Blago on the Offensive
You thought the tapes were a disaster. Dan Abrams reports that Rod Blagojevich’s efforts to woo Larry King and other media members are one of the great p.r. catastrophes of our time, because the outspoken governor won’t make what might be a compelling case.
Poor Milorad R. Blagojevich. Who knew he'd be longing for the good ol’ days when everyone just thought he was a crook. Political thug hawking a seat versus media road kill rotting in the heat? I am not sure which is worse.
No question Blago's sold-out media tour will end up wedged into P.R. and legal textbooks in a small fluorescent yellow box labeled DON'T. But for a moment let's try to forget his self-proclaimed kinship with Messrs Gandhi, King, and Mandela. (I know, I know, it’s hard). Put aside the fact that he assumed that Larry King, who is Jewish, must therefore know Yiddish, saying on television that King would "certainly understand" the word "meshugas," Yiddish for crazy. You know, Larry, I also enjoy a nice bagel with lox and shmear…
Gov. Blagojevich has somehow managed to make even Gary Condit's disastrous TV appearance seem like a masterful apologia.
Let’s try to ignore how condescendingly Blago spoke about his doting wife, offering this explanation for why she used naughty curse words on the secretly recorded tapes: "If she picked that up, I take full responsibility. She doesn't speak like that. She just hears me sometimes." There are a thousand ways to get the public on your side; talking about your wife like she is a parakeet isn't one of them. In the end, all of that is terrific media fodder but really just demonstrates how out of touch this man of the people really is.
And let’s ignore the gaggle of legal analysts who suggest that by refusing to show up at his impeachment trial, Blago is somehow hurting his chances for political survival. That is like advising Ted Haggard to attend the Saddleback Forum. Blago is dead meat. Adlai Stevenson testifying through a spiritual medium wouldn't save him now. And while Blago was marinating, a big time TV interview could have really helped.
For someone else.
It seems Blago went public with the following talking points: 1) "the fix is in" on the impeachment trial; 2) I should be able to call witnesses at that trial; 3) the tapes that, gosh, sure do sound like me, were taken out of context; 4) I, Rod Blagojevich, am a fighter; 5) I, Rod Blagojevich, am a doting father of two girls; how dare they do this to them?; 6) I Rod Blagojevich am the greatest governor of Illinois. Ever.
On the face of it, these are not all bad arguments. The “fix" (especially in Chicago politics) and his inability to call witnesses are potentially convincing ones. The public might even be receptive to someone who just wants his side of the story heard. The problem? When asked for specifics, Blago refused to answer, claiming, "As the Supreme Court says, I can't talk about a pending case."
Really? They said that? Uhh . . . no. Larry King (somewhat uncharacteristically) pushed him on it and he responded, "You are not supposed to comment on an ongoing case, and as a former prosecutor I agree with that procedure. You don't want to complicate or taint any of the specifics of anything." Huh? There is nothing legally that prevents him from talking. He hasn't even been formally charged. (Then again, he seems to wallow in his ignorance of the law; Blago once bragged that while at Pepperdine law "I barely knew where that law library was.") What he really meant was that anything he says can and will be used against him in the criminal case. That's his real audience, the upcoming judge and jury. Therein lies his problem. Sure many lawyers advise any defendant against going public in any situation. And in some cases they are wrong to say so. An interview in the right environment can help the accused. Just not here.
Take the media-convicted but never judicially accused parents of JonBenét Ramsey. When they finally crafted a media strategy, which included interviews, it helped persuade the press and prosecutors alike that they were not guilty. On the other hand, Cong. Gary Condit's interview in which he refused to answer whether he had an affair with dead Washington intern Chandra Levy left the impression that he had something hide. Gov. Blagojevich has somehow managed to make even Condit's disastrous appearance seem like a masterful apologia.
In a political scandal, the jury box extends well beyond the halls of justice. But in this case, Gov. Blagojevich demands that his side of the story be heard, and then refuses to tell, well, his side of the story. Who is behind this mystery cabal to bring him down? Did particular political opponents lead it? That might have made for a compelling argument. Was it particular politicians he crossed in his effort to fight for the good people of Illinois? Who is the villain?
Then there are the tapes. Asked what the context might have been for that now infamous comment about Obama's Senate seat ("If they're not going to offer anything of value, I might just take it myself"), he responded by suggesting he might have actually been talking about passing a jobs bill or that "I’d like them to help me pass health care." Right. For some a public defense is the answer. For Rod it was just plain meshugas.