Wow! Emails expose CNN's propaganda series on Rahm Emanuel

Thomas Lifson
Does CNN stand for “Corrupt News Network”? It might as well, considering a blatant propaganda effort that has been uncovered by The Chicago Tribune.

Rahm Emanuel, the Mayor of Chicago, is a man with limitless ambition, high intelligence, and utter ruthlessness. With little doubt, he has his eye on the Oval Office, and because he has served as Chief of Staff to President Obama and also served in the Clinton White House, he knows the ins and outs of the presidency. There is just one little problem: Chicago is in deep trouble, facing a fiscal black hole, wracked by levels of violence that make Iraq look good, and unable to get much help from the state of Illinois which has its own serious problems.

photo from CNN via Chicago Tribune

But, if his image is managed carefully with the help of media friends,  he can be portrayed as heroic, facing the issues and helping people. And CNN seems to have signed up with that effort to produce a President Emanuel.

Tthe Chicago Tribune, through an open records request, reviewed emails (some of them redacted) between City Hall on the production company that made the CNN series “Chicagoland.”  Bill Ruthhart of the Tribune writes:

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 CNN would portray their boss to a prime time national audience.

The producers come from an outfit named Brick City TV, which “teamed up with actor and producer Robert Redford and Laura Michalchyshyn's Sundance Productions to pitch the ‘Chicagoland’ project to CNN.”  All very incetstuous:

The team got access through friendly channels:

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.

That firm's chairman and CEO, Rick Jasculca, is a friend of Emanuel's dating back decades, and both worked together in the Clinton White House. 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.

And everyone stood to benefit. One hand washes the other:

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.

The very origin of the series lies with a PR effort on the part of Mayor Emanuel’s team:

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.

That firm's chairman and CEO, Rick Jasculca, is a friend of Emanuel's dating back decades, and both worked together in the Clinton White House. 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.

In February 2013, records show, Rick Jasculca contacted Tarrah Cooper, the mayor's press secretary, to set up a meeting with Levin and Benjamin, whose Brick City TV teamed up with actor and producer Robert Redford and Laura Michalchyshyn's Sundance Productions to pitch the "Chicagoland" project to CNN.

An example of the fawning emails sent by CNN:

"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."

One of the major issues recently faced by Emanuel is the closing of over 50 schools for budgetary reasons. Not a happy process, and one that generated much protest. So how did the documentary handle it?

While 53 schools were on the chopping block, the documentary crew ended up following two that were saved. Asked how that happened, Levin said he and fellow producers have asked themselves the same question.

"I don't know the answer to that," Levin said. "But we did go, 'Wow. That is unusual.'"

Emanuel's office declined to discuss the issue.

The producers even consulted the mayor’s office over their PR releases:

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!"

To be fair, a certain degree of cajoling is necessary int he first place to get access:

"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," [University of Southern California film school documentary expert Mitchell] Block said. "And if they can get access, they have footage, and if they have footage and interesting characters, they have a story."

True enough. But by offering to polish Emanuel’s image and by the editorial choices made to carry out that offer, this effort has degenerated into blatant propaganda. I have not watched the series, but Chicagoan Ed Lasky, who started to watch, comments, “I stopped watching after 2 episodes -- it was boring and repetitive and clearly biased to present a sensitive, empathetic and supremely effective Emanuel. It was clearly a snow job. The producers could have presented a much more realistic view of Chicago: corruption, fudging of crime stats to make Emanuel look better, racial politics, a blue city dying via liberalism.

Update: CNN has sent the following  statement to us:

The mayor’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.

Does CNN stand for “Corrupt News Network”? It might as well, considering a blatant propaganda effort that has been uncovered by The Chicago Tribune.

Rahm Emanuel, the Mayor of Chicago, is a man with limitless ambition, high intelligence, and utter ruthlessness. With little doubt, he has his eye on the Oval Office, and because he has served as Chief of Staff to President Obama and also served in the Clinton White House, he knows the ins and outs of the presidency. There is just one little problem: Chicago is in deep trouble, facing a fiscal black hole, wracked by levels of violence that make Iraq look good, and unable to get much help from the state of Illinois which has its own serious problems.

photo from CNN via Chicago Tribune

But, if his image is managed carefully with the help of media friends,  he can be portrayed as heroic, facing the issues and helping people. And CNN seems to have signed up with that effort to produce a President Emanuel.

Tthe Chicago Tribune, through an open records request, reviewed emails (some of them redacted) between City Hall on the production company that made the CNN series “Chicagoland.”  Bill Ruthhart of the Tribune writes:

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 CNN would portray their boss to a prime time national audience.

The producers come from an outfit named Brick City TV, which “teamed up with actor and producer Robert Redford and Laura Michalchyshyn's Sundance Productions to pitch the ‘Chicagoland’ project to CNN.”  All very incetstuous:

The team got access through friendly channels:

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.

That firm's chairman and CEO, Rick Jasculca, is a friend of Emanuel's dating back decades, and both worked together in the Clinton White House. 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.

And everyone stood to benefit. One hand washes the other:

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.

The very origin of the series lies with a PR effort on the part of Mayor Emanuel’s team:

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.

That firm's chairman and CEO, Rick Jasculca, is a friend of Emanuel's dating back decades, and both worked together in the Clinton White House. 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.

In February 2013, records show, Rick Jasculca contacted Tarrah Cooper, the mayor's press secretary, to set up a meeting with Levin and Benjamin, whose Brick City TV teamed up with actor and producer Robert Redford and Laura Michalchyshyn's Sundance Productions to pitch the "Chicagoland" project to CNN.

An example of the fawning emails sent by CNN:

"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."

One of the major issues recently faced by Emanuel is the closing of over 50 schools for budgetary reasons. Not a happy process, and one that generated much protest. So how did the documentary handle it?

While 53 schools were on the chopping block, the documentary crew ended up following two that were saved. Asked how that happened, Levin said he and fellow producers have asked themselves the same question.

"I don't know the answer to that," Levin said. "But we did go, 'Wow. That is unusual.'"

Emanuel's office declined to discuss the issue.

The producers even consulted the mayor’s office over their PR releases:

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!"

To be fair, a certain degree of cajoling is necessary int he first place to get access:

"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," [University of Southern California film school documentary expert Mitchell] Block said. "And if they can get access, they have footage, and if they have footage and interesting characters, they have a story."

True enough. But by offering to polish Emanuel’s image and by the editorial choices made to carry out that offer, this effort has degenerated into blatant propaganda. I have not watched the series, but Chicagoan Ed Lasky, who started to watch, comments, “I stopped watching after 2 episodes -- it was boring and repetitive and clearly biased to present a sensitive, empathetic and supremely effective Emanuel. It was clearly a snow job. The producers could have presented a much more realistic view of Chicago: corruption, fudging of crime stats to make Emanuel look better, racial politics, a blue city dying via liberalism.

Update: CNN has sent the following  statement to us:

The mayor’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.