Chicago Tribune: “Unscripted” CNN docu-series on Rahm Emanuel was … kind of scripted after all

posted at 8:41 am on April 25, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Just how realistic are “reality” series, anyway? Every broadcaster features these shows because it avoids having to pay actors their SAG-AFTRA rates to be on screen, and at least in theory avoids having to pay writers, too. That’s only in theory, because most of these shows are not entirely unscripted. That turns out to be the case in Chicago, too, as the Tribune discovered when it went through e-mails between Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office and the producers of the supposedly “unscripted” CNN docu-series Chicagoland:

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.

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.

The Tribune’s Bill Ruthhart starts off the review of the e-mails with a custom-ordered shot from executive producer Marc Levin to Emanuel’s office, which the mayor delivered at the apex of the debate over closing 50 Chicago 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.”

The first “Chicagoland” episode, televised in March, featured just what Levin had requested: slow-motion images of the mayor climbing into his SUV and talking on his cellphone, and Emanuel’s meetings behind closed doors with Chicago Public Schools CEO Byrd-Bennett and Chicago police Superintendent McCarthy.

Needless to say, this violates a key ethos in both news coverage and documentary filmmaking. Documentarians and journalists are on hand to record events, not to shape them or to script them altogether.  This crosses the line from documentary to propaganda, and it’s not even a tough call where Levin ends up.

Levin shrugs this off by claiming that Emanuel’s people didn’t have editorial control:

“I’m not saying these people had editorial control. They didn’t,” Levin said of the mayor’s office. “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.”

That’s a dodge, though. Getting friendly with the mayor to gain access is part of the trade. Scripting shots to make the documentary subject look good is propaganda, not a documentary or “reality TV.” And that’s not exactly a singular example, either. Another executive producer e-mailed Emanuel’s office to set up a visit to a school in order to “get more Rahm in the series,” promising that “Rahm will look good making ‘his’ points.” The single-quotes around his comes from the producer, making it pretty clear that the documentarians wanted to use Rahm to make their points.

If CNN and these filmmakers wanted to produce that kind of series, they should have been honest about it. This is a serious error for a news channel to make, and CNN should answer for the dishonest presentation that these e-mails expose.

Update: Breitbart’s John Nolte calls this “yet another black eye for Jeff Zucker”:

Under his leadership, CNN has become a laughingstock, even among its left-wing colleagues in the mainstream media, for its bungled attempts to cover serious news and bizarre obsessions with whales, missing planes, and ferry disasters.

Just last year, CNN was caught using its network to push anti-gun legislation.

CNN presents itself as an objective cable news outlet.


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Needless to say, this violates a key ethos in both news coverage and documentary filmmaking.

What’s that got to do with CNN? The once great network has become the tabloid of news outlets. In the heydey of The National Inquirer, nobody really believed that Big Foot was living with Elvis at a secret government base in Nevada- even when they published a picture of them sitting poolside!

The same holds true here. CNN is simply not a reputable news source anymore. This was the network that was talking about black holes in relation to a missing Boeing 757!!!! It should be assumed that they script their documentaries.

Happy Nomad on April 25, 2014 at 8:52 AM

I wonder if CNN will disclose the expenses of the series as “in-kind” contributions to Rahm’s campaign for re-election?

I am almost positive there has to be some sort of campaign finance law in that tangled mess of rules/regulations that may have been violated here. Liberals need to reap what they sow.

airupthere on April 25, 2014 at 8:52 AM

Not surprised….

cmsinaz on April 25, 2014 at 8:56 AM

They’ll win an emmy instead…..

cmsinaz on April 25, 2014 at 8:57 AM

Welcome to Chiraq!

WK on April 25, 2014 at 9:02 AM

They’ll win an emmy instead…..

cmsinaz on April 25, 2014 at 8:57 AM

CBS broadcast fake memos.

NBC edited that 911 tape to make it appear that George Zimmerman targeted a street thug because he was black.

ABC tried to set up Food Lion…….

Maybe there needs to be an emmy for “fake but accurate” coverage by a news organization.

Happy Nomad on April 25, 2014 at 9:05 AM

Chicagoland? I saw this movie decades ago when it was called “Apocalypse Now”, all they did was add some CG shots and redo the soundtrack; what a ripoff.

Bishop on April 25, 2014 at 9:22 AM

CNN & Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel – That’s a Daily Double of trust & confidence, if there ever was.

CiLH1 on April 25, 2014 at 9:23 AM

Is CNN still broadcasting nonstop about the missing Malaysia Airlines plane? I wouldn’t know since I never watch the network, but then I’ve pretty much given up on all network newscasts these days. Got sick of all the hype.

HiJack on April 25, 2014 at 9:24 AM

Considering how few people watched CNN’s love letter to Rahm, odds are the Trib’s revelation coming on the heels of the Easter weekend carnage in Chicago, with 45 people shot, nine fatally, the aftermath of this may end up making ‘Chicagoland” a net negative for Emanuel.

