Wednesday, Dec. 10 at Noon ET

Blagojevich, Tribune Both Fail Illinois

Kathleen Parker
Washington Post Writers Group Columnist
Wednesday, December 10, 2008; 12:00 PM

Washington Post Writers Group columnist Kathleen Parker was online Wednesday, Dec. 10 at noon ET to discuss the arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, his fight with the bankrupt Chicago Tribune and the rest of her recent columns.

The transcript follows.

Column: Ink and Stain: Zell and Blagojevich Make Their Mark


Kathleen Parker: Greetings all and thanks for stopping by. I will get to as many questions as possible, beginning now. Live from the bunker . . . kp


Philadelphia: It's kind of appalling to look at Politico and the AP and see journalists participating in the eager manufacturing of scandal.

In this case, the facts not only absolve Obama of a connection in Blago's corruption, but actually burnish the Obama camp's integrity.

But you see Liz Sodoti and the Politico crowd using words like "taint" and "tarnish" and echoing the afactual speculations of political opponents. This is the new journalism of false equivalencies and it's one that should be shouted down in my view.

Kathleen Parker: I agree it's a little early to be talking about "tarnish" and "taint," but this is all part of the 24/7 media frenzy and the continuing guilt-by-association that has plagued Obama. OTOH, I have to admit to wondering whether Obama really knew ANYone in Chicago. Ayers? Hardly met the guy. Rev. Wright? After 20 years, who knew he was so angry? The Gov? Shrug. As for Obama's record, he did put his name on ethics reform legislation in Illinois, but five months after it was introduced and one month after it reached the Senate. He replaced Sen. Dick Klemm (D), who was removed as chief cosponsor, on the very day the legislation passed. So he wasn't quite as instrumental as widely touted.


Central Virginia: I read the entire complaint last night and while I've seen a lot, I have NEVER seen anything like Blagojevich's behavior. Do you think his lawyer could go for a plea of diminished capacity?

Kathleen Parker: Good question. He does seem quite insane. Narcissistic disorder doesn't seem to cover this degree of delusion and denial.


Durham, N.C.: Blago's taped conversations speak for themselves in terms of criminality and venality. Do you not think Mr. Fitzgerald and the FBI agent's characterizations ("Illinois as the most corrupt state in the U.S."; "Abe Lincoln rolling over in his grave") were rather over-the-top and reeking of political ambition?

Kathleen Parker: I did think that this was editorializing beyond Fitzgerald's job description. Perhaps he has been overexposed to hubris and has caught the bug. And, perhaps, he needs to read his own press release: Even Blago is innocent until proven guilty by a fair trial.


Hartford, Conn.: Despite all the sexier aspects of this story, there are a few questions that have to be answered. What did Sam Zell know? When did he know it? Who are these financial advisers? Were they prepared to act on Blago's demands? Do the Trib's denials hold water? Will this finally drive Zell out of the news business? I'm not affiliated with the Courant in any way, btw.

Kathleen Parker: All good questions to which I do not have answers. Official documents thus far available do not name names, but I think "Tribune Owner" is pretty clear. Tribune Owner allegedly (according to affidavit) took to heart the governor's concerns about "biased and unfair" criticism coming from the ed board and implied that changes would be made. Brother.


Arlington, Va.: Beside the fact that Blagojevich's alleged behavior is criminal, it's seems remarkable stupid. With the previous governor still serving his prison sentence, wouldn't he think that the governor's office would be under a spotlight? His alleged crimes are so brazen; selling a Senate seat. How could he be so reckless and stupid? As for the Tribune, how disgusted are you about their apparent deal to fire editors in exchange for financial favors from the state?

Kathleen Parker: Remarkably stupid seems to sum it up for the gov's part. As for the suits in the Tribune Tower, well . . . we shall see. If you read the tape excerpts, it's not clear whether the Trib executives were really promising any real action, only that budget cuts were coming (nothing new there) and that some would be aimed at the problem department (editorial). That would be true, most likely, no matter what. All rather sketchy, but then so are the details at this point.


Bizarro Land: I hear Illinois politicians are now paying Blagojevich NOT to name them Senator.

