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A Little Bit of Pique at the FCC Nomination Hearing

Rockefeller objects to colleague drive-bys

So I’m sitting in the beautifully ornate Senate Commerce Committee hearing room last week listening to numerous committee members praise presumptive new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Julius Genachowski when the other chairman, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., gets peeved at his colleagues for making their opening statements and then leaving the room.

Members of Congress typically do this to get in their face time at the beginning of a hearing and then leave to go to other meetings, or otherwise go about their day. Sometimes they make it back to the hearing but many times they don’t.

Democrat Mark Begich of Alaska, who defeated Republican Ted Stevens in 2008 and is new to the committee this year, told Genachowski his state is concerned about being left out of the broadband rollout due to the vast distances and a lack of infrastructure.

Rockefeller then jumped in and said he wasn’t pleased that several members had made their opening statements and then left, saying it was embarrassing both to him and to the U.S. Senate. “This is a mammothly important hearing.” He then declared only the chairman and raking member would have opening statements from now on.

His pique reminded me of an incident in Annapolis years ago when a member of the Maryland Senate was irked that the press was not listening to each word he was saying about a bill. The print reporters were reading newspapers at their table on one side of the Senate floor and I don’t remember what the broadcast press reporters were doing at our table on the other side of the floor; we probably had headphones on, rolling tape back and forth to find cuts so that we could write our stories.

This senator from Baltimore declared that we were disrespecting both him and the entire Maryland Senate. He called us “little yellow people,” a reference to yellow journalism, and actually convinced the Senate president at the time, Mickey Steinberg, to pass a rule that said if reporters were on the Senate floor, we had to be listening to every word lawmakers were saying and could not read.

We tried arguing with the Senate President after the session ended that day and got nowhere. So the head of the print press made up bright yellow T-shirts that read “little people” and asked all the reporters to wear them. We did the next day. We all filed in quietly, sat down and stared at the lawmakers. They thought the shirts were hilarious.

The “rule” was lifted.