MEDIA WATCH: Is the official version of 'The Reign of Rahm the Magnificent' about to change?... The Nation narrates 'Rahm on the Ropes' in its digital edition

Although the news hasn't yet reached America's three major daily newspapers or the TV versions of reality (as "news") that the administration of Rahm Emanuel devotes millions of dollars in manipulating on a daily basis, the cracks in the Emanuel narrative are becoming too large for America's corporate media to ignore. Whether that eventually changes into a major counter-narrative is another question. Since before he took office, Rahm Emanuel has made it clear that his image will be crafted mainly for the TV cameras, and that millions of dollars in both public and private money would go towards that end.

Rahm Emanuel's ability to control the Chicago news cycle depends on the active cooperation of the city's corporate reporters and their media, from newspapers to TV newsrooms. On a typical day, Rahm Emanuel will stage a media event like the one above (August 3, 2011) at which reporters are required to attend, sit primly, and ask maybe one question. The above event was staged at the Groupon headquarters on Chicago Ave. on August 3, 2011 (long before Groupon collapsed under the weight of its ridiculous business model) to promote a thing called "Chicago Ideas Week." The line of reporters and cameras is typical of a Rahm Emanuel media event, which takes place daily and ensures that the majority of the city's remaining reporters are never out in the city covering anything that might upend the narrative the mayor insists is the daily does of "news." Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The public money has come primarily from the two propaganda offices that were seized on behalf of Emanuel from the day he took office at City Hall in May 2011 -- the "Mayor's Press Office" at City Hall and the Chicago Public Schools "Office of Communications" three blocks away at CPS headquartes at 125 S. Clark St. Between the two publicly funded offices, public relations on behalf of Rahm Emanuel's narrative -- and at the expense of the actual provision of information about the third largest city in the USA for the public -- has cost the taxpayers more than $6 million. The City Hall press office issues daily updates on the wanderings of the city's mayor, which most of the city's corporate media dutifully utilize to set their agendas. Rarely does a day pass in Chicago when a major "news" story features Rahm Emanuel announcing another corporate coup for Chicago (".... jobs created by _____ corporation..." etc.).

On the public schools side, since Emanuel as inaugurated, the nation's third largest school system has refused to hold one press conference, and the revolving door of top administrators (and "reform" projects that come and go as fast as lightning) has gone unrecorded because they have only been on display at the monthly meetings of the school board, and never allowed to talk with reporters except under the most controlled situations. (Such as the one that almost got this reporter arrested at CPS on February 13 during a carefully staged series of media events by Barbara Byrd Bennett, the latest CEO of CPS). Anyone reading the press reports on Chicago's public schools for the past 18 months, in March 2013, would think that someone named "Becky Carroll" was the chief of the school system. In fact, Becky Carroll is simply the "Chief Communications Officer" of CPS, at an annual salary of $165,000 per year. But since she is the funnel through which information passes for most reporters, she has been quoted more in the corporate press in Chicago since May 2011 than any of the top officials of the nation's third largest school system.

A week after the Groupon publicity stung, Emanuel's press team assembled the city's corporate news reporters and their camera crews at the corner of Montrose and Central Avenues on the city's Northwest Side for another publicity stunt. Instead of promoting Groupon, the August 9, 2011 event (above) was to announce that Chase Bank was supposedly adding hundreds of new jobs across Chicago, thanks to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's corporate friendly policies. As usual, the reporters for the city's corporate media sat primly and took dictation from the mayor. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.In opposition to the vigorous macho narrative of the Man Who Cleaned Things Up that Rahm's public and private publicists have been cultivating since his return to Chicago for a one-term play as mayor before he makes his bid for the Presidency, are the growing number of facts. The school system faced a major strike in September 2012 because Rahm's minions at the school board were ordered to implement a corporate agenda that the teachers opposed. When Rahm's corporate supporters claimed the "teachers" really weren't supporting the "union bosses" (according to another corporate script, still repeated by billionaire political aspirant Bruce Rauner), 20,000 teachers showed up outside Rahm's City Hall offices and marched through downtown Chicago just about every day of the seven-day strike, most wearing red "Chicago Teachers Union" tee shirts in case anyone missed their point.

