Search Form
Now choose a category »

Public Statements

Thanking C-Span for Its Service On 25th Anniversary of Its First Coverage of Proceedings of House

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


Thanking C-Span for Its Service On 25th Anniversary of Its First Coverage of Proceedings of House -- (House of Representatives - March 16, 2004)

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to join my distinguished colleague from Ohio and support this motion and associate myself with his remarks.

In the quarter century since its inception, C-SPAN has become an institution. No organization has done more to enhance America's understanding of its government, its history than the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network. More than 85 million households have access to C-SPAN today, and millions regularly tune in to see their government in action. That is the way it should be.

The gentleman from Ohio mentioned the outstanding contribution of Brian Lamb, and truly we should acknowledge the great efforts in his vision to bring government to the households of every single American. I am proud to say as well that in the State of Connecticut is CT-N, which again is modeled after C-SPAN, which provides an opportunity to view the local legislative bodies and municipalities and actions so, in fact, people from their homes, especially many who are inbound, get an opportunity to participate in government on a regular basis.

Madam Speaker, today, especially on the eve of St. Patrick's Day, it is great to acknowledge the true father of C-SPAN in this Chamber and that is the legendary Speaker Tip O'Neill. Tip O'Neill was fond of saying that social policies brought many poor into the great American tent of opportunity. During his years as Speaker, many Americans were brought into the Halls of Congress via television. His decision to support televised coverage of the House of Representatives ushered in a new era of government accessibility. House TV went through its growing pains, but its success eventually influenced the Senate to follow suit, voting to let itself be televised in 1986.

When future generations remember Tip O'Neill, the man who served the longest consecutive term as Speaker, they may well remember him as the man who let Americans see their government at work as well.

[Begin Insert]

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to join my distinguished colleague in support of his motion. In the quarter-century since its inception, C-SPAN has become an institution. No organization has done more to enhance Americans' understanding of their government and history than the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network. More than 85 million households have access to C-SPAN today, and millions regularly tunein to see their government in action. This is as it should be.

Like microwave ovens, cellular telephones, the Internet, and other developments of this modern age, C-SPAN has become part of daily life for millions of Americans. Not only would we notice immediately if C-SPAN disappeared, most of us can't remember how we lived without it.

Think of it Madam Speaker. Before Brian Lamb transformed his vision of a television network devoted solely to public affairs into reality, Americans unable to visit the House gallery had to rely on others' reports about what their representatives said and did here. On March 19, 1979, all that changed. Beginning on that date, Americans could see and hear for themselves, immediately, directly, and unfiltered by others.

And while Americans may at times have disagreed with what they have seen or heard on the House floor since them, there is no question that Americans appreciate C-SPAN, and the cable-television industry, for enabling them to see and hear it. I know I was grateful for the opportunity to appear on C-SPAN for the first time on July 26, 2001, to talk about fuel cell technology.

Look how far C-SPAN has come in the past quarter-century. On that first day, four employees could broadcast gavel-to-gavel coverage of House proceedings, over one network initially available to fewer than 4 million homes.

Today, C-SPAN offers government and politics coverage over three television networks, one radio network, and over its website, c-span.org, all of it round-the-clock and accomplished without public funds. Not only can Americans now watch the floor debates of both the House and Senate, they can see interest groups, academics and ordinary citizens explore pending issues and offer their advice to policymakers. In addition to covering Congress, C-SPAN points its cameras at presidents and other executive-branch officials whenever possible. It covers state proceedings, including gubernatorial "state-of-the-state" messages, legislative debates, and even voting in the electoral college.

Madam Speaker, C-SPAN offers wonderful programming for everyone with a passion for public affairs. History have learned much by taking field trips to presidential libraries, birthplaces, and elsewhere on the "C-SPAN School Bus." Viewers are again this year traveling the "Road to the White House," with its through coverage of the 2004 campaigns. The "Lyndon Johnson Tapes" offer a fascinating glimpse into a turbulent period. Bibliophiles can explore authors and their works on "Book TV" all weekend long. Anglophiles can revel in British politics with "Prime Minister's Questions" when Parliaments is sitting, and enjoy the pomp of the state opening each November.

C-SPAN has even covered the Canadian and Australian parliaments which, like this Congress, derive their traditions from the "mother of Parliaments" in London.

