In a major piece this morning the Chicago Tribune reported that the producers of CNN’s Chicagoland series coordinated the filming of the show with the Emanuel administration. This story is already hitting the national radar, on conservative sites of course, but also left-leaning ones like Politico. An embarrassed CNN was forced to rapidly issue a statement that all but admits the Tribune report was accurate. They said, “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.” But the Tribune never claimed that CNN gave editorial control to the mayor, only that there was coordination.
This follows closely on the heels of part one of a major Chicago Magazine investigative piece showing showing that the Chicago Police Department massaged the numbers on crime that has also continued to garner national attention.
The CNN piece isn’t surprising at all. I said in my review of the series that “CNN’s actual journalists will be seething at seeing their network and its relatively strong reputation being used for what is clearly not the type of work they themselves would undertake.” I’m not sure what Zucker is up to over there, but this is clearly not Bernie in Baghdad anymore.
Regardless, is anyone surprised that CNN would tout their show as an opportunity for the mayor to showcase himself positively? They were trying to make the sale after all. You can be sure that when I asked, for example, Mayor Cranley of Cincinnati for an interview, I made clear the potential this offered for him to reach an audience for this city he might not ordinarily have. There’s nothing wrong with selling yourself or some degree of coordination. Nor can you blame Rahm in the slightest for taking advantage of the opportunity. What else is he supposed to do, try to make himself look bad? He’d be a fool not to take advantage of every opportunity he gets to sell the city and himself. So while I’m not defending what happened, I do think we need to look at this in context. Not all coordination is necessarily bad, so we should take a fine grained look at the specifics.
But this does get to something else I mentioned in my review, namely that Rahm has kept the local media at arm’s length while focusing his attention squarely at national and global media to sell Chicago in the marketplace. I found this sentence from the Tribune article revealing: “Local media rarely are granted behind-the-scenes access to the mayor.” Do I detect a bit of pique?
It seems pretty clear that local media in Chicago aren’t happy about the current state of affairs. They must find many of the various fawning sit downs Rahm has done with global reporters particularly galling. While they would certainly try to do investigative work anyway, this direct look at the Chicagoland series by the Tribune seems to be to be a bit of a shot across the bow to Rahm to remind him not to forget about local journos.
With the national attention garnered by both this Tribune piece and the Chicago Mag story in quick succession, I think the local media have proven that they have the ability to make their presence felt outside the local market. Perhaps this will cause Rahm to recalibrate his strategy a bit and spend more time cultivating relationships with the local press.