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Under the guise of documentary filmmaking, producers of CNN’s “Chicagoland” series concocted scenes to frame Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “leadership” and compassion,” 700 emails obtained by the Chicago Tribune show.

Produced by Robert Redford, the series had already been ridiculed in the Chicago Tribune for its focus on putting Emanuel in a positive light. CNN had insisted the series was “unscripted,” however — and billed it as a gritty look at the violent city.

The emails reveal exchanges such as this one from producer Marc Levin to Emauel aide David Spielfogel:

This is a real opportunity to highlight the Mayors leadership — his ability to balance the need for reform and fiscal reality with compassion for affected communities and concern for the safety of Chicago’s school children….We need the mayor on the phone in his SUV, in city hall with key advisers and his kitchen cabinet and meeting with CPS head BBB (Barbara Byrd-Bennett) and with CPD (Superintendent Garry) McCarthy.

And from producer Mark Benjamin:

Still need more Rahm. Need the mayor at Fenger High School with Liz also. I know i am needy but we want more Rahm in the series. I know I sound like a (broken) record, but in the Feb. ’14 broadcast, Rahm will look good making ‘his’ points.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office refused to release hundreds of further emails regarding the series, citing “an exemption in Illinois’ open records law,” according to the Tribune.

The level of coordination provides insight into a new kind of propaganda, a subtler, gentler version where viewers are taken in by the documentary-style filming to assume what they are viewing is unscripted.

Executive Producer Robert Redford spoke about the series on March 4, criticizing the Tea Party for contributing to “extreme” news and holding out his series as “truth”:

When the dialogue about the news is so extreme on one side or the other — extremely on the right, which I think started with the tea party, and that prompted the left to be extreme on their side. So once those two extremes started battling with each other, it’s hard to know where the truth really is. So you want to say, “Well, where am I going to find out about the truth — this side is barking loud, this side is barking louder to be heard, and pretty soon it becomes a lot of noise.”

So where is a consumer going to get the truth? I lean toward documentaries because the documentarian will take an hour to tell his or her story. And those stories are usually about the issues that come up on the news, but sometimes get knocked around with a lot of noise. And so you don’t know what the story really is. But if you look at a documentary and you have an hour or more to dive into an issue, and you go right down to the heart of it, then you can come out of it and say, “Gee, I get the picture.”

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