Brian Lamb On His Career, C-SPAN, And His Book, Sundays At Eight
HH: Special day here on the Hugh Hewitt Show. It’s the 6th of May, 2014, and for three hours, well, I’m going to throw batting practice to Ted Williams. Honestly, I am going to interview Brian Lamb. Now this is like trying to teach Michelangelo how to do sculpture. It’s like teaching Picasso to paint. Brian Lamb is the country’s best interviewer. If you have been watching C-SPAN these many years, and you have watched him Sunday nights at 8 on his Q&A series, or before that, Booknotes, you know that every author lives to sit down with Brian Lamb. And I get him for three hours, because his brand new book, Sundays At Eight, is out now in bookstores everywhere. And he happened to be in Southern California, and we snared him. Brian Lamb, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
BL: Great to be here, Hugh in this palatial studio.
HH: I’m glad you would tell people that, now that you’ve been to the bunker.
BL: I love it.
HH: Brian, do you still think of yourself as a Hoosier?
BL: Oh, yeah.
HH: You are? You’re an Indiana guy through and through?
BL: You just never walk away from it. It’s right there, right up in the frontal lobe.
HH: You’re from Lafayette. Tell people about Lafayette.
BL: Lafayette’s a town that when I was growing up was about 45,000. Across the river, the Wabash River, is West Lafayette where Purdue is located. And that used to have about 25,000. It’s grown up since then to, probably the combined cities somewhere near 150,000-200,000, and very heavily industrial around there, lots of different kinds of work. The unemployment rate’s always low.
HH: What did your mom and dad do?
BL: My dad was a, well, he grew up as, his father was a tavern owner, and he helped run the tavern, and then took it over at one point, and then became a wholesale beer distributor.
HH: And your mom?
BL: My mom was born in Arkansas and moved up with her parents to Lafayette when she was 13. And my grandfather was, worked on the railroad. He built, you know, like Pullman Railroad cars for the Monon Railroad.
HH: And brothers and sisters?
BL: One brother, deceased now about five years.
HH: Okay, and what was the life in the Lamb household like? Were you a reading family?
BL: No, not at all, as a matter of fact. My mom and dad, my memory is that my mother would read novels from time to time. My dad would open a book and you know, he liked putting his hands on a book and talking about one of the popular books at that time, but the family, we were not readers. And you know, I didn’t even hear a classical music piece until I went to Purdue and I took a course in it, because I didn’t know anything about it. My dad was, flunked out of Wisconsin after one year, and I don’t say that disparagingly. He just wasn’t interested, and my mother didn’t, she finished high school.
HH: Joseph Epstein, my favorite writer alive in America today, also did not begin to read until he was in the Army. And so it was a late arriving avocation. So it’s an interesting…when did you start to read?
BL: I think I started to read, I mean, I went to Purdue, and I graduated, and I got a lot of the classics when I was there, and I had to read them, but I wasn’t engaged, because I wanted to be a radio announcer, and I worked all weekend. And I just wasn’t a student. Never have been a student. I started to get interested in reading in the Navy, and then when I got to Washington. And then I started realizing how books would impact the whole political discussion. I remember one of the books that I read was Stewart Alsop. He, I don’t know if you remember, he used to have a column in Newsweek. And he was a very good political writer.
HH: Was it Joe or Stewart who was pro-Nixon? I can’t remember which one was pro-Nixon.
BL: It would have been Joe, I think.
BL: The two of them, you know, for years, had a column. Stewart got cancer, and his last few years, he wrote about it almost weekly in Newsweek. It was captivating stuff. And I remember he came out with a book about Washington and about the political world there, and I also, subsequent to that, interviewed his brother, Joe. I never met Stewart Alsop, but it was something, I don’t normally go to funerals of people in Washington. It just has never been something on my radar screen. But for some reason or another, I snuck into the church at Stewart Alsop’s funeral. I always admired him and his writing ability, and this was years ago. So I started into that, you know, when I first got to Washington, but it didn’t really click in for me until C-SPAN came along. And in 1987, we had the Bicentennial of the Constitution, the writing of the Constitution, and Warren Berger was the retired chief justice. And he sent out letters to a bunch of people in the communications business and said I’d like to have you serve on a committee to help us get ready for the Bicentennial. And I thought well, this is as non-partisan as you can get, so I said okay, I’ll do it. And the first thing he told us, and he was a stern fellow, and the first thing he told us at our first meeting was I want you all to read Miracle At Philadelphia. And I read it.
HH: Drinker, yeah, terrific. Drinker.
BL: And I read it, and it just, I don’t know what happened. It just kicked in for me, and that was the start of reading seriously all the time.
HH: Catherine Drinker, I think.
BL: Bowen. Catherine Drinker Bowen.
HH: Great book, terrific book. So you are, I want to go back to Indiana. Where’d you go to high school? Which high school?
BL: Lafayette Jefferson High School.
HH: All right, and are you religious at all?
BL: I grew up as a Catholic. I went to St. Mary’s Cathedral there in Lafayette. That’s where I met my now wife, and our family was Catholic. My mother was a convert.
HH: And so would you play in the CYO leagues and the basketball leagues on the weekend, and the all-encompassing Catholic culture? Ross Douthat wrote a book called Bad Religion, which talked about the all-encompassing Catholic culture of the Midwest in the 60s and the 50s.
BL: Oh, I think he was a cheerleader for this St. Mary’s Cathedral, whatever they called themselves. I played basketball there, and I was a very good athlete. I scored one point in three years.
HH: We are in the same class.
BL: And then I double dribbled at the championship and lost the game for them when I was, I think, in the eighth grade. So I’m a pretty sad story.
HH: And so coming out of that to Purdue, now Purdue is the homecoming game for the rest of the Big Ten, and a lot of people, but you are a Boilermaker. Are you a proud Boilermaker?
BL: Absolutely. I spend a lot of time at Purdue now. We have a new president there, Mitch Daniels, who used to be the governor of Indiana.
HH: Very smart guy.
BL: And I am involved with their communications school there. And you know, I’m very close to, some of my best friends went to Purdue and we still talk all these years later. So yeah, Purdue matters to me.
HH: Were you a frat guy?
BL: I was a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity.
HH: Okay, and so what did you study? You said you were a radio guy, so there’s probably a campus radio station.
BL: There is, but I never worked there. I worked at the local commercial…
HH: Oh, you did the real deal?
BL: Yeah, and I studied, they didn’t have broadcasting. I wanted to do nothing but broadcasting, so I studied speech. They had a course in general speech, and that was my degree.
HH: Stand up and deliver?
BL: Stand up and deliver, some rhetoric, logic and all that, but basically, it was give a speech.
HH: Why did you want to be a broadcaster?
BL: I was not an athlete. I think we established that with my basketball prowess at St. Mary’s. I was interested in radio, I think, since I was 9 years old. You know, you can’t remember. I remember having Mrs. Henderson was a neighbor, and she had one of those very tall radios that you could dial in shortwave, and you know, it had a big speaker on it. And I used to go down there and listen to her radio, and while my brother was out, he was a championship athlete in town. And this was just my interest. And I started, I remember, there are some pictures of me somewhere in our history, I was very heavy when I was in grade school. And I went out to the local radio station, literally put my nose up against the window. The guy who was a disc jockey there let me in, and I said tell me how you do this. And I had some pictures taken, and I still have them somewhere. So I’ve always been interested in this business.
