MEDIA WATCH: Piecing together a major story, Chicago's youngest reporters try their best on Labor Day weekend in the face of spin factory originally practiced at the White House by Rahm Emanuel and his huge public relations operation

At many points during his career from City Hall in Chicago through Congress (he served as Congressman for the district that includes Substance for three terms) to his days as Chief of Staff in the White House under President Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel learned that if you feed a major news story into the news stream late on a Friday afternoon (especially before a long holiday weekend) most veteran reporters will already be on their long weekend and the coverage of the story will go to novices (on the one hand) or simply to the camera crews (for the TV stations) on the other.

Rahm Emanuel's August 2 publicity stunt media event took place in front of St. Sabina's School on Chicago's south side. Emanuel's press team originally sent reporters to the corner of 78th and Ada, a block from St. Sabina's, then called at the last minute and said the event, a walkabout going door to door supposedly to encourage children to turn out for the first day of school (Track E) would really be at 78th and Throop, where the mayor's media team had set up the podium at St. Sabina. Above, the publicity hunger priest Father Michael Pfleger (far left) looks on while Chicago schools Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard (at podium) speaks about the importance of getting to school on time, while Mayor Rahm Emanuel stands (to Brizard's right) behind the schools chief. Pfleger's hostility towards public schools and the Chicago Teachers Union has been a part of the city's 21st Century narrative, as the Catholic priest has supported Chicago charter schools (often to the detriment of many parish parochial schools) and routinely trashed real public schools. As early as June 2004, as reported in Substance, Pfleger spoke publicly against Calumet High School so that then CEO Arne Duncan could close the school and turn it over to the Perspectives Charter Schools. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.While that was what happened originally when Rahm Emanuel and his hand-picked schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard issued their press release (reprinted here below) on the supposed "courage" of the teachers at three Chicago elementary schools for voting on a waiver of their contract rights, Emanuel's media manipulators apparently underestimated the energy with which many reporters would pursue a story that led from the Merchandise Mart office of the Chicago Teachers Union to the far West Side (where one of the schools that supposedly voted for the waiver is located).

And a review of the stories, which were still being developed by Saturday morning, September 3, showed that some reporters in Chicago were doing a lot of what used to be called "shoe leather reporting" back in the day before many "news" stories issued by Chicago's corporate news organization consisted of cynical restatements of the press releases crafted by the huge public relations operations at both City Hall and the Chicago Public Schools. For those who don't know, CPS has more reporters working on PR than the Chicago Sun-Times has reporters covering the education beat. Since June 2011, the CPS "Office of Communications" has added two highly paid public relations people and kept most of those who had already been there. In June 2011, CPS created the position of "Chief Officer for Communications" reporting directly to Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard and gave the job to a woman named Becky Carroll —who had no previous experience, training or knowledge of Chicago's public schools. Carroll is being paid $165,000 per year in the newly created post, according to incomplete CPS financial records provided to Substance by a reliable source. A second position, "Press Secretary", was given to Marielle Sainvilus, who also came to CPS from outside. According to incomplete CPS financial records (CPS refuses to publish or release its current Position File, despite Mayor Rahm Emanuel's claim that the new administration is the most "transparent" in history), Sainvilus is being paid $130,000 this year. Sanvilus is apparently holding the position formerly occupied by Monique Bond, who left the school system earlier in the summer. While claiming that CPS is facing a huge "deficit," Brizard has taken the one job once done by the controversial Monique Bond at $130,000 per year and divided it for two people whose total salaries equal just under $300,000 per year.

