Steve Scully, 56, is the senior executive producer, political editor and on-air host for C-SPAN, where he has worked since 1990. He and his wife, Katie, have four children. They live in Fairfax, Va.
You are the 14th of 16 children.
Yeah, five sets of twins.
I was amazed when I learned that.
My parents had eight kids in five years. Then three singles, another set of twins, and then three more singles. When I was 16 I wrote a letter to “To Tell the Truth” because my mom was supposed to be on “[I’ve] Got a Secret,” but she couldn’t go because she was eight months pregnant with twins. So I sent “To Tell the Truth” a letter. They never accepted her, but they had me come up, and I was one of the impostors on one of their shows.
Did being from such a large family make you a better listener?
Oh, I have Rachel Maddow and Rush Limbaugh in my family. If you want to understand what our callers are all about, come to a Scully Thanksgiving dinner, because they are all ends of the spectrum. My dad was a Republican, my mom was a Democrat, very Catholic. Politics and reading the paper was a big part of growing up. We had and have and will continue to have some pretty raucous debates in my family.
Do any of them ever call in?
My brother called in once. My mother, who has since passed away, always threatened to call. And I’ve had assorted cousins and long-lost friends who call in on occasion.
John Oliver has a running sketch calling you the most patient man on television. Have you ever lost your temper with a caller?
No, I haven’t lost my temper. But sometimes you bite your tongue a little bit. If you only knew what we’re thinking but not saying.
You should start adding thought bubbles.
That could be dangerous.
How have callers changed over the years?
The callers, I think, are smarter and better educated. I think in large part because of the Web. There certainly is a higher decibel of either anger or frustration or emotion by the callers. If you had watched this network last year, the election of Donald Trump would not have surprised you. Because that was reflected by the people who were calling in. From Michigan, from Pennsylvania. They were very vocal and adamant.
Do you think politics is broken in America, or is it working the way it should?
It’s not broken. We’ve been through this before. If you look at the civil rights movement. Look at Vietnam. Look at the Clinton impeachment. You go back and read those stories. It was “broken” back then. “Hamilton” is such a popular show — you can go back and say that politics was broken then. No one is dying now. No one is killing each other in a duel. The difference is the cacophony of voices out there and the media, which is so disparate and getting so many different headlines out there instantaneously. It was a divided election, so that contributes to it. We’d have the same conversation if Hillary Clinton was president right now.
How would you describe yourself as a journalist?
Down the middle. Asking questions you were taught in J-school. Who, what, when, where, why and how. You want to present all the facts and give the person you interview the benefit of the doubt. But you also want to hold them accountable. You want to have a robust conversation and an interview that is interesting and informative but without an agenda. Because sometimes I think that too often the biggest criticism that journalism has is that you have an anchor or interviewer or reporter who has an agenda.
On a lot of television news shows, hosts are required to be personalities. On C-SPAN, the hosts are sort of anti-personalities. It’s not about you?
I think you’re right. If you watch MSNBC or Fox or CNN, it’s all about them. And that’s what’s different about C-SPAN. It’s all about the person we’re interviewing. There’s a kaleidoscope of media out there. There are so many choices. You can get news and information through a plethora of websites and radio and cable and broadcast television and newspapers and magazines and blogs. What’s interesting is that if you look at where C-SPAN was when we started and where we are today, it’s the same mission. It’s unfiltered coverage of events and speeches and debates. It’s a chance for viewers and listeners to call in. And it’s a chance to bring newsmakers to the table and ask them not always the tough questions, but the direct questions. And sometimes they can be tough. But it’s about them and not about us, and that’s what makes it different.
C-SPAN has long requested televised coverage of Supreme Court hearings. What’s the best argument against allowing that?
Well, the justices like their anonymity, and I think they feel that television cameras would change the dynamics inside the oral arguments. Really the decisions are made behind closed doors, and we will not have cameras in there. But our point is that one-third of the government really is not covered adequately. We have the House and the Senate, and we certainly cover the president and the campaigns. We can do it with very small cameras. Don’t have to add a whole lot of lighting, and it wouldn’t interfere with the oral arguments. What a great lesson for people who really want to see what happens. To the chief justice’s credit, they have released the audio, so that’s a step in the right direction. So I’m not sure when, but I think someday we will have cameras in the court. We’re ready for it. The challenge is getting the justices to agree to it.
What is C-SPAN’s greatest attribute?
Opening up the process to the American people. And showing it. Every other network is talking over the pictures, which is fine — that’s what they do. We just let the pictures tell the story. And whether it’s a political convention, a speech, a campaign rally, a debate, that’s what we do best. There’s no agenda.
Okay, this is something I’ve always wanted to say: Thank you for C-SPAN.
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