CNN’s “Chicagoland” Charade

Written by Roger Aronoff

It was recently revealed by the Chicago Tribune that CNN coordinated a series it aired called “Chicagoland” with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The purpose was to make him look good, no question about it. This is not journalism, and heads should roll at CNN for this political hackery on behalf of a political hack. Fox News’ Media Buzz covered it briefly at the end of last Sunday’s show, but this is an egregious violation for a news network, and deserves much greater scrutiny. Clearly, CNN was helping to advance Emanuel’s political ambitions, while presenting it as “non-scripted” programming

In his book Duty Former Department of Defense Secretary Robert Gates describes Emanuel, the former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, as a “political animal to his core” and “Armed with an inexhaustible supply of ‘f-bombs,’ he was a whirling dervish with attention deficit disorder” while in the White House.

One of CNN’s biggest mistakes was gaining entry to Emanuel’s political territory with the help of a public relations firm Jasculca Terman, the CEO of which is a “friend of Emanuel’s dating back decades, and both worked together in the Clinton White House,” according to the Chicago Tribune. “When Emanuel announced he would run for mayor in 2010, it was Jasculca and his daughter Aimee Jasculca who fielded media calls on behalf of the budding campaign,” they report.

The PR firm acted as the gatekeeper for Emanuel and Chicago City Hall. “The ‘Chicagoland’ producers got the green light for access to Emanuel and City Hall after a meeting arranged by the Chicago public relations firm Jasculca Terman, records show,” reports the Chicago Tribune.

Many of the emails back and forth between CNN and the Mayor’s office do sound like outright flattery, and smack of public relations maneuvering absent the necessary journalistic integrity and neutrality one would hope to expect of CNN. “I know we still have time to round out the Mayor’s story and present him as the star he really is,” wrote producer Marc Levin in one email. “This is a real opportunity to highlight the Mayor’s 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 also wrote.

Levin then appears to coordinate a scene that aired in the documentary with the Mayor’s staff. “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,” Levin writes.

“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,” reports the Chicago Tribune.

Even The New York Times wasn’t buying this as a documentary. “The new show about another troubled city and its leader looks more like an ad campaign than a documentary,” wrote the Times’ Alessandra Stanley.

“Mr. Emanuel’s abilities and noble intentions are laid out, over and over, by a gruff-talking narrator, Mark Konkol, a Chicago journalist, who says that the mayor’s vision ‘can be boiled down to a simple phrase: building a better Chicago.’”

CNN has had the gall to claim that they didn’t give “editorial control” to Rahm Emanuel and his staff. You don’t have to give “editorial control”—or a final say—to your subject when filming a supposed documentary for it to be as biased as this one clearly was. All you have to do is cast the subject in a uniformly positive light, flattering him that he’s “star,” and a strong leader, all the while.

“CNN is apparently creating a straw man to knock down so that it can release a statement denying something—even if what they are denying is not something they have been exposed as being guilty of,” comments John Nolte for Breitbart.

But CNN and Emanuel’s office may have even coordinated press releases. “When the network prepared to announce the series in the spring of 2013, Jasculca Terman’s Foley twice forwarded copies of CNN news releases to Emanuel’s office,” reports the Chicago Tribune.

Foley, in this case, refers to Jasculca’s other daughter, Lauren Foley. Her email shows the original message from CNN “Hi Laura, Thanks tremendously for your patience. Here’s our release—please let me know if you need more tweaks, or if we are good to go for next week:” “Thoughts?” Foley asks Tarrah Cooper, from the city of Chicago. “Thanks! I’ll have edits for you shortly!” Cooper responds.

“But CNN maintained that Emanuel’s office was ‘never granted editorial control over the content or the press communications for Chicagoland, and no agency was ever granted authority to offer the mayor’s office editorial approval for the content or the promotional materials for the series,’” reported Fox News. That is apparently the best they could do in terms of a denial. But the result, and the intent, is clear. CNN was giving a boost to one of their beloved Democrats who clearly has greater political ambitions.

The eight-part series was intended, according to The New York Times, to be “part of a network makeover by CNN’s newest boss, Jeff Zucker, who wants to provide programs for fallow news periods, when viewers relax and turn away from the talking heads on CNN.” Ironically, the show debuted on CNN two days before the disappearance of Malaysian Air Flight 370, which became one of the most covered stories in a one-month period in the history of CNN.

“Chicagoland’s” executive producer was Robert Redford, and the series was previewed at his Sundance Film Festival earlier in the year. The directors were Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin, both of whom are represented by the talent agency and Hollywood deal maker, William Morris Endeavor (WME), whose co-CEO happens to be Ari Emanuel, Rahm’s brother. But to ostensibly avoid a conflict of interest, they asked that the agency not represent them for this deal. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Levin said, “We didn’t want to be questioned about anything.” Who can blame him?

CNN’s viewership gave the series a big “thumbs down.” According to Deadline Hollywood, it performed worse than Fox News’ Sean Hannity and MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell in the same time frame, and its audience dropped over the eight weeks by about 50 percent. This sort of manipulation of reality, with an apparent political agenda, might be expected on a propaganda network like Russia’s RT, but should be unacceptable for the original 24-hour cable news network.