The true hazards of running live broadcasts including viewer participation were on full display this week, with multiple calls into C-SPAN leading to awkward questions about GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's penis.
All of the calls came during episodes of C-SPAN's "Washington Journal," a long-running program that prides itself on encouraging viewers from across the political spectrum to call in and voice their opinions.
In the first segment, a man calls in to ask Judd Gregg, a Mitt Romney surrogate and former New Hampshire governor and senator, about how big of a lead Romney will need to secure the nomination. He then throws a curveball, asking Gregg about the size of Romney's penis. C-SPAN quickly cuts the caller off, and apologizes to Gregg.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, and then three times -- just watch the videos below, via Mediaite.
The participatory format of "Washington Journal" has, on occasion, produced other, much more disastrous results. In 2010, a man phoned in to complain about the number of calls from black people the program accepted, concluding that the network should change its name to "BLACK-SPAN."
It's hard to blame C-SPAN for the latest round of disruptive calls, particularly because the pranksters, or perhaps single prankster, manage to masterfully preface their lewd questions with comments that would suggest they have a real grasp of the issues they're expected to discuss. The third caller even brings up the problem of vulgar participants, moments before demonstrating that he is one himself. Nonetheless, the repeated incidents have led some to wonder why the network doesn't simply go with a 5-second delay, as many others do, in order to screen such comments out of the broadcast.
The idea has been thrown around before, Jim Romenesko reports, but C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb said that his "purist" ideals on the First Amendment led him to oppose such a practice.
And in a statement to Romenesko, it sounds like the network won't be changing their policy just yet.
C-SPAN has been televising call-in programs for more than 30 years now. In an average year, we might televise 38,000 calls, the overwhelming majority of which are respectful. Although it is unpleasant to hear the occasional prank caller make it to air, as a few have this week, we have thus far opted not to employ a delay in order to preserve the open nature of our town hall forum. We will continue to monitor the situation.