says that C-SPAN has deglamorized and de-romanticized politics, although the advent of rapid-fire media shorts has almost certainly counterbalanced that trend. On the other hand, John Sullivan and Steven Frantzich have called C-SPAN "revolutionary," arguing that the show has allowed citizens direct access to their representatives, through open phone lines and the like.

My guess is this. C-SPAN has probably caused millions to see that politics is rather humdrum, that the workings of government are rife with compromise, machinations, tediousness. And this has possibly-- possibly-- led to a renewed fascination with scandal, personalities, campaign showboating, as a means of getting away from that tedium. Where once we held widespread public debates-- in every barber shop and barroom!-- over New Deal programs, now we can't be bothered to argue about policy in public, because we now know, thanks to C-SPAN, that the reality consists of a bunch of bills and resolutions with dull names and duller sponsors. So rather than turn on C-SPAN and bonk heads over the details of arcane programs like SCHIP, it's easier to just turn on Fox and hear about Monica Lewinsky.
-- Brad Plumer 12:54 PM || ||