But the outreach to the national media on behalf of the Myth of Rahm Emanuel continued through the first 18 months Rahm was in office, despite the facts. One by one, national pundits whom Rahm had cultivated over the years came through Chicago to push the official version of reality. Prestigious publications from the Atlantic to Chicago magazine added to the clip files that lazy reporters could utilize to revise the standard story. But by late February, the national propaganda dam began to burst.

The following story appeared on line in the Nation (to which this reporter has long subscribed) on February 27, 2013.

Rahm on the Ropes by Rick Perlstein (Nation on line, February 27, 2013). URL:

Back last year when I was columnizing for the Rolling Stone website, I started explaining to the rest of the country what Rahm Emanuels tenure as mayor of Chicago felt like on the ground here in my hometown and not, say, from the rarified altitude of national mainstream publications who treated the half-baked, potentially self-dealing ideas he rammed through a Kremlin-like City Council as if emanations from some sort of public policy Nirvana; unquestioningly took the mayor at his word even in his most pie-in-the-sky, pot-of-gold-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow pronouncements; and fawned over him as some sort of new-breed reformer because, well he tells them he is some sort of new-breed reformer.

On August 29, 2011, Rahm Emanuel's press team again called on Chicago's corporate media to cover another mayoral publicity stunt, this one in Logan Square where the mayor announced a loft space that would eventually supposedly be used for nice things. As usual, the city's corporate reporters lined up, sat down primly, took dictation from the mayor, and reported the mayor's story into the daily news cycle. Substance counted 32 other mayoral publicity stunts like the one above during August 2011 alone, and most of them became "news" just as the three here did. The three cited here from August 2011 were never either checked out or followed up. The number of jobs claimed for Chase Bank was overstated. Groupon was a near-fantasy from the beginning. And the loft space above was never viewed later to see if it was actually being utilized for the purpose claimed by the mayor's media event. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.I called that Rahmpraganda. Its most sublime practitioner proved to be Jonathan Alter, who gushed in The Atlantic: Sitting in his cavernous office on the fifth floor of City Hall, Rahm lowers his outstretched empty palms, then raises them above his waist. If you have your hands above the table you cant deal from the bottom of the deck.?

Now, it wasnt hard for me to document the various ways Emanuel dealt from the bottom of the deck all the damned time: all I had to do was compile links of the local coverage. On how his administration all but bribed teachers to support his dubious education initiatives. Or rammed through shock-doctrine anti-protest maneuvers. Or embarrassingly manipulated statistics. Or hid his pay-for-access scheduling practices from public view. Or pleaded poverty in a laughably transparent way in order to cut services for things like libraries, while passing equivalent amounts from the city treasury to favored corporate interests. Or practiced simple old-school Chicago-style cronyism.

The responses I got from this humble act of second-hand journalistic aggregation proved the most extraordinary part of the exercise: reporters whose job it was to cover City Hall on a day to day basis, in an atmosphere of sickening intimidation, reached out to me with an almost absurd amount of gratitude that someone, anyone, was bringing this news to the rest of the country.

Still and all, I had to report, the approval rating of a man some say wants to be the first Jewish president is 52 percent after his first year in officenot great, but not bad.

But stick around to the end. This story may yet have a happy political ending if the rest of the country manages to pay attention to whats actually happening in the city.

Since I wrote those articles last year, Emanuels municipal missteps have only compounded. Jonathan Alter said of his response to Occupy, His policy has been to treat demonstrators as gingerly as possible. A local judge disagreed: on First Amendment grounds, he ruled that the arrests of hundreds of people in Grant Park two nights in a row for violating curfew (but none of the 500,000 who stayed past curfew there on Election Night in 2008) proves the city intended to discriminates against defendants based on their views.

