NBC's Lee Cowan: Blagojevich 'Fell Victim to History'

Certainly delivering a unique take on the Blagojevich case, in a Thursday night story on why Illinois politics are so corrupt, NBC reporter Lee Cowan characterized the Governor of Illinois as a politician who “fell victim” to Chicago's political machine. Apparently, corruption was just irresistible. Cowan contended:
The Windy City is a political stew of characters, a cast of players that even Hollywood would envy. Governor Rod Blagojevich is just the latest squeaky wheel in Chicago's political machine. Although he promised to be different, he fell victim, prosecutors allege, to history.
Presumably, Cowan didn't intend to assign his own characterization – “victim” -- to prosecutors, and just meant that prosecutors allege Blagojevich has taken the same path as too many of his predecessors. Cowan followed with a soundbite from a local reporter, who explained: “If there isn't a deal behind the scenes, it almost makes life not worthwhile.”

After recounting how Blagojevich's father-in-law is estranged from him and now rarely talks to his own daughter, Cowan turned to a former Chicago alderman who “says corruption is almost a natural evolution here.” Dick Simpson quipped: “Every other city just about in the United States has gotten rid of their political machines. We've only updated and modernized ours.”

Cowan gave the last word to Barack Obama, noting “the city's most-prominent politician was trying to get across today” that people should “not to paint the city of broad shoulders too broadly.” Viewers then saw a clip of Obama: “You can get elected by playing it straight. You can get elected by doing the right thing.”

The story on the Thursday, December 11 NBC Nightly News: 
BRIAN WILLIAMS: One of the questions at that press conference today spoke for a lot of us lately: What is it about Illinois politics? After all, four of the last eight Illinois Governors have been charged with a crime in this place that calls itself, for good reason, the Land of Lincoln NBC's Lee Cowan reports from Chicago on this long-running drama.

LEE COWAN: The windy city is a political stew of characters, a cast of players that even Hollywood would envy. Governor Rod Blagojevich is just the latest squeaky wheel in Chicago's political machine. Although he promised to be different, he fell victim, prosecutors allege, to history.

CAROL MARIN, WMAQ POLITICAL EDITOR: If there isn't a deal behind the scenes, it almost makes life not worthwhile.

COWAN: And those deals can turn a political family dysfunctional, fast.

LT. GOVERNOT PAT QUINN: I haven't spoken to the Governor, really, since the summer of 2007.

COWAN: There 's a lot of people giving the Governor the silence treatment. Take Blagojevich's father-in-law, Richard Mell. He's a longtime aldermen, hardly short on city hall theatrics himself.

[video of Mell standing on table and yelling}

COWAN: But, like the Hatfields and McCoys, he and Blagojevich have been feuding for years. In fact, he's so at odds with Blagojevich he now rarely speaks to his own daughter, Patty,  Illinois's First Lady.

RICHARD MELL: It's been very difficult. I mean, it's your daughter.

COWAN: One former alderman, who nearly came to fisticuffs fighting the Chicago machine back in the '70s, says corruption is almost a natural evolution here.

DICK SIMPSON, UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, CHICAGO: Every other city just about in the United States has gotten rid of their political machines. We've only updated and modernized ours.

COWAN: But with villains, there are often heroes. Some are now comparing U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to Elliot Ness, the federal investigator who brought Al Capone down.  If there's one message, though, that the city's most-prominent politician was trying to get across today, it's not to paint the city of broad shoulders too broadly.

BARACK OBAMA, AT THURSDAY PRESS CONFERENCE: You can get elected by playing it straight. You can get elected by doing the right thing.

COWAN: Chicago, a theater sometimes in the politically absurd, but one that's hardly ever bored. Lee Cowan, NBC News, Chicago.
MSNBC.com video of the story.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center