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Prosecutor gets a light grilling on NPR show

Fitzgerald tapes a guest appearance on a comic radio segment -- and gets his own scooter, a red two-wheeler.

July 21, 2007|P.J. Huffstutter | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO — There were questions about Segway scooters, Scooter the Muppet and a child's toy scooter.

But Patrick J. Fitzgerald drolly dodged questions about the one scooter everyone was curious about during his guest appearance on National Public Radio's quiz show "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!"

Why would the top federal prosecutor of northern Illinois -- a man whose reputation for being tight-lipped with the media is as renowned as his investigation into the leak of a CIA agent's identity -- agree to be grilled on a comic radio broadcast?

"I was trying to get tickets to the show," Fitzgerald deadpanned during a taping at Millennium Park on Friday. "I got them."

He also got two standing ovations from thousands of Chicago fans, and, for more than 20 minutes, the audience seemed to hang on his every word.

The show, produced by NPR and Chicago Public Radio, is a weekly hourlong program that features political heavyweights and celebrities such as newscaster Ted Koppel, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer and Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.

Such guests compete in a quiz called "Not My Job," in which they are questioned on a topic not related to her or his line of work -- but often related, by a pun or play on words, to why they're in the news. The broadcast with Fitzgerald is scheduled to be broadcast this weekend.

Though host Peter Sagal never directly asked Fitzgerald about President Bush's commutation of former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's sentence for perjury and lying to federal investigators, he hinted at it often.

At one point, Sagal questioned Fitzgerald about his personal life, including the daily drive from his home to his downtown offices.

"So," Sagal asked, "how do you feel about commuting?"

As the audience burst out laughing, Fitzgerald stared at Sagal with a slight smirk and quipped: "I don't mind driving."

Later, when asked about his reputation of being a workaholic, Fitzgerald acknowledged that he took his job very seriously.

"But then, when you're done, you go home," he told Sagal. "You chill out and don't take yourself so seriously -- which is why I'm here."

(The show's staff gave him a red scooter with an inscription: "To Patrick Fitzgerald, USA. This one will stay where you put it.")

Fitzgerald's investigations -- including those of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan and top members of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's administration as well as the current prosecution of suspected Chicago mob leaders -- have led friends to call him a modern-day Eliot Ness. And the perennial bachelor with a Boy Scout's charm is treated like a pop star by legions.

"He's dreamy," said Meredith Wells, 48, a retired stockbroker. She and several female friends had gathered on the lawn at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion for the show's taping.

Over glasses of wine, they giggled about why the stone-faced prosecutor deserved to have been named one of the "Sexiest Men Alive" by People magazine in 2005.

Nearby, Scott Calize shook his head in wonder. "Are you seeing the same guy as I am?" asked Calize, 41, who works in real estate. "Don't get me wrong. I think he's amazing -- the best thing to happen to this town in decades. But come on, he's no Brad Pitt."

The women glared at Calize.

"He's the Patrick Fitzgerald," Wells said. "I'll take him over a pretty Hollywood boy any day."

p.j.huffstutter@latimes.com

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