What Emanuel had planned as his marquee accomplishment corporate-style school reform has been cracking like a pane of glass. His attempt to game state law to make it virtually impossible for Chicago public school teachers to strike backfired last year when they not only struck the hell out of him but ended up undermining the core rhetorical underpinning of the reform movement that teachers unions are the enemies when Chicago Public School parents sided overwhelmingly with the strikers.

That hardly held back Phase Two of Emanuels scheme, set to roll out this year: planned massive school closings, based on dubious and opaque statistical arguments about underutilized buildings. Activists point out that the rationale for school closings shift from year to year, and never seem to accomplish the policy aims that supposedly justify them; so threadbare have the citys explanations become by now, in fact, that the actual reason for hollowing out the system has become transparent to just about everyone: to turn the most prominent operator of charter schools, the United Neighborhood Association, or UNO, into a wheelhouse of a new-model political machine. Heres an editorial from last Friday in the Chicago Tribune, a right-leaning publication that would love to sign off on City Halls corporate school reform agenda, if only it didnt obviously stink so very, very bad:

The Chicago Sun-Times recently reported that much of a $98 million state grant given to UNO to build schools was funneled to companies that have deep connections to the organizations political allies and a top UNO executive, Miguel dEscoto. Shortly after the story broke, dEscoto resigned.

DEscoto Inc., a company owned by Miguel dEscotos brother Federico, reaped more than $1.5 million for work as the owners representative in the construction of several schools.

Reflection Window Co., owned by another dEscoto brother, Rodrigo, stands to earn nearly $10 million for work on several schools.

Plumbing contracts went to a company owned by the sister of Victor Reyes, the clout-heavy lawyer and lobbyist who helped UNO snag the state grant.

UNO hired Aguila Security, a firm run by two brothers of state Rep. Edward Acevedo, a longtime UNO ally who voted to approve the UNO grant in 2009.

When Rahm Emanuel's propaganda team, which that day included the CPS "Office of Communications", staged a publicity stunt at Perez Elementary School to unveil an online program that enabled anyone with Internet access to go to a Website to learn how their public schools were (usually) failing, the choice for a site was the library. But when the school's principal (right) was asked by a Substance reporter whether the library that was being used by the mayor (center) and his then CPS CEO Jean Claude Brizard as the setting for the stun had a librarian, she had to answer, reluctanlty, "No." The library was not available to the children of Perez at that time because the Emanuel administration had failed to provide the funding for libraries at 160 of the city's public elementary schools, while paying Brizard a quarter of a million dollars a year (during his brief time in Chicago) and also paying him $35,000 to move from Rochester New York to Chicago when he was picked by Emanuel to be Chicago's schools CEO. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. And all this is not to mention Emanuels most nationally prominent policy failure his inability to accomplish a reduction in the citys heartbreaking epidemic of youth gun violence, horrifyingly symbolized this winter by the slaying of local 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton about a week after she returned from performing at Barack Obamas inauguration.

Now that promised happy political ending. Voters are waking up. Crains Chicago Business polled 600 voting-age Illinois voters last September. Thirty-four percent approved of Emanuels performance and 33 percent disapproved. It just ran the poll again. This time, 19 percent approve and 50 percent disapprove. And in Chicago proper? Thirteen percent strongly disapprove of his performance, 9 percent somewhat disapprove, and 13 percent lean toward disapprovaldown sixteen points in net approval since September.

Who loves you, Rahm? Around one of every fifty Chicagoans, it turns out. Says Crains, just 2 percent of Chicagoans surveyed said they strongly approve of the mayors job performance.

Once more, though, the celebrity-besotted national political media hasnt quite received the news. Last week, The Washington Posts conventional wisdom maestro Chris Cilizza reviewed the chances of Emanuel making a respectable presidential run. He kind of liked them. He quoted Democratic pollster Mark Mellman: Ive known Rahm for almost 30 years and if Ive learned anything its that Rahm can achieve whatever Rahm sets out to achieve. Maybe Mellman should start reading the Chicago presswhove been proving that Rahms achieving just about nothing hes set out to achieve.

Rick Perlstein last wrote on the Oscars and why this years ceremony was hardly political.



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