CNN Made Journalistic Mistake With “Chicagoland”


For the past eight weeks James and I have been watching Chicagoland on CNN.  For me it has underscored the need for stricter gun control laws in this nation, and the need to have strong schools. and even stronger family units.  As a lover of Chicago the show was a touchstone to the things that interest me about the diversity and complexities of this amazing city.

But today news was reported about the show that concerns me from a journalistic perspective.

Up front I like Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and certainly understand why he would have a vested interest in wanting to making himself, and certain aspects of the show work in his favor.  Politicians would be crazy not to want to be presented in the best light.

But CNN should have alerted the viewers to the working relationship they had with Emanuel so the viewers would have had that added layer of insight as they watched the documentary.  Even more to the point had I been in charge of the production there would have been no ability of any politician to shape or help mange the filming.    There are just some foundations of journalism that can not be massaged and undermined if a final product is to be a credible one.

Sometimes the truth needs a little bit of help. According to emails obtained by the Chicago Tribune, Chicagoland’s producers coordinated with Mayor Rahm Emanuel in order to shape how certain events unfolded and to make the mayor “look good.”

“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,” the Tribune reported on Friday.

“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,” the report continued:

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.”

Among the emails obtained by the Tribune were a series of communications coordinating an appearance by the mayor at a local elementary school. In that exchange, one producer promised that the scene would reflect well on Emanuel:

“Still need more Rahm,” [Chicagoland executive producer Mark] Benjamin wrote to Hamilton, Emanuel’s communications director. “Need the mayor at Fenger High School with Liz also. I know I am needy but we want more Rahm in the series. I know I sound like a (broken) record, but in the Feb. ’14 broadcast, Rahm will look good making ‘his’ points.”

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