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Stand-Up Chairman

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin took gentle aim at the cable industry, the other commissioners and himself and his critics at the annual Federal Communications Bar Association's chairman's dinner last week in Washington.

Martin played off the perception in some quarters that he has picked on cable while cuddling up to the Baby Bells, and chided his fellow commissioners—particularly Republican Robert McDowell, who has proved an independent-minded addition and an occasionally tough third vote for the chairman.

The dinner had been scheduled for December but had to be moved to April.

Martin said that the rescheduling had been due primarily to “problems with the commissioners. Commissioner McDowell refused to participate at all in choosing the menu but then expressed outrage that we were serving Swiss cheese. And I, of course, wanted the whole meal to be served à la carte.”

Saying some people allege he has been picking on the cable industry, he said he was trying to do all he could to show that was not the case: “I just set up a private meeting of cable-industry leaders with a very senior White House official. The hunting trip with the vice president is all arranged.”

Martin got some extra mileage out of a joke he told at last year's dinner about the KGB-like atmosphere at the FCC, a reference to reports that his management style tends toward the controlling. Last year's joke was used against him by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who suggested to Martin that the criticisms of his management style were no laughing matter.

“As a result,” he said, “when we got together to write these remarks, there was—and there is really no other way to put this—a KGB-like atmosphere at the commission,” a line that drew extended applause.

Saying the FCC was not like the KGB, Martin ticked off the top reasons why:

7. The KGB knows how to terminate a backlog.

6. KGB agents speak Russian. Linguists are still unable to determine the language of FCC orders.

5. KGB can monitor NSA activities.

4. KGB officials don't wait for public hearings to decide things.

3. The KGB is run efficiently.

2. The KGB knows how to handle recusals (McDowell recused himself from the AT&T/Bell South merger vote, forcing Martin to accept merger conditions pushed by the Democratic commissioners).

1. The highest rank ever achieved in government by a former KGB official: president. The highest rank ever achieved in the U.S. government by a former FCC chairman: FCC chairman.