This is consistent with what I've reported for some time, but this is perhaps the first time a major newspaper has actually exposed one of its own for scripting the news for a government official. In this case, it's the Chicago Tribune's Bill Ruthhart whose blockbuster report reveals hundreds of e-mails exchanged between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and producers of a CNN documentary series, "Chicagoland," that prove the show was scripted by design to bolster Emanuel's public image. Ruthhart, a former reporter for the Indianapolis Star, reveals what he learned after reading more than 700 e-mails exchanged between Emanuel's office and CNN producers:
If it seemed as though some scenes of CNN's documentary series "Chicagoland" were coordinated by Mayor Rahm Emanuel's City Hall and the show's producers, that's because they were.
More than 700 emails reviewed by the Tribune reveal that the production team worked hand in hand with the mayor's advisers to develop storylines, arrange specific camera shots and review news releases officially announcing the show.
Producers asked the mayor's office to help them set up key interactions in what the cable network has billed as a nonscripted eight-part series, including Emanuel's visits with the school principal who emerged as a star of the show, emails show.
City Hall's frequent correspondence with the producers illustrates how senior aides to a mayor known for shaping his media image managed how their boss would be portrayed on CNN to a prime time national audience.
The production team for the series, whose final episode aired Thursday night, told Emanuel's staff that particular scenes would present the mayor in a positive light, with one of the producers expressing a desire to showcase the mayor "as the star that he really is."
Creator and executive producer Marc Levin made a pitch to the mayor's office last May as Emanuel's hand-picked school board was two days away from a vote to close nearly 50 schools.
"This is a real opportunity to highlight the Mayors leadership – his ability to balance the need for reform and fiscal reality with compassion for affected communities and concern for the safety of Chicago's school children," Levin wrote of the school closings to Emanuel senior adviser David Spielfogel and two press aides. "We need the mayor on the phone in his SUV, in city hall with key advisers and his kitchen cabinet and meeting with CPS head BBB (Barbara Byrd-Bennett) and with CPD (Superintendent Garry) McCarthy."
The first "Chicagoland" episode, televised in March, featured just what Levin had requested: slow-motion images of the mayor climbing into his SUV and talking on his cellphone, and Emanuel's meetings behind closed doors with Chicago Public Schools CEO Byrd-Bennett and Chicago police Superintendent McCarthy.
The emails, obtained through an open records request, show the producers were not always granted all the access they sought. And Levin said he was "eternally frustrated" that much of the behind-the-scenes access he got of Emanuel was controlled by the mayor's office.
"Everything the mayor does is stage-managed. Everything. That is the way he operates, so I'm not going to dispute that," Levin said in an interview when asked about his emails that requested specific scenes featuring the mayor. "I would be the first to acknowledge that you don't get into Chicago … and get access without having to do a certain dance.
"I'm not saying these people had editorial control. They didn't," Levin said of the mayor's office. "But at the same time, yes, we were sensitive that we were moving through this city and getting access to a lot of places because we had developed a dialogue with the mayor."
That dance for access is not uncommon, said Mitchell Block, an expert on documentary films at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts. While Block said he hadn't watched "Chicagoland," he said that in any documentary, if a filmmaker's access to a subject is managed, and not free-ranging, it affects how that person is portrayed.
"The question is did they really have full access?" Block said. "If the access was managed, as it sounds like it was, then everything looks perfect all of the time. I personally don't make those kinds of films."
Emanuel aides declined to answer specific questions about the administration's involvement in the series' production. Instead, Emanuel spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton issued a statement that suggested the administration's work with CNN was typical.
"As we do with any news outlet working on a story, we work with them to highlight the great work being done in Chicago. This was no different," Hamilton said. "The producers of 'Chicagoland' were not from here and, as such, had very little background on the city and the work being done. They asked for examples of work taking place and events they could attend, which we provided. This is no different from information we provide reporters — including the Tribune — every day."
Local media rarely are granted behind-the-scenes access to the mayor.
