It was truly pathetic to flip past MSNBC Tuesday morning when the cutesy news anchor (not one-time Chicago news type Tamron Hall, but one of her colleagues) was talking to the “reporter” camped outside of the Ravenswood neighborhood home of Rod Blagojevich.
The cable news station wanted to get the “shot” of Blagojevich skulking out of his home on his way to the Dirksen Federal Building, where he was scheduled to be arraigned on the 16 criminal charges (for now) that he faces in U.S. District Court.
BUT IT TURNS out that Blagojevich managed to get out of the house without being seen. So what us morning television watchers who were hoping to get a significant tidbit or two of news got to see was a reporter standing in front of an empty house, with speculation taking place between reporter and news anchor about how Milorod could have snuck out of the house.
(He probably went out the back door and had a car meet him in the alley, but that is a different issue).
There also was much speculation early in the day as to whether federal officials would consider Blagojevich to be a significant enough person to let his vehicle enter the underground garage – which would allow him to get into the building without having to walk through the main entrance where various television types were set up in hopes of getting that “shot” of him looking incredibly guilty on his way to court.
Tuesday was a news day of significant manpower (and women too) being used to try to get various set shots of Blagojevich, and have somebody in place in the courtroom at the exact moment that the one-time Illinois governor said the words “not guilty” to the criminal charges he now faces.
FOR THAT IS all that occurred on Tuesday. I could have written the straight news lead first thing in the morning, before it even happened. It would have gone something like this:
CHICAGO, April 14 – Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich pleaded not guilty Tuesday in federal court to 16 counts that he engaged in illegal behavior while in office – including an attempt to “sell” a U.S. Senate seat to whoever was willing to donate the most money to his campaign funds.
Tuesday was a purely procedural step that begins the legal maneuvering that is likely to take up the bulk of the next two years of Blagojevich’s life (I honestly believe we will have a trial underway at about the time of the November 2010 elections. Call it a gift to the Illinois GOP, if you will).
Even if Blagojevich’s intent is to someday negotiate a deal and plead “guilty” to some sort of charge so as to avoid a trial (and I don’t have any knowledge that he intends to do that), the process requires that he plead “not guilty” at his arraignment.
ONCE HIS CASE is assigned to a trial judge, then the serious talks can begin between federal prosecutors and whoever winds up serving as Blagojevich’s legal counsel.
My point in engaging in this diatribe is to say that much of the “real” news about Blagojevich that we’re going to know before a trial is the information that is already out there.
Once a trial gets underway, then testimony will cause illicit details (and some things that are not illegal, but just embarrassing) to seep out, bit by bit.
But until then, we’re going to be in a series of legal hearings to determine the extent to which the federal prosecutors can hammer Blagojevich with every trivial tidbit they can dig up, and to what degree they must show legal restraint.
I JUST CAN’T get worked up at the legal minutia, even though as a one-time courts reporter (including little stints filling in at the Dirksen Building’s press corps) I find such details intriguing.
People need to keep in mind that Tuesday’s hearing was never going to result in disclosure of some major detail that would result in Blagojevich actually getting that 20-year prison sentence that some people gleefully like to speculate about.
Neither are any of the court hearings that are likely to come up this year.
In fact, there’s really only one reason to pay any attention to the court activity of coming months – and that is Blagojevich himself.
THIS IS THE man who has shown a willingness and an ability to turn his surroundings into a circus. After stints on “The View” and David Letterman’s late night talk show, it is obvious that the man has little shame.
Some of us would like to see if he actually stops to try to make some sort of statement to TV types, perhaps one laced with obscure (to the masses) poetic references. Perhaps he will put on an elaborate attempt to dodge cameras. That would give us the sight of Blagojevich being chased down the street, and some future network news anchor tripping, then being stampeded by the masses.
I’m wondering if Blagojevich can surpass Joey Lombardo. He’s the Chicago outfit guy who back in 1980 attempted to cover his face while passing news cameras. But instead of using his hat or his jacket, he used his copy of the Chicago Sun-Times, which had a hole cut into its pages to allow his eyes to see in front of him.
Can Milorod top “the Clown?” We’ll have to wait and see.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Brothers Blagojevich (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/15/us/15illinois.html?_r=1&ref=us) officially declared their innocence Tuesday in U.S. District Court for northern Illinois.