Now, one of the roles of Congress is to make sure that said bureaucrats are interpreting and enforcing Congress' laws with fairness and dispatch. All members of Congress, no matter how populist, no matter how much they rail against "special interests," zealously protect this right of oversight. Therefore, one of the jobs of the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee is to ensure that the bureaucrats of the FCC are doing their job.
What would constitute not doing their job? A textbook example would be the FCC sitting two full years on a pending application to acquire a Pittsburgh TV station. There could hardly be a better case of a legitimate "petition for a redress" than that of the aforementioned private entity asking the chairman of the appropriate oversight committee to ask the tardy bureaucrats for a ruling. So the chairman does that, writing to the FCC demanding a ruling -- any ruling -- while explicitly stating that he is asking for no particular outcome.
This, of course, is precisely what John McCain did on behalf of Paxson Communications in writing two letters to the FCC in which he asked for a vote on the pending television station acquisition. These two letters are the only remotely hard pieces of evidence in a 3,000-word front-page New York Times article casting doubt on John McCain's ethics.
Which is why what was intended to be an expose turned into a farce, compounded by the fact that the other breathless revelation turned out to be thrice-removed rumors of an alleged affair nine years ago.
It must be said of McCain that he has invited such astonishingly thin charges against him because he has made a career of ostentatiously questioning the motives and ethics of those who have resisted his campaign finance reform and other measures that he imagines will render Congress influence-free.
Ostentatious self-righteousness may be a sin, but it is not a scandal. Nor is it a crime or a form of corruption. The Times' story is a classic example of sloppy gotcha journalism. But it is also an example of how the demagoguery about lobbying has so penetrated the popular consciousness that the mere mention of it next to a prominent senator is thought to be enough to sustain an otherwise vaporous hit piece.
Free advice to the K-Street crowd: Consider a name change. Wynum, Dynum and Bindum: Redress Petitioners.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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