On the morning the FBI arrested Rod Blagojevich, he was supposed to be doing a live exclusive interview with Matt Lauer. But Today canceled so Lauer could flack the "news" of Jay Leno's new 10 p.m. show on NBC.
It seems crazy now, but there was a moment when Blagojevich was actually sought after by news organizations, and not the other way around. But according to e-mails obtained by Gawker, Today dumped him because of an "NBC related" story that the show "need[ed] to cover—Leno getting his own show at 10 p.m."
Back in early December, Blagojevich was making a name for himself both as a crusader for the victims of the recession and as an obviously corrupt thug who was about to be arrested—the Chicago Tribune reported on December 5 that the feds were listening in on his phone calls. Sounds like a good guy to interview, for news and such! So on December 8, 2008—the day that Blagojevich appeared at a sit-in held by laid-off workers at an Illinois window factory and announced, "I don't care whether you tape me privately or publicly, I can tell you that whatever I say is always lawful"—Today Show producer Lexi Dauber set up an exclusive interview with Blagojevich for Matt Lauer. Here's the e-mail exchange between Dauber and Blagojevich's press secretary Lucio Guerrero confirming the interview for the morning of December 9 (click on the image for a larger version):
Unfortunately, "news" intervened. By 8:30 on the evening before Matt Lauer was set to interview a sitting governor who was being wiretapped by the federal government, Dauber e-mailed Guerrero with her regrets, citing the fact that the show had to make room for a segment about the announcement of Leno's new show at 10 p.m.:
It was obvious to anyone who was watching MSNBC and NBC on the day of the Leno announcement that the company's news properties were ordered to cover the story like a missing white girl. But it's nice to have the directive in handy e-mail format, and to know just what sorts of stories NBC News is willing to shitcan to make way for in-house press releases. Indeed, on the morning of December 9, Matt Lauer sat down with the New York Times' Bill Carter to talk about Leno and how "you're going to get to laugh along with him a little earlier in the evening."
Hmmm, what else happened on the morning of December 9? Oh—Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested by FBI agents at his home in Chicago. So, yes, in NBC's defense, the interview almost certainly would never have happened anyway. But according to the e-mails—which Gawker obtained from Illinois under the state's Freedom of Information Act, because we really thought the State was onto something—Blagojevich was scheduled to show up at NBC News' Chicago studio for a remote at 5:45 a.m. He was arrested at his home at 6:15 a.m., after an FBI agent woke him with a phone call to let him know they were outside. So it's possible that if Today hadn't bumped him for Leno, he might have left his house before the feds got there. Or maybe they were sitting on his house 24 hours a day and would have just popped him as he was leaving. Or maybe they would have tailed him to the studio and arrested him live on the air! We'll never know, because NBC News is Jeff Zucker's personal PR shop and makes a mockery of the the "values" that Brian Williams and his colleagues claim, preposterously, to stand for.
After being contacted via e-mail for comment for this story, an NBC News spokeswoman asked us not to publish it until she could talk to us about it on the phone. So we called her, and she refused to comment for the record.
Also, here's what Guerrero e-mailed back to Dauber after she cancelled the interview, about 10 hours before his boss was arrested: