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Doyle McManus: 2012 First Amendment Awards Dinner Remarks

It is my happy task tonight to present a First Amendment Award to a man who has rightly been called — a national treasure: Brian Lamb of C-SPAN.

Brian’s monument, the C-SPAN network, needs no introduction to this crowd. In the privacy of this room, let’s admit it: We are all C-SPAN junkies.

And I’m not talking only about C-SPAN 1 or C-SPAN 2. I’m talking about C-SPAN 3 in the wee small hours of the morning. I’m talking about Book TV …  and Road to the White House … and all those weird off-year visits to gravesites of dead presidents.

I’m talking especially about C-SPAN Radio. Is there any moment so sweet as when you get into a taxicab … in Washington, D.C. … and find the driver listening to a hearing of the House Budget Committee?

But we are honoring Brian and his colleagues at C-SPAN tonight not only for what they have done to bring government and politics directly to the public, unfiltered and unedited.

And not only for Brian’s deadpan interview style … in which he once asked the author of a biography of Churchill … to explain a British parliamentary campaign …  in which Churchill was accused of buggery … by asking the following question:

“What is buggery?”

To which the poor author, Martin Gilbert, replied: “Oh, dear.”

We love C-SPAN for all those reasons. But we are presenting this award tonight for C-SPAN's service in defense of the First Amendment — the tireless work Brian and his colleagues have done to gain access to public proceedings — not only for C-SPAN’s cameras, but for all broadcast media and, by extension, for the public.

Now, it’s true that C-SPAN’s campaign to put cameras in the Supreme Court has not been crowned with success — not yet.  But that day will come. The arc of history is long, but we believe it bends toward openness. This spring, for the first time, the Court released tapes and transcripts of oral arguments on the same day they were argued — a concession that came in large part because of C-SPAN’s hectoring.

Now, Brian Lamb is a national treasure — and as a national treasure, he couldn’t be with us tonight. But for an audience like this, he did the next best thing: He sent his lawyer.

Bruce Collins first went to work at C-SPAN as an operations manager, to pay for the cost of night law school at GW. When he earned his law degree there in 1987, he became the network’s first and only general counsel. 

For 25 years, Bruce has played a central role in C-Span’s battles to increase access to government proceedings. And he has defended C-SPAN’s right to broadcast news events — even when they include words that violate the FCC’s indecency rule. It gives me great pleasure to present this First Amendment Award, with no indecent words at all, to Brian Lamb, to Bruce Collins and to everyone at our favorite cable network — C-SPAN.