Howard Mortman 00:00
This is where people don’t know how to put us into a bucket, because all we’re doing is showing you experts saying, well, here’s what the government is spending money on. Here’s what you can learn. And a lot of times, there’s no entertainment in that, there’s no food fights. So like, why am I gonna watch that? Well, you’re gonna watch that because you are a citizen of a country that’s, again, $31 trillion in debt. Where are we spending our money? What are our priorities? The country that we are giving to our kids to inherit, what’s it gonna look like? You know, this isn’t the place to get all these answers, but you definitely are going to hear some informed expert witnesses about where we are headed as a country.
David Ippolito 00:45
[intro music] Tired of Being Lied to
Jennifer Briney 01:14
Hello, friend. And thank you for listening to the 262nd episode of Congressional Dish. I’m your host, Jennifer Briney. If this is your first time trying out Congressional Dish, first of all, thanks. I love that you’re trying out a podcast about Congress because I know that could sound kind of boring. But I promise you it’s not. And I think the reason is that my show is very different from the other ones that you’ll find, especially in the News and Politics category of any of these podcast apps. This show is actually easiest to find in the Government category, because this is a show about what Congress does after the elections. This show is not about campaigns, or the latest poll, or who’s raised the most money, or what this election means for 2024. No, this show focuses on what our representatives do with the power we give them via these elections. The thing is that who we elect in these elections determines what the governing is going to look like. We just had an election. In fact, it’s been five days since the election and we still don’t know which party will control the House or the Senate. And the counting, especially in California, seems to be happening at a snail’s pace. And so I don’t know when we’re going to know. And what that means is that I really can’t give you any intelligent analysis of what governing is going to look like yet, because the election really isn’t over. And so unlike the rest of the punditry that has been just straight guessing, and in some cases, making shit up when it comes to the 2022 midterms, right now I have damn near nothing to say about them. So I’m going to say nothing and I’ll give you the answers when I have them. But I still have something for you. Today, you’re going to get your Thanksgiving weekend gift early. Today, I am thrilled to introduce you to a real gem of a human being. Today, you’re going to meet Howard Mortman, who is the Communications Director at C-SPAN. He’s also the host of a great little podcast that highlights fascinating nuggets from the vast C-SPAN archives called “The Weekly” and he’s also the author of When Rabbis Bless Congress: The Great American Story of Jewish Prayers on Capitol Hill. Now, I think most people are familiar with C-SPAN, but just in case, C-SPAN is a totally nonpartisan television and internet network that shows what’s happening inside of the US Congress by turning on the cameras, letting them run, and not having some pundit talking over our members of Congress. If you’re watching C-SPAN, you’re just watching what’s happening in real time, in the people’s house, or the Senate, or in the hearings, or in the think tanks, or in the speeches. C-SPAN covers all kinds of stuff. But the most important thing is you don’t have to listen to Joe Scarborough or Tucker or Rachel Maddow, or any of their opinions. There are no opinions on C-SPAN. They just let us watch stuff for ourselves. And then even better, they take all of those videos and make them available online for free for anyone to watch anytime they want to on cspan.org. C-SPAN simply has the best archive of government footage in this country. And I consider myself very lucky to have been invited twice now into their studios and onto their airwaves in Washington, DC. The last time I was invited onto their program, Washington Journal, which is a show that they air every day and it has interviews with all kinds of people. But about two months ago in September, they interviewed me in their Spotlight on Podcasting segment. Now the interview was recorded live and when I got back to my hotel and check my Twitter, I had a notification showing me that the Communications Director at C-SPAN, Howard Mortman, had enjoyed and shared my interview. Long story short, we started chatting on Twitter and I just have a million questions about how C-SPAN works. So Howard graciously accepted my invitation to be interviewed so that I could pick his brain about the behind the scenes of our country’s most valuable archive. Even better, he offered up the C-SPAN radio studio to do the recording. I’m totally aware of the off the charts level of dorkiness here, but recording in the C-SPAN radio studio was truly one of the highlights of my career. And this interview was so fascinating. I learned so much about how C-SPAN accesses Congress, what they are and are not allowed to film, and I learned a lot about how C-SPAN’s financials work. And then we also talked about Howard’s great little podcast, the Weekly, which Congress nerds are sure to love that pulls clips from the C-SPAN archives and gives you about 15 minute little history lessons about all kinds of topics. It’s a great little show. If you like Congressional Dish, you’ll probably like that one. And then we also talked about Howard’s book, which is a deep dive into the history of prayer, specifically Jewish prayer in Congress. I don’t think a lot of people realize that every day in Congress, they pray, despite the division of church and state in this country. It’s a whole issue. And Howard wrote a whole book. I loved this interview. In fact, I intended to just give this to the people that pay for the show, because this is a listener-supported podcast and if you support it, you’re able to get into my greenroom where I have all kinds of bonus content. This was originally going to be bonus content, but the interview was too good. So I’m giving it to everyone. So while we await the results of the 2022 election, here’s Inside C-SPAN with Howard Mortman. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
Jennifer Briney 06:55
Well, Howard, thank you so much for joining me, this has been such a pleasure. First up, would you like to introduce yourself to my audience and tell them what you do here at C-SPAN and just in general?
Howard Mortman 07:07 Sure. Thanks. First of all, welcome to C-SPAN. We are sitting in the studios of C-SPAN radio right now and we’ve just recorded a podcast, the Weekly. Thank you for a couple of things. Thank you for being here, for being interested. Thank you for watching C-SPAN and being a booster and listener too. Thank you, Jen, for appearing on C-SPAN and the whole gamut of C-SPAN participation with us. We very much appreciate it. Each of our audience members eventually get to come in and do a sit down to do a podcast. So we hope to have 100 million people come through these doors at some point. [laughter]. We should be so lucky.
Howard Mortman 07:43
I am Howard Mortman, I am the Communications Director for C-SPAN. What that means is essentially I am the PR guy for C-SPAN. My work is outwardly focused. My work is working with reporters on a one-to-one basis, but also social media, broad based consumer driven outreach. It’s kind of weird to do media work for a media organization, but like everybody else we need to have people aware of us, we need to have relevancy. We are a network that’s over 40 years old now. We are not the brand new, shiny object anymore. We do a lot of brand new, shiny things like this, like the podcast. But we have a need for reporters, to engage with reporters and keep on telling the C-SPAN story, telling them what we’re showing, what video is available, what we’re covering. It’s debate season now, it’s campaign season. I let reporters know we are covering X number of debates in the midterm election. So in a nutshell, my work is to help spread the word in the media with reporters about what C-SPAN is doing, what we’re up to. And then likewise, hand-in-hand, the social media component of that, putting out clips and sharing key moments that we’ve seen in our coverage of events.
Jennifer Briney 09:11
Okay, great. I think in this podcast, we’re going to be repeating ourselves a little bit, because listeners, just so you know, Howard took me on this great tour of C-SPAN before we came in, and he told me some things. C-SPAN has been so important to me because if there was no C-SPAN, I don’t think that I would have ever been able to see what was going on in the House and the Senate floor in that raw footage way. We get these little snippets of coverage, sometimes not nearly enough. What C-SPAN does that I’ve appreciated, it lets me just watch it and make up my own mind. I don’t think that my podcast would have existed without C-SPAN being on all the time. One of the things I’m really curious about is that when I was a kid, I was born in 1982, so I’m three years younger than C-SPAN, almost exactly. I’m this big of a nerd: I know that C-SPAN was started on March 19, 1979, and my birthday is March 26 1982. So yeah, three years younger than C-SPAN, almost exactly. I remember when I was a kid, even if you had basic cable, we had C-SPAN, it was just always there. One of the things that I am concerned about is that I find C-SPAN to not really be like a new shiny project, but essential to our democracy and to our public education about what’s going on, and I’m finding C-SPAN much harder to get. For instance, the first time I was on C-SPAN, I was here in August of 2019 and I stayed at the Park Phoenix, it’s literally two doors down, and I couldn’t get C-SPAN on my television. I’m a digital nomad. I live in Marriotts and Hyatts, and I can’t get C-SPAN at either of those brands because they have their own TV distribution systems. So I’m curious, what is that dynamic? Why is that happening? What’s going on with C-SPAN distribution?
