While the jury of Rod Blagojevich's peers may have left a lot of people disappointed, Chicago's big five television news organizations performed their duties admirably, blanketing the airwaves with live, compelling and, for the most part, commercial-free coverage for close to three hours Tuesday afternoon.
lagojevich talks to reporters after verdict
Starting around 3:50 p.m., when word of a verdict began morphing from rumor to fact, all five stations went wall-to-wall with their news anchors and guest analysts in the studio and many of their top-gun reporters in position at the Dirksen Federal Building. Three of the stations preempted their network newscasts and stayed on until 6:30 p.m., with the Fox and Tribune Co. outlets bowing out a bit earlier.
Although much of the first hour was spent vamping while awaiting a verdict, reporters kept their speculation within reasonable bounds -- even if none came close to predicting the stunning outcome. Other than reporting the verdict itself, the highlight of the coverage was the live press conference afterward with Blago's father-and-son defense attorneys, a spirited Sam Adam Sr. and a nearly fanatical Sam Adam Jr. Both sprinkled their comments with references to various reporters in the crowd in a way that seemed more friendly than adversarial.
As usual, WLS-Channel 7 was the best with the most, as anchors Alan Krashesky and Linda Yu (later relieved by Kathy Brock) wisely yielded the floor early and often to reporter Chuck Goudie, who never was more in his element. He and colleague Paul Meincke delivered the facts in such a clear, coherent and concise way they made it look effortless.
WBBM-Channel 2's ballsy Jay Levine was the first to proclaim the verdict an unmitigated disaster for the feds, calling it "the biggest defeat for a U.S. Attorney in Chicago in half a century," and flatly declaring that it "can only be viewed as a major embarrassment, a major defeat for Patrick Fitzgerald." Others would echo that analysis, but none would do so in such harsh language.
WMAQ-Channel 5 news anchor Allison Rosati seemed almost giddy at times ("You can feel the excitement in the newsroom!" she chirped just before the verdict came in) and inexplicably kept fiddling with her Blackberry on camera. But whatever gravitas Channel 5 lacked with Rosati and Rob Stafford on the anchor desk was redeemed by its killer lineup of reporters Mary Ann Ahern, Phil Rogers and Carol Marin on the scene. Describing the atmosphere of the courtroom, Marin said: "It was like being in a church during a funeral."
Every station deployed dual anchors except for Channel 2, where Jim Williams, subbing for Rob Johnson, handled his chores solo. WFLD-Channel 32 was notable for the appearance of its two newest hires -- news anchor Bob Sirott and political editor Mike Flannery -- both wearing shirtsleeves on the anchor desk alongside Robin Robinson.
At several key points, WGN-Channel 9 lagged behind its competitors, with anchors Tom Negovan and Lourdes Duarte resorting to reading emails and Facebook comments from viewers. At least they finally had the good sense to sit down at a desk after standing around awkwardly in front of shaky hand-held cameras for far too long.
Andy Shaw, the former Channel 7 political reporter who now fronts the Better Government Association, came closer than anyone to questioning the intelligence and "lack of sophistication" of the jurors in his comments to Channel 2's Dana Kozlov. His snooty put-down made him sound like a second-guesser at best -- and an elitist at worst.