A CNN spokeswoman issued a statement today. "Access requests for filming on city property and at official events were submitted in advance for permitting and scheduling purposes as is done for all municipal filming of this type," the statement read . . .Of all the tax increase ploys, pay-to-play and other scams perpetrated since Emanuel became mayor, CNN chooses to cast him as a profile in courage for closing public schools as part of his so-called education reform efforts at the same time he sends his own kids to private school. While I applaud the Tribune for allowing Ruthhart to expose CNN for scripting the news, the newspaper itself has been one of the worst offenders of scripting the news. In fact, depending on how you view it, the Tribune can be credited or blamed for the election of Barack Obama as president. Working hand in hand with one of its former reporters, Obama media guru David Axelrod, it used its news pages to viciously destroy Obama's political opponents while going to great lengths to keep Obama's many skeletons hidden in the closet, including his infidelity, homosexuality and corrupt relationship with convicted political fixer Tony Rezko.
The newspaper, ever capable of doing investigative reporting when it fits its agenda, has also treated Rahm Emanuel with kid gloves over the years, paving the way to his ascendancy as Chicago's mayor. Wasn't there a story to tell about how Emanuel, who had absolutely no investment banking business experience, nonetheless managed to earn close to $20 million during a short, two-year stint working for a Chicago investment banking firm after leaving the Clinton White House but before his election to Congress? Or was nobody available to look into the story investigative reporter and NSA whistle blower Wayne Madsen uncovered about the memberships Emanual and Obama had at the gay Chicago bathhouse, Man's Country, that the two frequented together before they became recognizable figures while pretending to be happily-married heterosexual fathers? The newspaper certainly didn't hold back when it devoted enormous resources reporting on the alleged closeted homosexual lifestyle of Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford during his recent unsuccessful bid for governor.
Was it not newsworthy that Emanual, who has dual citizenship with Israel, chose to serve in the Israeli Army during the first gulf war instead of serving alongside other American soldiers? Didn't Emanuel's father make somewhat of a name for himself in Israel in his craft of making bombs and blowing up buses filled with British troops in Palestine before emigrating to Chicago where he became a prominent doctor? At least the Tribune's political columnist John Kass got the Hollywood manipulation angle down. "And by an amazing coincidence, 'Chicagoland' was also produced by two filmmakers who usually work closely with Rahm's brother, Ari, the Hollywood superagent," Kass wrote. Yes, Emanuel's brother Ari can make or break your career in Hollywood if you don't conform to the family's political agenda.
Sadly, virtually everything reported by the mainstream media in this country is carefully crafted, particularly the non-stop 24-hour cable news stations like CNN, Fox and MSNBC. They fed us the government story line on 911 and accused anyone who doubted the official version as a whacko conspiracy theorist just like the way they've handled anyone pointing out the numerous holes in the Obama biographical narrative, the Boston Marathon bombing narrative or the latest and greatest mystery of the missing Malaysia Airline Flight #370. CNN, in particular, has devoted enormous resources feeding us propaganda about the missing flight. Its meth head international anchor, Richard Quest, just by happenstance did a feature travel story aboard a Malaysia Airline flight co-piloted by the very crew member aboard the missing plane only days before its disappearance. And CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, also a dual Israeli citizen and former mouthpiece for AIPAC, repeatedly relied on Israeli intelligence sources to plant stories suggesting that Muslim terrorists from Iran might have hijacked the plane and flown it to Iran or some other Muslim country for later use in a terrorist attack. Yet they somehow missed the story about an Israeli company with close ties to Israeli intelligence purchasing an identical Boeing 777 previously owned by Malaysia Airline no more than a year ago that was found parked at an airport in Tel Aviv.
It's interesting that when Bill Ruthhart worked as a State House reporter for the Star, he seemed much more comfortable hobnobbing and becoming friends with the people he was supposed to be covering than doing any hard-charging investigative reporting. He was hired by the Tribune for its Watchdog beat. Clearly he is capable of being a legitimate investigative reporter. There must be something about the culture at the Gannett-owned Star that causes otherwise good reporters to fall down on their job while working for the Star. It's no secret that the most explosive stories that come into the Star's reporters hands never make it into the newspaper. I suppose a reporter eventually figures out what kind of reporting his or her boss expects of him and acts accordingly.