World and Nation

C-Span puts full archives, 23 years of history, on the web

WASHINGTON — Researchers, political satirists and partisan mudslingers, take note: C-Span has uploaded virtually every minute of its video archives to the Internet.

The archives, at, cover 23 years of history and five presidential administrations and are sure to provide new fodder for pundits and politicians alike. The network will formally announce the completion of the C-Span Video Library on Wednesday.

Having free online access to the more than 160,000 hours of C-Span footage is “like being able to Google political history using the ‘I Feel Lucky’ button every time,” said Rachel Maddow, the liberal MSNBC host.

Ed Morrissey, a senior correspondent for the conservative blog Hot Air (, said, “The geek in me wants to find an excuse to start digging.”

No other cable network is likely to give away its precious archives on the Internet. (Even “Book TV” is available.) But C-Span is one of a kind, a creation of the cable industry that records every congressional session, every White House press briefing and other acts of official Washington.

The online archives reinforce what some would call the Web’s single best quality: its ability to recall seemingly every statement and smear. And it is even more powerful when the viewer can rewind the video.

The C-Span founder, Brian Lamb, said in an interview here last week that the archives were an extension of the network’s public service commitment. “That’s where the history will be,” Lamb said.

C-Span has been uploading its history for several years, working its way to 1987, when its archives were established at Purdue University, Lamb’s alma mater.

The archive staff now operates from an office park in West Lafayette, Ind., where two machines that can turn 16 hours of tapes into digital files each hour have been working around the clock to move C-Span’s programs online. They are now finishing the 1987 catalog.

“This is the archive’s coming of age, in a way, because it’s now so accessible,” said Robert Browning, director of the archives.

Historically, the $1 million-a-year operation has paid for itself partly by selling videotapes and DVDs to journalists, campaign strategists and others.

Browning acknowledges that video sales have waned as more people have viewed clips online. “On the other hand, there are a lot of things people now watch that they never would have bought,” he said.

The archives’ fans include Maddow, who called it gold. “It’s raw footage of political actors in their native habitat, without media personalities mediating viewers’ access,” she wrote in an e-mail message.

Similarly, Morrissey said the archives made “for a really intriguing reference set.” He pointed out, however, that the volume of videos “is so vast that finding valuable references may be a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack.”