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Phil Bronstein

Phil Bronstein

Posted: December 9, 2008 03:51 PM

Nice work, Gov. Blagojevich. Really.


Two big holiday season cheers to floppy-haired Ilinois governor Rod Blagojevich for giving us faith again.

Just when we thought we couldn't squeeze out one more drop of righteous indignation. Just when continuing big executive financial sector bonuses and automaker private jet rides threatened another one of those stupid "Death Of Irony" moments, along comes Mr. Blagojevich to remind us that there are always new standards to strive towards and records to be broken.

"There's politics, then there's crime," said crusading avenging angel and US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, as though the two are so distinct. But this is clearly an Olympic gold medal moment in the history of political corruption.

You have to hand it to the governor: there's something to be said for brazen self-destruction - a "teachable moment" in the Gavin Newsom meaning - in a culture always looking for new heights of chutzpah. When famous San Francisco Madam Brandy Baldwin was busted for the third or fourth time running a cathouse in Pacific heights, her lawyer, the late Art Groza, got her a deal that saved her hard prison time and had her serving her sentence in a local convent instead. I visited Brandy there to do a story and, while she was fighting with the tough sister who ran the place and shocking the nuns with risque tales late at night, she was also running an outcall escort business from the pay phone.

But this bald-faced Chicago chicanery makes Brandy look like an amateur.

I stand here though (sit here, actually) in defense of Governor Blagojevich. While he may have tried to sell a US Senate seat, held up kids' hospital funding waiting for some kickbacks and tried to gangplank journalists he didn't like through extortion, at least he didn't cheat on his wife like Elliot Spitzer and John Edwards. In fact, this faithful husband even tried to dip into his shakedown skims and get ransom money to secure his wife a grifter job. That's got to be a Cosmo cover line on a 10-great-qualities-in-a-husband story.

His compulsion, like Mr. Edwards and Mr. Spitzer, was powerful, but chaste.

Now, I do have to say that Jennifer Aniston made better and more efficient use of her hometown newspaper (see photo) than Rod Blagojevich tried to make of his.

Even there, the Governor has done some good: He may have shined a rare and precious light on the respectable and ethical side of an otherwise vilified Tribune Company owner, Sam Zell. We don't know the details yet. But if Mr. Blagojevich's alleged lengthy blackmail scheme, page 12, subsection A (agreeing to help Tribune sell Wrigley Field in exchange for Chicago's venerated paper firing editorial page writers the Governor didn't like) actually reached Mr. Zell's ears, then whoa! That means Sam Zell, even if he does look like the deceased satanist cult leader Anton LeVay, actually stood up for principle and didn't can the journalists. And that guy just declared the Tribune Company bankrupt, so it's not like he didn't have extra pressure to say yes to the scheme.

Not only that, but the Tribune both continued to hammer the governor while also holding back on stories about the investigation to let Mr. Fitzgerald do his job. Let's ignore for now that Mr. Zell borrowed from his employees pension fund to buy them worthless stock in the company; that won't get him a 6 a.m. FBI wake-up call.

That reminds me of the time, at the old Examiner, when folks from the local Archdiocese tried to get us to pull reporter Elizabeth Fernandez off a beat covering the church sex scandal. The publisher at the time, Lee Guittar, wrote back one of the best "buzz off" letters I've ever read, eloquently defending the right of the paper to cover the story with whichever reporter we thought was appropriate.

Or maybe Sam Zell didn't know about the scheme. Let's try and stay positive all around, though. At a minimum, Mr. Zell looks better because his financial bankruptcy pales in comparison to the Governor's general moral bankruptcy.

The other shining star of this delicious scandal is Patrick Fitzgerald. Once again, he's the avenging angel. Not since 60 Minutes' Mike Wallace has there been a guy you never, ever want to have show up at your door.

So, for just a minute, even though Thanksgiving is over, let's give a big Richard Daley, Sr. thanks to Governor Rod Blagojevich for taking our minds momentarily off the full collapse of our faith-based economy, giving cable TV something else to blanket, reminding us that hubris is boundless and that actions - even among the powerful - sometimes have consequences.

Amen.

For more, read Bronstein at Large.

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