Howard Mortman 11:15
So a couple things. That’s a terrific question. I want to back up a little bit and hit on a couple things you said in the lead in it, which kind of builds toward the distribution. First of all, I love what you said about thinking for yourself. You know, the core of what we do is we don’t shape the story for you. We don’t offer our own narrative, we don’t editorialize. We are a couple hundred people who work here. We have stripped ourselves of our own opinions about what’s happening, we let you, as you said perfectly, think for yourself about what you’re watching. That means, and it’s very important to note, this kind of builds into what you were saying about distribution, we are a nonprofit. It’s very important for people to know there’s no government money involved at all in C-SPAN. We’re entirely funded by the cable industry and television satellite providers, and they’ve been with us from the very beginning. What that means is that we are a service provided by them, a public service. As a nonprofit, we don’t have any advertising. So we don’t have any advertising, we don’t have any ratings. What you are watching on a day-to-day basis doesn’t show up in the traditional storylines: who’s up, who’s down, personalities up and down. This is strictly a public service of our programming. I’m going to fast forward now to your point about the distribution. Like everybody else in the cable industry, it’s a battle for eyeballs. We want people to watch us. But we are not — we don’t really have competition in the normal sense. You know, when MSNBC is on TV broadcasting and Fox is broadcasting, we’re not competing against them. Because we will be there regardless, because of our nonprofit nature. What we do want is people to watch us for hearings and for the politics and the raw coverage of Congress. So as the number of cable subscribers diminishes, your mentioning of hotels, that definitely is an issue, a distribution issue of people less likely to show us. That is definitely looming out there as a concern for us. We have an entire department here that deals with the cable industry and affiliates and working with our contracts and the cable providers to make sure they continue to show us…if you have examples where you can’t find us. You know, you’re right, it used to be C-SPAN 1 and 2 was available wherever you went in the hotel room. C-SPAN 3, perhaps. But as you know, as the cable package diminishes, I’m sure we are being left out of packages, like in your hotel room. It doesn’t make us happy, we don’t want that. But one way to potentially overcome that is by providing our video in other ways, such as social media, providing clips, our website. You know, you definitely you don’t have to have the TV version in your hotel room to access cspan.org and see the hearings and see our programming. So I don’t have an answer for why a particular chain doesn’t have us. Actually after we’re done, I want to go back and ask what the answer is for a particular hotel chain, why that’s less and less prevalent. But the general answer is, we hope that if you’re not watching on TV, that you are accessing us digitally or through other means.
Jennifer Briney 14:58
I mean, that’s how I’ve done it because I was already aware of C-SPAN and cspan.org is bookmarked and I watch pretty much everything there. You can watch things live on C-SPAN. I feel like you guys do a really good job with the online situation. But I think what we’re missing without C-SPAN on the televisions is the random person who’s just flipping through the channels, there’s nothing else to watch, what is this hearing? That’s happened to me, where I wasn’t going to watch a hearing about like Somalia. And now all of a sudden, I know that we’re at war there. It’s that type of thing, that I feel like having C-SPAN on the television aids. One of my pitches for funding for Congressional Dish, and it’s been a few years since I’ve checked this, so I’m sure they’re charging more now, but I used to tell people, if you’re paying for cable, you’re paying $1.50 every month for Fox News. I think ESPN is the most expensive, I think they’re over two bucks. And I was like, okay, so if it’s worth that much to you to have Fox News, how much is it worth to you to have Congressional Dish. So is C-SPAN pricing so high that these cable companies don’t want to pay it? I know you guys have to pay for all this stuff somehow. What’s happening where C-SPAN is getting left out? And to piggyback on that, when I did have cable, one of my packages had C-SPAN 1 and 2, and I had to get a bigger package to get C-SPAN 3, they split it out. So like who’s making these decisions? How expensive is it to get C-SPAN? What is happening?
Howard Mortman 16:34
You are like a mega, super smart absorber of all this. I’m not saying that, I’m not patronizing. I’m saying you actually know the economics of this, which is marvelous. You cited the cost for ESPN and Fox. Do you know how much it costs per subscriber for C-SPAN now?
Jennifer Briney 16:55
Howard Mortman 16:55
Jennifer Briney 16:56
Howard Mortman 16:57
Yeah, six cents. So if you’re talking about ESPN and HBO, $5 or $6 per subscriber, we are six cents, we are at the bottom.
Jennifer Briney 17:10
Why wouldn’t a YouTube TV or Hulu, why would they even think of not paying the six cents for C-SPAN 1 and 2? Is it because we are not demanding these companies include it? Why wouldn’t they pay six cents?
Howard Mortman 17:23
Jen you have gotten into the heart of so much in that question. We want to be on YouTube and Hulu, and places that provide live TV programming. We’ve approached them. We are hoping one day that they share your sentiment that it’s probably a good thing to provide C-SPAN at a very cheap price. We are not making the decisions, but we are making the pitches on that.
Jennifer Briney 17:53
So that’s a choice. Because one of the things I was questioning is, I know that C span was started by cable companies, correct?
Howard Mortman 17:59
Jennifer Briney 18:02
Are the cable companies preventing you from getting on these online TV platforms?
Howard Mortman 18:07
Oh no, on the contrary. Thank you for noting that C-SPAN was founded and created by the cable industry, it continues to be sustained by them. We have a board that runs the corporate side of C-SPAN, we are still a privately funded company, and with the board’s encouragement we are trying to find new revenue sources. That is a big picture, future of C-SPAN kind of issue. So no, they are hardly preventing us, they want us to find new revenue sources. As an example, we’re talking small change here, you might start seeing ads on the online version of C-SPAN on the video on the website, some pre-rolls. If we are on YouTube, you might see some ads on the YouTube version of our video. You’re not seeing ads on the TV version, but where we can digitally. That’s an example of where, with the board’s urging, we are trying to find new ways to fund the place. If you were here 10 years ago — you’ve been doing this 10 years, right?
Howard Mortman 19:27
Well 10 years ago my answer would have been a lot different. I would have probably been saying nope, no ads, nowhere, no place. But now the reality is we have to start looking at those kinds of places, online digital ads, to do this. And we wouldn’t have had YouTube and Hulu as part of that conversation, but now it’s looming out there. The big picture, you know, we’ve done the pitch. They are aware that we are interested, but it really is you and other people who want to see us on their platforms. The urging needs to come from the public.
Jennifer Briney 19:27
Jennifer Briney 20:07
Because I’m in my digital nomad life, I go around from platform to platform. During football season last year, I had YouTube TV. This year, I have Hulu. And then I cancel it, and then I’ll have Netflix for a while and then I cancel it. I only pay for the one I’m like actively watching. So would it help C-SPAN if every time I cancel it I say it’s because they don’t have C-SPAN, which is actually not a lie?
Howard Mortman 20:34
Since we’re on the record here, because it’s tricky, I will say, we don’t tell you what to think and we won’t tell you what to say either. But you’re empowered with all the First Amendment rights that the Constitution gives you to say whatever you want, on whatever platform you want [laughter].
Jennifer Briney 20:50
Okay, gotcha. Yeah. Because it’s really it’s no lie — I know that I can watch C-SPAN online, but there is something about while I’m clicking through channels, and just seeing what’s on. As great as the online resource is, you don’t get the what’s on right now aspect of it. I like the online version if I’m looking for a specific hearing or I’m watching because there’s a vote, but I do think the idea of, “oh, I have no idea what’s going in the House today” and just clicking through it, that’s happened to me countless times. So anything I can do to help facilitate that, I want to happen because I think there’s actually an episode of Congressional Dish where I’m ranting and raving about being unable to get C-SPAN 3 without paying an extra like 50 bucks a month. I was furious about it. So knowing that is a power of the people situation, I will take action accordingly.
