In what must be the 21st century's crassest error of judgement by a senior government regulatory official, Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin J Martin allowed himself to be photographed standing on a hotel bed in the company of a Washington media lobbyist and a satellite radio company executive.

The photograph appears in the June/July issue of cool-fueled male magazine Details, part of a photo essay on people influential in the media world. It shows the usually preppy Bush-appointed Martin on a bed without jacket or tie, his shirt open at the neck and sleeves rolled up.

Although that might be cool fashionwise, it could prove suicidal careerwise - especially in view of the company Martin is keeping.

Perched on edge of the bed playing cards is Alex Vogel, a partner at Washington lobbying firm Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, whose bluechip communications clientele include Sprint, Ebay, Yahoo and Viacom. His partner in the on-bed card game is Eric Logan, an executive at XM Satellite Radio.

Between them the two men represent a cornucopia of corporations regulated by the Martin-led FCC. The magazine describes the trio as members of a select media group that is "quietly shaping your world" and "determining what you'll be watching and listening to in the near future."

The ill-advised [but possibly not inappropriate] photograph has caused amazement in Washington media circles - not least because of lawyer Martin's reputation as a shrewd political operator.

Asks a thunderstruck Jeff Chester, executive director for consumer-advocacy group Center for Digital Democracy and a frequent critic of Martin and the FCC: "Didn't the guy realize there is a phrase 'you are in bed with the industry'? It is incredible!"

Making the most of this opportunity-of-a-lifetime, Chester continued: "I think the chair of the FCC should be above reproach, should have a open mind on the issues and certainly not be seen in bed with lobbyists metaphorically, pictorially or otherwise."

Meantime, lobbyist Vogel displayed an uncharacteristic naiveté: "The fact that Kevin is standing on the bed and I am sitting on the bed and everyone in Washington is like 'Oh my God, it's a regulator in bed with a lobbyist'. I honestly believe that didn't necessarily occur to the photographer."

Interestingly, although hard copies of Details' June/July issue are selling like hotcakes around the Washington circuit, all reference to the article - and its damning photograph - have been excised from the publisher's website.

Data sourced from Washington Post Online; additional content by WARC staff