Chicagoland Review – Part 1

The shocking degree to which facts and figures from City Hall go unchallenged in CNN’s Chicagoland reporting.

Chicagoland CNNI got the feeling from social media that there were going to be problems with CNN’s Chicagoland documentary because it seemed for some reason CNN had chosen to involve Chicago journalist Mark Konkol.  Then you take a look at the access Konkol and CNN got and you know that there is no way that this is going to contain independent journalism.  Emanuel, like our past mayors, simply controls his message by giving access to those they know will not challenge the image he wants presented.

Clout attached to CNN’s Chicagoland filmmakers: John Kass’ column titled “CNN’s mythmakers give Rahm a big hug” pointed out that: The series is produced by Robert Redford and directed by filmmakers with connections to Rahm’s brother Ari, the super agent at the William Morris agency”

So let’s take a quick run through the most unchallenged figures used in the first episode of Chicagoland:

The Chicago Public Schools are facing a $1 billion budget hole

This fact has been challenged not just by the unions but also by real journalists that actually do their due diligence and go beyond reporting out press releases.  WBEZ and Catalyst have done plenty of work debunking about every figure presented by CPS during this time.  It would not have been hard for Konkol to find but it seems it was not a priority.  Not surprising.  In fact we have come to expect nothing more but the least amount possible in Konkol’s reporting.  Which is why his selection as the voice of this program seems not to be an accident.  Let’s also not forget that about 50% (or more) of every dollar that goes in to the Mayoral slush fund know as TIF funds should be going directly to the Chicago Public Schools.  Hmmm… maybe the existence of TIFs has something to do with a supposed short fall of money over at the Chicago Public Schools.  If you want more information don’t watch the upcoming episodes of Chicagoland instead go to the Chicago Reader and read everything Ben Joravsky has written on the subject for decades now.  Seems like the CNN researchers were too lazy to do it themselves. 

For a great take on the mistakes of most of the media experienced when covering issues at CPS check out these pieces on the Beachwood Reporter:  

Violence Reductions from 2012-2013

This is so on par with everything the Chicago press reports on violence in Chicago.  There were no experts on violence that did not think that the 2013 violence levels were not going to go back down and most likely be right in line with pre 2012 levels.  Why?  As we all now know the 2012 winter was unbelievably warm and was one of the main drivers of the 2012 violence numbers.  There was little chance that 2013’s winter would be anywhere near what we experienced in 2012.  Winter temperatures returned to normal and violence levels did also.  Now, of course policing tactics and a variety of other interlocking variables played a role, to what degree any single variable played is very hard to determine and certainly out of the skill set of the average journalist, especially ones that routinely print press release for a living.

In Chicagoland they showed a brief view of Chicago Police Department’s compstat meeting where McCarthy holds police leaders accountable for crime in their districts.  It is interesting that they talk about it as if the Chicago Police did not previously use data for accountability.  The Chicago Police Department definitely used data for accountability related to crime and violence in the department prior to McCarthy, it just was not called compstat.  Obviously compstat is all part of McCarthy’s heroic efforts to save Chicago from itself.  Compstat has spread significantly from New York City and in many of those locations it was either adjusted or all out dismissed because of the high pressure for officials to cheat the numbers or make them up out of whole cloth...

One great example of crime numbers corruption in New York includes the New York Police Department’s illegally institutionalizes one of their own to discredit his version of pressure to doctor numbers within the department.

I got to be honest I really hope for our sake that McCarthy does not think it is his job to save the city.  It is a Chicago tradition to strip underserved communities of every public resource possible and force community members to seek solutions for all of their problems from the police, which for the most part is the last remaining social institution that these communities visibly see in their communities.  Saving these communities goes far beyond anything the police department can possibly achieve.  To save these communities we need to revitalize them through investing in their schools, providing first rate mental health and drug treatment, and creating living wage jobs in their communities.  None of these social ills can be addressed in a real manner by the Chicago Police Department.  Now, all of these investments benefit from safer communities but for decades Chicago has destroyed schools in underserved communities and divested as many public services as possible.  It is only through the long-term investment in these communities that they will be “saved”.   The police are part of that discussion but far less than Konkol focuses on in his reporting both in Chicagoland and for the Sun Times and DNAInfo. 

Turn Around Schools

It is interesting that Konkol and CNN chose to replicate to some degree exactly what WBEZ’s This American Life did in their 3 part series on Harper High School.  In Chicagoland instead of going to Harper High they go to Fenger High School, which like Harper is a turn around school.  This is where through either federal or local funds a significant amount of money is invested in a school typically for four years to provide the school with additional positions and programs to help students.  Rightly Konkol covers the improvements to the school but nowhere really do they cover the fact that Emanuel is divesting great amounts of money from public schools while at the same time there is fantastic examples like Fenger that prove that investing in troubled schools pay dividends.  It seems that even though this reality was starring Kinkol and the Chicagoland producers in the face it never made it in to their coverage.  Of course, they might not have made it in to the car with Emanuel and McCarthy if it did.

The 1871 Tech Hub

I am so glad that Emanuel has invested in bringing tech jobs to Chicago.  Sad reality is that few if any of those jobs go to people of color in communities that are in most desperate need of jobs.  The video itself of Emanuel’s time at the hub showed not a single black person that was not in Emanuel’s entourage.   Remember also that the city is pretty evenly split between Black, White, and Latino.  Chicago can use all the jobs that it can get and I have been to 1871 3 or 4 times now and I think the idea is great but there is little connection between this endeavor and the majority of the south and west side communities.

Conclusion

The major problem with Chicagoland is that there is really no context presented to anything they are reporting on.  Their theme is clear:  Chicago likes strong leaders and with all the problems the city has it definitely needs one.  Of course, they have no interest in informing you about who is responsible for the problems.  That may make their strong mayor not look so good.