On the morning he was arrested on corruption charges last December, Rod Blagojevich was the nation's biggest greaseball. So obviously, the national press was willing to say anything to land an interview. And we've got their emails to prove it.
We reported a little over a month ago that the Today show had booked Blagojevich to appear on the morning he happened to be arrested by the FBI, but bumped the interview so they could flack for Jay Leno's new show. We found that out through a Freedom of Information Act request to the state of Illinois asking for e-mails from representatives of the media to Lucio Guerrero, Blagojevich's press secretary (we got the idea from South Carolina's The State, which did the same thing—to comic effect—after Mark Sanford's Argentinian Rhapsody).
The first raft of e-mails we got were from December 8, the day before Blagojevich got popped, and it included one from Today producer Lexi Dauber apologetically canceling a scheduled remote Q-and-A with Matt Lauer to make room for Leno news. We just got another batch covering the 48 hours after the arrest, and guess what? Dauber and her fellow Today producer Stephanie Siegel all of a sudden really wanted to talk to Blagojevich!
The traditional route for a reporter desperately trying to convince someone to submit to an interview when it's obviously not in their interest to do so is to drop all pretense of toughness and objectivity and lie to them: We will be your friend! Not like all those other mean reporters. While Dauber and Seigel's e-mails to Guerrero are understandably sympathetic, an internal write-up of a phone call with Siegel outlining the terms of her interview request shows what they were really willing to give up. Matt Lauer or Meredith Vieira would call Blagojevich before the interview to "go over the line of questions," and Seigel stressed that "they are sensitive."
CBS's Early Show also went the simpering route, telling Guerrero that there is "far too much hearsay going around" and offering Blagojevich an opportunity to "set the record straight" and "clear his own name." They were even willing to "rent a private space to keep him away from the rest of the media's view." We all know how annoying prying reporters can be.
Larry King's producer relied on the rogue's gallery that has traipsed through King's studio in the past, positioning the host as the go-to guy for crooks, liars, and other humiliated figures—go with us and you can be in the fine company of Jeffrey Skilling, Gary Condit, and Bob Packwood!
King's CNN colleague Anderson Cooper wasn't even trying: His producers sent in a perfunctory, We-asked-Governor-Blagojevich-to-come-on-the-show requests that they knew weren't going to open any doors.
Likewise the producer for CNN's Campbell Brown dashed off an email that would allow her to dutifully report that a request was in.
Sometimes brevity is your best bet when dealing with a harried flack who's clearly deluged with requests. That's what Andy Shaw, a political reporter for Chicago's local ABC station, decided to go with.
That kind of approach is important when you know your target is dealing with all manner of zany proposals. Like a request for comment from "a representative for Dan Ackroyd [sic] and Jim Belushi" on their call for Blagojevich's resignation. When a press aide forwarded that message to the governor's press assistant, she responded, "What? I want you to explain."
(For the record, it looks like that was a hoax call—we can't find any evidence that one-half of the Blues Brothers and the talentless brother of the other, dead, half ever made such a demand.)
The most pathetic request comes from Pat Curry, the news assignment editor for WGN, a local Chicago station. He wasn't even asking for an interview with Blagojevich—he wanted Guerrero himself to come on, and delivered a masterwork of flattery and faux sympathy. "I wouldn't expect you to be able to comment on a federal investigation, and could easily brush that off," Curry wrote, signing off with, "Humbly, Pat Curry."
A producer for a local Chicago talk radio show hosted by husband-and-wife pair Don and Roma Wade wins the award for discretion, declining to put in writing the "incredible offer" he had for Guerrero.
We'll never know what that offer was, but guess who got the first post-arrest interview with disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich?
You can read the whole batch here. Interestingly, not one e-mail from Fox News turned up. It could be that they relied solely on the phone, or that their e-mails somehow got missed by our FOIA requests. Or maybe they figured it wasn't worth trying.