It really was just coincidence, but Newt Gingrich and C-Span arrived at the House of Representatives the same year.

Since then, 1979, they have come of political age together, with the media-savvy Republican representative from Georgia, set to become speaker in January, knowing instinctively how to exploit the unblinking television eye in the House and revealing himself to be one of the smartest chiefs in the global village.His rise to speaker might have occurred without C-Span. But his capitalizing on the media goes far beyond hogging the camera; in fact, the camera seems riveted to him, in part because his oratorical skills make him a compelling public speaker.

He is absolutist, aggressive, hyperbolic, informed, topical, unpredictable and studied in his use of supercharged symbolic language.

Beyond that, he has an astute sense of reporters' needs. He understands the potential of the new technology, including satellites and computers, and enjoys ready access to the levers of the "alternative" outlets.

(He used his own show on National Empowerment Television last week, for example, to disclose that he wanted to eliminate government financing for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.)

Above all, he knows the value of stoking the public's loathing of what he calls the "liberal media elite."

Gingrich once said his goal was "reshaping the entire nation through the news media." He is well on his way. He now commands the media, and he is the message.

"It is the source of his political power, that he is eminently quotable," said Gerald Manheim, professor of political communications at George Washington University. "Gingrich is using his facility with the media to create a framework that is forcing Bill Clinton to react, but Clinton can't because his power base is decimated. Bill Clinton is Jell-O; Newt is the mold."

Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota who is a friend of Gingrich, said: "He surely has understood the uses of the media in ways that no congressional leader has before. A lot of this relates to his concept of nationalizing the election. This was the strategy, and using C-Span was part of it - to go directly to the country, talk about what's going on in the Congress and not permit members to go back to their districts to talk about what they wanted to talk about, like the pork they brought home."

Weber said that while there are many reasons the Republicans want to reduce the power of the committees and caucuses, one of Gingrich's goals is to redirect the central debates on the big issues back to the floor "because that's where the cameras are."

He maintained that when voters can see the debates, they will undoubtedly side with the Republicans and continue to re-elect them.

Now, as the Republicans pledge to usher in a new era of openness, C-Span - which, like Gingrich, has expanded in influence and now reaches 62 million homes - has asked him to open up the entire process to cameras.

In a letter to Gingrich, C-Span chief executive Brian Lamb has asked that cameras be allowed into committee meetings, at the speaker's press briefings and, perhaps most significantly, that C-Span be allowed to operate its own cameras inside the chamber and from all angles, to present "a full, honest and accurate picture" of the goings-on.

(The cameras are now operated by government employees, not C-Span, which merely transmits the government feeds.)

It is not a simple matter for Gingrich, who is expected to make a decision next week. (Lamb is to meet with Republican transition leaders Wednesday.)

Gingrich promised openness. But as he consolidates power in his own office, such access could work against his interests. Moreover, allowing the cameras free range could hand the new Democratic minority a chance to undercut the Republicans, much as Gingrich did, when as a minority backbencher he used the cameras to sabotage the majority.

Gingrich made his name in the House a decade ago by denouncing the Democrats on the floor while the cameras rolled. What they did not show, because they were locked into a narrow field of vision, was that Gingrich was hurling his barbs at an empty chamber, when his victims could not respond.

When Rep. Thomas P. O'Neill Jr., D-Mass., then the speaker, tired of Gingrich's harangues, he ordered the cameras to pan the chamber, exposing the big-talking Georgian as something of a poseur.

A debate ensued in which O'Neill decried Gingrich's performance as "the lowest thing that I've ever seen in my 32 years in Congress." The incident made all three network news broadcasts and led Gingrich to gloat to an interviewer afterward, "I'm fam-ous."

It was only the first stage of his grand design, which was to throw over the Democrats and become speaker himself.

"His whole constituency stems from mobilizing C-Span watchers," said Mark Mellman, a Democratic strategist and pollster.