How Stokely Carmichael Inspired the Most Boring Channel on TVBreaking News
tags: media, cable television, Stokely Carmichael, CSPAN
In the late 1960s, Brian Lamb, the eventual founder of the cable network C-SPAN, sat at a Black Baptist church watching Stokely Carmichael give a speech. Lamb, fresh off a four-year stint in the U.S Navy, came away impressed. He found the talk by the leader of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) “thoughtful and intelligent and very well stated.” But, later that night, when Lamb watched coverage of the same speech on TV he was taken aback.
The news broadcast only played the two minutes when Carmichael was at his most incendiary. “What made it on was the fire and brimstone,” Lamb would later tell the New York Times of the experience. “It just seemed to me we were being unfairly treated as a society by the television news,” he lamented.
About a decade later Lamb founded the Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network, also known as C-SPAN. While the network is most known now for wall-to-wall congressional coverage, it was Carmichael’s unfair representation by white media that Lamb has said helped inspire the attempt to bring the public news without imposition. He wanted a channel “where everybody gets to see everything from start to finish,” he told the Times.
I was surprised by this connection. I discovered Lamb’s epiphany in the excellent autobiography Ready For Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture).
In the latter half of his life Carmichael embraced revolutionary Pan-African socialism, founded the All African Peoples Revolutionary Party, and changed his name to Kwame Ture—a combination of Kwame Nkrumah and Ahmed Sékou Touré, two former decolonial leaders of Ghana and Guinea. In 1969, Ture left the United States to make his home in Conakry, Guinea. One of the best explanations of this transformation can be found when Ture sat down for an interview with Lamb in 1998. (It was shortly before Ture’s death, while he was in Harlem for cancer treatments.)
Ture writes this of the conversation:
Mr. Lamb proved an interesting fellow, well-informed and tough-minded. His questions were sharp but fair. Not biased or hostile as is so often the case with the U.S media. … I admire Mr. Lamb’s public spiritedness and resourcefulness and I think his initiative to be especially necessary given the general debasement of political discourse in the American media.
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