I'm so proud that C-SPAN's commitment to educating Americans about their government has inspired individuals in my home State of Connecticut. The same historic leap of faith that was taken 25 years ago by C-SPAN, was also taken by State policy-makers and broadcast experts alike in 1999. That year marked the launch of CT-N, also known as the Connecticut Network.

From the beginning, the mission of CT-N has been to connect citizens to State government and public affairs programming. Connecticut Network provides unfiltered television and Web-cast coverage of all three branches of State government. CT-N viewers can watch the legislative sessions of the State Senate and House of Representatives, as well as committee meetings and public hearings, executive branch agency and commission meetings, and selected oral arguments before Connecticut's Supreme Court. The network is managed and operated by the Connecticut Public Affairs Network, a not-for-profit company founded to educate citizens about State government.

Having served as Senate President Pro Tempore during the years prior to the launch of CT-N, I recall those early discussions about how we could provide television coverage of State Capitol proceedings. It was a daunting task, since at that time only a handful of State legislatures were airing government activities. Yet, no one doubted that such programming would one day exist in Connecticut. CT-N is now available in more than one million households in the State.

What a thrill it is for me to now see CT-N's camera persons walking the halls of the State Capitol when I'm back in the district. They are now part of the Capitol press corps, ready to cover breaking news at a moment's notice.

Why does CT-N's viewership continue to grow every year? It's because CT-N President and CEO Paul Giguere is constantly looking for new opportunities for government programming, and creating unique educational resources. For example, "Joining the Debate: A Guide to Testifying at Public Hearings" is a video produced by CT-N; "CT-N State Civics Toolbox" is a free teacher resource combining research, discussion, and mock legislature classroom activities with video of actual legislative debates from the Connecticut General Assembly; "Capitol News Briefings" are programming segments that follow the story from hearing rooms to assembly chambers; and "State Agency Close-Ups" are CT-N video segments that describe each executive branch agency in detail.

Americans are certainly more educated about national public policy issues that affect them thanks to C-SPAN. In Connecticut, CT-N gives citizens the tools and education needed to understand these same issues closer to home.

Madam Speaker, Senator Claude Pepper of Florida introduced legislation providing for broadcasting both houses of Congress in 1944. More than three decades later, in 1977, the House passed legislation to broadcast its proceedings, thus making C-SPAN possible.

The vote on the necessary resolution, sponsored by TRENT LOTT, now a Senator from Mississippi, was 342 to 44, an overwhelming expression of hope that broadcasting would benefit both the American people and the House.

I was not here then, but I bet the results of the last 25 years have exceeded the House's expectations many times over. On behalf of my constituents in Connecticut, and the House, I am proud to offer my congratulations to Brian Lamb and the entire staff of C-SPAN on its 25th anniversary of House broadcast coverage. Thanks to C-SPAN, our democracy is stronger, making America a better place for us all. I have no doubt that, 25 years hence, C-SPAN will have made even greater strides than it has in its first quarter-century. I urge everyone to tune in and watch C-SPAN prove me right.

[End Insert]

Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill

On many a pleasant Thursday night, his former aides say, House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill would slip away to his beloved Cape Code for a weekend of golf. After all, even if the Congress were holding a Friday session, the speaker could tune in to C-SPAN to keep an eye on the floor, and he could phone instructions to his staff on Capitol Hill if he saw something he didn't like.

Years later, former House Speaker Tip O'Neill would call televising the House of Representatives "one of the best decisions I ever made." In 1977, his first year as speaker, the Massachusetts Democrat agreed to put House television on his agenda; by March 1979, the first live, gavel-to-gavel telecast of the House went our by satellite to 3.5 million cable homes. "Thanks to television, the House of Representatives is now recognized as the dominant branch of Congress," wrote Speaker O'Neill in his 1987 autobiography, Man of the House.

However, wary of its impact on the legislative process, Tip O'Neill had not always supported House television. "We were disgusted with how the major networks covered the Republican and Democratic conventions," he wrote. "If a delegate was picking his nose, that's what you'd see. . . . No wonder so many of us were skittish."

But after six years of debate on the issue, the new speaker saw it was time to move ahead. So, with the help of Democratic Party leaders, a proposal was crafted that gave the office of the speaker control of the television cameras. "That," he says, "struck me as a reasonable compromise." On October 22, 1977, the House passed a measure permitting full coverage of its sessions-on its own terms and with tight controls-by a vote of 342-44.