Jennifer Briney 21:48
As for what C-SPAN actually does, as much as I love all of the programming you guys do, it’s the access to Congress that I think is just essential to our country. Last week, I went into the Senate gallery for the first time, and I watched what happened and I sat there for four hours. And, you know, watching C-SPAN 2, which is the Senate one, I’ve watched it many times, and you can see people walk in and out. But sitting in that gallery, there was a totally different vibe. I saw all kinds of things that even though I have watched Congress now for over a decade, I had no idea. For instance, from my vantage point, I could see a hallway that apparently goes to the cloakrooms, whatever those are, and then the Senators would come and the way that they would vote is they wouldn’t even come in the room, they would just do thumbs up or thumbs down, and then they would run away. John Tester, he was so ready for his vacation that he voted on the Continuing Resolution in his jeans. He just popped right in, thumbs up, and he was gone. I mean, you could just see a John Tester cloud on his way to that door. But the C-SPAN cameras, there was no one manning them, they were facing straight forward. All of these conversations that were happening along the sides of the walls were not being filmed. Can you explain to me how that happens, and why there’s no one there showing these hallways where all of this, quite frankly, entertaining Senate action was going on?
Howard Mortman 23:26
So you hit on a number of really important things in that, and I love that. Were you in the press gallery or were you there as a visitor?
Jennifer Briney 23:35
I was in the regular peasant gallery. I wanted to get into the press gallery because the house is still closed. So my plan for the day was to watch the vote in the Senate and then go over to the House. I was going to spend the whole day. Then they said if you don’t have a press pass, you can’t go into the House. And I’m like, Well, I’m press and so I went into there and when I said it was a podcaster the girl like laughed in my face and said no, you can’t get into the House, you’re not real press. I mean, she didn’t say that. She wasn’t that rude. But no, I couldn’t get into the press gallery.
Howard Mortman 24:07
Yeah, that’s not my topic, but who is press anymore? Like in this age, is it just print reporters, or podcasters, or bloggers, or people with massive Twitter followings? What constitutes press now? It’s far outside my alley, but it’s an interesting question of who gets access to these things.
Jennifer Briney 24:33
I’m a little offended by it because Congress is my subject. I backup everything I say with my sources. I read the bills and laws. So to tell me I’m not press and then have some garbage, I don’t want to name any, but we all know there are some bloggers out there that have access and have their own little desks up there. I did walk through the Senate press little back room that had all these cubicles and I was able to read the outlets that had access and I was like, you know, I belong at least in…. That was the other thing, there was Senate action going on and the press gallery was empty. So they were all sitting in their cubicles and I just wanted to get up into the rafters and watch the action and they weren’t even taking advantage of that. It was empty.
Howard Mortman 25:13
Have you ever gone to conventions, Republican or Democratic Conventions, as press?
Jennifer Briney 25:19
I haven’t. But my co-host of my other podcast called We’re Not Wrong — in fact, I think you’ve met him, Justin Robert Young.
Howard Mortman 25:19
Jennifer Briney 25:22
We just started a new podcast together a few months ago, and he’s gonna drag me to the Conventions in 2024.
Howard Mortman 25:31
So here’s the deal, you and Justin — I love Justin, he’s wonderful, and he’s been on CSPAN as well — you need to do a test. You need to apply for press credentials for the Convention. Because I don’t know what the rules are, but I think that credential press for conventions mimic or imitate the same list as the Congressional press. So it would be really the test for you guys to try to get in if they have a podcast row, you know, for example, so I’m so happy to hear that’s on your radar screen for that.
Jennifer Briney 26:05
Yeah, I think Justin has actually done it. And even over in the Capitol, they said that if I wanted to apply for press credentials, they wanted to do all these background checks and all this stuff. So the problem for me, it wasn’t that they just told me I couldn’t come in. It wasn’t a hard no. It was more of, “you’re trying to go to the House in the next two hours, it’s a longer process than that.” So maybe if I really worked at it, they would have let me in. But yeah, we’re definitely going to try for the conventions. But what I saw physically in that room was just so different from what I’ve seen on television. So why wasn’t there someone from C-SPAN spinning around and showing Tester in his jeans?
Howard Mortman 26:48
Alright, so let’s go back. You said you were born in 1982 — and you said that on air, so I will say that — and as you said, in 1979 we began with House coverage, the House went on TV. By the way, you were born midway between the House and the Senate. The Senate began in 1986. So you were sandwiched. C-SPAN 1 in the House, 1979; Jen born 1982; and then the Senate in 1986. So there were three big moments in America’s democracy in consecutive order like that [laughter]. So when the House went on TV, on March 19, 1979, that was day one of C-SPAN on TV. That was the day the U.S. House flipped on its switches and began covering themselves on the U.S. House floor. There are a couple of things packed into that. When you are watching C-SPAN coverage of the U.S. House, when we show it gavel to gavel, beginning to end with no interruption, you are watching the feed provided by the House itself, provided by the government. Likewise, when you are watching the US Senate on C-SPAN 2 which began June 1986, same concept. You are watching what the government provides, the video and the audio the government provides of gavel to gavel. What we do is we take the feed and we put it on TV or on the Internet. We add our graphics, meaning we say who’s talking and the topic, what they’re talking about or where they represent, and put our logo on there. The video itself and the audio is all provided by the government.
Howard Mortman 28:32
Now, the first question: why? Why can’t we have our own cameras in there as well? I’m sure when you were there, you might have looked up at the ceiling. It’s a beautiful ceiling and you want to have others say “Oh, my God, look at the ceiling of this room. Look at these little conversation clusters happening.” How come? I get it. These are government cameras. We asked the same question. We want our cameras in there as well. We being C-SPAN and the independent media. From the beginning we have asked and both parties have always said, “no, you can’t have your own cameras here.” We’ve been given a variety of different answers by both parties: “we’ll study it,” flat out “No.” In the end, it’s a power thing. You know, if we were in there, independent media was in there, we would show exactly what you saw, people talking on the floor. We would probably show things in addition to what they, meaning the politicians and members of Congress and the Senators, want us to show. I’m going to add a one tiny but interesting asterisk to all this. There are times when our own cameras go into the House and that is for big events such as the State of the Union address. We are allowed in there with our own cameras to shoot that. Another example is when foreign leaders address joint meetings of Congress in the US House, independent cameras can go in there as well to film those. So there are a couple rare occasions when independent cameras go in to augment what the official government cameras are showing, but those are very few examples. I will tell you when that happens, you get some amazing pictures. Day one of the U.S. Congress, the swearing in, come January 2023, whether or not there’s a new majority in the House, you’ll still have independent cameras in there for day one, for the voting in of the new speaker or continuing with the speaker. And you’ll see kids, you’ll see kids playing on iPads, they’re really cute shots. You’ll see shots of the press gallery, the reporters there, you’ll see a big picture of the electronic board that shows, in the House at least, how members of Congress are voting. So again, those event moments do happen. Very few moments. But 98% of the time, it is the government feed that you are watching. Now, very important to note that that’s the floor of the U.S. House and the floor of the U.S. Senate. When you’re watching hearings — I know you’re a big fan of the hearings — that’s when you start getting into independent media cameras, our cameras, C-SPAN cameras, are showing the House and the Senate hearings. So that is not government supplied video. Those are our editorial choices on who we show. The government does show its own hearings on its own feed, but on C-SPAN we will show the audience, we will show the protesters, we will show the empty chairs. We won’t have the heroic view of the Chairman of Committees, but we’ll show eye level the witnesses and the members of the committee and will show who’s talking to who in the audience. So that’s the vast value of the independent media and C-SPAN covering the hearings with our own cameras.
Jennifer Briney 32:04
I find that kind of fascinating and a little bit backwards. It sounds like you guys need a permission slip to do anything on the House and Senate floor. I mean, that’s the people’s house, the people’s Senate, and yet, they really do have a lock down on the media being in there. I know the beginning of every Congress, in the House at least, they vote on the rules. Is that something that’s in the rules? Can be changed Congress by Congress? Or do we need something bigger than that to change that?
Howard Mortman 32:34
Okay, that’s a great question. It goes into the House and the Senate recording studios for both. It is the rule of both chambers that no independent media is allowed in. I don’t know if that’s voted on at the beginning of every session or not, or whether it’s just one of these long held traditional rules that never gets changed. But it’s a rule, not a law. Definitely it’s a rule. All these are rules. It’s not the Constitution, not a statute at all, it’s an operating rule. You know, from the administration side of the Congress.
Jennifer Briney 33:14
What I’m hearing, there is no party of transparency, basically, when it comes to their own actions.
