WASHINGTON - I haven't seen Patti Blagojevich in person for several years, so when I watched her Thursday morning on NBC's "Today Show," I couldn't decide if she seemed grim or just gloomy about joining the cast of the reality show "I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!"
Patti is going to be on the show because her husband, ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, can't leave the country and NBC offered her a role instead. Rod will also be making some appearances, staying stateside.
Rod, as many of you know, is facing federal criminal corruption charges, including trying to sell an appointment - Barack Obama's Senate seat vacated when Obama was elected president. Rod pleaded not guilty to the charges earlier this month.
The last time I talked to Blagojevich was Dec. 2, a week before he was arrested by federal agents.
He gave an "exclusive" interview to me for my Chicago Sun-Times column, which turned out to be, based on what we now know from federal wiretaps, a lot of baloney about how he was going about filling the Obama vacancy.
Rod's passport was yanked after he was arrested, so he needed, and did not get, a judge's permission to travel to Costa Rica, where the show will be shot. But she's free to fly there if she wants. The show debuts on June 1.
Patti flew to Los Angeles earlier this week to do a promo and other work for the show. Patti and Rod were in a hotel in Skokie, a Chicago northern suburb, early Thursday to hype the hype surrounding the premiere.
The show will air next month and NBC's publicity calls it the ultimate "Swiss Family Robinson.'' Ten celebs are dropped into a Costa Rican jungle "to face fun and comedic challenges designed to test their survival skills.'' Viewers decide which celebrities stay or leave. In the end a King or Queen of the jungle will be crowned.
"Today Show" host Meredith Vieira asked Patti if she was doing the show for the money. Neither Blagojevich is employed right now - or is employable. While Patti has not been charged, several schemes involving her are mentioned in Rod's indictment.
Before she answered the question, Patti told Vieira she had a bone to pick on the set-up piece that ran discussing her celebrity.
"I wanted to say that I kind of disagree with one of the people in this setup about saying that I'm a celebrity. I don't feel that I'm a celebrity.
"NBC wanted my husband on the show, and when he was unable to go they expressed interest in me doing it. I would say that first and foremost we'd like to keep our commitment to NBC. And in this, you know, in this terrible economic time I feel it's necessary to go to work and help support my family. So yes, that's a primary reason for doing the show."
It's a job, just a job.
Rod told Vieira, "I do want to say how proud I am of Patti, you know.
"She's willing to step up and do something like go into a jungle. Neither one of us are celebrities," said Rod.
Technically he is correct.
He has slipped from celebrity to notoriety.
"I prefer to be compared to people like Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and others in history, not some of these comparisons.'' On an earlier media blitz timed to the start of his impeachment trial, he compared himself to Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, saying he thought about what they went through and "tried to put some perspective to all this.''
"I've been wrongly accused,'' he said Thursday. "I will be vindicated, I'll prove my innocence. But both of us have our responsibilities to raise our children and try to keep our family intact. And we've had a unique opportunity that most people in America who are losing their jobs don't get."
The federal wiretaps caught Patti, and the prosecutors portrayed her as a money-hungry, foul mouthed wife encouraging Rod in his schemes. In case she is indicted - it could happen - it doesn't hurt her to clean up her image.
Patti said a by-product of the exposure can be "an opportunity for people to see what I'm really like. I don't think those characterizations were fair at all. And I do look forward to people getting to know me, because that's what they'll see on the show."
Rod, impeached and removed from office in January, landed a contract to write a book. On Thursday, the Illinois State Senate sent to Gov. Pat Quinn a bill banning any state official removed from office from making money off a book or movie deal.
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