Another day, another media story on the fudging of “reality” and “documentary” for the TV camera – this time it’s CNN’s eight-part series Chicagoland, which never got so much media interest as it did this morning when the Chicago Tribune posted a report on emails between the office of that city’s mayor Rahm Emanuel, and the producers. The emails show Emanuel’s office closely controlled access to their guy, that the producers cajoled his office to get shots they wanted, and a good time was had by all. In the world of politics, and the world of television, this is known as “how it works.”
“If it seems 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,” the Trib scolded in the report, timed to coincide with the series’ final-episode premiere last night. “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 Trib marveled.
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.” Among its findings, producers asked the mayor’s office to help them set up key interactions for what CNN has billed as a non-scripted series. Those interactions included Emanuel’s visits with the school principal “who emerged as a star of the show, emails show,” according to the Trib.
The paper seemed most exercised over the emails in which the production team told Emanuel’s staff that particular scenes “would present the mayor in a positive light” including one in which one of the producers said the project would showcase Emanuel “as the star that he really is.”
Emanuel is a political savant who previously served as President Obama’s White House Chief of Staff, Clinton Administration’s Assistant to the President for Political Affairs and Senior Advisor to the President for Policy and Strategy, and whose brother Ari is co-CEO of WME. The Trib in its report worked up a good head of steam over producers Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin having thanked Emanuel aides for an initial meeting at the offices of a PR firm and saying they look forward to the mayor’s office helping with “ideas” for the show. Also bunching the paper’s undies: an email in which a mayoral press secretary welcomes the producers to the city and says she will be in touch, to “further discuss characters and storylines that we suggest.” Also discussed in the Trib‘s report is an email in which Levin told Emanuel reps, “we need the mayor on the phone in his SUV, in city hall with key advisors and his kitchen cabinet and meeting with various people.”
In an interview with the Trib about the emails, Levin said, stating the obvious, “Everything the mayor does is stage-managed. Everything. That is the way he operates, so I’m not going to dispute that.” He added, “I would be the first to acknowledge that you don’t get into Chicago … and get access without having to do a certain dance.” He insisted Emanuel’s staff did not have editorial control, “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.”
Among the headlines whipped up today in the wake of the Trib report…
Rahm Emanuel Aides Reportedly Coordinated with CNN Producers to Make Him ‘Look Good’ in Chicagoland
Emanual Aides Coordinated with CNN Producers
the more cautious
Did CNN Coordinate with Chicago Mayor To Makes Hm Look Like A ‘Star’?
and, our fave,
CNN Busted by Chicago Tribune for Being Propaganda Outlet For Rahm Emanuel
The seamy reality of docu production interfacing with Chicago politics is fun to juxtapose — as did some covering today’s orgy of email excess — with an interview executive producer Robert Redford gave to CNN before Chicagoland’s debut. The news, the actor who once played Bob Woodward breaking the Watergate story said, has become “so extreme” on the right and left, “So where is a consumer going to get the truth?” He said he leans toward documentaries because they take more time “to dive into an issue, and you go right down to the heart of it, then you can come out of it and say, ‘Gee, I get the picture’.”