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Exposing Chicagoland

Now that the finale has aired, the real news begins.

"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," the Tribune reports.

"More than 700 e-mails 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, e-mails show."

To those professing this is not surprising, I call bullshit.

The notion that the mayor tried his best to control the narrative isn't surprising, but the scope of latitude given by CNN - far beyond what noxious "access journalism" usually requires - is an outrage.

CNN is not MTV (which, by the way, produces superior documentaries in its True Life series).

Then again, CNN is no longer CNN.

Still, CNN and Chicagoland producing partner promised real journalism. The fact that it didn't deliver seemed up until now to simply be a matter of incompetence and starfucking (for what passes for "stars" in Chicago).

Instead, we now know it's something much more sinister.

"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."

We need Rahm on his cellphone in his SUV looking out the window decisively, but with compassion!

Marc Levin, you are so Today's Worst Person In Chicago.

*

"Prior to Chicagoland, Levin and fellow executive producer Mark Benjamin both had been represented by William Morris Endeavor, the Hollywood agency run by the mayor's brother, Ari Emanuel. The producers said they were not represented on the project by William Morris to avoid any conflict of interest, but Levin said they likely would be represented by the firm in the future."

We just took time off from Ari for the shoot; then we'll be back in the fold. Unless we do something to piss him off, which of course we wouldn't.

*

"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."

Huh, why is that name familiar?

*

"After the meeting at Jasculca Terman's offices, producers Levin and Benjamin e-mailed [Emanuel press secretary Tarrah] Cooper and Clothilde Ewing, Emanuel's chief of strategic planning.

"We are thrilled that City Hall and the Mayor have agreed to assist our production team, help steer us to strong stories and participate directly in the CNN series," the producers wrote. "We look forward to working with you and your office to capture the citizens of Chicago and their mayor in a sustained and determined effort to improve the education, safety and economic well-being of all Chicagoans."

Help steer us to strong stories and participate directly.

*

"A few weeks later, Emanuel's office indicated it would soon suggest story ideas for the series, e-mails show.

"[A] Jasculca daughter, Lauren Foley, e-mailed Cooper, the mayor's press secretary, to ask her to send 'the list of story/interview ideas that you and your team were going to put together' for the Chicagoland producers.

"I'll be in touch in the upcoming days to further discuss characters and story lines that we suggest," Cooper wrote a few days later to the producers. "We look forward to working with you!"

"E-mails show nine senior Emanuel staffers exchanged emails on the series early on, with one to Cooper including an attachment labeled 'DocuSeries Characters.'"

For example, "SuperMayor," "Screaming Black Lady," "SuperCop," "Invisible Hispanic," "SuperDouche Nightclub Dude" and "Black Prop Children."

*

"Foley served as the liaison between City Hall and the production team, e-mails show. On Jasculca Terman's website, Foley is listed as a vice president who 'acted as the stage manager for the inaugural of the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel.' Foley said she was paid as a field producer on the series by Levin and Benjamin."

So one of Rahm's PR lackeys actually worked as a producer on the show.

*

"[A]nother major storyline in Chicagoland followed Fenger High School Principal Elizabeth Dozier. Producers pushed to have both characters intersect for the cameras, records show."

"A scene showing both sides of a phone conversation between Emanuel and Dozier aired during the series, and in July, Levin thanked the mayor's staff for the access. 'The phone call with Principal Liz Dozier is great,' he said."

Which phone call?

The phony one.

Oh yeah.

*

"As the production team wrapped up filming in October, executive producer Benjamin requested for the mayor and Dozier to interact again. Another scene in the series shows Emanuel and Dozier watching a Shakespeare play at a park together, but this time Benjamin wanted Emanuel to visit Dozier's school.

"Still need more Rahm," Benjamin wrote to Hamilton, Emanuel's communications director. "Need the mayor at Fenger High School with Liz also. I know i am needy but we want more Rahm in the series. I know I sound like a (broken) record, but in the Feb. '14 broadcast, Rahm will look good making 'his' points."

I know I sound like a broken record, but we need to make more shit up. This is CNN!

*

"CNN's producers and photographers did not always receive the access they sought, e-mails show.

"On July 1, Levin e-mailed [David] Spielfogel, the mayor's senior adviser, and Cooper telling them that for the series to reach its full potential, 'we need to go to the next level with the Mayor.'

"Right now, we're not doing justice to the Mayor's real bold leadership style, ambitions and policies," Levin wrote. "I know we still have time to round out the Mayor's story and present him as the star that he really is."

I wonder at what point they were at in the filming that they weren't doing justice to Rahm's bold leadership style, because it was evident from early in the first episode that this was going to be a wank.

*

"Everything in documentary that is character-driven is a matter of access, and the filmmakers did what every filmmaker does with time and money constraints, they tried to make their life easier with those kinds of requests," Block said. "And if they can get access, they have footage, and if they have footage and interesting characters, they have a story."

1. You had access to everyone else in the city. Lacking access to Rahm would have accurately reflected the way he does his job - in private. Why not reflect that reality?

2. Almost every documentary filmmaker is offended that you have just accused them of doing what you just did.

3. Time constraints? You filmed last summer. This is April.

4. Money constraints? You were backed by Robert Redford for a project to be aired by CNN. How much more money do you need?