Howard Mortman 33:21
Once again, I’ll put on my C-SPAN hat and say you’re allowed to form any attitudes and opinions you’d like from any of these facts [laughter].
Jennifer Briney 33:27
Oh, wow. Okay. So when it comes to the hearings, is there any where C-SPAN is not allowed? Do you guys get to pick or do they pick for you? I know you have limited crews and cameras and sometimes there’ll be 20 hearings in a day. So why does C-SPAN go to the ones they go to?
Howard Mortman 33:46
I love you for asking that. Every day, we have what is called a shoot meeting. At 3:15 every day, our programming department gets together and we go through every event that’s happening the next day. I would throw out a number here, and this changes, but let’s just say we have eight to ten potential events we can cover. Each event gets weighed against the other. When Congress is in session, a lot of hearings, and hearings for us take precedence or dominate over what else is out there. But on any day, we could be choosing among hearings, we could be choosing among think tanks, press conferences, different events around town that we could potentially send a crew to. So in the end, very important to note, just like the government doesn’t give us a dime, the government also doesn’t tell us what to cover. These are all independent editorial decisions that we as journalists make. Now we cover the government, we cover politicians, but they are not telling us what to cover. We are judging for ourselves. Now your question, how do you judge, what do you decide? We try to pick topics of national importance, issues that involve money, budget spending of people’s taxpayer money. We are a country that’s $31 trillion in debt. People want to see what their politicians are spending money on. So that’s always at the top, financial and money related hearings, confirmation hearings, things that we think matter to a broad national audience. We also want to hear, I don’t say both sides, but as many sides of a topic as possible. For an example, but it’s not real, climate change. We want to hear many different perspectives on what drives climate change. If Republicans are running a hearing, we want to get hear their witnesses as much as the Democrats witnesses, for an example on a hot topic. You know, have we heard from these people before, or are these new voices? So a lot gets weighed into that, into the decisions of what we cover. Now, when Congress is not in, August for example, when there’s less for us to cover on the Hill, we have more chance to go around and cover events at think tanks, the Heritage Foundation on the right, Brookings on the left, you know, as much as we can get balanced in the totality of what we’re covering of many different voices and topics.
Jennifer Briney 36:28
How many crews do you have?
Howard Mortman 36:32
I think we could send out, depending on the number of cameras per shoot, maybe 6-10 crews every day. Definitely during COVID, the hybrid hearings, the virtual hearings, we’ve been able to show, because we have not had to send crews to those. The downside is the hybrid virtual hearings just don’t look as good as a hearing in person. We show them, we want to, and that’s part of the process, and for the last three years, that’s all Congress had been doing. Now they’re back to more in person or hybrid, so we’re able to send crews. But it’s roughly around 10 events. For hearings, 2-4 cameras. As we are taping this podcast, two days before the final January 6 hearing, we have been the pool for that hearing, which means our camera coverage of the January 6th hearings has been what you have been watching on other networks. For the January 6 hearings, we’ve sent 8-10 cameras to those and the difference is stark. You can really see very dramatic pictures and video of the room, you can see audience reaction, you can see who’s sitting with whom, and you can see a lot more. So the more cameras you put in, you really do get a stark difference in what you can see.
Jennifer Briney 37:57
So two questions about that. I’m going back to the distribution. You know, I know Fox News is getting $1.50. I know MSNBC is like a little bit below that. And yet, you guys are doing the physical work of putting the cameras there and manning them. Do they revenue share with you for this free labor you’re providing for them?
Howard Mortman 38:21
Let me explain the pool. The pool is shared video. It’s expensive, so we pay into it. Here’s the value we get in return. We don’t have the resources to follow the president around the country. So we are not shooting the president or visiting Donald Trump rallies every weekend. We’re showing that, but that’s not our crew. We don’t have the resources for that. When the President goes overseas, the G7, the summits, when the Vice President was just inAsia, we don’t have the resources to send crews there. So we benefit. Thank you for asking that and coming to our defense. I will say in this case, we don’t need your defense and your anger. Because we do get value out of that. You’ve expressed the things that probably we could use your anger about, but this is not one of them. We can afford to go to Capitol Hill. We can’t afford to go around the country and around the world covering the President but we still value, we still get their video off that.
Jennifer Briney 39:18
So it feels like a fair partnership?
Howard Mortman 39:20
I appreciate everything you’re expressing but you can stand down on that one.
Jennifer Briney 39:24
And then the other questions about the hearings, how long in advance do the members of Congress know that you’re going to be in the room? For me there is a stark difference between a C-SPAN hearing and an off-C-SPAN hearing with the behavior in off-C-SPAN hearings being sometimes shockingly bad, but they don’t behave like that when they know you’re in the room. So when they’re planning their speeches, do they know you’re going to be there or do they have to be more on the fly?
Howard Mortman 39:56
Great question because it goes back to this meeting that we have at 3:15. They won’t know until 3:30 the day before, if we’re there. They will have pitched us and they will have sent notes to our assignment desk saying, you know, “Come, the Judiciary Committee is hearing these judges for nomination” or “we’re doing a markup” or whatever the issue is, talking about the budget, appropriations, health, whatever. And they will have probably pitched us several times prior to that shoot meeting. But we only decide at that shoot meeting and then after it’s done, our assignment desk starts sending out the crews, and then we notify the people who have pitched to us that “Yes, we are covering your event.” So it’s far less than 24 hours, maybe 18 hours, that they know that we’re covering. And that applies to everybody, to a think tank, to anybody who we are covering and sending a camera to.
Jennifer Briney 40:52
I feel like that would be enough time to tailor my five minutes to be talking points instead of real question.
Howard Mortman 40:59
So it’s funny, I’m going to be doing a podcast, I think it’s going to appear in November, of examples, and it was a lot of fun, of members of Congress in hearings demanding yes or no questions. You know, how they always say “Yes or no? Answer the question.”
Jennifer Briney 41:24
Lindsay Graham? [laughter]
Howard Mortman 41:26
Yeah. “Explain the theory of relativity. Yes or no.” This is not me expressing this, we have somebody else saying this who was on another podcast, saying that they always say yes or no after they give lengthy statements. Let’s say they have five minutes. Four minutes and 30 seconds of their time is their own statement. “Yes or no?” You know, this is a thoughtful concept, “yes or no?” So that is a dynamic in the air if you watch the hearings.
Jennifer Briney 41:57
Well, this is why people appreciate what I do because I just skip right over those people. They don’t make the highlight reels. This is my opinion, obviously and you don’t have to say anything about if you don’t want to, but I’ve been kind of stunned that when I really break down these hearings to what’s substantive, how often I don’t need the members of Congress at all. It’s really just the witnesses and their questions aren’t really all that helpful. It really is a lot of five minute speeches, especially if you guys at C-SPAN are in the room.
Howard Mortman 42:32
So this is really important what you’re talking about here. This goes to the value of the hearings, this is where people don’t get us. As the PR guy, I see a lot of media mentions of C-SPAN where they don’t get us. We’re not like anything else on TV. It’s my opinion, since we’ll share some opinions here, it’s really the value of the hearings where you get the experts, you get the people who are giving information, both sides, and you want to learn from them. Yeah, boy, you can fast forward a lot of the speeches. I want to hear from the experts. Here’s an example. I will tell you this, eight or ten years ago Seth Rogen, the comedian, testified on Alzheimer’s disease. It was a very sobering hearing. He gave a firsthand account, I think his mother has Alzheimer’s, but he’s very much involved in the Alzheimer’s movement.
Seth Rogan 43:34
I started dating my wife Lauren nine years ago, when her mother was almost 54 years old. The first time I met her parents, being the mensch that I am, I was excited to spend time with them and make Lauren think I was the type of guy she should continue dating. It was this trip, the first time I met my now mother in law, that Lauren first admitted to herself and then to me that something was off with her mother. I guess the clues were unfortunately easy to spot since both of Lauren’s mother’s parents had Alzheimer’s disease. Soon after this trip, at 55 years old, Lauren’s mother was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. After forgetting who she and her loved ones were, my mother in law, a teacher for 35 years, then forgot how to speak, feed herself, dress herself, and go to the bathroom herself. All By the age of 60. Lauren’s father and a team of caregivers dedicated their lives to letting my mother-in-law be as comfortable as she can be. They would love to do more but can’t because, as you’ve heard, unlike any of the other top 10 causes of death in America, there is no way to prevent, cure, or even slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. We started Hilarity for Charity. Hilarity for Charity is a fund we have as a part of the Alzheimer’s Association to raise money to help families struggling with Alzheimer’s and support cutting edge research. That’s right. The situation is so dire that it caused me, a lazy, self-involved, generally self-medicated manchild, to start an entire charity organization. People need more help. I’ve personally seen the massive amount of financial strain this disease causes, and if the American people ever decide to reject genitalia-driven comedy, I will no longer be able to afford it. Please don’t. Therefore, I can’t begin to imagine how people with more limited incomes are dealing with this.
