It's No Joke to Illinois

Blagojevich (M. Spencer Green - AP)
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Thursday, January 29, 2009; Page A19

Something very strange -- and disturbing -- has happened with Rod Blagojevich. Even as the legal wheels are turning in Springfield that will remove him from the Illinois governorship, he has become a media star, warmly and affectionately treated by people who ought to know better.

When Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, charged Blagojevich two months ago and released excerpts from court-approved wiretaps showing the governor obscenely calculating how he could cash in on the opportunity to fill Barack Obama's Senate seat, the initial public and press reaction was, "What a sleaze."

But even as Blagojevich has abandoned any pretense of mounting a legal defense of his actions, he has launched a full-scale public relations campaign, hitting the morning talk-show circuit to parade his impudence under the guise of proclaiming his innocence.

It's as if there were no bill of particulars filed against him and approved almost unanimously by the members of the Illinois House of Representatives, who have endured six years of his misgovernment.

By simply asserting the claim that the state Senate trial on those charges is a "witch hunt," Blagojevich has tried to duck responsibility for his foul words and deeds while cloaking himself in phony martyrdom.

When Blagojevich was interviewed on TV and cable networks, the first -- and maybe only -- question should have been: "Why the hell are you here in our studio instead of where you belong: testifying under oath in the Senate trial in Springfield?"

Instead, he was allowed to charge, falsely, that the rules of the trial prevented him from calling defense witnesses or making his own case.

To my chagrin, the PR offensive seems to be working, not only with TV talkers who often confuse celebrity with more serious attributes, but with journalists who ought to know better.

In a single edition of The Post, two of my most admired colleagues, Eugene Robinson and Dana Milbank, treated Blagojevich as if he were a kind of lovable rascal, a scamp to be enjoyed for the laughs he provides.

Milbank wrote that whatever his shortcomings, "the man's entertainment skills are unimpeachable."

Robinson went further overboard. Blagojevich, he wrote, is "about to be impeached on grounds of loopiness, obnoxiousness and a bad haircut." But, he added, "it is unclear to me what else Blagojevich has done that a duly constituted jury would find illegal."

Saying he doubted that anything in the Fitzgerald tapes "are enough to put him in jail," Robinson added that Blagojevich's "talents would be wasted there," because "the man was born to be a talk-show host," so quick with a quip and so gifted a mimic that he would earn big ratings.

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