- The Washington Times - Friday, December 19, 2008

It could be his Chicago-style audacity or the sheer breadth of the investigation. Maybe it’s just the hair, or those snappy new ringtones.

Blagotones, that is.

The recent arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich on corruption charges riveted public interest more than any national political scandal in the past decade, save one. Only revelations in 1998 that President Bill Clinton had dallied with his intern, Monica Lewinsky, drew more attention, according to a Pew Research Center analysis released Thursday.

The roster of shame is ultimately topped, however, by “Rubbergate,” the 1992 investigation of 450 lawmakers who regularly overdrew their checking accounts; 19 Democrats and three Republicans were singled out by the House ethics committee.

The analysis itself has quantified American fascination with infamy.

The rankings are based on ongoing weekly surveys of 1,000 adults, asking them to gauge their interest in news coverage of dubious events — which include the “Monkey Business” affair between Sen. Gary Hart and Donna Rice in 1987, the resignation of New York Gov. Eliott Spitzer earlier this year after he consorted with a prostitute, and the seemingly endless Whitewater investigation of Mr. Clinton’s business dealings in 1994.

Mr. Clinton, in fact, appears three times on the list, which includes 24 assorted scandals that unfolded in the past 16 years.

These days, it’s Mr. Blagojevich’s turn. The researchers found that two-thirds of the nation — 64 percent — say they are closely following his public tribulations, prompted by an FBI investigation with all the trimmings, and calls for his impeachment or incarceration. But there is much more.

The governor’s unapologetic penchant for black leather jackets and a shaggy coif has inspired such prose as “Hot Rod Blagojevich” and “Hair Club for Sasquatch” in the waggish press, and discussed ad nauseam. Even the New York Times saw fit to reveal that the governor called his designer hair “the football.”

The press can’t get enough of him, the Pew analysis found. Mr. Blagojevich’s arrest led the news last week - making up almost a third of the total coverage in print, broadcast and online. Cable news channels were the most Blago-centric, with 44 percent of the coverage focused on the governor.

He’s achieved greater cultural status, meanwhile. FunMo, a California “wireless entertainment” group, has already created five Blagojevich-inspired telephone ringtones using the governor’s real voice, hip-hop beats and assorted sound effects, all for $9 a month.

The tones are “cheaper than a Senate seat,” spokesman Eric Gonzales said.

Meanwhile, the embattled Mr. Blagojevich also tops the “Top 5 List of Public Figures Without Integrity” released Thursday by a company that provides a million criminal background checks in the nation’s workplaces each year.

Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican; former NASDAQ Chairman Bernard Madoff, Fannie Mae chief Daniel Mudd and Freddie Mac chief Richard Syron round out the quintet.

“I am absolutely convinced the current Illinois governor would have flunked our behavior integrity test,” said Russ Johnson of Merchants Information Solutions.

“Considering there’s yet another government official or financial executive who is in trouble for improper and illegal behaviors every week, I think requiring integrity testing as a qualification for key jobs and government positions has merit,” Mr. Johnson added.



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