Howard Mortman 45:20
Everybody was interested in what Seth Rogen had to say. But there were four or five other witnesses who were experts in Alzheimer’s who also testified at that hearing. The Hollywood-driven press only care about Seth Rogen, but ignore the others. I guess Seth Rogen was fine, it was really interesting when he said, but likewise, what the others, the experts, had to say about Alzheimer’s disease and funding of it was so interesting as well.
Michael Hurd 45:49
Because the prevalence of dementia sharply increases with age, the aging of the population itself, particularly when the baby boom generation reaches an advanced age, will increase future costs. The cost for care purchased in the marketplace will increase in real terms from the 2010 value of $109 billion dollars to $260 billion in 2040. Dementia is very costly, on average. But these costs are unequally distributed, some households spend nothing while others might spend more than $100,000 per year.
Dr. Francis Collins 46:25
Until a couple of years ago, we focused primarily on trying to treat people with unmistakable symptoms of advanced Alzheimer’s, those who’ve already lost many of their brain cells. The results, I’m sorry to say, have been almost entirely discouraging. But today, we are focused on earlier interventions. So many of our newest clinical trials are actually looking at pre-symptomatic patients who are at high risk, but don’t yet show symptoms. At the moment, people who have great ideas about Alzheimer’s disease who come to NIH with those, and again, we have some ideas about areas that we think are exciting, but we also count on our community to come up with ideas that the three of us couldn’t necessarily have thought about, and to send us those, and we’ve put them through the most rigorous peer review process. But their chance of getting funded right now is about one in six. So five out of six are going away with nothing.
Howard Mortman 47:21
The point of that is you, if you just sit back and listen, this is where people don’t know how to put us into a bucket, because all we’re doing is showing experts saying what here’s what the government is spending money on, here’s what you can learn. And a lot of times there’s no entertainment in that, there’s no food fights. So like, why am I going to watch that? Well, you’re gonna watch that because you are a citizen of a country that’s again, $31 trillion in debt. Where are we spending our money? What are our priorities? The country that we are giving to our kids to inherit, what’s it gonna look like? You know, this isn’t the place to get all these answers. But certainly you’re gonna hear some informed expert witnesses about where we are headed as a country.
Jennifer Briney 48:08
I say it all the time that Congress has become my window to the world. And it’s not just the bills and laws, I think the hearings are so important, because this is where the people that are making our laws are getting the information that they are using to craft those laws, and they are inviting the best and the brightest, at least you hope so, to give their expertise. There are whole events, there were whole wars I didn’t know we were in that I only found out about because of the hearings. But because of the behavior of, I’m gonna say most members of Congress, in those hearings, just sucking up time. They’re not questioning, they’re giving speeches. There are a few very talented members of Congress that when I hear their voice I pick up my pen, I’m ready to take notes. But they’re the exception. And I think that it’s a shame that the media, as you’ve correctly identified, the snippets that they choose are the ones that tug at your heartstrings and are the drama where, at least for me, the really fascinating stuff is putting together the stories from the testimony, what the experts are telling you. Because of the weird structure of the hearings, I think sometimes you have to rearrange it a little bit. I enjoy doing it and I don’t find it all that hard. So I feel like other channels could do it using the resources you are providing to us essentially for free. Which makes me want to talk about the archive that you guys have, because I was looking for something from 1998 the other day and I went to senate.gov and I was looking in their video library and it only goes back to 2012. But C-SPAN goes back to 1979. I know you guys are nonprofit, but I know that you’re owned by cable. So who owns that archive?
Howard Mortman 50:04
That’s a great question. Well, it is ours. I mean, it’s our video. There’s a couple of things going on. In terms of the architecture itself, we have in the C-SPAN video library, as you said, everything going back — we don’t have everything from the early days — essentially the whole history of the network is available online. All the videos. So I love that you’ve gone through there and you’ve sleuthed around and found stuff. There’s no charge for this at all. We want people going in there and searching and finding stuff. It’s the hearings, it’s our coverage of nonfiction books, it’s our coverage of history, it’s our coverage of the President and the campaign trail and politics and debate. So everything we’ve ever shown on C-SPAN is in there to a great extent. A lot of the early stuff we don’t have for a variety of different reasons. So it’s our ownership of that video library, but there’s no charge. We want you in there using it for free, clipping stuff, sharing with your friends saying, you know how this is so interesting, or my father was nominated for a judgeship and here’s the video of my father as an example. So yeah. So it’s I would say it’s C-SPAN’s property but it’s the American story, it’s American politics.
Jennifer Briney 51:36
I asked that question, I’m coming at it from a place of having friends that have shows on YouTube and there are certain third rail topics. I mean, especially like COVID is a perfect example of this, that people have questioned the origins of COVID. There are people that were questioning the vaccines and just for questioning it, they were having their content pulled from YouTube. I’ve watched hearings where members of Congress are telling these tech companies “pull this stuff down.” And on C-SPAN, especially doing what I do, I’ll go back and watch some archives. There are some moments where very influential people do not look good in their behavior, and they really want this stuff to go away. So who would I ask this? My concern is, is there any way that this archive could have things be removed from it? Is there government pressure to have things removed? And how do we know that that’s not happening at C-SPAN? I know that you guys are your own thing, I know it’s a nonprofit, but I think it’s so essential. The fact that it doesn’t take government money actually concerns me a little bit, because I feel like this is a public service. And so the fact that it’s not public is a little bit concerning for me. How do we know that C-SPAN is not gonna get taken over by some billionaire monster, and all of a sudden, something that doesn’t look good for Congressmen could just be like, taken off the internet? Like, where are the protections of the archive.
Howard Mortman 53:11
That, boy, that’s such a shrewd observation. Well, let me just flat out say what you are laying out does not happen. We don’t take things down, we don’t edit. Actually, not only do we not remove content and edit or bow down to somebody to pressure people saying “I don’t want this in there,” we will, we won’t do that we don’t do that, but at the same time, here’s the value of video. We’re both junkies of the Congressional Record and you see things that are edited in the Congressional Record, that are not edited in our video. So you see words stricken down from the record, and you see alterations and people talking as if they are standing on the floor and talking about an issue and they never were there that day. So, editing occurs constantly in the Congressional Record, cleaning things up. It doesn’t occur in our video. You see in the raw videos people said it not as they want to be perceived in history as saying things, A. And B, the way we work is, we actually have an academician Dr. Robert Browning, who created the archives, he’s based in Purdue University. He started recording C-SPAN himself and everything we’ve ever aired. He is a political science academician so he is also protective about the video. Even internally, I mean, I need help finding stuff sometimes. But nobody here would ever say remove this. That’s our value. My passion is finding stuff, as you know, the raw video of what they said on the floor of the Senate and the House.
Jennifer Briney 55:11
And so are their internal safeguards to make sure that someone doesn’t just do it? Because the archive is so vast that I’m sure there are things that we wouldn’t even notice if they weren’t gone.
Howard Mortman 55:21
I’ve never thought about that. I’ll tell you, I love it, the archive video, but I would have no idea how to go in and alter anything, like I don’t even know how. I know how to clip and share and download and all that stuff, I would have no idea how to even begin to edit it. I can just assure you through my word that doesn’t happen. But let’s say a foreign entity like Russia or China wanted to, in that case, I’m sure we have safeguards against that.
Jennifer Briney 55:59
So you’re feeling confident in the archive’s safety.
Howard Mortman 56:00
I feel as confident as I can about anything in life, yes.
