Cameras and Congress
With C-SPAN calling for full access to all health-care negotiations, former congressional staffer Pete Davis reflects on how the body changed when C-SPAN first entered the chamber:
Tip O’Neill launched internal live television of the House floor using House camera crews in March, 1977, and two years later gave the public access through C-SPAN. The Senate followed in 1986 using its own camera crews. Up until then, only select hearings had been televised to riveted national audiences: the Senate organized crime hearings and Senator Joe McCarthy’s communist witch hunt hearings in the 1950s and the 1973 and 1974 Watergate hearings. The Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago has a concise history. Over time, most hearings and mark-ups were televised and even some conference committees. We staff got used to having the backs of our heads on TV, and we cracked jokes about those staff who seemed to cross behind the chair too many times just to be seen from the front. I also started attending more meetings behind closed doors to reach agreements that would be reenacted before the cameras the next day. It’s a lot more work to do everything twice, and sometimes the reenactment on camera didn’t go according to the script, so the chair would hastily recess to repair the damage.
At the end of the post, Davis weighs in against granting C-SPAN even more access. It may be a "futile plea," he says, but "human beings need interaction to try out ideas and to gauge support without being crucified for trying something that wasn’t adopted anyway. The more scrutiny beyond a reasonable amount, the less useful business gets done."
Photo credit: Robert A. Reeder/The Washington Post.
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