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MEDIA WATCH: 'Fortune' smiles again on Rahm... Corporate America continues puffing up Chicago mayor's ego with puff piece 'interview' in Fortune magazine

Corporate America continued to promote the brief but mediagenic and autocratic mayoral career of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel with a puff-piece five-page interview in the December 12, 2011 issue of Fortune magazine. The interview included the mandatory Rahm talking points against the Chicago Teachers Union and the CTU's president Karen Lewis. One of the most noteworthy things that Rahm revealed was that he was making a point of going behind the union's back and trying to go directly to "the teachers," which he seems to believe support him, not the current CTU leadership. "I also want to separate teachers from the teachers' union leadership," he told Fortune.

The unprecedented Fortune interview, which follows other laudatory stories about Emanuel in major magazines ranging from Chicago to the Economist, continues the hagiography of a mayor who as yet hasn't really done anything except stage daily publicity stunts covered slavishly by the remnants of a once- proud Chicago press corps. Never in the history of American journalism has so much been written by so many about so little. At the time of the Fortune interview in December 2011, Emanuel had been Mayor of Chicago for six months. All he has managed to achieve consists of the passage of a strange (and regressive) series of new taxes (behind a city budget that falsely claimed a "deficit" of $600 million while the mayor sits on nearly a billion dollars in TIF — Tax Increment Financing — funds) and a lengthy battle with the teachers union over his push for a so-called "Longer School Day" during which he resorted to a series of actions in the city's public schools that an Illinois labor board ruled had been illegal.

Nevertheless, as the Christmas holidays approached, Emanuel was being treated to another corporate America opportunity to bash the Chicago Teachers Union and its president, Karen Lewis. The way in which the interview moves into Emanuel's chance to bash the unions gives an interesting insight into how the American ruling class and its corporate media ignore history and present the present as a feature of the life of CEOs like Emanuel and those depicted on Fortune's cover. Ignored in the interview by both Fortune and Emanuel is the fact that for 18 years, under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, Chicago's has engaged in the most intense form of corporate "school reform" in the USA. But Emanuel's first term is being presented to Fortune readers in an ironic nod to the season perhaps as a kind of virgin birth.

"Education is huge whenever I talk to CEOs," Fortune interviewer Colvin asks Emanuel in the interview. "Chicago has some of the world's greatest universities, but K-12 has not performed well for a long, long time. What are the first steps you're taking to fix this?"

"There are things we can do in building and things that we can't but we need to affect," Emanuel replies, then goes to one of his stock lines. "The most important door a child walks through for an education is not the front door of the schools. It's the front door of the home. You and I would not be sitting here if our parents did not teach us the value of education. At school you learned things, but at home you learned the value and importance of it."

While the entire interview is dramatic in a Rahm way, it also reveals more than perhaps the Man from Wilmette (who himself attended New Trier High School and who is sending his own children to the $30,000-per year Lab School at my alma mater, the University of Chicago) wants us to think about about the working class and poor parents behind whose doors the majority of Chicago children live. Do they really need to be "enticed" by publicity stunts and manipulated by focus groups staged for the TV cameras (Rahm's main media interest)? The reader can be the judge.

"We need to entice parents to be involved in their kids' education," Rahm continues. Dropping them off is not taking yourself off the hook. Too many parents think, 'I'm done — I got them there on time. Uh. Uh. You ain't getting a pass on parenthood. That's No. 1

"No. 2: We have the shortest school day and shortest school year of any major city in the country, and starting next year, we have the ability to declare the length of day and length of year... without going through collective bargaining. That was a major change. We're starting that process early with certain schools so we can test it. All those kids are getting more reading, math, and fundamentals."

Rahm also notes his emphasis on the CEO-type model, without mentioning that his school board "team" is going outside Chicago and outside Chicago's teaching and educational leadership force to recruit school executives from MBA programs, and especially the Broad Leadership Academy operated by billionaire teacher-basher and union buster Eli Broad (whom historian Diane Ravitch called one of the members of the "Billionaire Boys Club" that's trying to bully education policy in their corporate direction). No mention is made of the fact that the top executive and administrative positions in the Chicago Public Schools appointed since Emanual's May 2011 inauguration went to outsiders, most of whom had little or no education experience. Brizard's choice for Chief Executive Officer of CPS was the man who failed so dramatically as Superintendent of the Rochester New York public schools, Jean-Claude Brizard, that the city was cheering when he was hired by Chicago. Brizard's main qualifications for the job in Emanuel's eyes seem to be that he was vetted by Eli Broad and that he can repeat, endlessly, the same canned line about improving education while maintaining the same smile.

"We're putting more emphasis on principals," Emanuel continues. "They organize that building, have an esprit de corps in that building. We've created performance pay for principals. We've changed the training so that by the time my term is done, about 50% of them will be retrained or replaced. We have really good teachers. They're dedicated to their profession. They way we're organized, they can't succeed. And who gets shortchanged? The kids."

What follows is the rest of the interview, as it appeared in print:

GOEFF COLVIN: Extending the school day and the school year has not been popular with the teachers' union. The union president, Karen Lewis, has called you "dirty," "low-down," and more. Are teachers' unions friends or foe in improving education?

RAHM EMANUEL: They agreed to that legislation that passed 59 to 0 [in the state legislature] allowing us to establish the length of the day. I understand that they're not crazy about it. I got that. I also want to separate teachers from teachers' union leadership — not the same thing. Our teachers are really good. They really work hard. They deserve good compensation, which is why Chicago has the No. 1 pay in the country. You talk to teachers about lengthening the school day, they'll whisper to you, "It's the right thing to do." They know you can't do math in 40 minutes a day only three days a week.

So now I don't want to fight about it. That should be over. Let's have a real healthy discussion about how to use the time. I guarantee you that in Hong Kong, they're not having a debate on whether five hours a day is adequate. Nobody today, driving the garbage truck in the city of Chicago or at the top of the most powerful financial institutions in the city, got there on five hours a day of education. There were there for 7 1/2 hours. And I'll tell you this, the future trucks we're buying will require technological skill that you can't get in five hours a day.

GOEFF COLVIN: Steve Jobs was a great fan of yours and a contributor to your campaign. What was the relationship?

RAHM EMANUEL: I'd known him since 1992 — got to know him in the Clinton campaign and stayed in touch with him. I stayed at his house. When I left the Clinton White House, I went and stayed at Steve's home with the family. They were supporters. But more than that, I used to talk to Steve on a regular basis. We talked about politics, business, technology. We talked about strategies. I consider myself lucky. He had insights into the larger body politic, and I wanted to hear about them.



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