“Public Official A”, Review: The Sins of Rod Blagojevich Are the Sins of Our Time

Before there was Individual-1, ten years ago, Public Agent A — ridiculous and rowdy Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who we remember had “that thing.” who was “fucking gold” —the former Barack Obama. sits in the Senate – and wasn’t just going to give it up “for nothing.” Blagojevich, a Democrat, was arrested for corruption in December 2008; dismissed from his post in January 2009; tried on some two dozen counts; convicted of more than a dozen; and sentenced to fourteen years in prison, where he remains. Like Individual 1, Blagojevich makes a strong impression. Between his arrest and trial, in an effort to earn money, support, and a few more minutes under the sun of public attention, Blagojevich tried to star on the show “I’m a Celebrity.” . . Get me out of here! ”(His wife, Patti, took the role instead and happily ate a tarantula alongside Lou Diamond Phillips); claimed to be“ blacker than Barack Obama ”; wrote a memoir for ‘pity; and appeared on “Celebrity Apprentice,” where Donald Trump congratulated and sacked him. In recent months, Trump has pitched the idea of ​​commuting Blagojevich’s sentence. is a Democrat, it seems, he’s open to working with.

WBEZ Chicago’s new “Public Official A” podcast revisits the Blagojevich saga – FBI agents, non-tender jobs, wiretapping, show biz and all. When Blago’s downfall happened, at the start of Obama’s presidency, it seemed like a funny trifle, a silly spectacle to hear about and laugh about. Now, like so many political scandals of the past, this seems like a clue that could help decode the eternally confusing present. Several popular Trump-era podcasts, including “Slow Burn,” on Watergate and the impeachment of Clinton, and “Bag Man,” Rachel Maddow’s deep dive on Spiro Agnew, offered a perspective on our current family of scandals. policies – or vacations from them. The story told in “Public Official A” has more explicit connections to Trump – “Celebrity Apprentice,” the possible switching, the presence of Robert Mueller – and thematic. Every man considers himself a victim, even if he has indulged in the grossest and dirtiest of personal transactions; each is a self-proclaimed populist who uses television and outspoken speeches to captivate audiences; each of their stories has the superficial appeal of a shady comedy but the substance of a tragedy. The clown distracts us from the criminal.

In Blagojevich, in other words, “Public Official A” has this thing that’s golden. So, we ask ourselves, what will he do with it? WBEZ, long a cornerstone of American public radio, recently produced excellent, nationally-relevant, Chicago-focused biographical podcasts including “Making Oprah” and “Making Obama,” which producer Colin McNulty also produced. this show. At first, “Public Official A” is as lively as expected, but a little less crisp.

“I mean, kind of like, the ticking of it all,” said host Dave McKinney, state policy reporter at WBEZ. McKinney, a longtime reporter who covered Blagojevich’s story for the Chicago Sun-Times, is with two FBI agents, Patrick Murphy and Daniel Cain. They recall a 5 A.M. meeting at the Golden Nugget Pancake House in December 2008 with their then boss, Special Agent Robert Grant. It’s a scene with great potential: FBI agents in a restaurant, planning the details before arresting the governor. But it doesn’t exactly tick. “Today is so important,” McKinney continues. “Do you remember how nervous the two of you might have felt?” Murphy says pleasantly that he thinks he may have been “on edge”; Cain says they were pretty well prepared. McKinney keeps asking broad and structuring questions: were they eating? Drink coffee? —Which gives more ho-hum answers. There is a bewildering amount of this sort of thing throughout the podcast. The pace picks up as Grant describes the outline for the layout of the Governor’s property on a towel, and the music of a ’70s cop show begins to play quietly in the background. (The show’s theme song is also fun, casually evoking “Stray Cat Strut” and an vibe of naughty slyness.) But the narrative unease returns when, suddenly, we’re inside Blagojevich’s house, in having a nice conversation with Patti.

