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Monday, February 02, 2009

Local TV news blows it

By Dennis Byrne

This is for Chicago’s television newsrooms, and I’m sure it won’t make a bit of difference:

You reached a low point in Chicago journalism when you cut away from Gov. Pat Quinn’s live press conference last week to give live voice to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s ramblings and lies in his circus-like press conference outside his Ravenswood Manor house Thursday night after his eviction from office.

This goofball had enough opportunities to air his crud, to excess. Two days of non-stop interviews by the clueless New York media. A 50-minute-long speech before the Senate, in which he explained nothing.

Meanwhile, the new governor was, could have been, making news and a lot of us wanted to hear live what he had to say about this supposed new day in Illinois ethics and financial integrity. Would he raise the income tax? What specific ethic reforms does he have in mind? Why doesn’t he know what the state deficit is?

Maybe one of the reporters at Quinn’s press conference asked those and other important questions. But if they did, none of us got to hear his answers as he gave them. We’ve seen and heard everything that Blago has had to say in excruciating detail. A few of us wanted to know where the new governor would take us.

But every single local station I could find cut Quinn off, in mid-sentence as it were, to rush out to hang on Blago’s tired ravings one last time. What did they expect he’d say that was new? Did anyone really think that he would detail how he would explain to his children what happened to him, as at least one reporter asked? Would he write a book?

No, of course he wouldn’t say anything newsworthy. He talked again about how his father came from Yugoslavia, that America is a land of opportunity even for folks whose last name is long and hard to pronounce, that he did nothing wrong, that his conviction was a pre-ordained result and that he would tell us “the inside stuff” next week, if we want to listen. All the media crowd outside of his home did was feed this delusional man’s ego.

The man is disgraced. Sure, that doesn’t mean that he’s no longer a story. Sure, send a crew out to cover him if you must, as any newspaper city editor would. But suggesting that what the ex-governor had to say was more important than what the new governor was saying is bizarre. It’s as if all the TV networks had cut away from President Barack Obama’s first press conference to follow former President George Bush whine outside his home about unfair he was treated.

Quinn’s remarks at his House swearing-in were optimistic and eloquent. They pointed us in a direction where he thought we should go. He’s right that we’ve got much work to do, to restore trust and confidence. Big tests await those in whose hands the Illinois government now resides. That’s what the news is. Blagojevich is history; leave him to the academicians who study such things. We’re supposed to be journalists, bringing the public what’s new and important. That’s not what Chicago television stations gave us.

If we’re to get out of this mess, we’ll need better judgment in our newsrooms.

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