Jennifer Briney 56:04
Okay. That’s a pretty strong endorsement. Okay, so before we wrap up, because I could talk to you all day, I do want to talk really quick about the Weekly and your book. Congratulations on becoming an author! Let’s start with the Weekly, because that’s actually where I heard from you. When I was on C-SPAN a couple of weeks ago you were so kind and you reached out on Twitter and it took me like a week to put it together that you were the host of the podcast that I had been enjoying. It’s the cutest little podcast. It’s like 15 minutes and you go into the archive and you just tell these fun little stories. My favorite one so far is the one you did with the Queen, where she made everyone laugh. She visited the House of Representatives and she told a little joke and it was just like 15 minutes of joy. So where did you get the idea for the Weekly? How long have you been doing it?
Howard Mortman 56:59
So I actually have to backtrack, I have to go back a little bit. When you were on the Washington Journal, Jen, every so often people who I really personally enjoy their appearances on, I tweet out because I really enjoyed your appearance. I learned a lot about you and your podcast, this podcast. I’ve been following you and I know you have a following so when something clicks for me individually, I’ll tweet out x person was on C-SPAN, here’s the video in the video library. And normally I don’t get any response at all. I just throw it out there just because I want to celebrate that person being on. For you, my goodness, everybody starts responding. I left for the day and you were on, it was on a Sunday or a Saturday.
Jennifer Briney 57:43
It was on a Saturday morning.
Howard Mortman 57:45
I left for the evening with my family and came back and like my mentions like everybody’s like retweeting me. I was like my goodness.
Jennifer Briney 57:51
Howard Mortman 57:52
Yeah, just like the reach that you have in your listenership, your listeners, your audience, it was just stunning. It was great. This
Jennifer Briney 57:58
Well this is the mothership. They are excited for me, they know that other podcasters want to be on Joe Rogan, I was called by C-SPAN.
Howard Mortman 58:08
Anyways, a tribute to you as a podcaster and you’ve been doing this for 10 years. I am new to this. C-SPAN, big picture, we have a suite of program-driven podcasts: our Q&A program, our weekly hour program, Brian Lamb Booknotes+, kind of an outgrowth of what he did a Booknotes, it’s an original podcast, he does interview someone for roughly about an hour. We do presidential tapes like the LBJ and some history driven presidential programming as a special podcast. Shannon Rice, I have to plug her, she manages all this through Kate Mills, also C-SPAN Radio. So podcasts as a concept are important for us at C-SPAN. The Weekly, I’ve been doing this since last year, since September of 2021. Steve Scully, who used to be with C-SPAN, did the Weekly as an interview program, like a topic driven interview program. He left C-SPAN and they brought me in to do this current incarnation of it to demonstrate exactly, as you were saying, the value of the archives, the value of finding gems. I love this, this is a passion. I enjoy, I love going through the C-SPAN video library and finding things and with a podcast, given enough time, you can make a story out of it. I love that you brought up the Queen example because everybody’s mourning the Queen’s death, but nobody remembers that she spoke to Congress in 1991 and she opened with a joke. There have been plenty of British Prime Ministers who have spoken to Congress. Churchill did it four times. Only one time has a monarch done it and she brought the house down with a joke. And so that was fun just to go through and build her week in Washington in May 1991 as a podcast. So the Weekly is just a collection of five, six, seven, eight, nine clips, and creating a story, a narrative out of these clips.
Jennifer Briney 1:00:24
I love that. When you’re going through the archive, do you use the user generated clips? Because, I’m not gonna say it’s new, it’s been maybe like five years since you guys started that, but I find that when I’m going to a hearing, I want to see is this one gonna be good and if it has like 10 clips that are user generated, I know that it’s worth my time. Do you use them in the production of the weekly?
Howard Mortman 1:00:44
I do, and I’m going to tell you how I cheat a little bit. Sometimes, if I have the concept in mind then I go through to see if the video supports it. A lot of times I have concepts, and it sounds good, but in the end, there’s no audio-driven videos that really support it and I kind of just move on. But sometimes I go to these hearings or events, and I see others have made clips of things I have missed and that helps inform the podcast. So yes, definitely, the audience participation in the video library, it actually plays a big role for me. And your example of you know, hot hearings, hot events will have many clips that the audience has made on their own.
Jennifer Briney 1:01:23
Yeah that’s a really cool feature that you guys added. It’s a lot of fun. I should actually participate in it more. Now that I think about it, I’m probably wrong about this, but don’t the users that do that, can you go to their page and see all of their clips?
Howard Mortman 1:01:37
Yes. So we don’t have to, but we have given the capability for people to create their own user profile. And you know, you can call yourself Jen Briney on there and every clip you make is then available to be seen by others. So if you have, particularly if you have events or hearing moments that you particularly enjoy, you clip it and they’ll see that you’ve made this. You can do it anonymously, too. You don’t have to identify yourself, but if you want to, you can say “it’s me and here’s all the clips that I’ve made.
Jennifer Briney 1:02:06
I feel like if I made an effort to do that, it could be advertising for the show. Because if you look up me….
Howard Mortman 1:02:13
You could do Congressional Dish as your ID up there and say, here’s all the clips that Congressional Dish has made.
Jennifer Briney 1:02:18
Although I do target, because of that dynamic we talked about before, I do target offC-SPAN hearings. I check every hearing I watch to see if it’s on C-SPAN and if it’s not, it actually goes higher on my list because that’s where the bad behavior is.
Howard Mortman 1:02:32
I love it.
Jennifer Briney 1:02:33
Yeah, because I mean, I want some drama too. You know, I’m in the media. And then your book, that sounds so interesting to me because I was raised Catholic, went to a Catholic school, but I have also issues with religion. So when I started watching Congress all the time, I noticed that they opened with a prayer. And so you’ve written a book on this subject. Would you like to?
Howard Mortman 1:03:04
By the way, what you just said is a shock to 99% of the people out there with whom I talk about this book. Nobody knows that the first thing Congress does is pray. Even before they do the Pledge of Allegiance, they have prayer. There are official chaplains in the house and there are official chaplains in the Senate, with staff, all taxpayer paid positions. And Congress from the very beginning of the US Congress has opened with a prayer.
Jennifer Briney 1:03:33
Do you know what religions those paid chaplains are?
Howard Mortman 1:03:40
They’ve all been Christian. Only recently has there been a Catholic. For the most part, they’ve been Protestant. The current ones, now in the Senate, the chaplain, Dr. Barry Black, is a Seventh Day Adventist. In the house, Margaret Grun Kibben is a Presbyterian. He is African American and she is a woman, it’s the first time we’ve not had white males as chaplains in both the Senate [and the House.] But it is a tradition that a Christian minister gives the prayer to open — I’m sorry, a chaplain gives the prayer to open every session. On rare occasions, for whatever reason, the official Chaplain isn’t there. It can be as simple as taking a vacation or ministering other needs in the House or in the Senate. When that happens, then they have a guest chaplain come in and give the prayer in either the House or the Senate. On rarer occasions, the guest chaplain is a rabbi. So this is where I come in because I watch Congress for a living, basically, and watch C-SPAN, like you, I was intellectually curious about Congress opening its session with a prayer. Now, I have to say, since you said you’re Catholic, whatever your phrasing was, I’m Jewish, and when there are rabbis involved, I just was particularly interested in a rabbi guest chaplain. I have to say, because I sense your skepticism about this whole practice, that this is not a book for or against the tradition of Congress praying, this is, for the first time, a history of prayer in Congress.
Jennifer Briney 1:05:35
Just knowing you for like these two hours, I have no doubt.
Howard Mortman 1:05:40
That’s so funny, you have no doubt that they should be doing this.
Jennifer Briney 1:05:45
So have all the paid positions of the chaplains been “team Jesus” and then rabbis get to be guests?
