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Bringing Democracy to Television

Michael H. Ebner

Copyright 1999   © Organization of American Historians

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of C-SPAN's existence. In June, Michael H. Ebner, A.B. Dick Professor of History at Lake Forest College, met with C-SPAN founder and CEO Brian Lamb at his offices in Washington DC.

Few individuals have done more to promote the reading of history and biography than Brian Lamb. C-SPAN has created a unique way for people in this country--and ninety other nations worldwide--to witness history in the making. Millions have watched its coverage of the political processes in Washington; Senate coverage of the Persian Gulf War in 1991 reached 32.3 million subscribers alone. Lamb has also interviewed hundreds of historians and biographers--among them many OAH members--on his Booknotes program and since last year on his weekend Book TV program on C-SPAN 2.

Michael Ebner dates becoming an avid C-SPAN watcher in late-1990. A chance conversation with Samuel P. Hays at a conference in Chicago started him on this track. Hays asked him, matter-of-factly, what he liked best about C-SPAN. As Ebner recalls the conversation, "I mumbled something unmemorable by way of replying, but the truth of the matter is that I hardly knew that C-SPAN existed at that moment. Then and there I concluded that if Sam found value in its programming, I should check it out for myself. It was the beginning of an enduring romance. I've come to admire C-SPAN, and Brian Lamb in particular, because they provide an irreplaceable alternative to the fare offered by commercial television."

Michael Ebner: Let's begin with a retrospective look at C-SPAN. When, how, and why did it begin?

Brian Lamb: We were incorporated in December 1977. We had our first board meeting in May of 1978 in New Orleans, where twenty-two cable television executives were present. We went on the air 19 March 1979 with network number one, and on the air 2 June 1986 with network number two.

ME: Now I'd like to ask you about yourself, beginning with your Hoosier roots. Does one particular professor at Purdue University especially come to mind who is memorable?

BL: Well, I had a lot of memorable high school teachers, to start with. It was there that I had two teachers who mattered a lot to me, directly affecting what I'm doing here. One was Bill Fraser, my high school broadcasting teacher, who I hung around my entire four years in high school. He taught me in a couple of courses about broadcasting and basically taught me the art of interviewing. This hovered around the whole idea that when you interview, listen to the answer. The other teacher was C. J. Hopkins, who was my high school journalism teacher and ran the high school newspaper. I've never forgotten them. They've had a tremendous impact on me.

In college, there were a number of memorable teachers. Probably the two or three who had the most impact included Jim Huston, a history professor. I just had the honor of having him as a guest on our presidential series program out of Battle Ground, Indiana, where we talked about William Henry Harrison. Another, who has long been deceased, was a man by the name of Clitheroe, who taught the philosophy of religions. He was a wonderful lecturer, a very patient man. I wasn't a very good student, but I learned a lot about the business of philosophy and religion and just living from him. I think he was a great teacher, a great reader. There were many more teachers I haven't mentioned.

ME: Do you think that being from Indiana has exercised a distinctive influence in your stewardship of C-SPAN?

BL: I think being from a small town, being from the middle of the country, being from a relatively small family with parents who were alive and alert but not heavily educated, being from an area where people allowed you to do anything you wanted to do--you could fail; if you succeeded, they didn't overdo the praise. There was a great skepticism in the middle of the country about a lot of things, but yet there was a genuineness about it that you often don't find on the two coasts. Everything I lived back in Lafayette, Indiana, has had a tremendous impact on what I've tried to do here.

ME: In a speech to the National Press Club, you've spoken about bringing democracy to television. I wonder if you could expand on that for me?

BL: Well, I come at this whole business from an unsophisticated, non-ideological point of view. When I think about democracy, I think about it meaning what it says. I don't come to it with a theory that representative government means it represents me; I come to it with the basic understanding that when I vote it has an impact. I pull the lever, and something happens on the other end. Either I win or lose. I think about television and democracy the same way. I grew up with television being controlled by three men living in New York City. Everything trickled down from those three men, William Paley, Leonard Goldensen, and David Sarnoff. Now, they were just being good businessmen. They maneuvered to get the licenses first in radio, then in television. They set the standards for what television was going to be, and because there were only three, they tried to appeal to everyone all the time. But that is just not democracy.

