C-Span founder Brian Lamb is one of the recipients of this year’s Presidential Medal of Freedom award. Besides helming C-Span, which proved ridiculously addictive to political junkies like me during the 1990s, Lamb has always been one of the best interviewers on television, especially in the now-retired C-Span series “Booknotes.” During a 1999 interview with Michael Ebner, Lamb discussed his semi-Socratic interviewing style:
ME: Your interviewing style on Booknotes is distinctive. Now, I believe that it’s carefully designed to achieve a special effect. I wonder if you would be willing to elaborate on your interviewing style?
BL: Well first of all, not to disappoint you, but it’s not carefully designed. It’s kind of an evolutionary thing that again came out of my early days of not liking the fact that so many interviewers get in my way when I watch television. They are giving me their views, and I don’t want their views. They are also either confronting the guest in a negative way or agreeing with them in a positive way, and what I’m trying to do is not have you look at me when I’m doing the interview. I don’t care that you notice that I’m there, but I don’t want you to keep saying to yourself, “Why won’t he get out of my way” I want to get a chance to watch the author talk about the book, discuss why they wrote the book, all the little questions that I’ve asked over the last ten years. I’ve just finished two years of book tours with two different books and have been in over fifty bookstores and done 200 interviews and basically been out in the country. Most people that I come in contact with have the same questions–where do you write, when do you write, how do you write–because there’s a mystery about it. People who read books generally admire writers.
Sadly, “getting out of the way” is something few television interviewers seem capable of doing, which is one of the reasons I don’t miss Fox and the other networks and their slate of infotainers who make a living talking down down to people. Though he found a niche almost thirty years ago, Lamb’s straightforward, calm, and nonpartisan demeanor would get him nowhere in television today, which speaks volumes about the decline of the modern media. (Upon reflection, this paragraph is pretty ranty, isn’t it?)
For people interested in reading more about Brian Lamb, ABC made him their Person of the Week in December 2004.