Call from Oklahoma: I don’t know what’s going on in this world right now. Obama’s a Muslim and that’s all I’ve got to say.
C-SPAN’s Steve Scully: Obama is not a Muslim, but thank you for making your comment.
Call from Michigan: We need to get rid of every Muslim out of the country [sic], because they are sent here to kill us.
Scully: OK, we’ll leave it at that.
HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” has a running segment titled “The Most Patient Man on Television Endures the American Public,” which features clip after clip of C-SPAN host Steve Scully taking unscreened calls from racists, foul-mouthed viewers and other nuts.
The first time C-SPAN vice president of programming Terry Murphy watched the collection of offensive calls – most of them abruptly ended by Scully – he rolled his eyes. “My second reaction was to laugh,” he tells me.
One “Most Patient Man” viewer asks in the YouTube comments: “Does he even have a call screener?”
Murphy says: “We do talk to the callers before they’re let on the air” to find out what they want to discuss, but “we don’t use a delay. We have talked about it but we’ve always wanted to keep [the call-in show] as open as possible.”
The number of profane and racist calls hasn’t increased over the years, the programming chief contends. “More people are highlighting them,” he notes, “but it’s a very small percentage.”
Murphy says he knows Oliver’s segment could encourage others to make prank calls to C-SPAN, “but so be it.”
I was hoping to get Scully’s reaction to “The Most Patient Man,” but C-SPAN wouldn’t make him available. Its spokesperson writes in an email:
Steve is one of several WJ [Washington Journal] hosts, and we actually don’t put our hosts forward to talk about it. Simple reason: as you probably know, C-SPAN has a long tradition of “no celebrities” baked into our DNA. From our perspective, it’s not about any individual host, but about the broader program… it’s about the content and information, and callers. So we just don’t offer up any individual host.
Like it or not, C-SPAN, Oliver has made Scully a celebrity of sorts. I wish I could have gotten the host’s reaction to this comment from a “Most Patient Man” viewer: “I know it’s strange…but I am starting to develop a crush on this man. At first I just felt sorry for him but I know now it’s more than that..wish I could get his number!”
“Last Week Tonight” executive producer Tim Carvell says of the Scully segment:
That was a lucky discovery by a producer named Matt Passet, [made] while working on our piece on infrastructure. He found that guy hosting a daylong call-in show, and we were all so enamored with him that Matt and one of our editors, Anthony Miale, started assembling montages of him.
Oliver & Co. have aired two “Most Patient Man” segments so far, but regular C-SPAN viewers know there’s material for many, many more.