HH: And so when you got that first gig, what station was it? Do you recall?
BL: Of course. WASK.
HH: Is it still on the air?
HH: And what’s its format now?
BL: Well, its format now is, it was at one point some talk. They don’t do that much anymore. They do, they have a couple of stations, as you know the way it is. It’s, country music is one of them.
HH: And you are a talk radio listener?
BL: All the time.
HH: You see, that surprised me when you told me that at the C-SPAN studios. And who do you listen to? I know you listen to me, and I’m very, very flattered by that. But who else do you listen to?
BL: I listen to everybody that I can find on my radio. The only thing that’s missing now, and I really miss it, was we had a, remember when Air America was in, and we had a lot of liberals, and I could listen to the conservatives and the liberals at the same time, you know, one after another. And we don’t have much of that now. So you can get it on XM/Sirius when you’re in the car, but I usually, I go to sleep with a plug in my ear, and I’m listening, actually, a lot of times, listening to you, because I go to sleep early.
HH: Bill Bennett says I also put him to sleep, and so I’ve read him Goodnight Moon over the air. And so he’ll be pleased to know that there’s another person that I put to sleep. It’s not really the world’s greatest compliment to say that you put people to sleep as a radio talk show host, but I take it in the spirit that it’s offered by you and Bennett.
BL: Take it in the right spirit. And I listen to Bill Bennett in the morning.
HH: Well, he’s a bad guy, and I don’t know if I should warn you.
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HH: Sundays At Eight is linked over at Hughhewitt.com. It’s in bookstores everywhere. It is a terrific read, just a collection of some of his favorite interviews, but done in a very unusual way. It’s not an interview book. It’s more of a first-person narrative book. And Brian Lamb, we’re going to play country music for you, because you are a CW…I don’t know how that happened in Lafayette, Indiana. Where did that come from?
BL: It didn’t come from Lafayette, Indiana. I didn’t grow up listening to country music. I actually grew up as a disc jockey playing rhythm and blues, and listening to WLAC out of Nashville, the Randy’s Record Shop, the Buckley’s Record Shop. We also had a disc jockey by the name of Gene Nobles. And oh, when we were kids in high school, everybody listened to Gene Nobles at night, and a guy named, what was his name, Haas? John Richbourg was another one. I mean, you know, you grew up wanting to imitate everybody you heard on the radio.
HH: Yeah, I grew up listening to Pete Franklin, who was a sports talk show host on whom I wanted to be Pete Franklin, and so not a disc jockey type, though. So when you went and started spinning records for the local station, were you running a rock and roll show?
BL: Yes, there was a fellow that was one of my mentors in life, Henry Rosenthal, who owned the radio station. He had been a haberdasher. He had run Rosenthal’s Clothing Store in downtown Lafayette, and he always wanted to be in the business. He bought this radio station with a bunch of guys in Lafayette, and when I was 17 years old, he said how’d you like to come work here in the summer? I’ll pay you a dollar an hour. And I said when do I start, you know, and when am I going to do it? He said don’t worry about that. We’ll have you clean the place up or whatever. But eventually, he said to me one day, how’d you like to make a station break? That was it – a station break. And I said wow, when? And he said tonight, 7:00, you make the station break. And that’s how I started in commercial radio.
HH: And so when you develop technique, and that technique never leaves, you make your breaks, you know your time, you’re aware of your clock. What you’re doing right now is like riding a bicycle, right? This is just radio.
BL: Right, right.
HH: Every radio station looks the same. They operate the same. And they always have a producer who screws things up, and that’s Duane who’s sitting in here today.
Duane: You know I have control of your microphone, right?
HH: Yes, we do, and we only have Duane today because Adam didn’t come in, and Marlon is off doing something else. All right, do you, are you a sports guy? Do you watch sports?
BL: Some. Yeah, it depends. I’m not one of those that watches all the time, a certain team. We follow the Nats in Washington since they’ve been there. The Wizards are doing well. They were a horrible team for so many years. They couldn’t even get people, I think, to work there to go see the games. The hockey team has been good for the last several years, but it never quite wins the big one. And we go to one hockey game a year.
HH: But you’re not a Redskins guy?
BL: I’m not a football, I’m not a pro football fan.
HH: And college?
BL: Some, but not…
BL: Yeah, I follow.
HH: Are you watching?
BL: No, I don’t follow the Buckeyes.
HH: Well, that’s too bad. I was going to, that was my next question, because in Sundays At Eight, you’ve got people from all walks of life except two. I noticed two glaring omissions. You do not interview sports celebrities, and you do not interview Hollywood types.
HH: You did do one filmmaker on the Mumbai tragedy, which is, I have never heard of this movie, I’m going to watch it this weekend, until I read Sundays At Eight, because I’m not fascinated by what he had access to. And you’re the only person who’s ever told me about that. Is that an intentional choice on your part? Do you think they get too much? Or is it just not what Brian Lamb’s clock ticks to?
BL: We try to tie it as close as we can to public policy, sometimes not. I mean, you can see that. For instance, I interviewed Isaac Stern one time, and it was just one of those things that I’m sure you’ve done from time to time. I loved Isaac Stern. I loved his music, I loved his violin playing. And he came out with a book when he was 79 years old, and I just said this, I’ve got to do this. Of course, he had gone to China kind of as an informal ambassador, and he did the movie Mao In China, and took his violin over there and wowed them years ago. So there’s usually a connection. I interviewed David Crosby in Crosby, Stills and Nash. He was very political, and came out with a book and did him, but it’s usually, it’s odd. I mean, it’s not the norm.
HH: Okay, and so now back to this book, Sundays At Eight is because your new series is Q&A. And Booknotes is what everyone knew you from originally. Can you explain what changed and why and how and when it changed?
BL: Well, I set out on Booknotes, and you know, it’s hard to remember, because we have so much media today. When C-SPAN started, there was no national talk radio except Larry King.
BL: And then it just took off like crazy. You know, you’ve been part of it. And in those very early days, when we had time, and we didn’t have ads, and we didn’t have to deliver numbers, and you could do things on a long form basis, and that’s how the Booknotes show came up. And I committed to reading the book, because so many authors complain that when they go on the television shows, the Today Show and all, that they get the sense that the interviewers haven’t read the book. Well, you can understand that if you’re doing four or five interviews a day. There’s no time for them to do that.
BL: But it’s irritating. Somebody spends their life writing a book, as you have, more than one book, and you go in, and I had this experience years ago in San Francisco when I did one of these books. We sat down, and the fellow in the interview chair said quick, tell me what’s in this book? What’s it about? And so before we went on the air, I had to tell him what to ask me, you know, in one of those morning shows up there. So I committed to do every book, read every book. And after about 16 years of it, I just hit the wall, because I would finish every book.
BL: I would spend weekends doing it. I’d get up at 3:00 in the morning, and it was just my, it was probably my way of catching up with what I didn’t do in college. I mean, that’s part of it, because I just missed a lot.
HH: Does the book industry appreciate what you did, because maybe you saved non-fiction publishing. People will always read a yarn. I’ve always had Daniel Silva and Vince Flynn and Alex Berenson and Brad Thor and Chuck Box and all these great thriller writers, and they can find their voice, and they can find their audiences. But non-fiction writers need people to take them seriously. Does the industry like bow down and say thank you, Brian Lamb?