ME: Newton Minow, during his tenure as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission under the Kennedy Administration, called television the vast wasteland in 1961. What your thoughts are about this indictment?

BL: I think he was right about an enormous amount of television, but I think you could say that about an enormous amount of things American. One person's wasteland is another person's great pleasure.

One of the hardest things for us to understand is that everybody is not going to listen to opera, they're not all going to listen to symphony orchestras, they're not all going to read The New York Times. I don't care if it was immediately available to everybody, it just wouldn't appeal to everybody. And it's really hard in the end what people choose, especially if you have a kind of lofty view of what's good and bad.

ME: William Styron remarked nearly ten years ago that a television book show would never achieve wide popularity in this country. Yet when I think of C-SPAN I think most of all about Booknotes. So what is Booknotes?

BL: Well, I can understand why William Styron would say that, because he was talking about commercial television, and given the economics of commercial television or at least as it was when he said that, there was not a chance that a book show would survive because the ratings would be relatively low. The secret of Booknotes is that there's no meter on it. When Monday morning rolls around, you don't look at the meter and say "Last night was a success or a failure." It's exhilarating because of that. It's also frustrating because it would be a lot more fun to come in and say, "Gee, we had a million people watching that last night," or "Oops. There were only 50,000." But because we don't have that, no one ever really knows whether it's a big winner or a big loser, and that allows us to experiment, to have a bad week, to do a lot of in-depth history that we wouldn't otherwise do. The Booknotes program is meant to be that way in a non-commercial environment, and whether or not it has been a success is really in the eye of the beholder.

ME: Just how are the titles for the weekly telecasts of Booknotes chosen?

BL: Very unscientifically. First of all, a book is chosen before it's read, not after it's read. A book is chosen because it's a hardback, it's non-fiction, and the author has never appeared on Booknotes before. Nor will they appear again under our ten-and-a-half year tradition. It's a one-shot deal. By the way, that's why we expanded to a full forty-eight hours of books on the weekend, because of the word-of-mouth success of Booknotes. We have provided another great avenue for book writers to have their say.

Going back to your earlier question about what impact Lafayette, Indiana, has had on me. I think it is very important for people to factor that in when they consider how books are selected. There's a lot I've missed in my life when it comes to reading and understanding the issues. So, often when I see a book I think to myself "I don't know the answer to whatever that is on the cover, and I'd like to read that, talk to the author, and find out." That probably has been the biggest guide throughout the last number of years with Booknotes.

Secondly, without a quota system and without a label on it, I'm always looking for different kinds of people, different colors of skin, different religions, different political thought, because I don't want you to get a sense that there's a regularity to it. I want you to be surprised. Plus, I want to learn, and if I am always picking the kinds of books that only I like, then it will only be the kind of audience that would like the same things I do. You can really get yourself in trouble if you do that.

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.

ME: C-SPAN's Book TV is another great favorite of mine. I think of it as the younger sibling of Booknotes, so I'd like you to elaborate a bit more about the underlying reason for the launch of Book TV.

BL: Well, there are a number of reasons why we launched Book TV, which now is one year old. One, there was the word-of-mouth success of Booknotes, then a five-hour-a-week edition a couple years ago called About Books, and then the full 48 hours of Book TV. There was not much more thought given to it than that. People just liked it. We got a lot of feedback from it.

Secondly, this is a very tough, competitive world, cable television. It's driven a lot--no, it's driven solely by the bottom line. There is a $25 billion-a-year business in the book industry. There are over 1,000 superstores and 13,000 independent bookstores in the United States. It matters out there to somebody, and nobody else is doing anything more than short spots on television.

ME: C-SPAN has also done some special series of a historical nature, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Tocqueville, and currently the lives of American presidents from Washington all the way up to Clinton. What explains these particular choices in your programming?

BL: Well, it goes back to a series that started in 1984 called Grassroots ?84. Most people have forgotten that, but we were looking for ways to distinguish ourselves from everybody else in the campaign of '84. And if you think back, it was Walter Mondale running against Ronald Reagan, and there was almost no doubt from the beginning who would win. So we were faced with what was apparently going to be an uninteresting campaign, and we had a lot of time to fill. So Grassroots '84 took us to fourteen communities around the United States. It started in Mission Viejo, California, went up the coast to Monterrey, Seattle, came back to Denver, went down to Tulsa, New Orleans, Jacksonville, up to South Bend, Indiana, Traverse City, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Westchester County, New York, and ended in Cleveland, Ohio. And we spent three days in each of those towns talking to locals as a way to tap into what people were thinking about in politics. In 1985 we had something called States of the Nation, and we went to all fifty state capitals. As the years went by, we saw opportunities for us to do things differently than everybody else. Along came a book in 1992 by Harold Holzer called The Lincoln-Douglas Debates. Holzer has become a good acquaintance of mine. We've spent a lot of time together over the years, and he has introduced me single-handedly to Abraham Lincoln.

