This week, Congress resumed session after its five-week summer recess, hurtling itself once more into the breach of sequestrations, debt negotiations, bloviations. It was time for the American public to perk its ears and become informed.
Enter: “Washington Journal.”
“Our job is to explain how Washington works,” says Michele Remillard, the executive producer of C-SPAN’s flagship morning show. “We’re dorking out here,” she says cheerfully of what it means to work on the program. “We love it — we can do two hours on Medicare.”
This is a brag, admittedly, that works best in Washington.
“Washington Journal” has been C-SPAN’s premiere call-in program since 1995. C-SPAN has been America’s public affairs cable channel since 1979, specializing in “gavel to gavel” coverage of hearings, votes and floor speeches. Far, far away from the fall fashions and back-to-school pancake recipes of other early-hour TV, on “Washington Journal,” congressmen and politicos sit for three hours of grilling by involved citizens. Producers attempt to patch in 60 calls every show.
It is, therefore, the geekiest morning show available on television: the kryptonite to frivolity and the window into the minds of your fellow voters.
Dialing fingers poised, callers? Dialing fingers poised. ’Tis the season.
At 6 on a recent morning, members of “Washington Journal’s” small production staff gathered in a windowless conference room in their North Capitol Street offices to go over the upcoming show. It was violet outside; the sun hadn’t yet begun to rise over the Capitol’s dome, four blocks away.
“Can we fit, ‘What do you want to hear from the president on Syria?’ on the screen?” asks the day’s host, Pedro Echevarria, a tall, broad man with silvering hair. Each morning’s broadcast has a dedicated topic for callers to respond to.
“I don’t think that’s going to fit,” line producer Lindley Smith says sadly.
They ponder a few other wordings. “I really like the ‘What do you want to hear’ option,” Echevarria says, coming back to the previous idea. “It fosters the most discussion.”
After the meeting, Smith explains how he prepares for each broadcast: reading morning papers, highlighting pertinent statistics and poll results — “Just whatever is trending in the news,” he says, then makes a face. “I hate that word. Trending.”
‘Washington Journal” is the anti-trend show. Anti-chatter. Anti-flash. Its on-screen graphics resemble something cooked up by an industrious ninth-grader, e.g., a close-up of a newspaper marked up with yellow marker. Its on-air discussion topics resemble a civics teacher’s fever dream. One morning this week, at the same time that Dr. Oz was pretending to give Billy Crystal a proctology exam on the “Today” show, the host of “Washington Journal” was asking his guest, in a pleasant monotone, “Where do we stand on immigration reform?”