BL: The good news is they don’t. I don’t think they care. They, it depends on the publisher. The person that publishes our books, Peter Osnos, has been a great follower over the years. And I remember when we did our first book, I said, and I don’t have an agent anymore. I wanted to do that just to have the experience. And I said to him, if you call Peter Osnos, and he was at Random House at the time, I said I think he’ll buy this book. And he called him, and he bought it right away. But Peter went on to start his own publishing company, Public Affairs, and he’s published all our books ever since then. And it’s a different way of doing things than the other publishers, because there’s not a big advance. We don’t take any advance, because this isn’t a money making proposition for us. I don’t take any money at all for it, and neither does anybody on our staff. So this is kind of a deal where we do the work on this, they have an editor, they create the book itself, and if it sells and they get their profit, we might get a little bit back, which goes into our foundation.
HH: And that is why Sundays At Eight deserves your support, if for no other reason to keep C-SPAN and Book TV, which we’ll talk about after the break.
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HH: Duane is being shameless. He’s playing all of Brian Lamb’s favorite C&W. Brian Lamb, of course, the founder of C-SPAN, the man who’s held forth on more great interviews in America. His latest book is Sundays At Eight: 25 Years Of Stories From C-SPAN’s Q&A And Booknotes. They’re not interviews. They are reconstructive narratives, sort of first-person tellings of incredibly riveting stories which we’ll get to in a moment or two. Brian Lamb, you went in the Navy. And Wikipedia says at one point, you said the most important years of your life were in the Navy. I’m not sure if the Wikipedia, you can never trust Wikipedia, but what did you do in the Navy? Which ships did you serve on? Where did you go? And what impact did it have on you?
BL: Well, first of all, I went to officer’s candidate school in Newport, Rhode Island, and was assigned to a ship out of there for about two years. It was the oldest ship in continuous service to the United States Navy at the time. It was called the USS Thuban. And I was the first division officer on there, which meant that we were responsible for chipping the gray paint up forward of the superstructure, and then had a collateral duty as the information officer. And after having been on there for the couple of years, I wanted to go to the Pentagon. And I can’t tell you why. I just wanted to go to the Pentagon, wanted to go to Washington. And a guy by the name of Bob Jones, who was a captain in the Navy, figured out a way to get me there. I had to give him a little more time, which I agreed to do, and that was my Navy experience, which was to me the most important thing I had done, simply because I got away from, you know, I went to Purdue in my hometown. I got away from my, what I was so used to, and you had to go out there and learn it on my own.
HH: Why’d you want to go to D.C?
BL: I had an uncle in D.C. who was a lawyer. And he looked and talked and acted like a United States Senator, although he never was. He and I got along very well, and I enjoyed being in his company. And when I was in the Navy in Norfolk, I would drive up to Washington on the weekends to spend the weekends with him and his wife and my cousins. And that was just, he just loved that city and loved talking about it. And it just intrigued me. I had been there for the Eisenhower inaugural back when I was 11 years old with my parents. And it was my first airplane trip, as I can remember. And my uncle was the chairman of the float committee for the inaugural parade. And it was just one of those moments. You know, kids come to Washington in droves, which is just so great to see. They come there often in the 8th grade. Some of them come back in high school. And it just clicks with some people, and others it doesn’t. But with me, it mattered.
HH: There are three people I know who have loved the city more. You are one of them, David Brinkley and Richard Norton Smith. They love everything about Washington. They love the history of it. And they’ve done, David Brinkley’s When Washington Goes To War is one of my favorite books, and Richard Norton Smith is in Sundays At Eight. And I was with him. And he’s a very good friend of yours. He’s been a friend of mine since 1975. What is it about Richard Norton Smith that makes him such a wonderful interview?
BL: He just knows everything. I mean, you can’t stump him. I’ve rarely, I’ve tried over the years to stump him, and you can’t. And these historians are wonderful that way. There’s a whole bunch of other ones from Doug Brinkley to Robert Carrow to David McCullough, all these guys.
HH: Jon Meacham, Doris Kearns Goodwin, you betcha.
BL: Yes, yes. They know a lot. And Richard is, I don’t know how to explain Richard Norton Smith to people who don’t know him. He’s 60 years old, Harvard graduate, single, and obsessed with history to the point where he takes bus trips all over the United States, and people come, and he’s about to do one in the South, mostly a civil rights tour. He does them in the Northeast for presidents. He’s coming out to California next year to do the up and down the coast. And people love being in his presence, because he’s a great storyteller.
HH: Yeah, he could, if you and he go on a cruise, I hope Larry Tatelman is listening, because he ought to put Richard Norton Smith and Brian Lamb on a cruise just to talk presidents, and they’ll sell the whole thing out, and you’ll go around the world doing that. And Richard would like cruises, and I think you’ll like cruises as well. I tried to stump him this weekend at the Nixon Library, because I thought I had something that he didn’t have. I have been to the burial ground of William Henry Harrison. I tricked my boys into going to it once. It’s west of Cincinnati on the Ohio River.
BL: North Bend.
HH: North Bend. Not only had he been there, he knew the dimensions of it.
BL: Yeah, well…
HH: That’s very annoying.
BL: He did that for me years ago when I interviewed him the first time in 1993. I asked him how he got into this, and he told the story, and it’s in the book about how when he was 8 years old, he had his parents, they wanted to go on vacation, and he insisted they go to the gravesites. And so I had to duplicate it and I did all the gravesites of the presidents and the vice presidents.
HH: And the vice presidents?
BL: And the vice presidents.
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HH: Extraordinary conversations with David McCullough, Richard Norton Smith, Charles Krauthammer, Malcolm Gladwell, John Burns, Hitch, of course, is in here, Michelle Fields, we’ll go through that in a little bit. We’re about to be on the volcano, Brian Lamb, of one of these periodic D.C. eruptions, the Benghazi hearings. You’ve lived there since, what year did you move to D.C?
HH: So you’ve been through, Bobby Baker was before that, I assume…
HH: But you’ve been through the convulsions of ’68, you’ve been through Watergate, you’ve been through Iran-Contra, the Lewinsky scandals. You’ve been through the Iraq-WMD scandal. Now we have Benghazi. Is there a cycle that you expect to see play out? Or are they all unique?
BL: You know, they’re all unique. On the subject matter, this one will be interesting, because of the, it’s such a partisan thing at the moment. And you know, who knows whether there, if they discover something that’s beyond where they are right now, and who’s going to be interested in it. We, and you know it’s in this book, Joe Armstrong’s book that he did on some of the myths in the past, and Woodward and Bernstein were often credited with bringing down Richard Nixon, and it’s a lot more complicated than that. And they don’t even take credit. I was just over at the Nixon Library visiting, I hadn’t been there in a long time, and I was watching Carl Bernstein in the exhibit talk about how it took Judge Sirica, and it took, and I hear you talking about it yesterday on here. So you don’t know in advance what’s going to happen with this. We have probably, we’ve shown more of Trey Gowdy to the people in the United States than any other television organization, because we’ve covered the hearings he’s involved in. And you can see what an interesting questioner he is. And as chairman of that committee, that special committee, it will be, it’ll be very interesting to see which way he takes it.
HH: He’s a prosecutor.
