- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 5, 2009

It’s looks like Rod Blagojevich is on a roll.

Chicago newspapers and Web sites have reported that the former Illinois governor is a “natural” in his new radio job, hosting the morning-drive show on WLS-AM.

Blagojevich, who was impeached and expelled from office just a couple of months ago, has been regaling listeners with his insider stories about state politics (“It stinks!”) and his criticism of his successor’s tax increase (“It stinks!”) and traffic on Canal Street (“It’s congested … and it stinks!”).

This bit of news gave me pause: A disgraced ex-politician finds an eager audience on the airwaves. (By the way, is the term “disgraced ex-politician” a redundancy or a tautology?)

I mean, who would have thought that a guy who basically made a living by talking a lot could find success as the host of a radio talk show? It boggles my mind, which I admit is easily boggled.

But let’s face it, with that coonskin cap stapled backward on his scalp, Rod Blagojevich has a hairdo that’s made for radio.

He’s becoming popular.

The fact that he still faces federal corruption charges for allegedly trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama is irrelevant.

The fact that he’s been banned from ever holding public office again in Illinois is immaterial.

The fact that many people think he’s guilty is unimportant.

In fact, all of this is what gives Blagojevich his edge.

There used to be a difference between being famous and being infamous. Would-be celebrities sought fame, not notoriety. You had to be seen doing something good in public to gain publicity, not be caught doing something illicit in private.

We used to shun and disregard the disgraced and the dishonorable among us — even pillory them. On real pillories. We called that “making an example” of someone.

Now we give them talk shows and book deals. We call it “making an example” of someone. For profit.

It’s all about the ratings and the sales, baby.

Pee-Wee Herman lost his TV gig when he was caught in a compromising position at an adult theater. Today he’d get a TV show because of it, although they probably wouldn’t call it his “playhouse” anymore.

Just look at ABC-TV’s “Dancing with the Stars.”

After having featured a deaf actress (Marlee Matlin), a one-legged gold digger (Heather Mills) and an 82-year-old clown (Cloris Leachman), the show’s producers were at a loss for this season’s “hook.”

The question: How do you make “Dancing” edgy, unpredictable, even a little dangerous in order to attract viewers?

The answer: Felons!

ABC advertised the criminal histories of contestants Lawrence Taylor, Lil’ Kim and Steve-O as if the trio were planning a jewel heist to open each episode. Unfortunately, the only felony viewers have been treated to is Steve Wozniak’s cha cha cha.

Now “Dancing” producers have got to kick it up another notch next season, perhaps with a homicidal maniacs theme in which the celebrities are paired with presumed serial killers as dance partners. (“Who will survive? Tune in next week to find out.”)

As long as you can entertain us, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done or whether you’re sorry for it. We probably won’t forgive you, but we will marvel at your abundant lack of self-awareness and your complete aversion to shame.

If you’re a bad guy, you owe it to yourself to amuse us. You owe it to us. Think of it as community service.

That was O.J. Simpson’s mistake. He didn’t try to entertain us after his first trial. Instead, he said he was searching for the “real killers” when we all knew he was on the same golf green with the real killer everywhere he putted.

Still, HarperCollins/Regan Books let O.J. write a book about his wife’s and her friend’s murders.

They titled it “If I Did It.”

They printed 400,000 copies of it.

They almost released it until someone said, “You know, this might be taking this O.J. thing just a little too far.” (It wouldn’t have taken it too far. We would have made it a best-seller.)

This also was Bernie Madoff’s big mistake. He was accused of masterminding the biggest Ponzi scam in history — more than $65 BILLION, when all was said and done.

And what did he do? He holed himself up in his $7 million penthouse on Park Avenue while the media and the public ate him alive. So old school.

What Bernie should have done was launch a charm offensive — do some interviews on “Oprah” or “The View,” serve soup and sandwiches to people at a homeless shelter, offer a large donation to the Children’s Investment Fund (it’s a hedge fund, but it’s got a killer name), or even make a special guest appearance on “Deal or No Deal” as The Banker.

Madoff still would have gone to prison — but with a higher Q score. The most he can hope for now is good word of mouth for a tell-all instruction manual: “How I Did It.”

So good luck to you, Rod Blagojevich. This is your (air) time. You’re doing exactly what you need to be doing. Who knows? You might even beat those corruption charges.

Either way, we’ll be here waiting … to watch.

You can reach Carleton Bryant at 202-636-3218 and cbryant@washingtontimes.com.

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