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In today's America, it's a given that issue-oriented partisans who want to go after a TV network, a radio talk show, a publication, will urge the buying public to boycott their advertisers. But we now have a dangerous new wrinkle, the Lautenberg Letterhead Leveler-in honor of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.), who devised it in his reelection campaign against Chuck Haytaian.

As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee's transportation subcommittee, the senator used clout to get ads pulled from the New York radio station where outspoken conservative talk-show host Bob Grant holds forth.

After Mr. Grant was labeled a "racist" in a curiously written New York article, Sen. Lautenberg recalled Mr. Haytaian had appeared on the Grant show. He also knew Mr. Grant was a Haytaian supporter. So the Senator made the McCarthyesque connection and soon Mr. Haytaian was denying he was a racist.

Since Amtrak was airing advertising on the Grant show, Sen. Lautenberg called the magazine article to Amtrak's attention in a letter. Amtrak dutifully caved and canceled those spots.

We leave it to the Senate ethics committee to decide whether a senator can so flagrantly undercut the First Amendment and simultaneously turn a taxpayer-supported, non-issue-oriented marketing and media plan into his personal reelection-campaign weapon. Is an Amtrak's ad budget the same as a federal highway-construction contract?

Although Sen. Lautenberg won reelection last Tuesday, he's now a minority party member. Gone are this heavy-handed, reckless and cynical politician's committee chairmanships. That's got to be good news for Amtrak, broadcasters and advertising.

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