HH: And so he doesn’t have to show off. He just wants to get to the answer. I’m jumping ahead to the book. This is a chapter in Sundays At Eight. Joseph Campbell is the author of Getting It Wrong: Ten Of The Greatest Misreported Stories In American Journalism, and I spent a lot of time in this chapter. I want to run through the ten stories for the listener out there. Number one, I’ll furnish the war. That’s a famous William Randolph Hearst supposed vow. Number two, War of the Worlds scared people beyond measure. Number three, Edward R. Murrow brought down McCarthy, number four, that the New York Times held the story in the Bay of Pigs, number five, this is sort of not a, it’s a debunking of the Cronkite moment. We’ll come back to that. Number six, the bra burning in Atlantic City, number seven, it’s all about the media, Watergate’s heroic journalists, number eight, the fantasy panic, the news media and the crack baby myth, number nine, she was fighting to the death, the story of Jessica Lynch, number ten, I love this, Hurricane Katrina and the myth of superlative reporting. That’s actually my favorite, because at the time, I knew that the media was botching it. But let’s go back to that Cronkite moment. Brian Lamb, tell us what he told you, Joseph Campbell told you about what happened and what people believe happened, and what really happened.
BL: Well, it’s been, I don’t know who you, I think, by the way, on a lot of the myths about the media, it’s the media that sold the idea in the first place that they were successful on all these instances. It was in their interest. And you know, you mentioned Edward R. Murrow. He’s been the patron saint of so many in the media for years and years. And for my own take, when I went out and bought the DVD’s on the show that he used to do on Friday nights in the old days, it was a live show where he would be in a studio, and he’d interview people in their homes. Well, it really is interesting how unattractive the interviews were and how unpenetrating they were. I mean, I can remember one, you know, he gets, they were all mostly Hollywood people, and he’d get them, and he said well, show us the kitchen, show us the living room. Oh, I see you have your children there. Tell us what they’re doing and what they like. And then I see it’s time for them to go to bed. I mean, it was just really elementary stuff. And I’ve always felt that Edward R. Murrow made his thing, big thing, when he was on radio, when it was during World War II.
HH: This is London.
BL: Yeah, but it was in the media’s interest to create these myths around this, because that’s how you win Pulitzers. That’s how you win Peabody’s, and that’s how you convince people that your organization is just terrific. And it got to be an award business, and I think it’s way overdone.
HH: Do you go to the White House Correspondents Dinner?
BL: I don’t. I have gone in the past, but I don’t anymore.
HH: I received an invitation to the Broadcast Journalists dinner just today, and I’m mulling it over. I’ve never gone to one, because I think it’s not what we’re supposed to do. And I don’t want to be on a high horse about it, but it’s become, Mark Leibovich has written it’s metastasized.
BL: Well, I went when I first got to Washington, and it’s exciting when you go and you see all the famous people. But it didn’t take me very long to sour on it. There’s too much drinking, and people in this business when they have had too much to drink say some things that are pretty stupid and act stupid. I saw some big names in the business back then, I’d just as soon not mention them, big names on the big networks falling down drunk. They’re not all that way, and I mean, most people don’t get drunk at this stuff. But why do you want to put yourself in contact with your sources and give the impression to the outside world that you’re all buddy-buddy? And you know, we’re not buddy-buddy, they shouldn’t be buddy-buddy. Some are, and they go to all these parties and give the impression that it’s just one big, happy, chummy family. I’ve always thought that the best shows are hosted by people that are far away from Washington and are not their friends.
HH: Who do you admire the most in D.C?
BL: I don’t think that way. I mean, I don’t go around admiring, I mean, there are individuals that I admire. The people that I interviewed over the years that I admire the most are historians, because they really dig in on a subject and go after it. But you know, I don’t tend to think in that way.
HH: Well see, I admire Lincoln, and I don’t know that there have been any Lincolnesque people during your period in Washington, have there?
BL: Oh, boy, that’s a tough one. I think again, it’s all circumstantial. There are a lot of people back in Lincoln’s day that hated him.
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HH: I have no idea why we’re playing the music we do except that my guest today, Brian Lamb, the man who brought us C-SPAN Booknotes, Q&A and thousands of hours of public affairs programming, may be the most important man in talk radio as well, simply because so much of talk radio is derivative of C-SPAN. We get so much of our material from the stuff that C-SPAN has made available, and they make it available to us to use for free without ever getting a letter saying cease and desist, copyright exists here. When you went to D.C. to the Pentagon, you also had a brush with Team Nixon, Brian Lamb. Very quickly, it’s our short segment, what was that brush with Team Nixon?
BL: I worked for Clay Whitehead, known at the time affectionally as Tom Whitehead, who ran the office of telecommunications policy, which was this little organization of 60 people that was attached to the White House, but physically a block down the street. And we dealt with policy of broadcasting and cable television and satellites and all that. And I spent three and a half years with him, and it’s really where I learned everything that I needed to know about the technology before I got into the actual business.
HH: And you were there at the big bang of technology in broadcasting.
HH: And so you have lived that entire big bang. To a certain extent now, it is hurtling out in ways that no one can understand or anticipate. But back then, it was three networks and radio stations. And you saw it all happening.
BL: And Tom Whitehead understood where it was going. I remember he’d say we’re going to have a wristwatch in which you can communicate a phone, and the whole thing. He knew this back in 1971 and ’72. He was a very smart fellow.
HH: And what did you do for him?
BL: I was his Congressional and media liaison guy. I was the only one in the shop that didn’t have a PhD or a law degree.
HH: And so your job was the translate what that office was doing? Did Nixon know what that office was doing?
BL: He didn’t know as much as…he…we were down the street, and there was that cadre of people around him, and there was great difference of opinion. For instance, Ron Ziegler didn’t like what we were doing, because we weren’t going to beat up on the broadcasters the way they wanted us to. So we were always dealing in a policy area that they didn’t particularly understand or appreciate. But the President, whenever Tom Whitehead would go to him, would go along with everything, not everything, but most of the things that he was proposing in the idea of opening up this whole business so that people could have the kind of choice they have today.
HH: Now do you purport to understand net neutrality?
BL: Only in the sense that there’s one pipeline that basically some people don’t want to have controlled in any way, and other people want to have it totally controlled.
HH: That’s how I, that’s my level of understanding as well, and it’s really the last great debate over this explosion that occurred that you were there present for.
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HH: And now I want to move into some of these interviews, because I’ve been, and I want to take some of your phone calls. In fact, I’m going to start with a phone call to prove to you that I’m going to do it. Cathy in El Cajon, you’re on the Hugh Hewitt Show with Brian Lamb, author of Sundays At Eight. I’m proving to the audience I will take your calls eventually. Go ahead, Cathy.
Cathy: Well, first of all, it’s a thrill to hear Brian Lamb and to talk to you. I think you’re a true gift to America, as is C-SPAN. And Brian, I actually entered your 25th anniversary call-in show, and I was a finalist. So that’s how much of a fan I am.
Cathy: I’m calling because so much of what you talk about is so interesting to me, and I think so much of my father-in-law who was a journalist professor at San Diego State, and you reference Lionel Van Deerlin earlier. And I think he’s passed away, but I think so often of two things that he said. One was that if journalists start socializing with the people they cover, it’s all over, I’m paraphrasing, but I think about that a lot these days. And I also think a lot about how I was taught in journalism, which is objective language. And I think the language of news stories is so much less objective than what it used to be, and I’m wondering what your thoughts are about that.
HH: Great question, thank you so much, Cathy, and that also brings us to the bigger future of journalism question, Brian Lamb. What about the language of journalism, and where are we headed?