That evolved into a trip that Professor John Splaine and I took throughout the state of Illinois in 1993. We went to each of the seven sites of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. People were excited that we were interested in recreating those debates, and that led to each of the seven mayors saying "We want to do this. We'll ask our townspeople." We wanted [the townspeople] to do it all, we didn't want to control it. We didn't want to decide who the debaters were, we didn't want to put the stage in a certain location. We said to them "You do it your way, and we'll come in and capture it for television." And the cities of Ottawa, Freeport, Jonesboro, Charleston, Quincy, Galesburg, and Alton, Illinois, did a fabulous job.

This resulted because a lot of journalists were writing that what we need in this country was something like the Lincoln-Douglas debates for our own political campaigns. Frankly, in most cases they did not know what the original debates really were. They were seven three-hour debates in which each man, either Lincoln or Douglas, would have as much as an hour to speak, an hour and a half. It's hard to believe that anybody would sit still that long to hear it. But we did it again in 1994.

Out of that experience and Booknotes, this small town Midwesterner came again to the constant reference to Alexis de Tocqueville. Time and time again, left and right, Democrat and Republican, all the politicians would quote Alexis de Tocqueville--often incorrectly. It was amazing to me when I found out. There's a famous quote attributed to Tocqueville: "America is great because America is good. If America ever stops being good, it will stop being great." He just never said it. Presidents, President Clinton, former Speaker Gingrich, and lots of other politicians have constantly repeated that quote, and it's not true. So that was one of the small offshoots that we learned by going around the United States, stopping in 55 communities. We started, by the way, at his chateau in Normandy, France, where we did a four-hour live program on Saturday morning in May of 1995.

That led to a tradition we have every non-election year. We come up with a special program, because when there's an election year we have plenty on our hands. That is what led, in 1999, to the American Presidents series. That was not my idea. Susan Swain, our co-chief operating officer, took the task of finding a project. She went to our entire company and asked them if they wanted to make suggestions, to throw their ideas in a pot. The winners got $500. Out of 37 entrants, four of them suggested presidents, and that?s how we got our American Presidents series.

ME: All the programs that we've discussed now have sites on the World Wide Web. I wonder if you could expand on this linkage between C-SPAN and the Internet?

BL: Well, to start with, I'm not an Internet user, but I'm absolutely overwhelmed by the impact it's having on our country, and I think the significant and positive impact it will have on the future. I say that very much in the spirit of C-SPAN and the expansion of cable television channels because the World Wide Web does not belong to any one entity. It does not belong to David Sarnoff or Leonard Goldensen or Bill Paley. It does not belong to Time-Warner or AT&T or Bill Gates. It belongs to every single human being in this country--everybody who wants to can create their own web site and be a player. I don't think we have the slightest clue as to the long-range impact it's going to have on the country. We're just in it.

We got in it early. We have a great team that's involved in the Internet business inside our company. It's not a profit center for us, because we don't have profit, but it means a lot to us because it gives us that extra dimension. We can video stream and audio stream everything we do. We can create these web sites as an easy, inexpensive way for teachers to hook onto any project we're involved in. It has this wonderful retrieval capability that sits there day in and day out, and you just watch this thing grow like crazy. It makes an awful lot of sense for us to be there, and we'll get bigger and better at this as time goes by with frankly what is a very limited amount of funds to do it. But that's the great thing about the Internet. You can do a lot with a little. [You can visit C-SPAN's website at <http://www.c-span.org>. --Eds.]

ME: College professors of today lament that their students' interest in serious reading is diminished because of television and the Internet, but I suspect that C-SPAN represents a counter course in our culture for renewing an interest in the reading of books, focusing on biography, history, public affairs. Is my assumption accurate?