“The morning of December 9, 2008 – how does your family view this day when the calendar is December 9 – is that something you don’t know or think about? McKinney asks Patti. She tries to ignore him, she says. “I mean, it’s painful,” he says. “I know it does, and I know you’ve probably experienced it a number of times. But you and Rod are here, and I don’t know if you’re still awake when the doorbell rings, but… ”The phone rang, she said. “Is it in your room or?” Yeah, upstairs. Etc. I had an almost physical urge to edit it. The scene is interesting but low-stakes: Blagojevich was arrested peacefully for crimes he committed, and he was subsequently convicted, based on ample evidence, in a fair trial. The careful extraction of every detail, including the emotions of FBI agents calmly doing what they should and a wife who doesn’t appreciate the fair pursuit of her husband, feels laborious and inessential.

Beyond that, it’s disorienting to hear McKinney sympathizing with Patti Blagojevich. What is useful for the maintenance process is not always useful for we hear. There is little evidence that McKinney challenges his aggrieved viewpoint or the press for things that shed light on Rod’s crimes or character. When he finally asks her why Blagojevich did not “accept the guilt,” she says, “Why would you resign yourself to this if you know, in your heart, that you are not guilty?” McKinney says softly “yeah” and leaves it at that.

Sections that focus on bribery, show biz, and Trumpworld are much stronger, especially in the second episode, which hits February 1. The show ably reminds us that Blagojevich’s television appearances a decade ago were meant to curry favor with the public – a fact that Trump himself noticed, in his inimitable and grossly racial way. In a clip for “Celebrity Apprentice,” Trump speculates that Blagojevich doesn’t want to show anger at a black teammate “because, frankly, there might be black jurors” in his next trial. But it’s clear that Trump loves Blagojevich. “Governor, you’ve got a hell of a guts,” he said. “I have friends that have happened to them, they crawl in a corner, they die. You’re over there knocking, so I respect that. Blagojevich’s efforts in a 3D display for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter challenge were poor, so Trump fired him, with deep regret. This section looks like even more sinister proof that Trump admires people because they are criminals.

Today the Blagojeviches have exhausted their appeal possibilities; a forgiveness or a switch from Trump is their best bet. The podcast also handles this baffling plot point with skill. “Our fate is in the hands of one person,” says Patti. “I don’t know the president. But I know he’s watching Fox. We learn that in at least five appearances on Fox News, from Tucker Carlson’s show to Judge Jeanine’s, she appealed to Trump’s kindness and compassion – essentially, eating another tarantula – and also to his anger. In fact, his angry words could almost be his. “They make up crimes where there aren’t any,” she says on Fox. “And they, you know, are making a splash in the press just to try to bring down people who are either controversial or people they just don’t like.” Flattering Trump on Fox News: It’s a solid strategy.

Episode 2 takes a look at Blagojevich’s origins and the patronage embedded in Chicago politics, providing a fascinating and depressing perspective, and I guess subsequent episodes will continue in that vein. If you are interested or entertained by Blagojevich, the podcast is worth listening to. But I found myself wishing that “Public Official A”, which begs comparison to “Slow Burn”, would take more inspiration from this show, which is excellently written, respectfully assumes a smart listener, and shows as much as it says. . McKinney’s story can be obvious, and his presence often draws attention to itself: those many laborious questions that yield pale results; humbly proud descriptions of their own scoops; several amused mentions of the role of an informant’s bra in a needling operation. The show may seem at odds with itself, but its strengths usually outweigh its weaknesses. Just before McKinney didn’t pressure Patti over her husband’s acceptance of her guilt, mm-hmming with resentment, a clip from Grant, the former FBI special agent, on whether we should pity the plight of the Blagojevich family, provides the clarity we crave. “I mean, there are a lot of people in jail who have families,” Grant says. “Maybe Patti should take a closer look at her husband’s behavior and say, ‘You know, we’re in this situation because of what you’ve done. “

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