MEDIA WATCH: 'Send in the Marines!' another Rahm Hollywood hype script on school closings

With everything that's been happening in a week on Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's crazy plan to gut communities and privatize more of public education via massive school closings, almost lost in the hearings (which has seen a thousand people turn out against Rahm's plan at several and more than 2,000 -- ignored by the city's corporate media and Rahm's media cheerleaders -- at the hearing on February 18 for Englewood) is one of the nuttier departures from reality that comes when urban planning is done at Dreamworks ot some other Hollywood house. "Call in the Marines!"

Hollywood propaganda has always been available, but when a war against fascism was being fought the public might have had more toleration for the faux heroics of the men who never actually had to face an enemy using live ammunition, whether the heroics were form John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, or Rahm Emanuel. At least the actors knew the scripts were fiction, whereas in Chicago, the corporate media of 2013 are bringing "news" to the public as if the carefully scripted stories and talking points coming out of the massive propaganda machines assembled by Rahm Emanuel were fact.Somewhere during the last decade of the 20th Century and the first decade of the 21st, "news" became "content" and the "narrative" became more important than the facts in major political stories in the city that once prided itself on the hard core approach of the City News Bureau and "The Front Page." And so as the Chicago Headline Club readies for its annual self-congratulatory event (the Lisagor Awards), the ghosts of a hundred real reporters and the copy editors who sweated for accuracy when it was prized are turning in their graves.

In Chicago, political "news" has gone from being a game of hardball to being a simplistic scripted version of Moneyball, with dozens of publicly paid propagandists at the "Mayor's Press Office" and the Chicago Public Schools Office of Communications churning out regular propaganda at a level of intensity and mendacity not seen since the days when Leni Riefenstahl was doing similar work. But the "Lisagors" are still the sentimental reminder of once upon a time, despite the fact that fiction and the fictionalization of reality fills most of Chicago's news columns in 2013.

At the end of January, while generally ignoring the growing massive opposition to the closings coming from across Chicago, Chicago Schools Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd Bennett's propaganda department quietly leaked an "exclusive" to the Chicago Sun-Times. CPS had hired a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer to make sure that the school closings went off with precision planning and were executed with the care of, say, a drone strike.

From the beginning of his election campaign, Rahm Emanuel has viewed governing Chicago not as a series of actions for the community but as a series of regular media events to put Rahm Emanuel's face on the TV cameras. The plan worked masterfully during the primary campaign in late 2010 and early 2011. In that, Rahm would show up at an "L" stop or some other place where there were lots of voters, TV cameras in tow. While the cameras churned, Rahm would shake a few hands, get near a few babies (never kissing, from what we can tell), and then clean of the germs with Purell while heading back into his car to view the outtakes. Given that the Emanuel campaign was blessed with a budget bigger than all his opponents combined, it was easy then to turn the video footage into ads showing that Rahm was a Man of the People. It worked, Hollywood-style.

After his election in 2011 and inauguration (May 2011), he continued the same script. Every day, the so-called "Mayor's Press Office" churns out several notices of media events to the press, usually ignoring virtually everything that is going on in the third largest city in the USA except some staged events that feature Rahm Emanuel (almost always with some corporate executives announcing alleged "jobs" that will be coming to Chicago thanks to some corporation...). Reporters are dispatched to the Rahm Show and required to take dictation. Those who don't follow the Rahm Script are subjected to a battering ram of calls from the Rahm Media Team, which also includes the CPS "Communications" department at 125 S. Clark St. The demand is that tax dollars be spent every day to keep the media "on message" (viz., Rahm Emanuel's greatness) and that anything else be ignored.

The script also calls for some simplistic talking points beyond the usual prattle from neoliberals about "austerity" and in favor of privatization.

The most dramatic script during Rahm's first year came with the endlessly repeated claim that Chicago's public schools had the nation's "Shortest School Day" (not true; the nuances were left out, including the city's high schools), that some other districts had years more school time for their kids (left out when it turned out that Houston had much longer days, but also lower scores than Chicago), and that Chicago's Braveheart of a Mayor was going to make sure that those lazy teachers worked a FULL SCHOOL DAY. Backed by legislation.

