Historical Highlights

The Beginning of Televised House Floor Debate

March 19, 1979
The Beginning of Televised House Floor Debate Image courtesy of Library of Congress As a Member of the House of Representatives, Albert Gore, Jr., of Tennessee made history as the first Member to give a speech during the first live televised session.
On this date, the U.S. House of Representatives inaugurated live televised, “gavel-to-gavel” debate on the House Floor. “The idea is to inform the American people about the way Congress really works,” remarked Representative Charlie Rose of North Carolina, a longtime proponent of televised proceedings. For several decades, television cameras had covered special events in the House Chamber, such as State of the Union Addresses and speeches by foreign dignitaries. Coverage of the routine business of the House, however, met significant resistance. Under the direction of Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill of Massachusetts, a six-month, closed-circuit testing of a House operated television system was launched on March 15, 1977. Within a year of the experimental period, the House passed measures approving televised proceedings and funding for the establishment of its own television system. Public television and the C-SPAN network tapped into the House system for live broadcasts of the floor proceedings on March 19, 1979. Representative Albert Gore, Jr., of Tennessee was the first Member to give a brief speech before the cameras on the historic occasion. “It is a solution for the lack of confidence in government,” Congressman Gore said, alluding to the public’s post-Watergate demand for a more transparent government. “The marriage of this medium and of our open debate have the potential, Mr. Speaker, to revitalize representative democracy.” In a session that lasted two hours and 20 minutes, Representatives Millicent Fenwick of New Jersey, Richard Bolling of Missouri, Abner Mikva of Illinois, and Thomas Foley of Washington debated a measure to overhaul the House committee structure. “History was being written,” Speaker O’Neill commented at the conclusion of the session. Seven years later, in 1986, the Senate followed suit when it allowed live television coverage of its proceedings.

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