Open the House to C-Span
After promising throughout the 2006 congressional campaign to give Americans the “most open” Congress in history, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi passed up a golden opportunity to advance that commitment. Three days before Christmas, Mrs. Pelosi disappointed millions of C-SPAN viewers by rejecting C-SPAN’s request to use its own cameras and operators to televise House proceedings. Unless she changes her mind, C-SPAN viewers will continue to be shortchanged. Their view of democracy in action inside the People’s House would remain strictly confined to the podium.
The good news is that Mrs. Pelosi may change her mind. She and C-SPAN Chairman and CEO Brian Lamb will soon be meeting to discuss the issue. Since CSPAN began televising debates in the House in 1979, the cameras have been controlled by the speaker, beginning with Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill and later including the speakerships of Republicans Newt Gingrich and Dennis Hastert. There has been bipartisan agreement among speakers to limit C-SPAN viewers to static, head-on shots of the representative who is speaking at the podium. Mrs. Pelosi can celebrate her historic election as the first woman speaker by unilaterally deciding to bring the House’s televised debates into the 21st century.
Having spent a quarter century scrupu- lously demonstrating C-SPAN’s nonpartisan, good-government bona fides, Mr. Lamb has rightly believed for some time that the speaker-controlled cameras have become “an anachronism that does a disservice to the institution and to the pub- lic.” He shared that view with Mrs. Pelosi in a Dec. 14 letter. Seeking to provide the C-SPAN audience a much more complete view of the great debates taking place in the House, Mr. Lamb sought Mrs. Pelosi’s permission to use C-SPAN cameras. Rather than strictly limit their focus to the podium, C-SPAN-operated cameras would pan the House chamber. They would provide the network’s viewers with reaction shots during debates. C-SPAN viewers could witness the give-and-take interaction of their representatives as the great issues of the day were being decided. In other words, C-SPAN cameras would offer the television audience the same perspective available to anybody sitting in the House Gallery Area.
As Mr. Lamb has noted on the network’s daily morning show, “Washington Journal,” it has been estimated that 90 percent of CSPAN’s loyal viewers exercise their right to vote. Shouldn’t they have the same opportunity to witness their representatives in action as foreign tourists have? Compared to voting C-SPAN viewers, foreign tourists from London, Warsaw, Baghdad or Moscow have a better opportunity, by visiting the House Gallery Area, to observe more interaction between America’s elected officials engaging in the representative democracy prescribed by the world’s oldest written constitution still in use.
Only Mrs. Pelosi can give C-SPAN viewers the same opportunity that foreign tourists have. She should reconsider her earlier decision. Mrs. Pelosi has the sole power to take a big step toward fulfilling her commitment to provide the “most open” House in history.