Unbleeping the Blago trial

By Michael Ranieri

A team of journalists photographers and Blagojevich bloggers met on Sept. 9 at Columbia’s 1104 Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave., to discuss the inner-workings of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s corruption trial.

“Bleeping Golden: Insiders’ Stories of Covering the Blago Trial” was presented by the Association for Women Journalists and the Chicago Headline Club. Included in the discussion were questions covering one of the biggest, most recent political corruption stories in the U.S.

During the first session, the seven featured panelists—all members of well-established media outlets—described how covering the trial was different from covering others. Federal courts reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times Natasha Korecki, who has worked as an adjunct instructor for Columbia’s graduate journalism program, was among the panel members.

“There was one holdout juror on those counts and had she budged, we would have seen a significant conviction,” Korecki said. “The census count was 11-1. Rod saying ‘one down, 23 [counts] to go’ wasn’t exactly

the case.”

Jeff Coen, courts reporter for the Chicago Tribune, said one of the reasons there was a hung jury was due to “media manipulation” done by the attorneys present—one of whom, Sam Adam Jr., defended R. Kelly in the infamous 2008 child pornography trial.

“I’ve seen Sam Adam Jr. work for years, and he’s very, very good at media manipulation,” Coen said. “I know that on the way to this trial one of their ideas was to try and put Rod on TV and make this a celebrity trial.”

According to Coen, juries react to court battles differently when “celebrities” are on the stand.

“Juries just treat that person differently, and I think that’s partly what paid off here,” he said.

After the trial ended, Adam told the press the retrial would cost taxpayers $25 million.

“Sam pulled that out of the air,” Coen said. “It’s a balance; at some point the TV cameras are on. It’s a live press conference; these guys know what they’re doing and a certain amount of spin is going to get through, but it’s up to us to try to come back and fact-check it.”

Media critic Steve Rhodes agreed with Coen and said Adam’s “rant” was filled with misstatements and lies.”

Daily Herald photojournalist George LeClaire shared similar views.

“I think it was probably the celebrity status,” he said. “It wassurprising to me that at the hearing, everybody [who] came was supportive of him … There wasn’t one person booing him.”

Rhodes said he thought the reason Blagojevich wasn’t convicted was because of a “bad jury.”

He asked the committee if any of them believed Blagojevich to be innocent—out of the seven panelists questioned, no hands were raised.

“So the jury just isn’t as smart as everyone [on the panel]?” Rhodes said. “Maybe the answer is yes. Maybe it wasn’t a very bright jury. When you look at the holdout juror, clearly the other jurors thought she was crazy.”

Rhodes, founder of the Beachwood Reporter, also said he believes it was wrong that many Americans consider juries to be “infallible.”

He said in general, “we’re not allowed to criticize the jury; it has to be something the prosecution did wrong.”