Friday, February 6, 2009

Lincoln’s friends in the media

In 1864, Abraham Lincoln said of a local newspaper, “The Journal paper was always my friend; and of course its editors the same.” I do believe even today, 145 years later, Lincoln would still say the same about this Springfield paper, now called The State Journal-Register. If you’ve been watching online, their bicentennial coverage has been incredible. Please continue to watch their website and read the printed version where it’s available for all the latest in Lincoln news, especially of the happenings in Springfield.

Media back then not always so kind
Back in Lincoln’s day, the media wasn’t always as kind as they are today. In many cases, they were just out-and-out mean and nasty to that tall, awkward fella from Illinois. I recently heard a speaker muse that he wondered if the press could get away today with what they did then. Lincoln really was bashed – in articles, letters to the editor and cartoons. Next time you’re at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, check out the slanted room – a magnificent, but troubling symbol of the way the media portrayed him.

Cheerleader and friend
Today, though, that Illinois newspaper’s not Lincoln’s only friend in the media. If he were to repeat that compliment now, it would surely include another entity. I do believe Lincoln would say, “The Journal paper and C-SPAN were always my friends; and of course the paper’s editors and the network’s founder the same.”

You know, I’m not really sure if it’s C-SPAN founder and Chief Executive Officer Brian Lamb’s personal passion for Lincoln that propels the network to devote so much interesting and educational programming to Lincoln and Lincoln-related books, places and events, or if it’s that he’s such a smart businessman who knows people need and want to hear stories that inspire. One thing’s for sure – Lincoln does inspire.

Not always a C-SPAN fan – or any other
Mr. Lamb (and the rest of the world via the worldwide web), I have a confession to make. I’m not a TV person. Okay, it’s out – sort of like making a confession to a 12-step group.

It all started when I was a little kid. Sometimes we had a TV, but poor reception, other times, the one we had didn’t work. That was okay, though. You see, we didn’t need one. We had books – and games – and imaginations. And, yes, some of those books were about Lincoln – and some of the things we imagined were days in a one-room schoolhouse.

So, when I attended the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum opening in 2005, I barely knew what C-SPAN was all about. I didn’t watch it – any more than I watched any other television station.

C-SPAN and Lincoln
I remembered that in 1994 the network had produced a reenactment of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates at Knox College in my old hometown of Galesburg (Ill.). I remembered that the deli in the grocery store where I worked* had catered the box lunches for the event, and I could even tell you most of what they had in those boxes. You see, it interested me – not because there were some with turkey sandwiches and some with ham, not because they contained a serving of a deli salad, a bag of chips, a cookie and a drink.

It interested me because Old Main, that historic building which I sometimes drove by on my way to work as a grocery clerk like Lincoln - and where Sandburg paused on the way to his milk route and was inspired to tell the Lincoln story - had been selected as the place where the C-SPAN documentary would keep history alive.

Again in 2005, C-SPAN was at it – this time documenting many of the events surrounding the opening of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. They covered the symposium with 23 Lincoln scholars and the dedication ceremony with President George W. Bush and other dignitaries speaking, including a lesser-known public servant, a Senator named Barack Obama. Did you know you can still watch that ceremony today online? It’s just as inspiring to hear both Presidents, Senator Dick Durbin, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and others speak online today as it was in Springfield on that historic April day.

The debates and the Museum opening aren’t the only ways Lamb and his network honor Lincoln. Through the years, a number of Lincoln authors have been invited to speak about their books on Booknotes, Book TV and Q & A.

Just recently Lamb and Susan Swain came out with their own book based on many of those interviews, Abraham Lincoln: Great American Historians on Our Sixteenth President.

For some time now, C-SPAN has dedicated a website to Lincoln in celebration of his 200th birthday. You’ll want to be sure to visit it, as there are hours and hours of Lincoln programming there and more to come.

Don’t get too far from your TV this next week, as C-SPAN is sure to be covering many of the Bicentennial events. Will I turn the TV on now? ‘Fraid not, but I won’t miss their coverage.

Once again, as in 2005, I’ll be there to savor firsthand the events they’re filming. Then, when I return home from Springfield, I’ll be able to watch some of them over and over on C-SPAN online. I hope you join me.

If only all of us could be so lucky to have friends as loyal as Lincoln’s. I have been.

* The Galesburg store where I worked, Giant Foods on East Main, is now closed, but was my first career. Even then, my dream of someday studying a former store clerk from New Salem was alive and well. As I counted the office each morning, I paused on the rolls of pennies, savoring the symbolism they represented, and thought to myself, “Someday I’m going to write about Lincoln…” And I am! (Lincoln’s not my only subject, though. Sometimes I write from the heart. When the store closed, I did just that. Even though I wasn’t living my dream back then, those days weren’t wasted. Read why.)

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