The richness and breadth of American culture has been considerably illuminated by C-SPAN's on-going series American Writers: A Journey through History, focusing on forty-five writers who have "chronicled, reflected upon or influenced the course of our nation's history." In two-hour programs, often filmed on locations of historic significance, scholars, writers, and historians have offered well-informed appraisals of the lives and work of these seminal figures.
Since C-SPAN has never featured a book dealing with Ayn Rand's fiction, philosophy, or life (apart from Brian Lamb's 1989 "Booknotes" interview--re-broadcast on "Encore Booknotes," May 11 and 12, 2002-- with her protégé and long-time associate Nathaniel Branden, about his intimate memoir Judgment Day: My Years with Ayn Rand), its selection of her for the American Writers series was a welcome surprise to those interested in her work and thought. Even more surprising was the inclusion of her image among the four writers featured on the series logo--in the company of Benjamin Franklin, Frederick Douglass, and Mark Twain.
While C-SPAN is to be commended for its decision to include Rand in the American Writers series, we regret to say that the program--which aired live on Sunday, May 12, 2002; was rebroadcast on Friday, May 17; and is accessible on the Ayn Rand page of the website for the series--was little more than a sham, failing in every respect to meet the high standards set by earlier programs--many of which we have viewed with pleasure and interest since the series began over a year ago. Though the Rand page indicated that the focus would be on The Fountainhead, no specialists on her fiction took part in the discussion, or were even cited--in contrast with the practice for other novelists, such as Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and William Faulkner--and very little was said about the novel itself. Furthermore, neither Rand's biographer nor any of the major writers on her life and work (with one sorry exception, noted below) made even token appearances. The result was an often disjointed, ill-informed, and misleading program.
Among the conspicuously missing guests were Barbara Branden (author of the definitive biography The Passion of Ayn Rand, and a long-time friend and colleague of Rand's); Douglas den Uyl (formerly Professor of Philosophy at Bellarmine University, now Vice President for Educational Affairs at the Liberty Fund, author of The Fountainhead: An American Novel, and co-editor of The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand); Mimi Gladstein (Associate Dean and Professor of Literature at the University of Texas at El Paso, the principal scholar on Rand's fiction, author of The New Ayn Rand Companion and Atlas Shrugged: Manifesto of the Mind, and co-editor of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand); philosopher David Kelley (author of The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand, and founder and executive director of The Objectivist Center, an institute devoted to open-minded examination of Rand's thought and its application to contemporary social and cultural issues); and Chris Matthew Sciabarra (Visiting Scholar, New York University Department of Politics, author of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical; editor of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, and co-editor of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand).
In lieu of such diverse experts on Rand's life and work, just three guests took part in the program, all of them affiliated with the doctrinaire, cultish Ayn Rand Institute (ARI): Eric Daniels, Jeff Britting, and Leonard Peikoff:
The producers of the American Writers series had been informed by us and others of the diversity of viewpoints within Objectivism and of the split between Peikoff's faction and more open-minded Objectivists (as detailed in articles in Lingua Franca and U. S. News & World Report), as well as of the existence of alternative experts on Rand's work and philosophic thought. Since none of this information was reflected in the final program--apart from a vague and fleeting allusion by host Connie Brod--we can surmise only that Peikoff and the Ayn Rand Institute in effect had veto power over content. All of this lends a decided irony to the emphasis by Daniels, Britting, and Peikoff alike not only on the need for freedom of thought and action but also on the virtue of personal integrity as themes of The Fountainhead and as key principles of Rand's ethics.
Finally, in what appeared to be a token gesture of independence on the part of C-SPAN, a brief clip was shown from its "In Depth: Studs Terkel" interview, broadcast last year. The inclusion of Terkel's incoherent sputterings against Rand seemed gratuitous, at best. Perhaps it was an attempt to provide some balance. But while the producers were searching through the C-SPAN archives for non-Objectivist assessments of Rand by noted scholars or writers they might have included the more articulate (and positive) "In Depth" comments of Nobel-laureate economist Milton Friedman and of the eminent cultural historian Jacques Barzun.
C-SPAN's evident relinquishing of control over the content of the Ayn Rand American Writers program, its failure to call upon recognized Rand experts not approved by the Ayn Rand Institute, its failure to verify the accuracy of the background and affiliation of its guests, its glossing over the major philosophic split among her followers, and its seeming legitimization of the apparent censorship exercised by Peikoff and his associates, all constitute a major breach of journalistic responsibility and a serious disservice to its viewers, who have come to expect far more complete, balanced, and accurate coverage.
See also "Ayn Rand's Status in American Culture."