Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dreadful news copy is the result of non-verdict in criminal trial of Blagojevich

We’re in the news desert these days – the jury that has the task of reaching a verdict in the criminal cases against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his brother, Robert, has been at work for 10 days without giving us a clue as to when they will wrap things up.

Yet we have the reporter-types hanging out at the Dirksen Building (and not just the daily newspaper types who are there on a regular basis), all waiting for that moment when we learn whether the masses of Illinois will be happy (“guilty”) or seriously peeved “not guilty”) with the Blagojevich fate.

WHAT THAT MEANS is that we have had no real news, but reporters hanging around having to justify their existence.

Hence, we have in recent days read much in the way of pointless copy that does nothing to illuminate the public understanding of what is happening.

Now as a reporter-type myself, I have written such stories. They get done because an editor planning the next day’s newspaper in the morning hours has to figure out a rough average of what stories will be done.

That means he/she/it (all editors are non-entities) has to allow for the story to be headlined “Blagojevich Guilty!” If at day’s end, there is no such verdict, that space still has to be filled.


The Chicago Sun-Times gave us a story that purports to tell us just how financially broke the Blagojevich family is these days. It’s too bad Rod was an Elvis fan instead of one of Ray Charles. “Busted” could be his theme music these days when he enters the Dirksen Building courthouse. Rod Blagojevich didn't make Page One of the Chicago newspapers on Tuesday, and only warranted the lower left corner (slightly enlarged for readability) of Page One of the State Journal-Register of Springfield. Yet that doesn't mean the non-activity of his trial isn't getting covered.

You might have to help Blagojevich pay legal bills was the headline of the story that says his legal team likely will tap into public funds to ensure that they get paid something for the work they did in ensuring that the former governor’s legal rights were observed during the legal process leading up to the trial.

We also learned that Blagojevich’s once mighty campaign fund is down to $76,000 – having been drained to pay legal expenses thus far.

OF COURSE, ANYBODY who was paying attention during the process leading up to the trial would have known those facts, which also came up as part of the defense team’s attempt to make Blagojevich look less venal.

What they want us to think is, “how could a corrupt man be so broke?”

In short, I didn’t think much of Tuesday’s space filler, which would never have been published had the jury on Monday made the announcement that they had reached a verdict against Rod and Rob.

But yet I can’t help but think that it offered more substance than the Chicago Tribune, which told me on Tuesday that Blagojevich is using these past few days of waiting for a verdict to catch up on his reading – although they didn’t tell us what tome Rod is purusing these days.

THEN, WE GOT the account of the California man who, in a certain twisted sense, bears some resemblance to Rod Blagojevich.

He felt the need to buy a cheap airline ticket and fly to Chicago for a few days, just so he could be a part of the Dirksen Building “scene” during the trial. For his trip, he got himself “immortalized” by the Chicago Tribune and by the company’s long-time television station, WGN-TV, with other local TV feeling the need to follow the leader.

I guess that is journalistic synergy – the company’s various properties all report the same non-news so as to make it appear more credible. They’re competing over who can report the biggest trivia about the scene.

None of this, of course, would ever have been used had the jury reached a verdict. Not that I am surprised it is taking time. The surprise to me would have been if this whole matter had been resolved by now.

BUT THE POINT is that no matter how much some people desperate for attention speculate about the significance of the amount of time the jury is taking to reach a verdict, no one really knows what will happen.

Which is why we get reporter-types on call at the Dirksen Building – just waiting for that moment when they’re informed of the need to get their duffs into the courtroom because the jury has passed along a message saying they have made up their mind.

I have heard that officials are estimating that there will be only about 1 hour notice from the moment the jury actually reaches a verdict to the point that it is read in open court. So there’s no time really for someone to decide that their reporter (and camera crew, if we’re talking a TV type) could be put to better use elsewhere – and suddenly rushed over in the event of a verdict.

Which means that the jury verdict can’t come soon enough for me. Not so much that I really care what happens to Blagojevich. It is more that I want to be spared all of the nonsensical pseudo-news stories that will continue to be written to fill space until an actual verdict comes.


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