BL: I think college professors ought to realize the incredible role they play today and will always play if they work at it. College professors and high school teachers will always be the people who lead you to the source, whatever it is, and I think we probably ought to stop worrying about the word "reading." In order to get information, you've got to do it in a number of ways. You've either got to read it in a book, or read it in a newspaper, or read it on the Internet, or listen to it on a radio station, or watch it on television. And the person who wants to get ahead in this world is going to have to find it somewhere, so the good college professor is going to figure out how to introduce all these different avenues to people and stop worrying about whether they read or not, because they have to put the information in their head in order to analyze it, in order to decide what they are and what they want to be. It doesn't really matter to me how they get it there.

I happen to enjoy reading. I happen to think that books will be around for a long, long time. I don't enjoy reading a cathode ray-tube screen, but I am fifty-seven years old, and I think the younger generation is coming at it differently. You're not going to stop them. You can't turn the Internet off. You can't turn these computers off. So, if I were a college professor today, I'd figure out pretty quickly how to get on their playing field instead of mine, because C-SPAN is just one of many, many resources for a college professor to use. I think those who reject it out of hand saying "I'm not going to get involved in that," do so at their own peril.

ME: What about just a very short list of some all-time favorite books?

BL: Well, the books that I often cite as waking me up to reading--there are two of them: one of them was Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities, and I cannot tell you why. It tickled my fancy when it came out. I remember being so excited about it that I got up at 4 o'clock in the morning to read it, I wanted to finish it, and others around me were reading it.

When it comes to history, Miracle in Philadelphia, which was written by Catherine Drinker Bowen, came out years and years ago. But former Chief Justice Warren Burger brought it back. He held it up high, and told Americans to read it during the Bicentennial of the Constitution, the committee of which he chaired back in 1987. It lit a fire under me. I was ready. In 1985 I was forty-five years old. I was ready to learn, and it turned me on. I then went on a journey that has never stopped. I went to Philadelphia and Independence Hall and sat in the actual chairs that were there in that room. I remember from that moment forward not ever being able to get enough of the history of place. I've been to hundreds of places since. I've been to all the presidential libraries, I've been to all the presidential homes, I've been to all the presidential gravesites, I've been to tons of museums from the Steinbeck Museum in Salinas, California to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Massachusetts to the Dan Quayle Museum in Huntington, Indiana. There are wonderful museums around the country, something that we are going to be focusing on in our future more and more. It's a chance for us to share them with the rest of the country and hopefully create an interest in people to go to these places so they can also have the same experience.

There are a lot of other books that I have come to enjoy and have had real impact. The Federalist Papers, something I didn't pay attention to in college, Democracy in America, which I never read in college, and that I have obviously read since then. A lot of books on the history of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the history of the different wars in this country. In the Booknotes book that we published earlier this year, there are twenty-two presidents represented. That means I've read books on twenty-two presidents, and that's something I should have done a long time ago, but didn't. But, you know, I have read 525 books in ten years, which as I've said often, I should have done earlier in my life. But that has been the exciting thing. Reading has put a really interesting twist on my life as I've gotten to middle age.

ME: A professor of American history, Patricia Nelson Limerick of the University of Colorado, has written rather critically about the inability of most academic historians to reach a broadened audience of readers, and my hunch is that you have some observations of your own on this matter.

BL: I will credit an interview that I did with Don Hewitt of CBS's 60 Minutes with putting a real spotlight on the reason why people tune in to his program and in turn, anybody who is trying to teach anything. It seems so obvious now, but I hadn't thought of it this way. I remember asking him, "With what do you credit 60 Minutes' success?" And he said, "Every Sunday night we tell three stories. As I look back on the 525 Booknotes, every Sunday night you hear one story, one story in fifty-seven minutes about a human being who has written a book. Now, the book may be a story, but the person sitting there is also a story. So as you walk away from that hour of your time, you should take with you a number of impressions, either that this was an interesting book, or the person who wrote the book is interesting. As a middle student, as a "C" student, as a very much a middle-of-the-road everything--if you tell me a good story, I will listen to it. If you drone on about dates and all that stuff, I'm off. I'm turned off. I will go away, and I don?t care how many tests you give me, I will not have consumed the kind of information that you want to. I would say to any college professor, "Learn how to tell stories if you want your students to really pay attention." You'll always have the top student who can read anything and absorb it and feed it back to you, but once you get below the top, you have a whole different kind of person to deal with. If you're a good storyteller, I'll bet you've got a lot of students that turn on to what you're trying to teach them.

