19 July 2009

Another note on my fascination with Sonia Sotomayor’s Senate hearings, and with Congressional hearings in general:

Back in the Watergate era, when my mind was glued to every aspect of the unfolding story, I gathered my information from print newspapers and television news.  Notably, in this week of his passing, Walter Cronkite  was the voice of many of these reports, and I thank him for his sane approach to delivering the story.

But (typical of me) I digress.

During the Watergate hearings,  newspapers and network broadcasts allowed you to read and listen to the reports on what had happened each day, and how the overall story was unfolding.  But the raw story unfolded on public television, which broadcast (if I remember correctly) live from the hearings room, and replayed the daily proceedings late at night.  That’s when I watched most of the drama, because during the day I was in junior high school.  And drama it was, best taken in through those live recordings, where every nuance of facial expression, seat-shifting, and raised eyebrow added to my understanding of what was happening.

Naturally, chores and homework and bedtimes chewed into my viewing hours, so I never saw the hearings in their entirety. Thank the stars for Cronkite and the others who provided us with succinct summaries of the highlights, many of which I would have otherwise missed.

What a contrast to Senate hearings in this era.  And thankfully so, Cronkite and his colleagues not withstanding.

The Sotomayor hearings were broadcast on C-SPAN 3.  I have limited television channels, and only get C-SPAN and C-SPAN 2 (which did re-air hearings in the evening).

For my viewing pleasure, I availed myself of http://www.c-span.org, where live streaming video, and recordings of every session was available to me.  I primarily watched the hearings, session by session, through their recordings, which I could then pause (to take the dog out, or fix a sandwich), or rewind (because I just HAD to revisit yet another "wise Latina" question, or watch another Perry Mason exchange).  I could also fast forward through segments I’d caught in broadcasts or on tv the night before.  It was great.

C-SPAN provides the public an interesting and very useful component of our free press, even while it is part of the government.  But in offering recordings which can be viewed NOT in real time, and can be rewound and examined as only the pause and rewind buttons can provide, they make access to raw information available to an increasing population.  It’s one thing to read about Lindsey Graham’s "unless you have a complete meltdown" comment, or see it excerpted in a tv news report.  It’s quite another to see it all in context, complete with body language and facial expressions.  And as much as I appreciate punditry, and sought lots of it during the hearings, it’s great to get the information in raw form.

Suffice it to say I’m very grateful for the internet, and for C-SPAN.