5. Make life easier? Change professions.

6. If you have access, you have footage of "characters," and you have a story. You just don't have the truth.

*

"Some e-mails that were provided show City Hall worked closely enough with CNN that drafts of the network's news releases about Chicagoland were shared ahead of time. 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.

"This version is considered final for CNN. Thoughts?" Foley wrote to Emanuel press aides, to which Cooper responded, "Thanks! I'll have edits for you shortly!" Foley wrote back, "Perfect! Thank you!"

So the mayor's office even edited CNN's press releases.

*

"Before the first episode aired, emails show, Emanuel's top aides asked to view the first Chicagoland episode ahead of its debut at Redford's Sundance Film Festival in January.

"Will we (the Mayor, Sarah and myself) be able to see the first episode before it premieres?" Cooper, Emanuel's press secretary, wrote to Levin. The producer replied, "I have a call into CNN now to discuss screening episode one for the Mayor, Sarah (Hamilton) and you. I'm assuming they would be open to it."

"Levin said he couldn't remember if the screening happened."

Right.

"A CNN spokeswoman said she didn't think so. Emanuel's office declined to say."

*

"After the first episode aired on television in March, Emanuel was asked what he thought of the series.

"I haven't watched it," he said.

Right. Best Actor awards all around.

*

It's even worse than we know because so many of the e-mails the Trib asked for were redacted.

"The mayor's office redacted those messages and hundreds more sent between administration officials, citing an exemption in Illinois' open records law for preliminary correspondence among city employees in which opinions are expressed or policies are formulated. The mayor's office did not respond to questions about its decision to redact the e-mails."

Also:

"While the e-mails the Tribune received give a glimpse of the interaction between the mayor's office and the production team, how CNN producers developed scenes at Fenger High School and while following McCarthy and other Chicago police officers is not as clear. CPS and Chicago police did not provide documents in response to a Tribune open records request filed six weeks ago."

If only we were shown Rahm, McCarthy and CPS breaking the law by ignoring FOIA requests . . .

"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 e-mails 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."

In other words, everything Rahm does is stage-managed so we had to work very hard to make it look like he doesn't stage-manage anything, even including scenes of him talking about how he doesn't consider politics when making decisions even though - according not to supposition but sources in a position to know - he doesn't take a breath without considering it through the prism of politics.

It took a lot of access to film Rahm in a light that is the exact opposite of reality. That's how you make a documentary!

*

If all access gives you is access to bullshit, then what's the point? Access is incredibly overrated.

*

If you don't get into Chicago without doing a little dance, then maybe that's part of your documentary! Chicagoland didn't have to be filmed through the viewfinder of the mayor. You could have followed a few reporters around as they try to divine the truth from this administration; you could have followed the lives of ordinary Chicagoans as they come up against this city's institutions; you could have devoted each episode to a single issue vexing the city. There were plenty of options that didn't depend on access.

*

"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."

Why the Trib felt it had to quote an expert is beyond me - especially one who hasn't even seen the show. "Hey, just to be fair, let's find an expert to say what is self-evident and what we're all thinking and what we don't want to say ourselves!"

*

One other quibble with what is obviously an awesome report: There is no mention of Mark Konkol, the local reporter who bills himself as a producer and writer as well as narrator of the show.

Professional courtesy?

Because the strictest ethics considerations ought to apply to the actual journalist employed by the production. A journalist who has (gag) won a Pulitzer Prize. How deep was his involvement? What did he know about this machinations?

*

And what of Redford?

The movie star Robert Redford, who played Watergate reporter Bob Woodward in All The President's Men, says newspaper standards are in 'steep decline.'

"That's why documentaries have become so important," he told the BBC. "They are probably a better form of truth."

Not in this case.

*

And:

"I think independent filmmakers, documentary filmmakers - they are journalists. I'm not a lawyer, but I do know this: we need to protect our ability to tell controversial stories. More filmmakers are taking up this mantle. They are doing some of the best investigative journalism right now, as the line between journalism and entertainment is getting blurred."

*

Then again:

"Look, I have a high regard for Rahm Emanuel," Redford said last month. "I think the most encouraging thing I've learned about Chicago going back to my personal involvement with Mayor Daley and with Rahm Emanuel, is the heart."

I wonder if Redford has ever heard the names Burge and Vanecko.

-

Previously:
* Tweeting Chicagoland | Episode 1: Oh My Lord, I Hate It Already.

* Cracking The Chicagoland Code 1: Docu-Series Or Docu-Wank?

* Tweeting Chicagoland | Episode 2: Brought To You By Allstate, Billy Dec & The Central Office.

* Cracking The Chicagoland Code 2: Fixing The Facts.

* Tweeting Chicagoland | Episode 3: Get Me Rewrite.

* Cracking The Chicagoland Code 3: Our Fact-Challenged Heroes.

* Tweeting Chicagoland | Episode 4: Did We Mention That Rahm Loves (Black) Kids?

* Cracking The Chicagoland Code 4: LollapaRahmza.

* Tweeting Chicagoland | Episode 5: Back To Black.

* Cracking The Chicagoland Code 5: Yada Yada Yada.

* Tweeting Chicagoland | Episode 6: Building A New Rahm.

* Cracking The Chicagoland Code 6: Unwired.

* Tweeting Chicagoland | Episode 7: Tripling Down.

* Cracking The Chicagoland Code | Epsiode 7: We Don't Care How They Do It In New York.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on April 25, 2014


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