Person of the Week: Brian Lamb

ByABC News

Dec. 3, 2004 — -- Ever wonder why congressional sessions are televised? Look no further than Brian Lamb. Lamb is the founder of C-SPAN, the 25-year-old cable network that provides public access to so much American conversation.

He will on Sunday conduct the final program in the long-running author interview program called "Book Notes." Lamb, according to a network press release, "would like to reclaim some personal time and look for new and different interviewing challenges."

As host of the show, Lamb has interviewed more than 800 authors. To prepare, he has read a book a week, every week, for 15 years.

"They start here, and they go all the way chronologically until the end," Lamb said, gesturing to a wall full of bookcases. The shelves contain 801 books on every imaginable subject, which Lamb and the author then talk about on the show for an hour.

"My basic approach to interviewing is to ask the basic questions that might even sound naive, or not intellectual," he said. "Sometimes when you ask the simple questions like 'Who are you?' or 'What do you do?' you learn the most."

C- SPAN is known for broadcasting events in their entirety and without commentary, of which Lamb is very proud.

"From the beginning, we promised folks that they'll see whatever event we cover in its entirety, from gavel to gavel -- whether it's the House of Representatives or the Senate," he said. "That's the whole reason for being."

The channel provides a dynamic, free education in world history.

This week, among its many offerings, C-SPAN aired Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer telling an audience about the differences in the American and French legal systems. Every Wednesday, viewers can tune in for Question Time in the British Parliament.

Lamb, who described himself as a "guy who has a marvelous opportunity to experience all facets of the communications world and the political world," developed an interest in broadcasting as a child living in Indiana. While in high school and college, he worked as a disc jockey and was the host of a dance show at a local television station.

"My number one goal was not getting 'A's' -- and I proved it," said Lamb. "I was a 'C' student. You have to be ready to learn. If you're not interesting in learning, it doesn't work. As I grew older and wanted to learn and desperately wanted inside information, learning was a lot easier."

Joining the Navy during the war in Vietnam changed Lamb's life. It made him eager to learn about government affairs, politics and journalism. While working for the Pentagon's public affairs department, he got the idea of a public affairs network.

He wanted to broadcast gavel to gavel coverage of the Congress at work, totally free of any political spin. By 1979, it was a reality.

Today C-SPAN is comprised of three separate, 24-hour networks, and Lamb admits to feeling a little stretched.

He will continue to host what he says is the network's most important program, "Washington Journal," the three-hour daily show that allows viewers to call in and offer an opinion on the days' events.

Viewers often call the program to express their appreciation for the network, but Lamb is always quick to deflect talk about himself. He says his opinion is not the one that counts.

"More than anything else," said Lamb, "we need in this society the opportunity for people to tell us what they think without being told that they're either dumb, or stupid, or uninformed."

Peter Jennings filed this report for "World News Tonight."

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