Lions afraid of a Lamb

C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb has received the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom for a lifetime of good work, but Sens. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTrump on his 'chosen one' remark: 'It was sarcasm' Kentucky basketball coach praises Obama after golf round: 'He is a really serious golfer' Biden evokes 1968, asks voters to imagine if Obama had been assassinated MORE (D-Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) still don’t have the first clue about how he or his network operates.

Case in point: During one of the recent Democratic debates, Obama, criticizing the secrecy of Clinton’s 1993 effort to reform healthcare, talked about how he would open up the entire process — “Not negotiating behind closed doors, but bringing all parties together, and broadcasting those negotiations on C-SPAN ...”

 After moderator Wolf Blitzer caught the “swipe” at Hillary, Clinton gave a lengthy defense of her healthcare plan, but then added, “We’ll have to persuade Congress to put all of those deliberations on C-SPAN.”

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 While both Obama and Clinton should be applauded for the promise to have their administrations oozing with openness, they are confused in thinking that C-SPAN is government-run and its programming dictated by Congress.

 C-SPAN is a privately run, nonprofit enterprise that receives zero federal dollars. Funded and nurtured by the nascent “cable industry” back in the late 1970s, C-SPAN’s operating cash comes from cable subscribers who pay just a few pennies a month on their monthly cable bill.

  Before you get all snitty with me about picking on Obama and Clinton, I should add that former Republican Speakers Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and Dennis Hastert (Ill.) didn’t show Brian any love either. Ditto Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

 But House leaders have an entirely different problem with Lamb. It’s not that they misunderstand him, it’s that they simply don’t trust him.

 Don’t get me wrong. All those congressional VIPs would probably jump at the chance to share an evening libation with the self-effacing cable legend, and I expect they all sent their praises when, at the White House, he received the highest commendation his beloved nation could bestow.

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Brian’s specific sin is his unrelenting request that the network be allowed to cover the “People’s House” and the “Greatest Deliberative Body in the World” as if they actually were the People’s House and the Greatest Deliberative Body in the World.

 In short, allow C-SPAN to have its own cameras, and not just state-owned-and-operated models, covering  House and Senate proceedings.

 This is no small journalistic undertaking, and it would cost C-SPAN millions of dollars, in pursuit of its noble mission to connect people to their government. Millions of dollars, I might add, that would cost the taxpayer absolutely zip, nada, nothing.

 What seems to be the great moral issue that prevents Pelosi, House Minority Leader John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerScaramucci compares Trump to Jonestown cult leader: 'It's like a hostage crisis inside the White House' Israel should resist Trump's efforts to politicize support Lobbyists race to cash in on cannabis boom MORE (R-Ohio), Hastert, et al from this win-win-American taxpayer-First Amendment no-brainer?

 Some highly technical answer about physical space in the chamber? Nope. Hill leaders simply want to be able to “control the product.” They feel like they own the “congressional brand” just like Major League Baseball or the NFL own theirs.

 Here is the immutable truth: In their quest to keep as many members of their respective parties happy and continuing to support their leadership, Democratic and Republican leaders don’t want to receive a phone call from some irate member screaming that the cameras caught him picking his nose or scratching certain areas of his body on national television.

 Not very dignified, I understand, but that is the essence as to why the world’s greatest democracy has state-run, party apparatchik-approved cameras covering its proceedings instead of C-SPAN, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, Fox, or the Food Network for that matter.

 You might have noticed that congressional approval ratings are low these days. Not to hang all those poor numbers on this one issue, but it does underscore a larger point. The American people may not trust the Congress too much right now, but guess what — members of Congress don’t trust the people who sent them here either. They never have.

 So, while President Clinton, Obama or McCain considers pulling back the curtains down at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., congressional leaders might consider doing likewise.  It’s worth a try. Members of Congress would crawl on their bellies through broken beer bottles to have Brian Lamb’s approval ratings. And if Congress’s numbers sink any lower, we will need electron microscopes to measure them.

 Pelosi and BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerScaramucci compares Trump to Jonestown cult leader: 'It's like a hostage crisis inside the White House' Israel should resist Trump's efforts to politicize support Lobbyists race to cash in on cannabis boom MORE would do themselves, not to mention the nation, a favor by giving Lamb anything he wants. It won’t cost them, or the taxpayer, a dime — and you never know, there might be a few more Medals of Freedom out there for the leader who eventually stands up and does the right thing.
 
You can reach Jim Mills at jmills@thehill.com.