The Olasky Interview: Brian Lamb

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, May 28th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: an influential political figure retires.

Brian Lamb is founder of C-SPAN, the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network. Since 1979, it’s provided gavel-to-gavel coverage of both the U.S. House and Senate. It also features congressional hearings, speeches, presidential campaign coverage, and in-depth interviews.

EICHER: Lamb did many of those interviews himself. He’s talked with thousands of authors, politicians, and leaders.

But last week, Lamb stepped off the C-SPAN set for a final time. So we’ll bring back an interview from 2015, in which WORLD editor-in-chief Marvin Olasky turned the tables and asked Brian Lamb a few questions of his own.

MARVIN OLASKY: You’ve been quoted as saying, I always asked questions because that was the way I learned. At age 13, I went into a radio station in Lafayette, Indiana and said, can I come in? And then you actually started interviewing some people on the radio, right at age 17, you had it, you had a job at the station doing interviews of some very famous people, was your style of interviewing then much as it became an in a way minimalist style?

BRIAN LAMB: It must’ve been. I was taught by a fellow in my high school how to interview and he taught the basics and said, you should stay simple and basic and do the who, what, why, where, when, and how questions that people ask in journalism. And I always thought he was right about that. It changed in our business a great deal to what it is today where the interviewer is expected to be much more involved and much more opinionated. But I think probably I was the same back then. I haven’t gone back to listen to any of those tapes in a long time, but I know I never was much a part of the interview itself.

OLASKY: You were in the Navy then for four years, right? Two at sea and, and two in Washington where you became an aide to Lyndon Johnson.

LAMB: It was not as big as it sounds. I was a social aid to Lyndon Johnson, but I as a full time employee of the Navy and worked inside the Pentagon and got this fabulous opportunity from time to time to be called to the White House to be basically an extension of the first family or probably more or less part of the service crowd. I mean we, there were 25 of us and only about six or seven to 10 worked, any one particular event. And we were responsible for keeping everything running. We weren’t that important, but it did give us a chance to observe President Johnson for a couple of years, which was really, he was a very interesting man to observe.

OLASKY: What was the most interesting thing?

LAMB: Looking back on him, he was probably the most engaged of all the presidents I’ve ever seen. He was there in the middle of what he called guns and butter. We had the Vietnam War was going at full speed, which was very difficult for the country at the time. And he also was trying to pass the civil rights laws and, and Medicare and things like that. So there was a tremendous amount of government that he was responsible for at the time. And being able to see that up close was significant for me.

OLASKY: And you started going over to Congress at times and just listening to the debates, is that—

LAMB: Yeah, I would wander in at night when there weren’t many people there into the house representatives and the Senate. Then just sit there and watch it. Not because I was an expert because I wasn’t an expert and I wanted to see what it was like up close.

OLASKY: Yeah. And the in the 70s then you’ve been learning a lot about Washington and you basically want to show the country what you were seeing. Is that, is that the genesis of the, of the idea for C-SPAN?

LAMB: No, close. But the genesis was that it seemed to me just as, you know, a Midwesterner from a small town. When I got to Washington, there was a lot that we weren’t seeing on the evening news at night. And the evening news at night was the most significant news that we had in the country. It was 30 minutes, ABC, NBC and CBS. And they basically said the same thing on all three networks. And it seemed to me that there was a way, there should be a way for us to see more of the town. And I just kind of grew into watching a new industry come alive called cable. And as it came alive and the satellites began to be launched in the United States for use there became a way that you could do programming that had never been seen before by people because the commercial television stations were pretty much the same all the time. And that’s how I found out about it and saw it grow and got involved and wanted to do something to change the kind of information that was available on television. It wasn’t on my part, a bit sophisticated. I didn’t really particularly know what I was doing, but I was watching and learning and trying to figure out how to fit in. And that’s how I got involved.

OLASKY: And, of course, the late 60s and early 70s, the years of the Vietnam War, which ended in ’75. C-SPAN started ’79. Any connection between those events and just in your own thinking about why it was important to do C-SPAN?

LAMB: Yeah, I thought the Vietnam war was covered in a somewhat unbalanced way. I don’t mean to imply for a minute I thought it was the right thing to do. But the media change, they were very much for the war in the beginning, and then almost the same way it happened in Iraq, they were for it in the beginning and then they turn on it. And when they’d begin to turn on it often the balance is not there. It just seemed to me that there was more to it than the way we saw the news in the evening. And that’s one of the impetuses for getting involved as I did.

MARVIN: So because you wanted balance and want balance you’re sometimes described as a conservative, but that’s a label you don’t, you don’t want I, from what I’ve read. If you had to describe yourself in one word, how would you do that?

LAMB: Totally independent.


LAMB: I just never found myself to have an ideology or, and frankly, when you get into the media business and if you’ve decided that you want to be balanced and objective and that’s really hard to do you need to extract yourself from being involved with the issues. I have a great deal of sympathy for people in the business. They think they’re being objective, fair and balanced, but frankly, they all have feelings. They all have ideas. And it seems to me that you ought to stay. I think you ought to vote, but you ought to stay away from the party situation and being on a side. People always get upset with me, they said, well, you gotta be on the side. And he said, well, just let me be. Let me be me. Let me be in the middle. Let me not be involved. And you go ahead and think whatever you want to, that’s fine for you. Be on a side. That’s what you should do.

(Photo/Patrick Henry College, Art Cox) Brian Lamb

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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