BL: I think it depends on where you go. I mean, if you go to some newspapers, they couldn’t be better journalists. They’re fantastically dedicated to getting the story out, and getting it out with some kind of balance. I think on television, it’s turned into a whole different world. Everybody’s not this way, but I think everybody misses the point of broadcasting. It’s a business. It sounds so trite when you hear it, but it’s a business. And in order to have a business, you have to get viewers. And in order to get viewers, you have to do some things that aren’t sometimes very attractive to people who love journalism.
HH: And you have to make sure that the story sizzles, and you have to cover breaking news. And you would have understood. Had there been a Fort Hood shooting today, that oh, you’ve traveled all this way and we’re not going to do the Brian Lamb interview today. We’re going to do the breaking news today. You’re a journalist, and that’s what you have to do. But on the other hand, I don’t think they are very risky at one end of the spectrum. They’re afraid of long form interview anymore. I just, I don’t understand why they’re afraid of it. And I don’t mean you, and I don’t mean me, and I mean television. They won’t take a guest longer than six or seven minutes, and Brian Lamb, it’s because they don’t know how to dig. They won’t ask the same question three of four times in a row when someone’s stonewalling them. Do you think that’s gone from the Washington journalism elite?
BL: Well, I think some try very hard to go after people. I think one of the things that I notice has happened since I’ve been there is it’s the access thing. I think it’s really the bane of our existence, that all of these media organizations all want access to these top politicians. And if you have access to them, if you become the slightest bit negative or ask them tough questions, they begin, the politicians begin to say no. There’s not, they’re more think-skinned than they’ve ever been. And the access thing, really, as somebody as a watcher worries me, that they’ll do whatever they have to in order to get that access to the President. If you go in there and you’re tough at all on the President, you won’t be asked back.
HH: You’ll never come back, yeah.
HH: And so you get one shot. And that is an unfortunate deal, and the press conferences have become something of patty cake as well. Let’s talk a little bit about some of the chapters in Sundays At Eight. You being, oddly enough, I mean, you begin in the weirdest of places. You begin in North Korea, which is just a horrible hellhole of a place. Was that a conscientious choice on your part to begin with a story of this awful, terrible place?
BL: No, it was, we did consciously decide to start with the story section. And we have a media section, and a history section, and all that. And that’s a compelling story. I mean, Blaine Harden is a very good journalist, and he really dug on this. And that book comes up with a lot of stuff that nobody knew about a guy that really didn’t know the world other than this prison camp, and his whole family was there in North Korea.
HH: And he was a traitor to his family at an early age, and he never quite figured out why that was even bad for a while.
BL: And he never even heard, for instance, there was something called God.
BL: Didn’t know anything about it, and he escaped, went through China, and ended up coming eventually to the United States.
HH: Another story, Ishmael Beah, the boy soldier of Sierra Leone, and not a lot of people are ignorant of Africa. But many people, including me, may be consciously averting their eyes to just how awful it is. And this does not allow you do that.
BL: Well, Ishmael Beah is not only a good writer, he’s a good talker.
HH: Was he?
BL: Oh, yeah, he’s a very good talker. He’s been back with more books after that, but it’s, you know, the story of him as a 14, 15 year old killing people in Sierra Leone. It’s gruesome.
HH: And how they kept him up on drugs, and hopped him up…
HH: And just go kill, go home and watch video games. And it is, earlier today, I was talking with Paul Rahe, the professor at Hillsdale College about the Leviathan and the state of nature. He was really living in the state of nature – kill or be killed.
BL: And he told the story well, though. It’s hard to believe. I mean, it’s like Rwanda. It’s hard to believe, looking back at Rwanda, that that many people were sliced to death over there and the world didn’t do anything about it.
HH: Now interesting, some of these essays I did not like, and I did not like the essay by Erik Larson’s, whose book I did like. His story on the Dodds and their life in pre-war Nazi Germany, I forced myself to read it because it was so awfully fascinating. But I could not bring myself to go back to the life of Martha Dodd, who is a repellent character. I didn’t even know she’d become a Stalinist. I mean, I didn’t know any of that stuff.
BL: It was very, well, she’s a very strange woman, very young, strange woman, lots of affairs and all when her father was the ambassador from the United States to Germany.
HH: Now the good stuff, the stuff that I’m a sucker for, the White House stuff, I was lucky enough to work there for a year. I’ve been lucky enough to have been back a number of times. How often have you been to the White House, Brian Lamb?
BL: Well, during the Lyndon Johnson years, I was a White House social aide, and so we went usually three times a week for a couple of years. And you began to be a part of the family. I was there when Chuck Robb married Linda Bird Johnson. And he was a Marine social aide. And it doesn’t sound like heavy duty, and it wasn’t heavy duty. It was a magnificent political science experiment to be able to stand around and watch these people. You are nothing in the process. You were there with your uniform on, and you were willing to escort somebody down to the bathroom if they had to go. But the chance of seeing and hearing things was just terrific.
HH: Oh, and since then?
BL: Since then, in and out for interviews. I’ve been fortunate enough to interview most of the presidents since then.
HH: Have you interviewed President Obama, yet?
BL: Very briefly.
HH: And do you hope to have a longer conversation with him before he finishes his two and a half years?
BL: I don’t expect to.
HH: Now why is that? I would think that he would talk to you. You’re very fair. You’re not adversarial.
BL: I don’t think it has anything to do with fairness. I think that they pick, often pick where they know they have a significant audience. I mean, they’re very successful at doing that – picking exactly where they need to go. I mean, that’s what their job is, and I don’t, they haven’t seen the need to come to us.
HH: How interesting. All right, now back to the historians. Don Ritchie and Richard Baker are both Senate historians, and they tell me things I did not know. I thought I knew the blue slip process. I did not know the blue slip process. You love these guys. You love institutional historians. Tell us a little bit about them.
BL: Well, I call them, along with Ray Smock, who’s not in the book, who was a historian in the House of Representatives. They’re three of the best public servants that I’ve ever known. They’re people that came into the government, they started the historian in the Senate in 1975. Dick Baker was the first, and Don Ritchie was his assistant historian. And now Don is the historian, Dick retired. They approached their job totally in a bipartisan way, no, I mean non-partisan way. They’re only interested in laying down the history of what’s happened in the Senate. And I’ve never met people, that’s why I love historians, you can’t ask them a question that they don’t have an answer. And they have the right answer to it. They know everything.
BL: And that’s why it’s so much fun to interview them, because you’re going to learn, even if you don’t want to. You can’t avoid learning about that institution. And there’s a lot of fascinating stuff there.
HH: And they instinctively know the best stories. Jon Meacham, whose..I’ve got his book on Jefferson back here. It doesn’t matter what question you ask. He’s going to tell you the best story about Jefferson. And they’re all that way. And I gather, I can’t remember whether it was Ritchie or it was Baker who began their story talking about Robert Byrd. And they were going to tell you about Robert Byrd whether…
BL: It was Dick Baker.
HH: It was Dick Baker. And I always kind of wished I’d met Robert Byrd. He confirmed me. He was responsible for my getting a unanimous vote in the Senate once. But I never got a chance to meet him. We used to have some fun with him, because he was from a different world, right? He was from the Planet Senate.
