Set to spend at least the next dozen years in prison, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich appeared to savor his final moment in the spotlight on Wednesday evening as he held a public farewell that conveniently coincided with Chicago stations’ 5 o’clock newscasts.
Every major news station in Chicago brought live, uninterrupted coverage of Blagojevich’s sendoff, which lasted roughly 40 minutes.
Covering the event, anchors for every station commented on the circus-like atmosphere, but it was clear that their colleagues were making up a large percentage of the crowd, as news choppers hovered overhead.
“Patti and I want to take this opportunity and, I think we’d prefer to have another opportunity to do this, but we want to thank all the people here today and everywhere,” Blagojevich said in a speech on his front porch. “I believe I always, always thought about what was right for the people, and I am proud as I leave.”
The media was initially told that Blagojevich would not be taking questions but, after his 12-minute speech, he lingered to speak with reporters as he signed autographs for well-wishers.
WBBM left the Blagojevich circus promptly at 5:30 for the “CBS Evening News,” but other stations extended their coverage until after Blagojevich retreated into his house.
Fox station WFLD stuck with its Blagojevich coverage until around 5:40, when it cut to regularly scheduled programming. WLS and WMAQ stuck around until 5:50, offering some in-studio analysis of Blagojevich’s goodbye before joining the network newscasts in progress. WGN covered the proceedings throughout its regular hour-long newscast.
“As I flipped from station to station, I watched and listened in disgust,” longtime Chicago media reporter Robert Feder wrote about Blagojevich’s made-for-TV farewell. “All five stations were complicit. To one extent or another, they all allowed a crook who was found guilty of abusing the public trust to obscure the venality of his crimes by exploiting his wife and children for sympathy. In the end, Blago’s pathological need for attention matched up with television’s insatiable demand for performers who can draw a crowd.”