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The Governor and the Columnist

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The Governor and the Columnist
The Governor and the Columnist

AP

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich talks with reporters at the Federal Court building with his hand on legendary New York newspaperman Jimmy Breslin's shoulder as he arrives for his federal corruption trial Tuesday, June 8, 2010 in Chicago. The jury is expected to be seated Tuesday morning with opening arguments to follow. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

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Mike Royko would have loved the Rod Blagojevich trial. He had plenty in common with the main character, a Slavic kid who grew up in an apartment on the Northwest Side. And the rest of the cast is full of the kind of mopes, fixers and hinky politicians Royko loved to write about.

Royko has been dead for 13 years, so we’re getting the next best thing: Jimmy Breslin, the Mike Royko of New York. Breslin has a contract to write a book about the trial, but he’s been behaving like Blagojevich’s official biographer. On Tuesday, Blagojevich arrived in court with Breslin in tow, then introduced him to the media.

“While we’re killing time, this is Jimmy Breslin, legendary columnist and writer from New York,” Blagojevich said, putting an arm around Breslin. “You all know him. He’s here to cover this. It’s an honor having you here, Jimmy. You’re about to witness history.”

During Blagojevich’s pre-trial statement, his wife Patti stood at his left arm. Breslin was the bespectacled white-haired man standing to his right, looking like a trusted uncle. (He’s too unkempt to be a lawyer.)

You know Blagojevich loves that Breslin is, basically, embedded. A book is forever. It's a historical record, unlike all the ephemera of TV appearances, where you'er beamed into homes and then pfftf! the moment's gone, unless, sometimes, your masterful performance is captured in a pixelated 3x4 window on YouTube.

No. The Daily Show, the Geraldo Rivera Show, the O'Reilly Show, The View, Good Morning America, the David Letterman Show, Celebrity Apprentice...that's nothing. You need a book that kids will read in journalism 401 courses. See? Rod does care about education!

Breslin first became famous for interviewing the man who dug President John F. Kennedy’s grave. Over a decade later, when Breslin was a columnist at the New York Daily News, the Son of Sam killer wrote him a series of letters that were part fan mail, part confession. Breslin was also known for writing about underworld characters with colorful names like Marvin the Torch, Fat Thomas and Larry Lightfingers. His most famous book, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, was a comic novel that portrayed the Mafia as a gang of low IQ mooks.

The Blagojevich trial is a perfect subject for Breslin, with its cast of bumbling political fixers from the old neighborhood, starring a man who allegedly spent five years looting the state of Illinois, only to end up $200,000 in debt. He can call it The Gang That Couldn’t Be Crooked Straight.

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