By August 25, 2011, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel had organized much of the "grass roots" support for his longer school day project. On that morning, CPS hosted a breakfast for more than 200 preachers who were signing a petition in support of Emanuel's demand for "90 more minutes and two more weeks." That day's media event, which included another trashing of the Chicago Teachers Union by the mayor's subsidized proxies, took place at the United Airlines Scout Lounge at U.S. Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox. Although materials for the event (including the petitions supposedly being circulated by an "independent" group of clerics, were provided by Chicago Public Schools, CPS officials refused to tell Substance how much the event cost and who paid for the catered breakfasts that were fed to more than 200 Christian religious leaders. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.While the summer was devoted to hearing regularly from Mayor Rahm Emanuel about how "transparent" Chicago was about to become in financial matters, Emanuel authorized CPS to devote a great deal of work to covering up its financial materials. City of Chicago now has on its website a complete list of all city workers, with salaries and job titles. The last one posted at the CPS website ( was from November 2010, and was deliberately adapted by an earlier administration and put into PDF format so researchers could not sort the data it supposedly provided.


For more information contact: CPS Office of Communications, Phone: 773-553-1620, Website:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 2, 2011

Statement from Mayor Emanuel and CPS CEO Brizard on Teachers that Voted in Favor of Longer School Day Today at Their Schools

CHICAGO—This morning, teachers at Genevieve Melody Elementary and Skinner North Elementary schools voted on a waiver that would lengthen their school day by 90 minutes. The passage of waivers require a 50% + 1 of all voting teachers. Both schools received the required 50% + 1 to pass the waiver and extend their school day by 90 minutes.

Statement by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard:

“We thank the courageous teachers and principals today for their dedication to investing in our children’s future by supporting a longer school day. This is a historic step forward in bringing the kind of change we need in the classroom to help our children get the world class education they deserve. Despite the hard work of teachers throughout the system, our children are falling behind. They need more time in the classroom to be successful. Teachers stood up today to say they want to help lead this change. We support them and commend them for the message they are sending to our city that our children must come first. We hope more principals, teachers and parents will come together to put our children first.”

The Chicago Public Schools serves approximately 405,000 students in more than 675 schools. It is the nation’s third-largest school system.




As Schools Break Ranks, Union Looks for Answers, by REBECCA VEVEA and HUNTER CLAUSS | Sep 2, 2011

Photo caption: John KonstantarasDays after the Chicago Teachers Union union rallied with Wisconsin labor leaders, three schools broke ranks and voted to lengthen the school day.

Just days after ruling out a strike, the Chicago Teachers Union finds itself grappling with dissent and fighting for public support, as district leaders have begun circumventing the union in their push for a longer day this school year.

After pressing the union unsuccessfully to agree to a longer day throughout the summer, Chicago Public Schools officials are now asking individual principals if they are willing to lengthen the day. If they are, principals have their staffs vote on contract waivers, which the union has discouraged members from signing.

On Friday, three elementary schools–Genevieve Melody Elementary, Skinner North Elementary and STEM Magnet Academy—broke from the union and voted to lengthen their day by 90 minutes. Teachers in those schools will receive a lump sum payment equal to 2 percent of the average teacher salary in the district, according to CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll.

By the time CPS issued its press release on the afternoon of September 2, 2011, CPS and City Hall media teams were focused on "messaging" the story. The story line, dutifully repeated in headlines in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Chicago Sun-Times, ignored the carefully scripted media manipulation and claimed the Rahm Emanuel take on the story, viz., that the vote of the three schools (one of which didn't even have union members until the day of the supposed vote) indicated a "break in the ranks" of the Chicago Teachers Union. Even though the facts of the stories contradicted the City Hall and CPS spin, the headlines did the job in each of the major print media that reported the stories, despite what the reporters themselves found on the streets. Last week, the union had rejected the district’s offer to give elementary school teachers a 2 percent raise for a 90-minute longer day.

“Teachers stood up today to say they want to help lead this change,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel and schools chief executive Jean-Claude Brizard said in a joint statement.

Later, in a letter to the district’s labor relations office, CTU president Karen Lewis said, “This method is an intentional act to divide the union and diminish the legitimate authority of the union to collectively bargain on behalf of its entire membership.”

On Wednesday, teachers rallied with leaders of Wisconsin public workers at a block party on the Southeast Side. Teachers there said the district is trying to divide them, by offering raises only to some teachers. “The minute there’s a crack in one, they’re going to go after everybody,” said Cheryl Strus, an elementary school teacher.