BL: Robert Byrd for seven years prevented television from coming to the Senate after the House went on. And then he decided that this was time to change. And Russell Long was totally against it, and he went to Russell Long and said Russell, we old guys have got to get out of the way. The only difference was Russell Long retired from the Senate. Bob Byrd went on in the Senate and talked more than anybody probably in history after we went on television.
HH: And it may be a record that will never, ever be beaten.
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HH: Brian asked me get Shania Twain, and I whipped it right up. Now I’ve got the capacity to produce anything that you need on any moment’s notice.
Duane: Of course you did.
BL: Fantastic. Oh, my goodness.
HH: Brian Lamb is my guest. His brand new book is Sundays At Eight: 25 Years Of Stories From C-SPAN’s Q&A And Booknotes. We’ve been having a blast here. I’m interviewing the standard. That’s what I call him. He’s just the standard. Ken in Simi Valley, 1-800-520-1234, hi, Ken, you’re on with Brian Lamb.
Ken: Good afternoon. Yeah, Mr. Lamb, one of the great things about your interviews is the way you sort of step back and let your guests talk and we hear about them. But given your experience, I wonder if you would share your insights about the really nasty partisanship. You commented a moment ago about people being thin-skinned, but boy they can sure dish it out with charges of racism and not caring whether the children of the poor eat, or all that kind of stuff is flying around all the time, it seems, from politicians.
HH: What do you think, Brian? Has it gotten worse or the same?
BL: I don’t know. I know that this is an issue with everybody. I suspect that with all the television and radio shows and all that stuff, there’s more attention to this, and that there are more outlets, and so people can be more direct on what they have to say. I don’t, frankly, I don’t personally worry about it. I mean, it’s just, I don’t pay much attention to it. I realize what they’re doing, and I think people need to figure out what’s going on instead of just assuming every time they hear something that that’s what somebody believes. Everybody’s playing some kind of a game.
HH: What do you read on a regular basis, other than books that you’re getting ready? I mean, how do you get your daily consumption of news?
BL: Well, I do the web. I go everything from the Drudge Report to the Daily Beast. I do Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, Washington Times, I mean, anything I can get my hands on – the Politico, the Mike Allen’s daily sheet that he puts out.
HH: Now interestingly enough, one of your interviews is with Michelle Fields, and she is one of the new new journalists, and she’s very, very good. There are others – Dave Weigel, Guy Benson, there’s an extraordinary crop of people like Matt Lewis and Jamie Weinstein over at the Daily Caller, you mentioned the Daily Beast’s people, Politico’s got James Hohmann, everyone like that. There’s a volcano of talent in Washington, D.C. I don’t know that it was ever this good, or if they ever had this much visibility when they’re young. Do you worry about how young they are relative to when you used to get a byline?
BL: No, the young people often are the most aggressive, and they’re the most attuned to what’s going on. I think the young crowd that’s out there on all sides are fascinating and good. And I don’t want to be naïve about this. I mean, people listening to you can’t stand some of this stuff that’s going on. And I just say to them, don’t listen, don’t watch. Go find something that you enjoy. There’s more information available to anybody that lives in this country than in the history of the world.
HH: That’s absolutely true.
BL: And you’ve got to decide where you’re going to go get it.
HH: There’s a new kid named Lachlan Markay at the Washington Free Beacon who’s a seriously, hard-working reporter. He goes out, I don’t know if you read the Free Beacon.
BL: I do.
HH: But he works very, very hard. Michael Warren, John McCormack at the Weekly Standard, they’re just everywhere. And they’ve all got, Eli Lake may be the best national security reporter in the United States. And I don’t think when we had the Post, and sometimes the Evening Star, and then for a time the Washington Times, I don’t think it was close to being as covered a city as it is now.
BL: I agree with that. It was concentrated, though, and everybody thought it was, because they woke up every day and all did the same thing. They read the Post, they read the Washington Star in the afternoon, they had the Washington Daily News, a Scripps-Howard paper for a while, and you got used to it, and you thought you knew everything. But you don’t even come close to knowing everything. I’ve marveled at how much I don’t know after I’ve been in that town for 47 years.
HH: Ken Auletta is one of the essays in Sundays At Eight. I’m not a big Ken Auletta fan, only because he writes at such length. I mean, it takes forever to finish off one of his books. But he seems fairly cynical about the whole process at this point. Is he sort of the voice of the past wishing for the good old days of the big three? Or is he just resigned to the chaos of the present?
BL: Again, I can’t speak for Ken Auletta. I’ve always liked his thoroughness. He’s one of the, there are not many of them around who will go out and get saturated in a subject like Google or Microsoft. He did a Three Blind Mice years ago on the big networks.
HH: On the big networks is what I’m thinking of.
BL: I don’t look at him personally as being so cynical as much as that he’s not buffaloed very much by people. He knows that they’re in the business of making money, and that people, once people start to make a lot of money, they start to think that they’re, you hear it in their voices that they’re really saving humanity. And he knows very much what they’re doing.
HH: I saw him shut down, we were talking earlier during the break about the L.A. Book Festival, and I saw Ken Auletta shut down a hostile interlocutor faster than anyone I have ever seen shut down somebody. I mean, I was seriously impressed with that. In Yorba Linda, Doug, 1-800-520-1234. Doug, you’re on with Brian Lamb, the creator of C-SPAN and the author currently of Sundays At Eight.
Doug: Yes, I happen to be Carol Cressey’s dad, so I was going to ask Brian, since I know C-SPAN does a lot of things for teachers and for young people…
HH: I didn’t catch the name of who you’re the father of.
Doug: Oh, Carol Cressey.
BL: Carol Cressey, who I just saw.
HH: Okay, well…
BL: His daughter…this fellow that’s talking right now was one of the great C-SPAN junkies of all time, and he, when his little girls were probably five and six and seven or whatever, he’d bring them to C-SPAN, and they made little puppets. I still have the puppets on my shelf, little hand puppets of the different characters in the Congress.
HH: And so why were you a C-SPAN junkie, Doug?
Doug: Well, I teach speech and debate, and I use C-SPAN all the time, almost every day, just to show students examples of good and bad speaking behavior.
BL: I just saw your daughter at Politics and Pros on Sunday.
Doug: Right, right.
HH: And what is she doing in D.C?
Doug: She’s a staffer. She works on the Hill.
Doug: A Congressman, a Republican, Jeff Denham.
HH: Oh, Jeff Denham in the Central Valley, great Congressman, smart guy, rising star in the delegation.
HH: So it’s obviously stuck. So what’s your comment or your concern?
Doug: Well, I don’t know that everybody’s aware of, like a lot of people out there might be listening and are not aware of all the programs that C-SPAN has for teachers, and that parents can avail themselves of. They have a lot of book segments on children’s books and things like that.
HH: I wasn’t. Tell us about this, Brian.
BL: Well, thank you, Doug, very much. We have a website, and we have C-SPAN in the Classroom, and people can get on our website, go to the classroom site, and make lesson plans. They do, you know, brief clips of everything. We had fabulous teachers one summer clipped off different segments to explain the Constitution, and they can be used in classes.
BL: Yeah, I was just up in Long Beach Polytechnical this morning with Jeff Montooth’s class, and all the kids in the class entered our student cam contest, which means they had to make a documentary between five and eight minutes. And the grand prize winners were from Long Beach Technical, yeah.
HH: Who thinks up this stuff?
BL: Oh, I don’t know. We all, we can experiment, you know. Susan Swain’s in charge of our education department, and Joanne Wheeler used to run it, and she’s now the head of our education foundation, and Craig McAndrew, and these are folks that were all teachers in the past.
