MEDIA WATCH: Silly interpretation of Rahm's 'split' with Arne Duncan airs at Politico

Although most people are still digesting the April 2012 Atlantic monthly magazine article in which Jonathan Alter adds to the hagiographic corporate media narratives about Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a few odds and ends from the article are drawing additional attention. One of those, which came out in Politico on March 20, 2012, tries to make the case that Rahm disagrees with Arne Duncan on the flap over Chicago's Longest School Day, and that there is some meaning there.

Politico said:

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (above at microphone) responded with a significant scowl when Chicago Sun-Times reporter Rosalind Rossi asked him whether he had said "Fuck you, Lewis..." during an exchange with Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. The photo above was taken as Rossi was asking her question during the press conference at Chicago's Schurz High School on September 9, 2011, following a visit to the school by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Behind Mayor Emanuel above are Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, Chicago Schools Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard, and Illinois State Senator Kimberly Lightford. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Since leaving the White House in 2010, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has remained a steadfast ally of the president. But buried in Jonathan Alter’s new Atlantic profile of Emanuel is a shot at another Chicago-based member of the Obama team:

“Rahm is still steaming about the contracts negotiated by [former Chicago Mayor Richard] Daley and Arne Duncan—who was then running CPS and is now the nation’s education secretary—which gave teachers hefty pay increases and a shorter school year. ‘I know what the teachers got, and I know what the politicians got,’ he says, meaning no strike. ‘But I don’t know what the kids got.’”

The contact that so aggravates Emanuel included a 4 percent annual pay hike for five years, according to a 2007 Chicago Tribune piece. It also called for a panel to look at lengthening Chicago’s famously short school days -- another problem Emanuel gripes about in Alter’s piece. Daley originally asked for a 45-minute extension to the school day, but dropped it in exchange for a longer contract that would avoid a strike.

Emanuel’s comment also paints Duncan as an ally of teachers’ unions -- not a position the reform-minded education secretary usually finds himself in.

TO WHICH I'VE RESPONDED ON LINE AS FOLLOWS: (URL for the entire thread is:

This is really no big deal. Rahm is simplifying the historical issue (Arne's two contracts with the unions) and oversimplifying current events (the "longer school day" agitprop his publicity team has been pushing since he took office in May 2011). At the beginning of the Rahm nonsense about the length of the Chicago school day, in September 2011, I covered, as a reporter, Arne Duncan's visit to Chicago's Schurz High School. It was a media event, featuring Rahm, Jean-Claude Brizard, and a cast of hundreds (the new principal of the school had let kids out of classes to provide the adulatory backdrop to Arne's entry).

At that point, Rahm and his surrogates had been pushing Rahm's Agitprop version of reality on the "Longer School Day" for a few weeks, and some people still thought there was room for some facts. After all, if Rahm really wanted a productive longer school day for Chicago's elementary children (two of whom are my own sons; Rahm's children, by contrast, attend one of the most expensive private schools in the USA, which has a short school day, by the way), he could have sat down calmly with the Chicago Teachers Union and the other unions and talked about it, as Arne might have done during the two contract negotiations that took place during Arne's term.

Rahm wasn't interested in either the facts or in improving the elementary school day in Chicago, however. He was carefully pushing what pundits call a "Wedge Issue" against the Chicago Teachers Union and CTU President Karen Lewis (whom Rahm is trying to turn into the Osama Bin Laden of his war mayoralty). It was all scripted even before Rahm's votes were counted, and Rahm was not about to allow any facts to take him off that Hollywood nonsense that has been his script for almost a year now.

A few moments before the Sun-Times reporter asked her question of Rahm Emanuel, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan began answering questions from reporters while various dignitaries arrayed themselves behind Duncan for the cameras. Above, left to right, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard (half hidden behind Duncan), Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (partly hidden behind Duncan), Illinois Senator Kimberly Lightford, Mike Jacoby, and Robin Steans. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.My interest was much more simple. I wanted to ask Arne Duncan (whom I'd covered for eight years when he was CPS CEO) why he hadn't gotten the "Longer School Day" during the collective bargaining sessions leading up to the two union contracts negotiated (2003; 2007) while he was CEO. After all, Arne had the same outside attorney (Jim Franczek) negotiating the contracts that Rahm would have in 2012. So why had an issue that wasn't any big deal in 2003 and 2007 suddenly become a big deal in 2011 and 2012 (other than it was part of the Stephen Spielberg version of "Rahm the Magnificent", leaving out the facts but massaging every detail in the script).

Chicago Sun-Times reporter Rosalind Rossi (above, to the right of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as Arne Duncan arrived at Schurz High School on September 9, 2011) asked the key question of Emanuel at the press conference later in the media event. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.When Rahm, Arne, and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn assembled for the press conference at Schurz High School that day (September 9, 2011), I was prepared to ask my question of Arne and had even wiggled towards the front of the press scrum. Then the wonderful happened. Rosalind Rossi, of the Chicago Sun-Times, asked Rahm whether he had really said "Fuck you Lewis..." to Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis during a meeting he had privately with Lewis. Rahm was not expecting the question, the press conference was in another lovely dimension of reality, and I held my question.

When they broke off from the press, I followed alongside Arne all the way down the hall asking him, "If the longer school day is such a big deal for Chicago, why didn't you negotiate for it when you were CEO here?" First, he pretended he didn't hear my question (he had been doing that to any question I had asked for years), but finally he realized he couldn't evade it and said, "We were unsuccessful..." I repeated the question, saying, "So you asked for it but didn't get it..." and he said, again, "We were unsuccessful." That was good enough for my story.

Rahm, meanwhile, was stewing over the first male chauvinist pig moment in what was to become a lot of them. Since Rahm dissed Karen Lewis back in the summer of 2011, he's gone through a bunch of talented women administrators in his own grouplet and in other city bureaus and departments. The real stories here have nothing to do with the silly Atlantic interview with that psychophant (deliberately utilized) Jonathan Alter and everything to do with the way Rahm is running things in Chicago. Of course, both Rahm's male chauvinism and the silly Hollywood scripting of 'RAHM THE MAGNIFICENT — THE MOVIE' has to be ignored by Alter and his ilk.

To even try to get some facts or history into this story would ruin a good story. But the Alter piece, along with dozens like it in major magazines and newspapers from Chicago to the Economist and now the Atlantic, is just as dishonest and silly as that Mike Daisey thing, also out of Chicago, that caught NPR and "This American Life" in the space between fact and fiction. The difference is that as long as the Alters of the world can keep their Rahmdulation (that's Adulation for Rahm) stories percolating, the facts will be squeezed out.

I don't usually agree with Arne Duncan, but in this instance, at least he's telling the truth. Which is more than Rahm's propagandists have been doing.


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