Jessica Marshall, a teacher at Alcott High School who attended the block party, said that cash-strapped district is playing “a crazy stick and carrot game” by first rescinding raises and now offering them for working longer days.

Two weeks after the outdoor media event in front of Chase Bank, Rahm Emanuel lined up reporters indoors for a media event in Logan Square to announce his "TIF Task Force" report, which promised to make TIFs more "transparent" but refused to roll back the controversial TIF program or eliminate the siphon that takes dollars away from schools and other municipal budgets for so-called "economic development" projects that have included subsidies to United Airline, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and other major corporate interests in the city. As usual, reporters are lined up in front of the mayor's podium (which is off to the right side off the image area of this photograph) and made to sit like dutiful students to take dictation from Rahm Emanuel and his carefully scripted media event. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.As the leader of a city with one of the shortest school days in the nation and low academic achievement, Emanuel appears to have the public’s backing. The union, meanwhile, appears to lack a coherent strategy, said John Greening, an associate professor of communications and marketing at Northwestern University.

“The playing field has changed and he’s adapted to the change. They haven’t,” Greening said. “It’s like Nero fiddling while Rome burns.”

This week, the union changed course when Lewis told the Chicago News Cooperative that the union will work the entire school year without a walkout. Throughout the summer Lewis, had repeatedly said it was “very likely” the union would go on strike, even though recent changes in state law make it more difficult to do so. She first raised the possibility of a strike in June, after the Board of Education voted to deny teachers their 4 percent contractual raises, citing a $712 million budget deficit.

With its most powerful weapon off the table and divisions emerging within the union, union leaders are employing a new strategy. In some cases, the tactics seem similar to Emanuel’s. For instance, the mayor has courted religious leaders to support his schools agenda, and this weekend, Chicago teachers will speak alongside religious leaders at services across the city.

Wednesday’s block party was an apparent effort to evoke comparisons with Wisconsin’s battle over collective bargaining rights, which drew national attention last spring. Peggy Coyne, president of the Madison, Wis. teachers union, said at the rally she is “a little worried” whether the C.T.U. will be able to get its raises restored now that Lewis has ruled out a strike for this school year.

There are differences between Emanuel and Gov. Scott Walker, the principle adversary to Wisconsin public employee unions, Coyne acknowledged. For one, Emanuel has not waged a full attack on collective bargaining rights as Walker did.

At an unrelated press conference prior to Wednesday’s rally, Emanuel said he hoped Chicago teachers would take cues from their Wisconsin counterparts. “In Wisconsin, it’s mandated that they spend 150 hours more in the classroom by state law,” he said.

Robert Bruno, a labor relations professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said C.T.U. must focus its message beyond 4 percent raises, and linking up with Madison teachers–who elicited public sympathy during Walker’s attack on unions–could be a way to do that.

“The teachers do need to present an alternative narrative,” Bruno said. “You need to get out of this back and forth.”

Lewis’ statement that a strike is currently off the table may be a step toward repositioning the union. At Wednesday’s rally she urged teachers to be active in their communities and to save the receipts for anything they purchase for school.

“We must build the documents of what it is we do, because they don’t know,” Lewis said. “Let’s talk to every single neighbor and tell them to help us and stand with us. The time is now, because they’re coming after us and they’re coming strong.”


Teachers at 3 small schools act early to approve longer school day

By opting out of union pact, teachers will get bonuses and schools will get discretionary funds

By Joel Hood, Tribune reporter 9:48 p.m. CDT, September 2, 2011

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard landed a pre-Labor Day body blow in the fight over longer school days, getting three small CPS elementary schools on Friday to sign waivers opting out of their teachers union contract and extending their school day 90 minutes.

The teachers will be rewarded with bonuses and the schools with discretionary funds for agreeing to the changes before a new state law allows CPS to institute a longer day without union agreement.

The votes are "a historic step forward in bringing the kind of change we need in the classroom to help our children get the world class education they deserve," according to a written statement issued by CPS and attributed to Emanuel and Brizard.