Kathleen Parker: Some questions are comments that don't require a response, but

are worth posting for all to read. Herewith...


Santa Barbara, Calif.: I don't understand the headlines that say that the Blagojevich scandal will dog/harm Obama. When I think Obama, many things come to mind -- the historicity of his candidacy and soon-to-be presidency mainly -- but nothing that ties him to the "politics as usual" baggage of Chicago/Illinois political establishments. I think his accomplishments at his relative young age has enabled him to become a national politician, not a regional establishment who has ventured on the national stage.

Kathleen Parker: The Obama story is still unfolding, but what's clear is that he learned to play politics and to play it better. He schmoozed as needed to climb the political ladder, but seems to have kept his own cards close. He is practical and shrewd. One gets the sense that he was really no one's friend, which is probably wise.


Canidate #5: Good afternoon

How concerned should I be..?

Kathleen Parker: Candidate #5 has left the country.


Baltimore: Kathleen: Did you see the footage of Blagojevich a day before his arrest, boasting that he wasn't under a cloud, that there was nothing but sunshine overhead? Not a bad turn of phrase, but he chose to make that claim to the cameras while (1) wearing a black leather jacket and (2) surrounding himself with heavyset guys who looked like they just stepped out of a Mob social club for the occasion. Is Blagojevich utterly nuts?

Kathleen Parker: Oh, that was Blago? I thought it was Leno.


Evanston, Ill.: What do you think of the conservatives who, after the election, now say Palin wasn't ready. Charles Krauthammer comes to mind. Have you gotten any apologies?

Kathleen Parker: Hohoho. No, I'd have to say that my apology folder is empty. But

my vindication house is full.


Anonymous: Hi Kathleen, great article. While I find it difficult to keep from laughing about this guy's audacity (which actually prompted a comment from my usually-silent and grumpy teenage son), I also wonder if the crime here is that Blagojevich just took "business as usual" a little too far. One of the most troublesome issues in politics today is that EVERYTHING is for sale. Yes, it is usually a little more subtle than this, but campaign contributions are regularly made in return for favors. And maybe that is the real problem.

Kathleen Parker: Everything is for sale and car companies are cheap. Yes, politicians are corrupt and Illinois politicians are pro. What would we do without them? I'm betting Blago is wondering what everyone's so upset about. This is the way things are, that way business gets done. Who didn't know?


Fairfax, Va.: Narcissist? Just plain dumb? Both - he's been under investigation for three years re pay-to-play corruption, watched his predecessor go to prison for corruption, and reads headlines of his investigation nearly every day. Fifteen percent approval rating BEFORE yesterday -- probably has Stalin beat.

Kathleen Parker: One of the reasons Blago wanted the editorial staff silenced is because the Tribune had been calling for his impeachment. So his record was hardly pristine. He knew he was in trouble and, in fact, ruminated that a Senate seat (for himself) would make an indictment more difficult.


Washington, D.C.: I accept that Blagojevich was the criminal target of the eavesdropping, but I am convinced the political target was Barack Obama. They wanted to capture Barack Obama on tape haggling with Blago about who should get the seat.

Fitzgerald obviously wants to balance his Plame/Libby record with a scandal involving a Democrat. That's a very political motivation for fishing on the phone lines of Democrats, particularly a phone so close to the president-elect's sphere. Why can't Fitzgerald be tough enough to accept that pleasing everyone isn't the proper goal of a United States Attorney?

Kathleen Parker: Ya think? The backstory on this will come out eventually, but I would say your instincts are right regarding the bulls-eye on Obama's back.


Downstate Illinois: While some of Fitzgerald's comments about Blagojevich tipped over into editorializing, I think the tapes really are pretty damning and Fitzgerald DID make a serious effort to prevent the journalists who were present from assuming that everyone who appeared in the transcripts was necessarily dirty.

Zell is a good case in point. I certainly don't think he's in the clear yet, but the word out of the Tribune at the moment is that the senior editors and McCormick, the writer to whose piece Blagojevich objected the most strenuously, never heard any suggestion that they should tone down their criticism of the Gov. Just because Blago had the impression that Zell would pressure his people doesn't mean that Zell actually did it.