(Not that it matters, of course — Unlike the voters in New York, who when desperate enough will at least throw the Democrats out of City Hall for a few years to get things back in shape, Chicago voters will only toss Rahm out if some Democratic primary challenger beats him. And since that challenger would likely do the same things as Emanuel, if not be even more liberal when it comes to opening the cash spotlight for the teacher’s union, you have to assume a substantial number of Chicago voters like seeing their government run corruptly and their fellow citizens get shot or killed.)

jon1979 on April 25, 2014 at 9:25 AM

Chicagoland? I saw this movie decades ago when it was called “Apocalypse Now”, all they did was add some CG shots and redo the soundtrack; what a ripoff.

Bishop on April 25, 2014 at 9:22 AM

If laugh really extends life, I owe you a few minutes.

Rix on April 25, 2014 at 9:29 AM

There’s no way that any of this should still shock me any more. And yet, each day seems to smash another boot into the side of my head…

I’ve got to stop being such an optimist.

bofh on April 25, 2014 at 9:45 AM

Jeff Zucker almost killed the Today Show on NBC. What did you expect him to do at CNN. Just another loser.

regmgr on April 25, 2014 at 9:50 AM

So it wasn’t really a ‘documentary’, it was sort of a ‘docurahma’…

percysunshine on April 25, 2014 at 9:59 AM

it was sort of a ‘docurahma’…

…and a docu-rah-rah, too. Shake those pahm pahms!

cbenoistd on April 25, 2014 at 10:25 AM

This crosses the line from documentary to propaganda,

That line has been erased. It’s in the same pile as Dear Liar’s red line.

rbj on April 25, 2014 at 10:28 AM

Isn’t that famous Chicagoan David Axelrod the one who coined the term Astro-Turf in politics.

Tater Salad on April 25, 2014 at 10:32 AM

Putin would be proud.

Tater Salad on April 25, 2014 at 10:33 AM

Not surprising. Look at how they turned a blind eye to what Saddam was doing so that they ‘could maintain access’.

GarandFan on April 25, 2014 at 10:43 AM

MeanWhile,………………..:

Rahm Emanuel
9m
Arrest warrant signed in Ohio for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s former city comptroller, sources tell @Suntimes
read more on suntimes.com

canopfor on April 25, 2014 at 10:51 AM

Apparently it isn’t propaganda if it’s done willingly and enthusiastically, without direction from the authorities?

These people are shameless.

Herod on April 25, 2014 at 10:54 AM

To explain this unique situation…lets visit Instapundit’s link to a Wash Examiner article…The Party of Youth.

THe 3 Democrat front runners are, in order, Clinton, Biden, Warren…69, 74, 67.

Who else cold they tee up for this? Well, the Democrats wanted Fred Thompson’s Law and Order series counted as in-kind contribution so they are probably thinking that giving Rahm some upfront PR before he announces a Presidential run is the best idea.

sgmstv on April 25, 2014 at 11:28 AM

Of course it’s scripted. Emmanuel’s language in real life wouldn’t be allowed on CNN.

Annielou on April 25, 2014 at 12:04 PM

…politburo press…what did you expect?

KOOLAID2 on April 25, 2014 at 12:14 PM

Rahm will take on Hillary -

jake-the-goose on April 25, 2014 at 12:27 PM

Is CNN still broadcasting nonstop about the missing Malaysia Airlines plane? I wouldn’t know since I never watch the network, but then I’ve pretty much given up on all network newscasts these days. Got sick of all the hype.

HiJack on April 25, 2014 at 9:24 AM

Just most of the time. They have been doing the ferry sinking too.

crankyoldlady on April 25, 2014 at 12:51 PM

Will the CNN ‘docu-series’ include a visit to Chicago’s “Man’s Country” bathhouse?

slickwillie2001 on April 25, 2014 at 1:07 PM

“Needless to say, this violates a key ethos in both news coverage and documentary filmmaking.”

“Ethos” – what a quaint word.

jbspry on April 25, 2014 at 3:53 PM

“Isn’t that famous Chicagoan David Axelrod the one who coined the term Astro-Turf in politics.”

Tater Salad on April 25, 2014 at 10:32 AM

I believe it was Nancy Pelosi who said it, but you may be right about Axelrod’s being the source, since Pelosi is way too dumb to have thought up something that “clever.”

ricoliv on April 25, 2014 at 4:19 PM

Their slobbering over these red diaper babies makes me sick.

AppraisHer on April 25, 2014 at 9:54 PM

If CNN and these filmmakers wanted to produce that kind of series, they should have been honest about it. This is a serious error for a news channel to make, and CNN should answer for the dishonest presentation that these e-mails expose.

LOL, as if.

And CNN viewers will never be any the wiser, and simply think that Rahm is awesome and should be President someday – which is undoubtedly in the back of Rahm’s mind as they go through this process, too.

Midas on April 26, 2014 at 10:07 AM