Howard Mortman 1:05:53
You’re so funny. You’re saying things in a way that I’ve never, I’ve never framed it that way before, “team Jesus.” Many prayers end with “in Jesus’s name, Amen” and it bothers a lot of Jews, to hear Jesus being invoked so many times. They are told that the prayers need to be ecumenical, and need to appeal to many different religions. At the same time, in the end, you are praying to the Almighty, you know, you’re not you’re praying, not praying to the members of Congress there. But these prayers should be accessible to many different religions. And the purpose here, the purpose of the guest chaplains is to demonstrate the diversity of religions in America. It is in fact, if you are worried about church state issues, and you definitely should be worried, you know, if that’s an issue for you, the Establishment Clause, by virtue of there being rabbis, there are also Imams, they are they are Hindus, there have been Native Americans who have given the prayer. That, in a way, proves that there is no established religion in America because of the diversity of religions. The book is called When Rabbis Bless Congress: The Great American Story of Jewish Prayers on Capitol Hill, and it zeroes in on rabbis, the hundreds of rabbis who have given the prayer in Congress since 1860, was the first one. And it tells the story of who they are, and what they said. I’ve spoken to Jewish groups about this, with the same — not as eloquently as calling it “team Jesus” — but with the same kind of concern about “these are all prayers about Jesus,” I hear that a lot. And a lot of the Jewish American experience and story have been told through the rabbi prayers. Rabbis have invoked the Holocaust, rabbis have invoked 9/11. They’ve invoked the struggle for civil rights. Wars have come through as themes in some of these Rabbi prayers. So the American story is told in these prayers given by Rabbi guest chaplains, as well as the American Jewish story and experience has been expressed through these prayers as well.
Jennifer Briney 1:08:08
That’s really cool. That’s really cool. It’s one of those things, I guess, because I’m a — I can’t say I am a Catholic, I’m not practicing — but because I went to Catholic school, I mean, I’ve just done a lot of like, “oh they’re praying again,” and just get through it and go on with my day. But the skepticism you were sensing for me, and you touched on it, was if I wasn’t on Team Jesus, like why aren’t I being represented? We’re supposed to have a separation of church and state, like that has to feel bad. And so that was the question I had written down. Like, are there Muslim clerics? Have there been Buddhists, like, Has everyone been welcomed? Although I’m still uncomfortable with the idea that we only have one team on salary.
Howard Mortman 1:08:49
You know, it’s funny, your skepticism is so well placed. I’ll just tell you, I speak to synagogues virtually, like over zoom about the book. And I can run through all this. I can say, you know, rabbis have done it, Imams have done it. And they’ll still say, “I still don’t like it, I still think it’s icky.” And I totally get that. And in fact, you know, I’ve always just been intrigued by C-SPAN showing these prayers. It’s the only nationally broadcast prayer in the government setting that you have now. But so, you know, with all skepticism included in this, the fact is from the very beginning of Congress, it is a tradition. And it’s very important to note that it’s been protected by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has ruled that you can begin a legislative session, a government entity, like a county zoning hearing can begin with a prayer. And the court has ruled on that over and over so you know, it’s a protected part of our tradition supported by the court, but you can still say “I just don’t like it.” That’s a totally valid opinion to have on this. But, you know, if you buy the book When Rabbis Bless Congress: The Great American Story of Jewish Prayers on Capitol Hill, you will learn about a segment of Congress, you probably are not aware that Congress prays, and just be exposed to this alley of history. You may not have been aware of this tradition of Congress.
Jennifer Briney 1:10:20
Yeah. And we’ll include links to The Weekly and to your book in this episode’s Show Notes and make that really easy for people to find you. But yeah, I think we hit our hour. We weren’t sure. [laughter] I knew we’d have an hour. I could keep going for a while. But thank you so much for your time. And yeah, I was intending to put this on my Patreon feed, but this is a main episode for sure. So this one’s probably gonna go out for Thanksgiving. So thank you for letting me take time off for the holiday.
Howard Mortman 1:10:50
Can I just say one last thing? Thanksgiving is so painful on me as a C-SPAN employee because you go to the Thanksgiving dinner, and everybody’s got an opinion on Trump and on Biden. And my C-SPAN hat of no opinions extends to the Thanksgiving table as well. So thank you for airing this during Thanksgiving, it might be the only fun that I have is knowing that I’m on your podcast.
Jennifer Briney 1:11:11
Yeah, my family just knows like, I don’t want to get into it, I’m not working right now. So yeah. Well, thank you so much.
Howard Mortman 1:11:18
You did wonderful, thank you.
Jennifer Briney 1:11:25
Isn’t he the sweetest? I swear, everyone I’ve met at C-SPAN is just like him. They are just the best, kindest, and I say this with all the love about my kindred spirits, nerdiest people in the country. C-SPAN is in good hands, as long as this group is in control of it. I do want to note, I do know that in that interview, I didn’t push Howard on the censorship/security of the archive issue. I know those questions remain unanswered. But I decided to move on because Howard’s not really the right person for those questions. He’s the Communications Director, like he said, he’s kind of like doing all the PR, he’s selling C-SPAN to the world. He’s not in tech policy or security. And so I let it go. And so if you do reach out to him on Twitter, or anywhere else, please be nice to him. And don’t give him any shit for his lack of an answer. Because I’m still curious about it, I just need to find the right person to ask. And I don’t think that person was Howard. And I’m sure that I can find who to ask because, again, the people that work there are the best people, they definitely want to protect the archive as much as I do. And it was just really cool being there. And seeing how they interact with each other, meeting the employees, many of whom have worked there forever, at least I’m talking decades, which is a sign of a happy and honestly inspirational work environment. And everyone that I’ve met loves working there. And they’re just all in on the mission. So I also really understand his answer, where he just like, can’t fathom that anybody there would delete stuff from the archive. I can see how that’s just kind of absurd to him. But my question really wasn’t about the trustworthiness of his coworkers. I adore his coworkers, and I’m inclined to trust them too, but it’s a question of what happens when C-SPAN is not in the hands of these wonderful people anymore, whether it’s because they move on, because of a purchase of C-SPAN, or just because of the passage of time. What happens if an asshole gets control of C-SPAN? You know, like, what rights do we as the public have, if any, to our nation’s best digital information archive? Because we have nothing else like it, at least not that’s public, that I know of, on any government website. All I know for sure is that C-SPAN needs to be protected. It is a national treasure. But I need to find the people in charge of protecting it to get those answers. So stay tuned. And of course, if you agree with us that for six cents, the companies like YouTube, which is owned by Google, and Hulu, which is owned by Disney, I mean talk about money, f you think that for six cents, they should be including C-SPAN 1-3 in their lineups, please reach out to those companies and any others that are missing C-SPAN and tell them that you want it. We need to use our own market power, because I assumed it was the cable companies that were hoarding C-SPANs content, but that’s not the case at all. So we need to stand up for C-SPAN in the market and make it available for people to just stumble upon because honestly, I don’t even know if I’d be doing this podcast if I wasn’t just flipping through channels and ended up watching a hearing one day. I mean, that’s where it all began. So please do what you can if you value C-SPAN too, because I know I’m going to tell every company that I cancel with, you know the next step will be Hulu at the end of the the football season, but I’m going to tell them that I’m doing it because they don’t have C-SPAN. And it really won’t be a lie. And I will also complain to every hotel that doesn’t have C-SPAN in the channel lineup. I’m going to be a pain in the ass, because the squeaky wheel gets the C-SPAN. So squeak, squeak motherf**kers. Alright, so, like I mentioned in the beginning of the podcast, once again, this is a listener supported podcast. And I will be working very hard during the lame duck, because we have an avalanche of legislation coming up no matter who wins the House or the Senate. Because the 117th Congress has not finished authorizing our wars yet and hasn’t funded our government yet. So we have two very important pieces of must-sign legislation that needs to be done before our members of Congress go home for the holidays. So it’s gonna be a very busy lame duck. This is always the most dangerous part of the Congress, the very end of it, when, for some strange reason, we allow a bunch of people who just got fired to maintain their power for a few more months. So that’s what we have coming up. And if you support the effort to actually read through the bills that they are passing into law, please support this podcast on congressionaldish.com using whatever financial method works for you. And today, I’d like to thank three people who have done so for years. All of these people are Executive Producers, which means that they have contributed at least a cumulative $535. And you can do that all at once, or you can do it over the years. But once you hit $535, you get to pick an episode that you’re especially proud to have helped co-produce. And you get to become an Executive Producer, which means you put your name on the episode or your anonymous voucher, it doesn’t matter, but you’re pretty much voting with your wallet on which episodes are the most valuable, which not only tells