CNN’s documentary about Chicago was sold to viewers as an “unscripted” look at the Windy City. But internal emails seem to tell a different story, showing that CNN producers coordinated heavily with the office of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, even going so far as to coordinate their press releases with the Mayor’s office.
By April 25, news began to leak that the producers of the CNN “documentary” titled Chicagoland had worked so closely with the Mayor’s office that the two teams even collaborated on camera angles and arranged supposedly off-the-cuff meetings with constituents.
Over 700 emails between CNN producers and Emanuel’s office reveal that the coordination was fairly thorough. In one case, for instance, CNN producers told the Mayor’s office to arrange a face-to-face meeting with Emanuel and a local high school principal.
“Need the mayor at Fenger High School with Liz also. I know i [sic] am needy but we want more Rahm in the series,” the email from the CNN team reportedly said.
Of course, both CNN and Emanuel’s office claim that there was no programming going on, but the school principal’s meeting did end up in the eighth and final episode of the mini-series.
CNN insists that Emanuel’s office had no control over their actions, saying Emanuel was “never granted editorial control over the content or the press communications for Chicagoland, and no agency was ever granted authority to offer the Mayor’s office editorial approval for the content or the promotional materials for the series.”
But the hundreds of emails do show the CNN crew paying much deference to the Mayor’s needs and desires.
Emanuel’s office claims that they did not treat CNN any differently than they do other media outlets.
“The producers of Chicagoland were not from here and, as such, had very little background on the city and the work being done,” Emanuel spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton said. “They asked for examples of work taking place and events they could attend, which we provided. This is no different from information we provide reporters–including the Tribune–everyday [sic].”
All this behind the scenes coordination of the purportedly “unscripted” episodes didn’t seem to help the ratings of the show, however. As each episode aired, ratings continued a downward trend.
The eighth and final episode of the series was killed in the ratings.
Chicagoland earned only 325,000 total viewers and 132,000 in the important 25-54 demographic. Meanwhile, Fox drew 1.22 million total viewers and 244 demo viewers. MSNBC came in second with 648,000 total viewers and 22,000 demo viewers.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.