KELLY: Email Uproar: Is CNN’s ‘Chicagoland’ a political contribution to Rahm Emanuel?


CHICAGO, April 25, 2014 – The Chicago Tribune has uncovered more than 700 emails between CNN producers and the Office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel – emails that reveal the coordination of the TV series’ story lines, press release approval, and even camera angles relating to the low-rated series, ‘Chicagoland.’

Back in March, I penned a column about the program’s overt attempt to recast Emanuel as a courageous, 21st century mayor. In fact, ‘Chicagoland’ executive producer Robert Redford even compared Emanuel’s job to “being like President of the United States.”

Perhaps Emanuel’s PR team wrote that quote for Redford too.

I also questioned the millions of advertising dollars CNN was spending to slap up billboards around Chicago and the rest of the country to promote the program.  With the timing of Emanuel’s mayoral re-election in Chicago next year, questions and concerns have been more than warranted.

READ ALSO: CNN Spending Millions on Rahm Emanuel ad campaign for ‘Chicagoland’ TV series

From a media standpoint, the ‘Chicagoland’ series has functioned as an image rebranding effort for Rahm Emanuel – a candidate with low favorability ratings both in Chicago and nationally.

As it turns out, I was more than right.

As far as this series is concerned, there were conflict-of-interest questions to begin with. Levin and Mark Benjamin are represented by Ari Emanuel’s agency, William Morris Endeavor. Records also show Levin and Benjamin received access to Emanuel through the PR firm of Jasculca Terman.  Firm CEO Rick Jasculca has been close friends with Emanuel ever since they worked together in the Clinton White House.

But the emails between Emanuel’s staff and ‘Chicagoland’ producers Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin reveal the program’s real goal: (1) to make “Rahm look good” and (2) to present Emanuel as “the star he really is.”

As the series has unfolded, Emanuel and Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy have been portrayed as heroic. Their personal negatives  – and there are many – have been transformed by the power of television into positives.  Even the Chicago murder rate has been recast into something understandable. Intimate camera angles reveal an introspective, determined Emanuel rising to meet Chicago’s near impossible challenges.

Cue the Olympic fanfare please.

Of the 53 public schools Emanuel shuttered for budgetary reasons, CNN producers chose to focus on the two schools that were saved. So why didn’t they want to show the story of the school closings? Simple – it would have made Rahm Emanuel look bad.

The email coordination between CNN and Emanuel also raise serious questions about whether ‘Chicagoland’ really was just an in-kind political contribution to Emanuel in the year leading up to his Chicago re-election campaign.

Let’s just hope there won’t be a ‘Chicagoland’ sequel.

William J. Kelly is a senior media strategist, TV critic and producer of Emmy award-winning television. He is a contributor to CDN, American Spectator, and the Huffington Post. Kelly writes about Chicago politics and its cast of political characters. He is a native of Chicago’s South Side.

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  • AlexisJaime

    This isn’t news. It is common knowledge that government hand the media their marching orders.

  • Ash Berger

    Where we are subjected to centralized control, the decisions, actions, and interactions available to us are restricted by the limited capabilities of the central minds.