After the measure passed, a telecommunications task force headed by Rep. Charlie Rose (D-North Carolina) helped Speaker O'Neill lay down the rules for the telecasts. A $1.6 million system was installed. Cameras would be trained on the speakers at the podium, and would not be allowed to pan the chamber. During 15-minute votes, an electronic vote tally would cover the screen. Proceedings of the legislative body would be covered live, uninterrupted, and "gavel-to-gavel" and would be offered to all accredited news organizations. Only C-SPAN, however, committed itself to telecasting the House of Representatives whenever it was in session.

The speaker recalls that some members of the House continued to grumble about the television measure after it passed. "Many of the members, of course, were skeptical. ..... Today, of course, it's hard to imagine Congress without it, and the results of our broadcasting experience have exceeded my wildest hopes," he says.

It may have taken a few years, but House TV gained a loyal following among those members who saw the potential of the unblinking television eye. "I see a young fellow come on the floor with a blue suit and a red necktie, hair groomed back, and an envelope under his arm," the speaker explained, "and I know that he's going to make a speech and that speech is for home consumption. His office has already notified the local media that he's going to be on and he's going to give a talk."

The audience for congressional telecasts grew as well. Just five years into its run, the speaker was calling the audience for Congress "unbelievable." One avid viewer was the speaker himself, who said, "I really enjoy when I come in at night and put it on and see a committee hearing."

During his eight years of congressional TV coverage, the speaker became a familiar figure to many Americans. People began to recognize the speaker when they saw him in airports or on the street. Appearing in a televised interview with C-SPAN to mark House TV's fifth anniversary in early 1984, Speaker O'Neill said, "Television is here to stay now....... Everywhere I go, people say, 'Well, I saw so-and-so on the show,' or 'I listened to this bill,' or 'What are your views on that? " He said he believed that coverage of the House had "whetted the curiosity of America as far as the running of the government is concerned," call it "very informative for the American people."

Within months, though, a controversy would follow the speaker's rosy assessment. In May 1984, Speaker O'Neill asserted his control over the House cameras, provoking cries of protest from House Republicans and leading to a disruption on the House floor. In the process, the way that television covers the House underwent permanent change.

On May 10, 1984, the speaker ordered House cameras to break with precedent and provide a full view of the empty House chamber during Special Orders speeches. With Rep. Robert Walker (R-Pennsylvania) on the floor, the camera for the first time showed a representative gesturing and talking to a chamber of empty seats.

Minority whip Trent Lott (R-Mississippi), watching in his office, dropped what he was doing and raced to the floor to denounce the surprise camera angle as "an underhanded, sneaky, politically motivated change." The press picked up on the story immediately and gave it the name of "Camscam"; Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales called it a "knockabout slugfest" and wrote that "the brouhaha over control of the cameras has ignited the House and in the process served to dramatize again the huge presence television has in the political process."

"Camscam" came to a head on May 15, when harsh words flew on the House floor between Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia) and Speaker O'Neill. Mr. O'Neill called a Gingrich speech ''the lowest thing I have ever seen in my 32 years in Congress"-a remark that the House parliamentarian ruled out of order. The speaker's words were taken down and the phrase was struck from the official congressional record, the first such rebuke to a House speaker in this century.

In time, "Camscam" died down, but today the cameras continue to show the whole chamber during Special Orders, giving audiences a fuller view of the post-legislative business proceedings. Later, in response to an initiative by the Republican leadership, cameras also started showing varied shots of the House members during votes. Slowly, the early restrictions on what the viewing audience could see through television were easing.

Speaker O'Neill, 75, likes to say that his social policies brought many poor people into "the great American tent of opportunity," During his years as speaker, many Americans were brought into the halls of Congress via television. His decision to support televised coverage of the House of Representatives ushered in a new era of government accessibility. House TV went through its growing pains, but its success eventually influenced the Senate to follow suite, voting to let itself be televised in 1986. When future generations remember Tip O'Neill-the man who served the longest consecutive term as speaker-they may well remember him as the man who let Americans see their government at work.

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Madam Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Madam Speaker, I yield such time as he may consume to the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Markey), the senior member of that delegation.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Madam Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I just wanted to thank again the dean of the New England delegation and of Massachusetts for his thoughtful comments about the beloved Tip O'Neill and again associate myself with the remarks of the esteemed chairman from Ohio. Indeed, this is a very important event and certainly one where both Mr. Lamb and Mr. O'Neill deserve justified recognition.

Madam Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.

Skip to top
Back to top