Monday, April 18, 2011

Now Rahm Emanuel is Freezing Out Some in the Media

About a month ago, I posted a story about how a newsmaker, the famous activist priest Fr. Michael Pfleger, can deny access to a reporter if that reporter decides to write anything embarrassing or negative about him.  A print reporter actually admitted not reporting an embarrassing, but hardly devastating, inconsistency in something Fr. Pfleger claimed out of fear of losing access to one of the big news makers in Chicago.

I said then how that scenario demonstrates that even the best of reporters can be compromised by a major newsmaker. The problem with newsmakers, such as Fr. Pfleger, manipulating reporters is nothing new, but it has become worse in recent years.

Little did I know that I would see another example of this manipulation so soon and again in Chicago.  According to NBC news in Chicago, mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel decided last week to grant rare one-on-one interviews to every news outlet in the city, except WMAQ-TV, the NBC owned station in Chicago. 

The reason was that evidently NBC ran a story about how Emanuel will be the first mayor of Chicago to charge for premium seating to his inauguration, which is scheduled to take place on May 16.  It was reported that donors would be charged up to $50,000 for the best seats.  Emanuel’s team said that charging donors would save the taxpayers for paying for the event.

When NBC balked about being left out of the one-on-one interviews with Emanuel, his communications team reportedly said that they didn’t like the tone of the story that NBC did on VIP seating for the inauguration.  Later last week, Emanuel walked away from NBC reporter Mary Ann Ahern as she asked him about his new communications director, who has allegedly racked up nine personnel complaints when she worked for the federal government.

I said last month that when reporters go along with newsmaker manipulation by refusing to report the truth for fear of losing access, they compromise their credibility.  Now we see a scenario that indicates why reporters fear losing access for reporting the truth because they often do.  As far as I am concerned, the newsmakers that cut off access to reporters who don’t report everything the way they want are just as guilty as the reporters, themselves, of creating an atmosphere where truth loses out. 

I’ve worked for a few newsmakers who did nothing but complain about how reporters get it all wrong, but then they didn’t want to take the time to engage in any attempt to correct the record because of fear of not having everything precisely reported their way. While I was not always successful in combating such a bunker mentality, I gave three axioms of why it is not wise to avoid the media or play favorites.

The first axiom is that the reporter is going to do the story anyway, whether the newsmaker chooses to cooperate or not.  When a person doesn’t cooperate, the reporter thinks that person is trying to hide something, so the story will not only be missing the newsmaker’s position; it is likely to be negative.

The second axiom is that cooperation still will not guarantee a favorable story.  If the newsmaker does engage the media on the story, he or she might not like the outcome anyway, but at least they will have an opportunity to have their side included in the story. 

The third axiom is any communications or public relations director who says they can control the media is a liar.  The press secretary to the President of the United States can’t control the media, and I can guarantee you the White House press corps is always worried about losing access.  Therefore, how can a press representative of anyone else promise nothing but good stories?

Mayor-elect Emanuel, if you are truly a leader, you should have no problem standing in front of a group of critics or television cameras to explain why you made any decision.  If you can’t do that, you should not have run for mayor of Chicago in the first place.

He has yet to be inaugurated, and he is already showing a very thin skin.  One wonders what Rahm will do when the you know what really hits the fan?

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