« Amnesty Under the Fourteenth Amendment | Main | JOTWELL: Mangat on Weinstein-Tull on local courts »

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Look! A Gift Horse

One unusual fact about where I live (West Lafayette, Indiana) is that C-Span's Archive is about five minutes from my house. (Brian Lamb, the founder of C-Span, is from West Lafayette and went to Purdue.). I drive by the archive a few times a week to pick up my daughter from school.

Yesterday as I was doing so I thought to myself, "I really should try to design a research project that would actually use the archive. I mean, it's right here." But what should I do? A project on Congress is the most obvious thought, but in what sense? Maybe how televising the House (and then later the Senate) changed how Congress operated. Or is there is some particular event that I should look at from the past forty years where watching wall-to-wall coverage would help. I'd be curious to hear from anyone who is doing research that involves looking at old C-Span footage to hear what you are doing.

Posted by Gerard Magliocca on September 10, 2020 at 08:15 AM | Permalink


Mr. Lawrence's comment points in a fruitful direction, and I think would be best examined using executive branch investigative hearings. I'm thinking Iran-Contra hearings versus, say, intelligence failures before 9/11. Perhaps start with Ervin Watergate hearings, which were basically televised gavel-to-gavel, as a baseline? Reviewing those last year after some 45-odd years or so, they seem so far removed from the current practices.

What I think, but don't know for sure, is that C-SPAN basically became the pool feed for Congressional coverage -- when something happens, it's the staff that alerts their media friends, who then have the tape thanks to C-SPAN and thus can much more easily do a story about what happened. Maybe there's some fruitful inquiry to see if C-SPAN has an effect on committee preferences where members seek those committees which routinely get picked up more by national broadcast.

One other idea is to review lawyerly discourse on law bills -- those on legal topics such as tort reform, etc. -- in the judiciary committees and on the floor before and after televised hearings. Again, my feeling from years of observation is that the discourse rarely discusses legal topics with any degree of sophistication compared to pre-Watergate committees, but I may well be wrong.

Good luck!

Posted by: Jas. Madison | Sep 11, 2020 1:14:25 PM

I hear ya, Gerard.

I mean, I live really close to the world's largest archive of Garfield comics and memorabilia. (The cartoon cat, not the slain President.) And I really should figure out a way to design a research project that would actually use that archive, since, you know, it's right there.

After all, that's how the best research agendas are assembled.

Posted by: George Thorogood | Sep 10, 2020 4:06:46 PM

The point about the House having more prestige as the first body on C-Span makes sense. Much the same occurred at the Founding, where the House was far more open to the public than the Senate.

Posted by: Gerard | Sep 10, 2020 12:58:02 PM

There is a relatively small, but memorable, homage to CSPAN in Tip O'Neill's autobiography, in which he comments on how CSPAN — before it picked up the Senate — enhanced the House's role in both the actual and publicly perceived pecking order. That points at an area for inquiry: The early days when only one chamber participated.

Posted by: C.E. Petit | Sep 10, 2020 11:24:16 AM

Great idea. There is an interview where (I think) John Roberts mentions his belief that CSPAN has changed the way legislators ask questions during hearings. It is a common belief in Congress, too, that questions have gotten more sound-bitey and less substantive. You might pick a few sample years over time, devise a measure, and assess whether indeed there has been a change. I guess you'd want to compare it to something as a control (change in tone of judicial opinions over the same time period?). At a very basic level, you could just count adjectives. Maybe this has all been done. Good luck.

Posted by: Matthew Lawrence | Sep 10, 2020 10:21:52 AM

A person can get a lot of old footage from their website as well.

You can find Susan Swain, who basically took over for Brian Lamb in a fashion, from the early 1980s on.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 10, 2020 9:40:10 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.