Next week, C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb puts out another collection of interviews – celebrating 25 years of his program “Booknotes” – in print. The book, “Sundays at Eight,” includes Q&As with a cast of various characters, including historian David McCullough; scandal-tainted Bob Ney, the former congressman; and former Daily Caller video journalist Michelle Fields.
When talking to Whispers, Lamb also brought up the interviews that just weren’t meant to be. “No interview is worth that much, believe me, you just roll with it,” Lamb said. “If you get too excited about any one interview, you’re making a mistake, because people do cancel.”
One primary sticking point with guests is that Lamb’s “Booknotes” program is one guest for one whole hour and that’s nonnegotiable, even though some pols have tried. “When we were in the middle of the whole rush on the [Robert] Gates book, secretary of defense, he would only do 30 minutes and we just said, ‘We’ll take a pass,’” Lamb recalled. “Ann Richards, years ago, the former governor of [Texas], I’ll never forget this – she arrived here and when she got here she said, ‘I’ll only do 30 minutes,’ and I said, ‘Sorry.’”
And then there was former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, who canceled on Lamb three different times. “I finally did a show with him, but not because I was dying to do a show with him,” Lamb said, explaining that the governor re-approached him and the C-SPAN founder finally relented.
“There’s rules to these things and if people won’t do it, you say, ‘Sorry, catch you next time,’” Lamb said.
Another rule of C-SPAN is that on-air personalities aren’t supposed to become celebrities. For years, there was an urban legend surrounding Lamb that he had never once uttered his own name on the air. But when he stepped down as CEO of C-SPAN in 2012, a very early clip surfaced of the newsman saying his name. “It’s not anybody’s fault, but mine,” Lamb said of the utterance. “There I am giving my name – where did that come from?”
Lamb said the no-name policy started so that the focus was on the guests and on the callers, who rang the channel during the network's “Washington Journal” programming. “The greatest thing about the call-in show is that you always felt like you were on a high wire without a net,” Lamb said, also explaining that after all these years he’s figured out the demographic most likely to be a prank caller. “It’s usually young men from the East Coast that like to call up and use four-letter words,” he said.
Lamb stopped working on “Washington Journal” about five years ago and stepped down as CEO a little over two years ago. He told Whispers his own bucket is filled, but he still has a list of where he’d like to see C-SPAN’s cameras.
“Well, it’s an old, old, old, old story and it continues to be, it’s kind of a broken record, but it’s the Supreme Court,” Lamb noted. “And while we’re at it, we might as well throw in the Gridiron Club.” The Gridiron Club, comprised of members of the media, throws an annual dinner with the biggest names in government and maintains that it must be kept off the record. “Which has always been a mystery to me how a group of journalists, who are so fond of the First Amendment and all that, have closed out the Gridiron Club all those years to cameras,” Lamb said.
Years ago, Lamb attended the closed dinners, but for the past 25 years, he’s been the guy asking to be let in with cameras and staff.
“You can’t complain about having [no] cameras and then … go and enjoy the evening,” he said. “It just seems to me that’s a little hard to do.”