CNN Disputes Idea That Rahm Emanuel Had Editorial Control Over Documentary Series

This image released by CNN shows Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a scene from the CNN documentary, "Chicagoland." The 8-episode
This image released by CNN shows Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a scene from the CNN documentary, "Chicagoland." The 8-episode series will debut on Thursday, March 6 at 10p.m. on CNN. (AP Photo/CNN)

NEW YORK -- CNN defended its eight-part documentary series “Chicagoland” on Friday, following a front-page story claiming producers and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s aides coordinated scenes during filming.

The Chicago Tribune's Bill Ruthhart reported that the “Chicagoland” production team worked with Emanuel’s advisers “to develop storylines, arrange specific camera shots and review news releases officially announcing the show.”

“City Hall's frequent correspondence with the producers illustrates how senior aides to a mayor known for shaping his media image managed how CNN would portray their boss to a prime time national audience,” Ruthhart wrote.

A CNN spokeswoman told HuffPost Friday that "the mayor’s office 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 several of the 700 emails the Tribune obtained through an open records request indicated a level of coordination in setting up scenes that wouldn't be expected for a "non-scripted" documentary series airing on a news network. They also revealed the production team suggested that increased access to the mayor could result in more favorable coverage.

The Tribune published several of the emails, including one in which "Chicagoland" producer Marc Levin, seeking more access, told Emanuel’s team that they would show the mayor "as the star that he really is." In another, Levin told Emanuel's staff that in order to best highlight the mayor's "leadership," they needed to film him in specific ways, such as on the phone in his SUV and in a meeting with key advisers at City Hall.

Several hundred messages between Emanuel staffers were redacted, according to the Tribune. One heavily redacted email includes Emanuel aides discussing potential "characters" for the documentary series.

Levin and Mark Benjamin, the team behind "Brick City," the Sundance Channel’s series about Newark and its mayor at the time, Cory Booker, gained access to Emanuel in February 2013 through the assistance of a Chicago public relations firm with ties to the mayor, according to the Tribune.

In May 2013, CNN announced that it was collaborating with the filmmakers on “Chicagoland," with Sundance Productions’ Robert Redford and Laura Michalchyshyn serving as executive producers.

Filming wrapped in October and the first episode premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Last month, CNN began airing the series, with the final installment airing Thursday night.

The "Chicagoland" production team often did not get the access to Emanuel it desired, according to the emails. Levin told the Tribune he was "eternally frustrated" by the controlling behavior of the mayor's office.

Levin said that “everything the mayor does is stage-managed” and acknowledged that you don’t “get access without having to do a certain dance.” He maintained, however, that the mayor's office did not have editorial control over the series.