Now WUSA-TV reporter Bruce Johnson can truly say he’s seen it all in his 30 years covering District mayors.

By serving as MC for the swearing-in of the new mayor and councilmembers, the Channel 9 stalwart flew dangerously close to giving the appearance that he was operating on behalf of the folks he covers.

When Johnson stepped to the stage at the D.C. Convention Center to kick off Wednesday’s inauguration, murmurs about the propriety of taking to the podium at Mayor Adrian Fenty’s invitation rippled through the local press corps. To the reporting fraternity, seeing the veteran D.C. political reporter slapping backs, hugging councilmembers, and glad-handing was a wee bit uncomfortable.

And what else was there to talk about as the speeches from each duly-sworn public official droned on and on and on? After all, Johnson is the chief D.C. politics reporter for a major television station and by most accounts the dean of the Wilson Building press corps.

Johnson quickly dismissed the suggestion that he somehow violated his journalistic vow of total independence from the pols you must be prepared to slam. “Anybody who thinks that is out their mind and hasn’t followed me over the years,” he says.

Johnson’s colleague at rival station WRC-TV (Channel 4), Tom Sherwood, has no doubts about Johnson’s integrity, but the MC performance leaves him open to questions about his independence. “There’s a difference between doing events that are public and doing something that is a government function,” says Sherwood. “It just gives people the opportunity to question how tough he might be on the new administration.”

And, of course, among his self-righteous press brethren, Johnson is already being accused of courting proprietary treatment from the new mayor. “After covering every D.C. mayor, I don’t expect to get any favors,” says Johnson, who points out some other media outlets have been handed a good number of exclusive scoops. “Actually, I think the Washington Post has done quite well with [Fenty].”

Johnson says the Fenty crowd is well aware that he can’t be bought off with a single gig. “When I last saw the Fentys I said, ‘Well, you know the honeymoon is over after today.’”