new people which episodes they should listen to, because the ones with the most executive producers are definitely the most popular, but it also tells me which episodes are the most valuable. And it really does help guide me when I’m making my decision on which topic to cover. Because I’m telling you the hardest thing about doing this podcast is narrowing down all the information. I mean, we could have 100 Congressional Dishes and still not cover everything. So Executive Producers, you really do help inform me about which episodes are the most valuable. And so first up, I’d like to thank Dave Kovatch. He’s now an Executive Producer on Episode 258, which was about Gain of Function Research. And Dave sent in a message along with his executive producer request. And he said, “Jen, loved this episode, it’s about time someone spent some time discussing the origins of Covid-19, although at this point I fear too much of the evidence has been hidden or destroyed for us to ever know for sure. I agree with your conclusion that ‘No one knows for sure’, but I’d bet some serious coin there’s a number of people convicted on less circumstantial evidence than what we have on the lab leak theory.” Well, I’m pretty sure that you sent this in before the ProPublica investigation. So that episode, the Gain of Function research episode that I did, it was highlighting the only hearing that has taken place so far in Congress about not only the origins of COVID-19, that was definitely discussed, but about gain of function research in general, which is essentially taking viruses and making them stronger, for various reasons, but it’s dangerous research. And that episode told me that our oversight of it is severely lacking. So I basically just pieced together the most important parts of that hearing. There really wasn’t much of me in it at all. But out of that hearing came a report that was done by the Senators that were on that committee on the lab leak theory where they concluded that COVID-19 probably came out of a lab, which as we know from that episode, it was a very partisan episode, the Republicans were the only ones that bothered to show up. The Democrats didn’t participate at all. So that was a partisan report. There’s just no way around it. However, at the same time, or like a little bit after that report came out, ProPublica and Vanity Fair together — and like pro publica is one of the most legit journalistic enterprises that exists, like if it comes from ProPublica, I trust it — they’ve been doing an investigation for months, and came out with a article and it’s a long one, but and I’ll put it in the show notes for you, but I read every word of it. It’s fascinating, and their investigation had the same conclusion that we can’t know for sure, but it seems highly likely that COVID-19 escaped out of the Wuhan lab. This is not crackpot theory. This is ProPublica. So I do recommend that everybody go and check that out, especially if you enjoyed the Gain of Function Research episode. Because, boy, did it back up what those scientists said. Dave, thank you very much for becoming an EP on that particular episode, you just moved it up the popularity ranks. And one benefit that will come out of the Republicans possibly taking over one or more branches of Congress, like I said, we don’t know yet, but this is a topic that I know that they would pursue. So yeah, let’s just see what happens. I would also like to thank our executive producer, Brooks Rogers, and that name, Brooks Rogers has been supporting Congressional Dish from the beginning. And I am not exaggerating, he was one of the very first people to support this show. And so he has definitely achieved Executive Producer status, and he is putting his name on CD261: The Inflation Reduction Act. And Brooke sent in this message, he said, “Hi, Jen, it’s hard to believe it has been nearly a year since I last messaged you. I would like to use my EP credit for CD261: Inflation Reduction Act. I waited until this morning to listen because I knew I would need a snap back to reality (actual law and policy) after the horse race day. This is some of your best and in my opinion, most important work yet. And that is really saying something. You threaded the nuances and explained things better than the mainstream media, no surprise there, and the ‘experts.’ Thank you again for all you do. I am proud to be an executive producer and dedicated contributor.” And I’m very proud to have my name next to yours on that episode, you have been supporting the show for so long. So thank you so much, Brooks, it was great to hear from you. And I think that episode is really important too. I’ve already heard from people that are expecting to save many thousands of dollars because of it. So yeah, details matter. And they can be lucrative. And it would be nice if our media gave a damn and told us these details. But you have found the show, and so you will know the secrets. And then this is very cool, for the first time in one episode, we have a second executive producer credit going on the same episode because Chris Bergan has also picked CD261: Inflation Reduction Act for his executive producer credit. And what is very fun is that Chris submitted a voicemail in addition to his notes. So here is what Chris had to say:
Chris Bergan 1:22:27
Hello Jen, this is Chris Bergan from Iowa. And just want to say thanks for CD261: Inflation Reduction Act, there are a lot of podcasts about it, and yours is certainly up there. One thing I want to pass along you might have missed on it is there’s tax credits, basically, my understanding is that people who have not previously been able to participate in tax credits, like rural electric cooperatives, will now be able to get tax credits and sell them to a third party. So now they can invest in clean infrastructure, solar, wind, and including nuclear, small modular nuclear, which is very exciting for me as a nuclear advocate. And yeah, I guess the phones are ringing off the hook at a couple of the nuclear companies that are getting ready to go ahead with that. And I also want to mention, you have a Wikipedia page. Hurray for that. Looks pretty good. So thanks very much for everything you do. And yeah, so your husband needs to branch out from just doing solar electrical, small modular reactors also need to be hooked up to the grid. So talk to you later. Stay shiny.
Jennifer Briney 1:23:49
Well, thank you, Chris. It’s so fun to hear your voice. I don’t think a lot of people know there is a voicemail box because I like never use it. But the number is 337-707-0307 if you also want to send in a voicemail with your executive producer request. But um, yeah, as for those tax credits, there are so many corporate tax credits. So thank you for pointing that out. I decided to skip them in the episode because the episode was already long enough. And I decided to focus on the ones that we could apply for as individuals. I also figured that the corporations and even the small ones, like rural electric cooperatives, would have lawyers to help them with that stuff in a way that US peasants generally don’t. But yeah, so many corporate tax credits that will help for the green energy, it’s a really good bill. So yeah, thanks. And then Chris also sent in a note he said, “I’ve been following the nexus between energy and climate for over a decade. So producing the Inflation Reduction Act episode would be fantastic. By the way, I’m a founding member of the Eco Modernist Society of North America at esna.earth, and we have YouTube blogs nearly every weekend.” Cool. He also said that in his voicemail, he forgot to mention that hydrogen is not an energy source. It’s an energy source like batteries or pumped hydro. I don’t know what you mean by that. Back to his note, he said, “Thanks to both of you, Lauren, and Jen, for creating the only decent government news podcast.” Well, thank you so much for supporting me. And I know that you’ve also been supporting me for a long time, and you are very much appreciated. And, again, it was really cool to hear your voice. I really liked the voicemail system. Thanks for sending that in. Okay, so I am going to go for a run, I guess. I’m training for a half marathon, I’m doing a terrible job. I’ve never felt fatter or slower, even though I’ve been training for two months so I do need to go out and do this run. And I’m just waiting for these results to come in. To be honest with you, I have been expecting, because it’s very frustrating to me how it’s been reported that the Republicans have had the house in the bag. And it was from election night. It was like, well, the Republicans are going to take the House, it’s just a matter of like how much and as I sit here on Saturday, November 12, it is very possible that Democrats keep the house. And so I’m just getting really sick of people predicting the future and calling it news. And so I’m going to ignore all of that. But because I fell for it, I guess, I have done a lot of research on what the House Republicans want to do with their powers. They put out something called their Commitment to America, which on Twitter, and just like in the punditry, there was a one pager that they were floating around, and I was under the impression that that was all they submitted, that it was just like this really vague thing. But once you go to their website, it’s not vague at all, there’s dozens and dozens of pages worth of specific policies with specific already written bills that they have ready to go on day one. And so I spent pretty much every day since the election, reading those bills and those policy proposals. And so if the Republicans don’t take the house, I don’t really have an episode for you. But you know, that’s fine. That’s what I get for listening to people who are predicting the future, and not just waiting to find out what the actual results are. And I’ve already learned a lot about what the Republicans want to do. So, you know, there’s no such thing as wasted knowledge. But yeah, I’m just gonna sit here and wait for the results. And once I have something to tell you about what to expect, because even for the lame duck, what the Democrats are going to do is going to depend on if they have power in the House, the Senate or both for the next two years. So even when I look forward to the next like, couple of weeks and months, I don’t know what to expect. I’m really sitting here going like, Alright, guys, so I just got to chill. So that’s what we’re gonna do. So once I have an episode for you, I will give it to you. Until then, be happy. And I’ll talk to you soon. All right, bye!
David Ippolito 1:28:12
[outro music] Tired of Being Lied To