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Blago Reporters Go to the "Talking Dogs"

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Blago Reporters Go to the "Talking Dogs"
Jack Higgins
Blago Reporters Go to the "Talking Dogs"

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So, you think you'd like to cover the Blagojevich case?

It has been fascinating. And for the privileged few who were granted the yellow passes which meant a guaranteed reserved spot, it has meant a front row seat for a moment in history.

But before you embark on your career as a federal court reporter, be advised that the job often means long hours and frequently prolonged periods of courtroom tedium. The federal law is voluminous, the sentencing guidelines arcane, and courtroom testimony, while often fascinating, can veer for hours into minutia which would make insurance actuaries swoon.

And then there are the deliberations.

The Blagojevich jury deliberates behind closed doors in a tiny jury room, behind Judge James Zagel's courtroom on the 25th floor. We, the reporters covering the case, don't see them, except on the rare occasions when they are escorted to lunch. When they arrive every morning, they enter through a hidden entrance.  They leave the same way.

If they send a note to the judge, we may or may not know it. We found out about a note on Tuesday when one of our group saw the prosecutors switching elevators on the second floor, en route to Judge Zagel's court.

The second floor, by the way, is where we wait. In the cafeteria.

No one dares to venture very far, lest the verdict become a reality. (We will learn that a verdict has been reached via a one sentence email from the clerk's office). And after word that a verdict is imminent, it will take roughly an hour for all of the parties, including the defendant/governor, to assemble in the courtroom.

So, what does one do in the meantime?

You work. You study the charges. You stay in touch with the lawyers (who are sitting at the opposite end of the federal building cafeteria). You pay attention to the rare jury notes, talk to attorneys about the meaning of deliberations which have now entered their fourth day. You wonder aloud what it could possibly mean that on day three, the jury sent a note about tape number 1330. Are they close? Have they bogged down?

You study the possible sentences for each of the 20 counts. You index your tapes and line up your guests.

Oh, and you watch talking dog videos.

Yes, when you are staking out a jury, there comes a time when even the most studious of reporters must do outside research. In the case of the Blagojevich press team, that means one producer and a news intern are playing Scrabble between their iPads. On Tuesday, our intrepid MSNBC correspondent brought something called "Bananagrams". One veteran reporter (I won't give her name but she writes a column for one of Chicago's two dailies) broke down and bought her first copy of Angry Birds.

Everyone is prepared to break camp and run at a moment's notice. But in the meantime, we can tell you that the hot and sour soup in the cafeteria is outstanding.

And if you want to watch the talking dog, just go to YouTube and search "ultimate dog tease". It kills.

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