The scripting brought out the worst in government by publicity stunt. By September 2011, Rahm's hand picked out of town first schools chief (Jean Claude Brizard, of Rochester New York) was working to get schools to "volunteer" to join the Longer School Day a year before the plan had to go into effect for the whole city. Only 13 (out of more than 600) signed up, and most of those were embarrassed when they found out they were being made to be part of another publicity stunt. Brizard dubbed the 13 schools the "Pioneers" (straight out of Hollywood scripts, that) and Emanuel tried to foist their courage on the media, with some success.

Leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union pointed out that you didn't just warehouse kids in school buildings -- especially in a city where 160 public schools don't have libraries. You had to have a plan. Instead of sitting down quietly with the leaders of the teachers to actually come up with a plan, Rahm's school leaders spent the year denouncing the teachers, with some of the more unusual among them claiming that the really good teachers weren't really in support of their evil union leaders. The "Longer School Day" script went citywide, to terrible results, in August and September 2012. The Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012 was one result of the substitution of cynical Hollywood publicity stunts for substance and the silent work of policy development.

Undaunted, Rahm went into the second year against the teachers with the "Underutilization Crisis" which his scripting departments cooked up. Using phone numbers assessing the use of the city's public school building and again ignoring nuance, the script was pushed from Chicago to Springfield. Brizard was given a golden parachute and dumped. Another outsider (Barbara Byrd Bennett) was imported over Chicago school leaders as Rahm's second "Chief Executive Officer", and the "school closing" fight was on.

Legislators, thanks to the betrayal by State Senator Iris Martinez, voted to give CPS an extra four months to come up with a list of schools to be closed, and the show continued. But this time, thousands of people were turning out at hearings armed with facts, not Hollywood scripts.

And the final list of schools to be closed (because of that phony "underutilizaton" claim) had to be turned in by March 31, 2013. As it became clear that almost everyone in the communities facing the closings was against the further destruction of the last remaining public institutions in the communities, the facts even began coming out in Chicago's almost universally compliant corporate media. Even though the corporate media ignored nine out of ten of the massive hearings in January and February 2013, they did get to a couple, and reported that the opposition was virtually universal. The lies behind the closing claims had been exposed, just as the lies about the Shortest School Day from Rahm's propagandists and scriptoriums had been exposed during the first year.

But Rahm Emanuel is trying to force his hand-picked CEO and his personally appointed Board of Education (none of whom has been at any of the massive and tumultuous hearings, as of when this is written on February 21) to close 50 schools this year. Despite the fact that CPS doesn't have the capacity to do it, that the money saved as claimed by the mayor is a lie, and that many of the schools under attack are going to be given away to charter schools, the final 50 are about to hit the Hit List, the biggest yet. Simply because the Mayor's script calls for it, and the city's people be damned.

While it's unlikely that CPS officials (most of whom never believed they'd be getting six figure salaries in their lives) will break with City Hall and point out how ridiculous the claims are, another lurid wrinkle to the Hollywood reality that has created unreality across Chicago is now before the public:


In late January, Rahm's propagandists handed a story to the daily newspaper now owned by Rahm's friends (the Sun-Times) about how a tough ex-Marine was going to save the day, just like John Wayne in the "Sands of Iwo Jima" or those guys Rahm's buddy Steven Spielberg put on to the coast of France in "Saving Private Ryan." The script may be silly and as far from the reality of Iwo Jima and Okinawa as the antics of John Wayne were, but in Chicago in 2013, Rahm's Hollywood nonsense dominates the "news" scripts no matter how many people turn out to denounce the crazy formulas and destructive claims.


School chief calling in the Marine to help in school closings

BY LAUREN FITZPATRICK Education Reporter January 29, 2013 7:56PM

Updated: January 30, 2013 9:00AM

Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett is so concerned about the transfer of students in the upcoming school closing process she's leaning on a retired Marine colonel who once quietly sorted out a prisoner exchange in the wake of war in Kosovo to figure it out.

Some in Chicago might point to warring factions in this battle over public schools. And gang borders likely will be crossed when children from schools to be closed are sent elsewhere. And all must be decided and carried out in the months leading up to Aug. 26, the first day of school.

