CNN's Chicagoland documentary series about Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel involved coordination between the mayor's camp and producers on storylines, camera shots, and even the show's PR push, according to more than 700 emails obtained through a FOIA request by the Chicago Tribune.
Here's a snipped of one email, sent by CNN executive producer Mark Levin to an Emanuel senior advisor and his press team:
"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...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."
That email was sent two days before the mayor's school board voted to close 50 schools in the city. Producers did deal with the school closings, following parents at two schools on the original list of those cut. But as Levin explained to the Tribune, those same two schools happened to get a last minute save from the city, and remained open. Levin said, "we did go, 'Wow. That is unusual,'" adding that he didn't know why that happened.
While the crew didn't get everything they asked for from the Emanuel administration, the relationship between crew and administration sometimes reads more like a collaboration than a journalist-source relationship. Indeed, an email from Levin and another producer on the show to two of Emamuel's staffers reads as much:
"We are thrilled that City Hall and the Mayor have agreed to assist our production team, help steer us to strong stories and participate directly in the CNN series. We look forward to working with you and your office to capture the citizens of Chicago and their mayor in a sustained and determined effort to improve the education, safety and economic well-being of all Chicagoans."
Weeks after giving the green light, Emanuel's office emailed with a PR consultant assisting CNN get access about sending along possible "story/interview ideas" for the series, along with an attached list of "DocuSeries Characters." The storyline emails, the Tribune notes, were partially redacted.
Although CNN denied that they allowed the mayor's office to edit promotional material promoting the show, and email exchange shows the two sides discussing just that. In this excerpt, "Jascula Terman" is a PR firm run by one of Emanuel's old friends. The firm helped CNN get their foot in the door with the Emanuel team:
When the network prepared to announce the series in the spring of 2013, Jasculca Terman's Foley twice forwarded copies of CNN news releases to Emanuel's office.
"This version is considered final for CNN. Thoughts?" Foley wrote to Emanuel press aides, to which Cooper responded, "Thanks! I'll have edits for you shortly!" Foley wrote back, "Perfect! Thank you!"
Speaking to the Tribune, Levin said that the Mayor's office did not have "editorial control," adding that, "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."