Editorial: Playing to the camera
Congressional hearings sometimes have real, rather than manufactured, moments of drama, such as when a president is being impeached or an attorney general is clinging to his job. But more often, they’re a dog-and-pony show that sheds little light while giving lawmakers a chance to play to the cameras.
The latter was the case Wednesday, when pitching superstar Roger “the Rocket” Clemens took the mound on Capitol Hill to answer allegations that he used performance-enhancing drugs. It’s not that steroid abuse among professional athletes is an inconsequential problem. Judging from revelations in the Mitchell Report, which spurred the hearing, abuse of steroids, human-growth hormone and other banned or illegal substances is widespread in Major League Baseball, and a wink-and-nod tolerance at that lofty level inevitably casts a cloak of acceptance over similar abuse among college and even high-school athletes. It’s a serious, potentially deadly, problem, and in that regard, Congress has a rightful role in investigating its extent.
But once the cameras come on, it’s nigh unto impossible for lawmakers to keep their eye on the ball and avoid falling into bad habits. Thus what would seem a non-ideological matter ó did Clemens use these drugs and subsequently lie about it? ó gradually disintegrated into a pointless game of politics. Democrats generally hurled hardball questions at Clemens, while Republicans directed the heat at Brian McNamee, the former personal trainer who claims he frequently injected Clemens with performance-enhancing drugs. Only in Congress could a hearing on steroid abuse devolve into a political foodfight. But at least Democrats and Republics did put aside their differences long enough for a little bipartisan fawning. “We are very proud of your professional achievements,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) told Clemens, according to a Washington Post article, while Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) admired “the stamina and body build that you have.” Hard-hitting stuff, is it not?
The upshot, after 41/2 hours of inconclusive testimony, comes down to this: A defiant Clemens said he didn’t indulge in doping. McNamee said he did (with some apparently collaborating statements from fellow pitcher and Clemens’ friend Andy Pettitte). Because the matter could involve potential criminal charges, including lying under oath, the FBI or the U.S. Department of Justice may have the last word.
In baseball parlance, this was a classic no-decision for Clemens, although his reputation will suffer regardless of what happens next. Nothing was resolved, and it isn’t clear whether Congress will take its review any further. But if lawmakers are compelled to take this into extra innings, they should pick a quiet room, far removed from the TV cameras. One bush-league performance is enough.