News from the Tribune via a FOIA request and 700 emails is that lots of parts of “Chicagoland” were staged (or at least pre-arranged) rather than observed — including MRE appearances at Fenger, some of the coverage of the school closing decisions, meetings with Byrd-Bennett, and even those heart-warming moments with intern Martell Cowan. The production team requested things from City Hall, and City Hall went along. CPS and CPD have thus far declined to respond to FOIA requests as City Hall has done. More details below. I know you’re probably not surprised — some aspects were clearly staged (like the MRE-Dozier phone call) and the amount of access was way higher than anything City Hall would have given to the Tribune’s reporters (or anyone else’s) — but are you upset?
From the Tribune
“Creator and executive producer Marc Levin made a pitch to the mayor’s office last May as Emanuel’s hand-picked school board was two days away from a vote to close nearly 50 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.
Once the “Chicagoland” crew began filming, their cameras frequently appeared at Emanuel media events but also captured typically private moments that showed a warmer side of the mayor, including talking with children in classrooms, playing with them at recess and watching arts performances in city parks.
Among the most poignant of those moments was Emanuel’s interactions with high school student Martell Cowan.
Cowan, an intern in the mayor’s office, is shown riding with Emanuel in his SUV, and the mayor talks to him about college and jokes with him about picking up girls during a walk to City Hall. Emanuel also talks to Cowan in his office and shows the teen pictures of him and Obama before the two walk out of his office with their arms around each other as Cooper, the press secretary, looks on.
The mayor then hugs Cowan and says, “I love you.” Later, Cowan is shown saying, “It did change my life. I’m grateful for it.”
In an interview, Levin explained that he asked for access to Cowan and Emanuel to show a different side of the mayor after he heard him talk about the teen at three different events.
“For us, yes, it was set up in that, ‘the mayor is going to be riding with Martell today,’ but it was a battle for us to finally get access to it,” Levin said. “This, in a sense, yes, was under their control, but I think what’s revealed here is a different Rahm Emanuel than you see at most of the staged events, and that’s why I pushed for it.”
An email between Levin and Cooper reflects the request. “It was really nice to see the Mayor and Martell together in his office,” Levin wrote. “Thanks for making it happen. Good stuff.”