- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2006

The nation’s Charters of Freedom — the Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence and Constitution — formed a fitting backdrop at the Foundation for the National Archives’ gala Tuesday night. Scholars, politicians and history buffs gathered in the stately rotunda gallery of John Russell Pope’s glorious building to honor C-SPAN and its founder, Brian Lamb, for bringing American history live and up-close to the public.

“This is our Oscar night,” documentary filmmaker Ken Burns said of the foundation’s presentation of the Records of Achievement Award, given to Mr. Lamb. Mr. Burns, who is working on a World War II documentary to air next fall on PBS, was just one of the famous faces among the regular viewers — and subjects — of C-SPAN who attended. The network’s coverage of congressional sessions was well represented by Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes, Lamar Alexander and Judd Gregg and Rep. Norman D. Dicks. Roger Mudd, currently writing about his days at CBS, and presidential scholar Richard Norton Smith, who is working on a biography of Nelson Rockefeller, also attended.

“I’m an FOB,” or “Friend of Brian,” Justice Antonin Scalia explained, referring to the time he worked with Mr. Lamb at the Office of Telecommunications Policy in the Nixon White House also attended.

“C-SPAN is the equivalent of the diaries and letters historians rely on as primary sources,” historian Michael R. Beschloss noted. “A lot would be lost if these events weren’t being taped.” Mr. Beschloss was among those taking part in a videotaped tribute to Mr. Lamb and his network that was played before the dinner of beef tenderloin, mashed potatoes and peach Victoria (a dessert perhaps named after Mr. Lamb’s wife, Victoria, in honor of their first anniversary this week).

In his introduction, Allen Weinstein, archivist of the United States, also offered praise for the C-SPAN founder. “He has created an audience for history.” Tom Wheeler, president of the archives foundation, commended Mr. Lamb for his unconventional programming: “Imagine the idea of putting books on television. Nobody was doing it. Now everyone is.”

In accepting the award, a framed copy of the first draft of the Bill of Rights, Mr. Lamb attributed C-SPAN’s success to being “the only network in the country that doesn’t worry about ratings.” He cited the contributions of colleagues Susan Swain, Rob Kennedy and the network’s own archivist, Robert Browning, before receiving a standing ovation.

As for C-SPAN’s own archives, Mr. Browning said all the videotaped recordings since 1987 have been saved for posterity and are safely stored in a 9,000-square-foot building in Mr. Lamb’s hometown of Lafayette, Ind.

Deborah Dietsch

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