But Chicago Teachers Union officials — surprised by the action — reacted with outrage. Vice President Jesse Sharkey said CPS was being "unbelievably arrogant" in pushing the waivers, in effect circumventing the collective-bargaining process.

"This is the kind of policy that says we're going to ignore all that, pretend that it doesn't exist, and go directly to anyone they can," Sharkey said. "I'm flabbergasted."

According to CPS officials, a majority of teachers at Genevieve Melody, Skinner North and Stem Magnet Academy elementary schools approved the pacts to extend the school day. They were rewarded with one-time bonuses equal to roughly 2 percent of the average district salary.

In addition, schools that implement the longer days in September will receive $150,000 in discretionary funds. Melody, which will extend the day beginning in January, will receive $75,000. The money can be used for improving classroom instruction but not to augment teachers' salaries, CPS officials said.

The contract waivers are a win for Emanuel and CPS' new administration, who have quarreled with the teachers union for weeks over lengthening the school day and the school year. Brizard has said stretching school days is a vital step toward improving student performance in core subjects. Chicago's school day, which ranges from 5.14 to 5.5 hours, provides 15 percent less instructional time than the national average, according to CPS officials.

By mid-summer 2011, the majority of Chicago's reporters have gotten in the habit of sitting quietly according to the seating chars provided for them by Rahm Emanuel's public relations team. The media events featuring the mayor, which take place almost daily, always follow a script similar to those that the White House uses for press briefings with the President of the United States. The chief executive (in this case, usually Mayor Emanuel) stands at a podium, reads a brief statement, and then answers carefully controlled questions. On occasion, Emanuel will lose his temper of chasttize a reporter who fails to follow the City Hall script, but in general the scribes dutifully take notes, and the City Hall version of the story becomes part of the day's news cycle. Above, Rahm Emanuel (at podium beneath "Chase" sign) talked to the press about how the opening of a small Chase Bank branch at the corner of Montrose and Central on Chicago's northwest side was another example of how the Emanuel administration, working with Chicago's corporations, was bringing more jobs to the city. No reporter asked the mayor how his administration could take credit for the opening of the new bank (which is on the site of an old tool and trailer rental business in Chicago's 45th Ward), when the plans and building were done during the administration of Emanuel's predecessor, Richard M. Daley. The Emanuel narrative routinely trashes the work of the Daley administration almost as much as it trashes the work of Chicago's public school workers and the Chicago Teachers Union. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The default schedule for the new school day will be 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., although schools have flexibility to determine start and end times, the district said. The schools no longer will be allowed to dismiss students earlier by pushing teacher lunch periods to the end of the day, however. Student recess and lunch periods are built into the days as well.

After CPS' governing board recently voted to rescind 4 percent raises promised teachers this year in the current contract, Brizard offered elementary school teachers a 2 percent salary increase if they agreed to work a 90 minute longer school day.

The union quickly rejected the proposal. But in talking with principals, Brizard learned many people in the district, including teachers, wanted a longer school day, said CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll.

"I think there is a clear appetite for more time in the classroom," Carroll said, "more time for enrichment programs, more time for teachers to plan and collaborate as a group."

Carroll said principals at the three schools approached the district and wanted to know how they could implement a longer school day this year.

"This is something we wanted to do," said Ethan Netterstrom, principal at Skinner North, a 3-year-old K-4 school with 240 students on the Near North Side, near the site of the former Cabrini-Green housing complex.

"We're always talking about having more time for math or science or general enrichment," Netterstrom said. "It better serves kids. I don't know why we wouldn't do this."

Sharkey accused CPS leadership of pushing the waiver plan on smaller schools.

"We know for a fact that (CPS) pushed this idea," Sharkey said. "We know of a number of examples of principals applying pressure, principals having audiences with small numbers of teachers."

Melody serves 734 prekindergartners through eighth-graders on the West Side; Stem is a K-8 magnet school opening this year on the West Side.