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HH: We’re playing C&W, because Brian Lamb, the man who we all owe for C-SPAN, he is the creator of C-SPAN, the big brain behind it, he’s also the author of many wonderful books, his most recent, Sundays At Eight: 25 Years Of Stories From C-SPAN’s Q&A And Booknotes, wonderful book. I’ve linked it at Hughhewitt.com. Get it for anybody who loves to read and loves to know what’s going on in this country. Before I go back to ask about Hitch, before the break, we were talking about this education initiative. And I went to it during the break, and it is really quite remarkable. And I have never heard of it before. And if you just go to www.cspanclassroom.org, you’ll find free primary source materials for social studies teachers. I mean, it’s all here, Brian Lamb.
BL: And it’s free.
HH: And watch Cram For the Exam, AP U.S. Government exam prep live on C-SPAN this afternoon, Saturday, May 10 at 9:15. Where do you produce all this stuff?
BL: It’s all produced. We have a very small education department, three people, and they do it right there.
HH: Do you get any of the blowback that hits common core?
HH: Or are you able to stay, everybody knows your brand, that you’re fair?
BL: Yeah, I mean, we don’t. I don’t know that everybody thinks we’re fair, but we don’t get any blowback on it.
HH: Have you ever had a guest not do a Washington Journal and walk away and say that was fair? There was some odd people on there, but it was fair.
BL: I’ve had the opposite happen. I remember when Father Drinan came on years and years ago, former Congressman from Massachusetts. We were doing a program, and we called it the Left And the Right, and we’d have somebody on from the left, and somebody on from the right. And I remember him storming out of the studio irritated that we were, considered him a man of the left. It was odd. I think he thought we were calling him a communist, and I don’t, we had nothing, it wasn’t, that wasn’t what it was. It was trying to understand the difference between being a right or a leftie.
HH: Oh, he’s a thorough-going man of the left.
BL: Yeah, yeah.
HH: He was probably accompanied that day by Mark Gearan, who that was his first job in Washington, was as Father Drinan’s body man.
BL: He agreed to come on. I know you know Mark really well. He agreed to come on, and the show, and then he got mad. I don’t know what it is.
HH: All right, now let’s talk about Hitch, who was a man of the left and the right, which is interesting. He was not a man of the center.
HH: Wherever he was, he was decidedly there. You have a wonderful interview here with him. He appeared on this show 70 times. They’re all transcribed. I’m going to put them out in a book sometime, because I think he may have been the most important public, our Orwell. There are Steyn, Michael Kelly and Christopher are the three most popular guests on the most important issues of the day that I’ve had over 15 years of this program. What was your impression of Hitchens?
BL: Oh, everybody turned the volume up on their set when he came on. And you know, even people that disagreed with him liked him. He was not, he was abrupt, and he was difficult when you were, not with me, personally, but with a guest, another guest, even with his own brother, Peter, who would come on the show from time to time. Peter was a man of the right, still is. And they would argue and all that, and get, you know, pretty strong with each other, had a falling out, I think, at one point. Peter lives over in Great Britain. But always the volume was turned up on everybody’s set. He just was a stimulating character whether you agreed with him or not.
HH: I introduced him at Biola University once, Christian university, great, tall steeple university on the West Coast, and he said here I am in the den of lambs. And he went on and proceeded to charm the pants off of this group of Evangelical students, thousands of them, by being just who he was. Did you know Mike Kelly before his death?
BL: I did, didn’t know him well. He did do our show. I always liked him.
HH: And has Mark Steyn been on with you?
BL: He has not been on the Q&A with me.
HH: That would be, I hope that happens sometime, because Steyn is now a voice for 1st Amendment freedom around the world. And I have to get, I don’t know, I’m guessing that you are as absolute a defender of the 1st Amendment as anyone walking around Washington, D.C.
BL: Oh, yeah. I have no interest in writing caveats to it.
HH: And around the world…
BL: …and amendments and all that.
HH: …does anyone have the editorial freedom that you have at…any counterpart around the world?
BL: I don’t think so. They do on the web. I mean, people on the web now have that kind of freedom, but you notice that, and I think over the years, we would have country after country representatives come to see us and say tell us about C-SPAN. And their jaws would drop when they found out the cable television industry started it, paid for it, and gave us all this freedom. They thought that we had to have money coming from the government. And we’d say no, we don’t, and we don’t take our orders from the government. They don’t tell us anything that we have to do. We’re not regulated. And it was always, the people from around the world couldn’t believe it.
HH: It’s a private sector initiative that is profoundly impactful on the public sector.
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BL: I love this song. Waltz Across Texas.
HH: 44 minutes after the hour, America. It’s like watching Duane and Brian Lamb like watching two wine experts try and top each other on knowing a vintage. Duane will play something, and Brian Lamb will identify it.
Duane: And you’re a beer guy.
HH: And I have no idea what they’re all about. Before I go back to my last conversation, a couple of segments with Brian Lamb, one more phone call, Lisa in Louisville, you’re on with Brian Lamb. His brand new book, Sundays At Eight, is linked at Hughhewitt.com. Comment or question, Lisa?
Lisa: Morning glory, Hugh.
HH: Evening grace.
Lisa: Just wanted to make a quick comment and then ask a question. I wanted say kudos and excellent job on the First Lady series.
BL: Oh, that’s Susan Swain’s series, and Mark Farkas.
Lisa: We had a blast watching that every Monday. It was amazing learning so much about how some of these women who you’ve never heard of in school, the impact that they had on our history. It was just amazing. And the question I had was what are the odds, and what do you think the timing would be for ever seeing the Supreme Court on television, actual video?
HH: Great question, Lisa. Brian Lamb?
BL: Well, with this Court, not good. I…you know John Roberts. You used to work with him. I’m a little bit surprised that he’s taken such a hard line against the idea. I’m hoping only for the education of people in this country about the Court, which is one of the best institutions I’ve ever seen. I’m hoping that he’ll change his mind someday. Justice Scalia has been the most outspoken against it, but now everybody’s on board, I think they spend a lot of time together saying we’ll never let television in this place. And I think it’s unfortunate, because there are only 75 hours a year that they meet. They don’t make decisions based on those oral arguments. They have all those briefs. They go into a private session to make them. And the Chief Justice can control any attorney that gets too carried away. The oral part of it right now is fantastic. They’ve never been that spirited probably in history.
HH: I love the audio, and I wish they would release the audio on the day of. On those rare occasions they do, we play it all. But I’m not a TV fan for reasons that I think it does change it. But in any event, I want to finish by talking about KSM and this amazing piece by Richard Miniter in Sundays At Eight. In fact, there are a couple of amazing pieces, and I’ll save one. Your last part is America Post-9/11. And everything did change for all of broadcasters. But when I read Richard Miniter, and this is my full disclosure, that line thing, I have a law partner, Robert O’Brien, who is one of the official observers down, he just got back from Gitmo, he’s watching the trial of KSM, been deeply involved in the jurisprudence. Another one of my guests, Erwin Chemerinsky, is deeply involved in representing Gitmo detainees. And so we cover Gitmo a lot. I thought I knew everything about KSM. I didn’t know he had been in North Carolina for four years. I didn’t know any of this stuff. And that’s a revelation to me.
