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'Chicagoland' documentary: Much was staged to promote Rahm Emanuel

Rahm Emanuel
Rahm Emanuel
Tasos Katopodis/ Getty images

As soon as “Chicagoland,” the ongoing CNN documentary about Chicago, was previewed by members of the press, word was very critical of the program. First and foremost, critics thought the show was too centered on crime, race, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s efforts in the city. The critics claimed that there is much more to Chicago than simply the horrendous crime and the oft-times described racially segregated make-up of the city. The documentary, now that it has concluded, was the topic of a revealing report in the Chicago Tribune report on Thursday.

The other major complaint has been that the telecast of “Chicagoland” has appeared to have been a boost to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s image in the city and beyond – where his image has been less than stellar since being elected mayor of Chicago a couple of years ago. Now it has been learned, via revealing e-mail messages between Emanuel’s staff and the producers of the broadcast, that scenes of the CNN documentary television series were indeed staged – or coordinated by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Hall office and the producers of the television program.

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The aggressiveness of coordinating the presentation between the producers of the show and Emanuel’s office actually involved in excess of 700 e-mails. The e-mails, according to the Chicago Tribune report, show that Emanuel’s advisers developed storylines, arranged specific camera shots, and even reviewed news releases that were officially announced on the CNN documentary. The producers are now known to have asked Emanuel’s office to assist with creating interactions in what has been promoted to the masses as non-scripted exchanges on the program.

As many had suspected - and now know due to the leaked e-mails – Emanuel’s senior aides frequently corresponded with the producers of “Chicagoland.” These senior aides have reportedly been known for shaping the mayor’s image. Naturally, with their incredibly strong influence on the show’s producers, Emanuel is being portrayed positively to his constituents and – on a much larger scale – his national audience for possible future political aspirations.

The e-mails show how slanted the production was in that an e-mail sent to Emanuel’s staff said that some scenes would present the mayor in a positive light. One producer actually wrote that there was a desire to showcase Rahm Emanuel “as the star that he really is.” One of the creators of the series, Marc Levin, was deeply involved with the e-mail messages that prove the show was focusing on making Emanuel look good. After approximately 50 schools were being closed by Emanuel last year, Levin wrote that this was a real opportunity to highlight the mayor’s leadership.

Levin went on to praise Emanuel by writing that the school closings highlighted the mayor’s 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. Naturally, Emanuel’s constituents and the educators in the Chicago Public Schools have not shared Levin – an outsider’s – opinion of the school closings at all. To this day, Emanuel’s directives of closing the schools are being extremely criticized for making school children cross gang’s territorial lines to get to school. Many believe the closings wee of a racist nature due to the schools that were closed – as well as on the locations of the schools that were closed throughout the minority-populated portions of the city.

As proof of the coordination of Emanuel’s senior advisors and Levin’s production, there was an e-mail which stated that the production would need the mayor on the phone in his SUV, as well as shots of Emanuel with his key advisers, his kitchen cabinet, and meeting with CPS’ head Barbara Byrd-Bennett and meeting with Chicago’s top cop Garry McCarthy. All of these scenes ended up on prime time.

In fact, in the first episode of the “Chicagoland” documentary, Emanuel was featured getting into his SUV while talking on his cell phone in a slow-motion scene. Additionally, the televised meetings mediated between Emanuel’s office and the producers were viewed – as preplanned - by those who watched the show. However, after all the effort to spotlight Emanuel in a positive light, the Breitbart website reports that the ratings for the show were dismal, meaning that the staging of the documentary was – for the most part – for naught. Instead, persons interested in Chicago were likely watching newscasts about the shootings in Chicago instead - as nine people were murdered in Chicago just last weekend.

“Chicagoland” was a documentary series which debuted its pilot episode at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2014. It was shown on CNN beginning on March 6. The documentary aired once a week for 8 weeks. It was created by Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin and produced by Robert Redford.