Approval of the waiver, which is allowed in the current union contract, requires a simple majority vote from teachers at each school. At Skinner North, Netterstrom said, the school's 15 full-time teachers voted 9-6 in favor of the plan.

"I was hoping it would be 15-0," he said.

The bonuses made the offer attractive, Netterstrom said, and he's not discounting some teachers may have been motivated by money. But the majority, he said, believed a longer day was in the best interest of the students. What sealed it was including teachers in the planning process, letting them decide how best to use those 90 minutes and where the $150,000 is needed most, Netterstrom said.

"Giving them the power to make those decisions and empowered to be supported in it was really critical," Netterstrom said. "I don't know that it would have happened otherwise."

But Sharkey said the process demonstrates disrespect for a union that has stood for 74 years and represents nearly 30,000 members.

One of the noteworthy features of media manipulation by the administration of Rahm Emanuel is the careful attention to the set piece photograph. According to the outlines of what Substance calls "Rahm's Rainbow" (after former Mayor Richard M. Daley's version, which we dubbed "Richie's Rainbow"), the white guys have to be on the periphery of the shot (as above) while nearest to the mayor for the TV shot are women and minorities. Hence, Civic Federation Chief Lawrence Msall (above far left) is virtually out of the TV frames, while around the mayor are women and minorities. Substance photo August 29 by George N. Schmidt."We have had no communication with the Board (of Education), we have not seen what was voted on out in the schools, nor have we had a chance to talk to our delegates in these schools," Sharkey said. "This is a bad example of political football school reform.

"It's the worst kind of idea about how to improve education."

He said getting small groups to approve a plan and then announcing it in a news release was a bad precedent.

"Trying to go around and avoid having conversations with the people that do this work is bad policy, and we wish Brizard would stop it," he said.


Three CPS schools break from union, OK longer school day, BY STEFANO ESPOSITO AND ARIEL CHEUNG Staff Reporters September 2, 2011 6:12PM

PHOTO CAPTION: Teachers at Melody Elementary will each make an extra $800 this year for working longer days. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times. Updated: September 3, 2011 2:04AM

Three city elementary schools broke from the Chicago Teachers Union Friday, voting in favor of a controversial proposal to add 90 minutes to the school day this year.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard in a joint statement thanked the “courageous” teachers and principals for their “dedication to investing in our children’s future” at the three schools: Genevieve Melody Elementary, Skinner North Elementary and STEM Magnet Academy.

But the union blasted Emanuel and Brizard’s announcement as having nothing to do with improving kids’ education.

“This is political football school reform at its worst,” said CTU Vice-president Jesse Sharkey. “It’s old-style Chicago ward plantation politics.”

Sharkey accused the Chicago School Board of using “pressure, coercion and bribing,” to get the votes for a proposal that is “deeply unpopular among the vast majority of people who do this work in the city.”

Sharkey said based on his and other union leaders’ conversations with CPS teachers in recent weeks, it’s unlikely many other CPS schools will follow the example of Melody, Skinner and STEM.

One teacher at Skinner, who asked not to be named, said she voted against the longer school day but said many of the staff probably felt pressured to agree to the change.

“The preference of the principal was known, there were some strong voices against [voting no], so it doesn’t take a lot to get to 50 percent,” the teacher said. “We’re a staff of 15 people, so it doesn’t take that much, especially with a lot of new staff members who are eager not to lose their jobs.”

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said no schools have been pushed or prodded into accepting a longer school day this year.

Although he's usually carefully scripted and controlled, when he receives a question he doesn't approve of from a reporter who has gone off script, Emanuel pauses carefully before answering, as he did above when asked whether his administration would investigate corruption and cronyism in the TIF program under Emanuel's predecessor, Richard M. Daley. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.“Several schools indicated to us over the last several weeks that there is a strong appetite to move toward a longer day because ... they don’t feel they have enough time in the classroom with students and they don’t have enough time for planning and collaboration,” Carroll said.

CPS officials say the additional 90 minutes could, among other things, allow teachers to devote more time to reading and literacy skills as well as “core academic subjects” — such as math, science and social studies. Students could also benefit from more time for lunch and recess breaks and “enrichment opportunities,” such as physical education, art, music and library time.