ME: I?d like to turn back to the origins of C-SPAN. I know that you have a well-enunciated point of view about the state of network news as a source of information for the American public. Would you please elaborate?

BL: Well, network news today has relatively little significance to the body politic compared to what it did twenty years ago. It's still a viable, commercial business that NBC, ABC, CBS, and CNN and others are quite successful at moving money to the bottom line. But what we've learned, after two decades of tremendous addition of channels, is that most people don't watch news. They go away to anything but news--to entertainment, sports, whatever. I think that's a great disappointment to a lot of people. Twenty years ago the combined rating of the three network news shows (ABC, NBC, and CBS) was somewhere in the 35-40 range (out of 100 points). Today, right as we're speaking this very day, it's somewhere around maybe twenty. They have lost twenty full points, which today means 20 million homes. They're still making a lot of money, but they don't have the audience that they had either on a percentage basis or on an actual basis.

Twenty years ago the FCC required the television stations to do X percentage of their programming in news and public affairs. That basically doesn't exist anymore. When viewers have a choice, they go away. They go all over the dial. They go to us, the Weather Channel, Arts and Entertainment. Or they find really well-done documentaries on a lot of different channels including Bravo and Ovation. So if you define journalism on television today the same way you did twenty years ago, you're making a big mistake.

ME: Booknotes has resulted in two recent books [Booknotes: Life Stories : Notable Biographers on the People Who Shaped America (1997) and Booknotes: America's Finest Authors on Reading, Writing, and the Power of Ideas (1998)]. Where do you fit into this equation of the television figure as author?

BL: Well, there's a little bit of difference for me. First of all, we didn't sell a couple million copies of our book like Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation did. Secondly, I didn't take any money for it. It's not a money-making enterprise for me, and I wanted to take that equation out of it early because that wasn't the reason to do it. In a very selfish way, I guess, I wanted to find out what it was like to put a book out. I got involved in every aspect of it, finding an agent, finding a publisher, finding people to help me put all the facts and figures together. I took all the pictures for the book. I traveled to the printing plants where they were printed. I went out on the book tour, and I did it on purpose without escort, because I didn't want that to--they create a world out there that can be somewhat disconcerting for the people you meet. You've got these people around you in limousines and all that stuff, and I didn't want any of that. And I just wanted to find out what it was like. Also, I wanted a chance to talk about this network. I wanted a chance to meet the people who watch it. We hear them all the time on the call-in shows, but you can't see them, and so by going to some 50 bookstores over the last couple of years and giving a lot of talks and Q&A sessions around the country, it has given me a chance to find out what the world is doing out there and what they look like. So in many ways it was a selfish motive for me. It turned out to be a success. We put some money in our C-SPAN educational foundation but more importantly have made money for the publisher, and as publishers will tell you, only about 25% of their books make money. So it was fun to take a product, using the network, and make it work financially for people outside of here. I think it turned out to be a very worthwhile endeavor for the last couple years.

ME: I'd like to ask you about the financial underwriting of C-SPAN.

BL: C-SPAN is paid for entirely by people who buy cable television and satellite services. We get something on the order of a nickel a month per customer, sixty cents a year. There's a sliding scale depending on how big your company is, so it doesn't quite come out. We have 75 million people in the United States who get C-SPAN. That doesn't work out. If you took 75 million times $0.60, you would come up with far more money than we take every year. We're generating somewhere in the order of $35-40 million a year for a product that costs somewhere around $35 million every year. We've kept some of our money, and within the last two years bought a radio station in Washington that serves the market from Baltimore to Richmond on a twenty-four-hour basis, the only public affairs radio station in the United States, so the industry has been very generous in letting us keep enough money in the till for a rainy day. But basically the people, the country, pay for it, through a cable operator who says "I'm willing to put aside these two channels for this purpose. I'm willing to (and it's not required by law or by the government that they do this) devote this public service a couple channels on my service." They then pass on parts of my revenue to keep it in business. I've told people for years that the industry does not have to do this. They look at you like you're crazy, and they think it's some decree. Those people who live in communities around the country who've lost C-SPAN have got to understand that was a local decision, that was not a national decision. It is something that can go away if you don't keep watch on it.