"I'm not saying it looks similar to now, but there was great distrust to the process on both sides but there was a lot of chaos and stress," Tom Tyrrell said in an exclusive interview Tuesday with the Chicago Sun-Times in which he and Byrd-Bennett laid out plans they have so far to transition children into new schools. What is similar, he continued: "It requires you to plow through the noise and get the planning done and get it done in detail and then be flexible enough to adapt as the plan unfolds."

Tyrrell and Byrd-Bennett are promising that by the first day of school, a mere seven months away "all students attending welcoming schools will experience a safe and seamless transition and have an opportunity at a fresh start."

Any supports a CPS student now has will follow him or her to a new school. And kids will be tracked through the new school, Tyrrell said. The district is setting up a web site and hotline, and will host a fair for parents to learn about their options and events to help merge families, staff and students in new school communities, he said.

"This is our highest priority. If we do one thing right this year, we're going to do the transition right," Tyrrell said in Byrd-Bennett's office. "What 'transition right' means is that we take care of the students and that we mitigate any negative impact on their participation in this."

Absent still from the plan are many key details, the greatest of which is how many schools will be closed. Also unknown is whether students from a closed school will be sent to one or more "welcoming" schools that will receive them.

Byrd-Bennett wouldn't speculate on a number or even a range of schools to shutter until the community hearings are concluded. She'll release an interim list of schools on Feb. 13 that could be targeted after her guidelines eliminate safe schools.

A Sun-Times analysis finds that 193 schools remain up for grabs after taking off the table the schools that Byrd-Bennett has declared safe including high schools and high performing schools .

Sources close to her commission told the Sun-Times Monday they'll recommend that she shutter no more than 20 schools so parents, teachers and bureaucrats will have an opportunity to adjust to the upheaval.

"They haven't demonstrated to us that they can close 100 or even 50 schools. They don't have the expertise to accomplish that in such a short time-frame. When they closed down as many as 12 schools, it was a disaster," said a source close to the commission.

The commission source noted that there is "no urgency" to close 100 schools at once, since the long-awaited consolidation would save money over time, not immediately. CPS estimated each closed school would save $500,000 to $800,000. The district insists it must close schools that are under capacity not only to deal with a budget hole but to be able to redirect money paying for things like building repairs into classrooms.

CPS insists it can handle as many closings as needed.

"We can do a lot more than we need to do or want to do," Tyrell, 59, said.

He's overseeing a team of about CPS 40 staffers dedicated to planning the transition process, as best they can without knowing which schools will close.

He'll also hire, for each school set to receive new kids from closed schools, a retired principal to serve as a "principal transition coordinator".

By March 31, when Byrd-Bennett presents her list to the state, Tyrrell wants to have a base plan in place that can be adapted to the affected schools.

It'll include assigning students in welcoming schools as student guides, hosting joint LSC meetings and giving principals a choice of supports among counselors, academic tutors and instructional coaches.

"We can do this," Byrd-Bennett said Tuesday. "I've done it before with far less."

Byrd-Bennett has closed schools before in several other urban districts, most recently, 30 schools in Detroit.

She also closed 20-some in Cleveland and another 21 while consulting in Pittsburgh.

The Chicago Teachers Union argues that Chicago has a different set of problems, including incredible violence.

"She's not a Chicagoan," said Jackson Potter, staff coordinator for the Chicago Teachers Union. "She doesn't understand these things."

The CTU has asked in vain for a moratorium on all school closings until the district studies the impact of past closures and consolidations on the students who were moved.

"We've seen in the past that the district has been really inept at understanding all of the complexity in various communities," Potter said.

Englewood High School closed in 2005, sending its students to many other area high schools. Austin High School kids had to travel miles east to Clemente, where violence flared up, he said.

"There's any number of variables that trigger a specific need in terms of intervention that the dsitrict is unable to provide in an existing school commumity.

Being in a new place "exacerbates the things that create trauma in their lives and there's an impact on students who are are already there," Potter said.

"Barbara [Byrd-Bennett] has said she wants to hear from the communities, and they're listening, but here is a district that has never done this well saying they want to expand it tenfold?" Potter asked.

"How does that even work?"


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