Carroll said teachers at Skinner and STEM voted to begin the longer day on the first day of school, while teachers at Melody plan to begin in January. The votes also called for teachers to adopt waivers, allowing them to veer from their current contracts.

In exchange for working a longer day, teachers at the three schools have accepted a “lump sum” equal to 2 percent of the average teacher salary in the district, Carroll said. That works out to $1,275 for teachers at Skinner and STEM, and $800 for teachers at Melody, because they are starting later, Carroll said. Skinner and STEM will also each receive $150,000 to help cover the cost of moving to the longer day, Carroll said. Melody is set to receive $75,000, Carroll said.

The School Board and the teachers union have been involved in a high-profile and nasty battle over a longer school day. Last week, the CTU rejected an offer of a 2 percent raise for elementary school teachers in exchange for working the longer day to begin in January. At the time, CTU President Karen Lewis said teachers would not be “bullied” by public attempts to ram through a slapdash plan. Emanuel and Brizard are eager for the longer day to begin this year, saying students are being cheated — getting 10,000 fewer minutes of classroom time annually than the national average.

A new school reform law gives CPS the power to unilaterally impose a longer school day and year but not until the current contract expires June 30.

In addition to Melody, Skinner and STEM, there are 12 other CPS schools that currently have days lengthened anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes beyond the standard school day, Carroll said.

The worst coverage usually comes from the TV stations, which have been cutting back on reporters for years and often simply recycle the talking points of those in power. That's why Brizard and Emanuel simply provide their talking points and then duck away. They are safer ignoring the possibility of serious questons while the cameras are rolling and hoping (as the following script shows) that a TV station (in this case one owned by the Tribune Corporation) will simply repeat what they've been saying.


Longer school day for some Chicago Public Schools... Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have made it very clear that all schools will go to longer days starting next year. Marcella Raymond, WGN News, 9:19 p.m. CDT, September 2, 2011


At skinner north elementary school on the city's northwest side, 60% of the teachers voted for a longer school day. That means classes will go from 8 to 3:30, an extra 90 minutes a day.

Teachers at stem magnet academy in Little Italy and Genevieve melody on the west side also chose to waive the current teachers union contract and make the days longer. That's not sitting well with union leaders who say that about 40 members in three small schools should not set the tone for the district's 30, 000 teachers.

However, they did get a 2% raise which amounts to about 15-hundred dollars per teacher and $150,000 for their school which they decide how to use.

The union doesn't like the fact that there's not a set plan in place for the longer day.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have made it very clear that all schools will go to longer days starting next year. They weren't available for questions but issued a joint statement calling the teachers courageous and this day historic. Union leaders say school officials will still have to honor their contract.">Longer school day for some Chicago Public Schools

Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have made it very clear that all schools will go to longer days starting next year. Marcella Raymond, WGN News

9:19 p.m. CDT, September 2, 2011

Chicago— At skinner north elementary school on the city's northwest side, 60% of the teachers voted for a longer school day. That means classes will go from 8 to 3:30, an extra 90 minutes a day.

Teachers at stem magnet academy in Little Italy and Genevieve melody on the west side also chose to waive the current teachers union contract and make the days longer. That's not sitting well with union leaders who say that about 40 members in three small schools should not set the tone for the district's 30, 000 teachers.

However, they did get a 2% raise which amounts to about 15-hundred dollars per teacher and $150,000 for their school which they decide how to use.

The union doesn't like the fact that there's not a set plan in place for the longer day.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have made it very clear that all schools will go to longer days starting next year. They weren't available for questions but issued a joint statement calling the teachers courageous and this day historic. Union leaders say school officials will still have to honor their contract.


October 3, 2017 at 3:40 PM

By: Ed Hershey

Becky Vevea

Note, she was on Chicago News Collaborative back when it was pretty hostile to us (though I remember her as being the best of the three people they had on education reporting -- that one guy kept calling Rahm "the Missile" and other tripe).

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