Will Blago trial be 'teaching moment' for media?

June 4, 2010

Andy Shaw

My favorite reaction to news that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was losing his Sunday afternoon radio show on Citadel Broadcasting news/talk WLS-AM (890) came from Eric Zorn. More than anyone else in the media, the Tribune columnist and uber-blogger has kept close tabs on Blago's self-serving blatherings ever since he turned up as a talk jockey on WLS last year.

Zorn's one-word response: "Pity."

But simply because Blago will be off the station's payroll --  at least until the conclusion of his federal corruption trial --  doesn't mean he won't be heard on WLS anymore. In fact, the whole point of keeping him around all that time was to insure that he returns the loyalty to the station now that he's front-page news again.

"We've maintained a relationship with the former governor with the knowledge that the day would come when we wanted to have access to his insight into the trial," said Michael Damsky, president and general manager of WLS. "Now that day has come, and we believe we're well positioned as a station to best report and comment on this trial."

In addition to having the star defendant pop up on the air whenever the mood or ego strikes, WLS has tapped Andy Shaw, executive director of the Better Government Association, as one of its main go-to guys during the trial.

Shaw, the veteran Chicago journalist and former political reporter for ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7, will deliver a daily update on the trial at noon --  smack in the middle of Rush Limbaugh's top-rated syndicated talk show --  and appear regularly with morning hosts Don Wade and Roma, and afternoon hosts Roe Conn and Richard Roeper. Conn and Roeper this week kicked off "Primetime Blago," an extended segment covering highlights of the trial, at 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

For Shaw, who also will appear each Tuesday and Friday on "Eight Forty-Eight," the morning newsmagazine show on Chicago Public Media WBEZ-FM (91.5), the trial provides an ideal opportunity to promote the mission of the nonprofit BGA. Declaring it "a teaching moment for the people of Illinois," Shaw said: 

"This is not just about the guilt or innocence of a former governor and his brother. The government of the state of Illinois is on trial. We have a rare opportunity to see the layers of government peeled back and revealed: How was government conducted in Illinois during those seven years? If you believe the federal charges, it was government for sale --  jobs, contracts and appointments --  to the highest bidder. It was government run as an ATM for Rod's campaign fund and the enrichment of friends and colleagues. If you believe him, it was just good old-fashioned politics, and he was always doing the right thing. So what we have here is the chance to examine the government from two sides all summer. And then, if we pay attention and we don't like what we see and hear, we have to collectively agree to change some things so that it never happens again."

In addition to radio and television appearances, Shaw will be filing daily updates on the trial for Rich Miller's Capitol Fax, and he'll be working with the BGA's Darrow Abrahams on blogging for the organization's website.

Shaw insists he has no personal interest in the outcome of the trial except as it helps the cause of good government --  and encourages donations to the BGA. "My hope is that at the end of the trial, two or three obvious conclusions will jump out at us that certain things need to be changed to make government better, and then we can push for those things legislatively," he said. "But I absolutely believe Rod Blagojevich is entitled to a presumption of innocence. It's critical not to prejudge the evidence."

A Blago footnote: On Monday, the former governor's public relations handlers launched a Twitter account for "governorrod." That's kind of funny considering that his inability to text, email or even work a computer led to his firing by Donald Trump on "Celebrity Apprentice." Blago's first tweet: "Please follow on Twitter for the latest updates. I am innocent and look forward to clearing my name."

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