ME: I know you began with a staff of four employees. How many people are employed by C-SPAN today?

BL: Around 250.

ME: How many of them are on the air?

BL: About seventy. They all have other jobs, though. No one is hired for their on-air job. Susan Swain is the chief operating officer. Connie Brode is executive producer of Book TV. Steve Scully is our political editor. Bruce Collins is our general counsel. Doug Johnson is one of our book producers. Paul Orgell produces the House of Representatives, and Lou Ketcham produces the United States Senate coverage.

ME: How many people, according to your data, are watching C-SPAN in 1999?

BL: Our data, based on a survey we take every three or four years, suggests that about one in ten Americans watches on a regular basis. They make it a part of their lives. They check on it whenever they are near a television set. They decide independently from day to day whether or not there's something there they want to watch. Three in ten watch us when there's a big event, when the entire media world is talking about it. If it's the impeachment process or the war in Iraq or something like that, they might find a way over to us as those three in ten become more and more concerned about what's going on in the Congress or in Washington.And, if you think for a moment that four-in-ten have some experience with us, and that in the last election (where there was only a Congressional election), 36% of the people voted.We track with that. Four-in-ten.That's four-in-ten voting, four-in-ten watching, and six-in-ten who never watch. Even if you throw in the last presidential election, only 48.9% of the people in the United States voted.You've got a whole half of this country that does not watch this network, does not vote, is not involved in the process in any way. It all makes sense, because most of our people who watch us also vote.

ME: Liberals sometimes claim that C-SPAN is an outlet for conservatives, and conservatives sometimes portray it as another instrument of liberal media. So what's your take on these counterclaims?

BL: Well, I think they're both right. What I've learned over the last twenty years in listening to our viewers and listening to people expound on what this network is all about is that if you're a committed ideologue, if you're a committed party member, if you're committed to a candidate, you do not see the world like those who aren't committed. You can see that two people with strong points of views sitting in the same room looking at the same individual on television will see and hear two different things. And the only way that I can explain it to you is that people inside this company are not committed politically, they don't talk partisan politics, they don't care who wins. Everybody here has worked for a politician at some time or another, and they've been able to come in here and put their views aside. In the end they never make a decision based on whether they want somebody to get ahead or lose. I've listened to this for so long that I really think when you're offering 17,000 hours of television a year on politicians and you keep score and you have an archive and at any time anybody wants to check and see which people are getting attention, it's there. If you can't find your point of view here on a regular basis, then you're not watching it very closely, because it's here somewhere.

ME: A final question. I hope you'll address the matter of where C-SPAN might be ten years from now. How do you envision it being different and improved, and what would you like to see sustained?

BL: Well, in ten years C-SPAN will be where this country wants it to be. I will have less and less influence upon it, as I have had less and less influence on it as the years have gone by. I had a tremendous amount of influence on it in 1977 and less every year since then, and that's exactly the way I want it. I want to be able to walk away from here and never have to look back and worry that I didn't do what I had to do to make it work. I think we are naïve if we think that whatever we do--I don't care what it is--is guaranteed to be there forever. Ask the people who used to own Collier's, Look, Saturday Evening Post, United Press International, Studebaker cars--you can go down a list of very well-known institutions that are not here anymore. I think the American people truly will decide. If the industry--which is not the same as it was 20 years ago--wanted to shut this down, and the American people said "Fine, go ahead," it would go away. I'm not terribly concerned, personally, about where I end up in this process. I've done my thing. I'm trying to enjoy every day and continue the learning process. I hope there's a lot more to offer, I hope there are a lot more choices out there. See, the more choices we can give you, the less power we have. The less power any one person has. And, I think that's the healthiest thing we can have as a country. I know it's hard to see that now, because people are confused, and there's not a simple road map, and there is nobody there deciding what's good and bad. But it might be very healthy for people in this country to finally wake up and decide things for themselves.

ME: Well, this concludes our interview, and with warm thanks for your willingness to make yourself available, and I know that the members of OAH will enjoy and learn from this opportunity to visit with you. Thank you.

BL: Well, I thank you and thank the historians for being there or I wouldn't have a job.

Michael H. Ebner is the A.B. Dick Professor of History at Lake Forest College. Readers wishing to comment on this interview may contact him at ebner@lfc.edu.