BL: I think it really is interesting. Richard Miniter wrote a book on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and went down to North Carolina. He went to Chowan University for a short time, and then went to North Carolina A&T, a state university down there, spent four years, got a degree. But the insight that he’s got in here about what was driving this guy, and what he saw when he was there, is really worth reading. And you know, I mentioned this, Paul Berman’s chapter in here where he brings up a fellow by the same of Sayyid Qutb, who came to this country…
HH: I always say Qutb, but I don’t know, either. I don’t know how to say it.
BL: I, Paul told me it was Qutb…
BL: But he went to school in Colorado at the University of Northern Colorado.
HH: A teacher’s college in those days, yeah.
BL: Back in the 40s…yeah, back in the 40s.
HH: Greeley, yeah.
BL: And they came here and didn’t like what they saw in this country, and they were, I don’t, you know, I don’t think that’s entirely the explanation, but Qutb ends up being the guy that has the handbook for the Muslim Brotherhood.
HH: Yeah, under the shade of the Qur’an and Milestones, his two big books.
HH: And so reading Khalid Sheikh Mohammed portrait by Miniter, and the Berman piece, you come to realize that this story is just so little understood by Americans. We, they’re just so different, the ideological extremism. And I hope the Benghazi hearings, and Duane was lobbying you earlier to make C-SPAN 3 carry them gavel to gavel, and to get us C-SPAN 3, because we want to watch these, and I don’t want to pin Democrat hides to the wall. I want America to understand who was attacking that embassy and why, because I don’t think even 14 years later, Brian Lamb, do you think we know what we’re up against?
BL: Well, I take it farther than Benghazi. I don’t think we know what just happened to us since 2001.
BL: …and the incredible amount of money that was spent on Iraq and Afghanistan that nobody is accountable for. I mean, there was a piece in the Washington Post yesterday, a long piece, about contractors over in Afghanistan and Iraq, and how much money they’ve made over the years, and how they don’t know, you know, we don’t audit the Pentagon. I did an interview with Ralph Nader a couple of weeks ago, it hasn’t aired, yet, but he talks about that as the number one concern out of 25 concerns he has, that we can’t get an audit into the Pentagon.
HH: Oh, that’s interesting. I might actually watch Ralph Nader.
HH: I’ve been in a number of green rooms on a number of stages with Ralph Nader, so I think that’s kind of penance. Did you do something wrong? Do you enjoy talking to Ralph Nader?
BL: I enjoy talking to everybody that I talked to. It’s rare that I don’t, and I don’t care where they’re coming from. My job is to get out of them what they think.
HH: What is your schedule like? Let people inside the green room. What is Brian Lamb’s week like?
BL: I’m an early riser. I get up at 4:00 every day. I’m usually at the office by, oh, between 5:30 and 6:30. I go home early. I’m now no longer the CEO. I’m an executive chairman, which you can, I’m not even sure how you define that responsibility, but you know, I like to say I guard the periphery and the candy box, making sure that there’s candy for everyone. I’m the candy man. But I do the one hour interview show a week, spend a lot of time with kids now, and I say kids, students, college kids and high school kids. And the people that run our network now let me in on some meetings from time to time.
HH: And do you enjoy it? Do you feel like you’re still, your baby is in good hands?
BL: Oh, I couldn’t be happier with the way things are going. I mean, I’ve mentioned Susan Swain many times. But there’s also the co-CEO, Rob Kennedy, who’s a University of Illinois graduate, a University of Chicago MBA. He’s our financial guru, and has done a magnificent job…
HH: And are they funded well?
BL: We are funded very well by the cable television industry. It’s solid. It’s been there now for 35 years. And we don’t spend a lot on purpose, because you can’t get too carried away with a non-profit.
HH: And part three, C-SPAN 3 and the Benghazi hearings?
BL: We’ll do the best we can for you. I assume, I don’t make those decisions, but I assume Terry Murphy, our vice president of programming, thinks that a great idea.
HH: You also told me that Public Affairs, there’s someone you want to recognize.
BL: Oh, I just didn’t mention Ben Adams, who was our editor at Public Affairs, and I wanted to make sure that he knows that we knew how good a job he did for us.
HH: He did. Sundays At Eight is a magnificent book, and I’m going to tell you about one moving chapter to concludes today’s interview.
— – – – –
BL: It’s not Webb Pierce, no. Oh, is it Jimmy Dickens?
Duane: I got him.
Duane: I finally got him. It took me three hours, but I got him. Lefty.
BL: Lefty? Oh, you told me you were going to do Lefty, and I should have known that.
HH: 55 minutes after the hour. Duane is happy, because he finally stumped Brian Lamb. We’ve been through 15 bumps, and Brian Lamb finally missed one. Who are we listening to, Brian?
BL: Lefty Frizzell.
Duane: Lefty Frizzell – Always Later With Your Kisses.
HH: All right, terror in Mumbai. I want to finish by talking with Brian Lamb thanking he and Vickie for coming and spending three hours with me, and this is an homage to Booknotes and to Q&A, which readers everywhere are indebted to, and to Book TV on the weekend, and Peter Slen and all your colleagues…
BL: Peter Slen, yeah.
HH: …who do all this amazing work. But in Sundays At Eight, there’s one odd chapter – Terror In Mumbai by Dan Reed. He’s a filmmaker. And you’re not a filmmaker guy normally. But he made this movie about Mumbai, 26/11, they call it. And did this just draw you in?
BL: Well, I, if I had to name my favorite documentary ever, it’s this one. Terror In Mumbai, and it was done in the United States with Fareed Zakaria doing the narration. But it was done by somebody else overseas, because Dan Reed’s a Brit. And it’s just a great story about after that horrible terror, you know, when the ten guys came over from Pakistan into India and killed a lot of people in the train station and other places around the city, that Dan Reed just flew in there, dropped in, parachuted in, spent six months there, and got all this information, including the audio of Brother Wasi, who was giving the directions to these ten Pakistanis on how to do their terror, these young kids.
HH: He was their controller.
HH: He was their command and control guy.
BL: Yeah, and when you see this documentary, and you need to watch it, you’ll be fascinated by it.
HH: And he got the hotel video.
BL: The hotel security tape.
HH: And I had never heard of this until, and I read all the way through the book. No one knows, I didn’t see the Sunday show. I have never heard of this in my life until I read about Terror In Mumbai. And I don’t know when it came out, but it’s on my to do list, and I hope it’s on Netflix. You interviewed him on December 19th, 2010.
BL: I don’t think it is on Netflix. It was an…HBO’s the one that owned the copyright here. You might be able to get it, but I don’t know where.
HH: I’m going to go in search of that, because that is really a public service. I wonder, do you get satisfaction from bringing things like that to the public?
BL: Oh, if I asked you that question, you’d say exactly the same thing. Of course.
BL: That’s the beauty of doing television like this, is that when you can learn something and you can pass it onto somebody else. That’s the thrill of it all.
HH: Yeah, and people write you. Let me ask, last question, how long will you do this for if you get to pick how long you get to do it for?
BL: Susan Swain and I have an agreement that when it’s time, she’ll hand me the red card. And I don’t know.
HH: She’ll hand you the red card.
BL: It’s over. Go away.
HH: I don’t think they’ll ever do that. I think the audience has got…do you measure your audience?
HH: I think it’s got to be growing. Brian Lamb, on behalf of every author in America, thank you. And on behalf of my audience, thanks for spending three hours.
End of interview.