Incidentally, Blagojevich may be innocent until proven guilty, but I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone in Illinois (at least outside Blago's circle) who didn't think he was criminally sleazy even before he was arrested.

Kathleen Parker: I agree with this assessment and have spoken to folks on the Trib ed board. Full disclosure: I know the editorial page editor well - they've run my columns for more than a decade - and have relationships in management. I know all to be honorable people, despite my criticism of Zell. He's another matter. But no matter what corporate management might have implied - or the governor inferred - the men and women downstairs in the newsroom wouldn't have played ball.


Smithfield, N.C.: Wasn't it fascinating that Patty Blagojevich curses like Ava Gardner? She and her foul mouth are another victory for feminists, right?

Kathleen Parker: Ms. Blagojevich has disqualified as First Lady material, I'm afraid.


Richmond, Va.: For an ordinary citizen, Gov. Blagojevich's blatant, brazen corruption schemes are truly shocking, especially since his plans to enrich himself and his cronies come on the heels of a long line of other Illinois government people -- from a just-prior governor to a congressman and state politicians in-between, all who have been elected at one or another time to clean up the rackets. How come Illinois politics can't get dirt free?

Kathleen Parker: This is the question du jour. What's up with Illinois? it's a matter of old habits and entrenched systems. Very hard to clean up, though Mr. Fitz may have started something this time. Chicago journalists have a spring in their step today.


Bullseye: What do you think is the real reason for this comment? Or better still, is it a full spectrum of folks waiting and still digging for Obama dirt, or is this a targeted group.

I just get the feeling that after he caught everyone off guard, the old establishment want some payback for disrupting the chairs (both Dem and GOP) and business as usual. Will he be able to govern given the fact that he will moer than likely have some internal moles hell bent on undermining him and a frothing media at the ready to pounce with "AH-HA, see we told you he was too good to be true, after we told you he was really good."

Kathleen Parker: To clarify: I'm not suggesting that Fitz had Obama in mind. He's got a cornucopia of people to go after. But Obama's seat is up for grabs, the governor is trying to sell it, Rezko is a common connector. All those relationships intersect at some time or other. If Obama were to be dragged into it (and I'm not suggesting he will be), then plenty of people on the right would be deliriously happy. Obama is and will remain a target for a certain group. It will be Clinton all over again. No bimbo eruptions, but corruption-eruption would be just as dandy. That's the way it is.


Fitzgerald's motivations: My understanding is that he's been investigating Blago for a long time and felt the urgency to get it out now because he didn't want the Senate seat to be tainted. If he had ulterior motives, he would have tried to unearth and publicize this 2 days before the election.

Fitzgerald is principled and very, very good at his job.

Kathleen Parker: I agree that Fitzgerald is principled and very, very good at his job. His halo is so bright, I have to wear sunglasses when he's on the tube. Inexplicably, I have begun washing my hands repeatedly.


Nehi, Va.: Doesn't this make one wonder about all the Senate appointments over the years? I'm not saying any of them were venal, like the scheme involved here, but where is the line? Take Delaware--surely the appointee is conveniently holding the seat for Joe Biden's son.

We might want to restrict a Governor's power a bit here, or at least make it transparent. Everyone who wants the job should file a request with the Governor.

Kathleen Parker: All Senate appointments are political, nothing new there. Of course you're going to pick someone who can be helpful to your state and, by extrapolation, to yourself. Sometimes, in states that allow it, governors even appoint themselves. South Carolina's Donald Russell did this in the sixties, but voters didn't like it. They elected Sen. Ernest Hollings in 1966 to replace him. But most governors don't speak quite so openly about the direct exchange of pay-for-play. At least smart ones don't.


Fairfax, Va.: Do you think Blago will bring out his entire baggage file and bring down the whole machine? He seems to be the type that will spill the entire freak show and bring down everyone with him, just to show, hey this is not something out of the norm.

Kathleen Parker: This seems to be what's coming. Let's hope so. I'm seeing a new television series . . .


Kathleen Parker: Gotta run. Thanks for the questions. Cheers.


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