DOWNTOWN — Many people will tell you that every step Mayor Rahm Emanuel takes, every hand he shakes, heck, every breath he takes, is choreographed like one of his childhood ballet recitals.
That’s particularly true when it comes to the mayor’s well-known obsessive compulsion with “controlling the message.”
For the most part, Emanuel is pretty up front about that. When he’s in a particularly good mood, the mayor has started news conferences with a one-liner: “As Henry Kissinger used to say to the press, ‘Do you have any questions for my answers?’ "
I never knew exactly how much truth was packed in that mayoral punchline until this week.
A public records request returned a document with telling details about how much effort Emanuel’s administration puts into controlling the message at mayoral press conferences.
Mark Konkol on the the Emanuel administration's efforts to 'control the message'.
The “Daily Press Guidance” prepared for Emanuel’s Dec. 30 news conference on a new police “use of force” policy was complete with “Today’s sound bites,” “In The News Today” topics and scripted responses to expected questions that read like a stage play.
For instance, if a reporter were to ask if the new policy is meant to tell police officers to “stand down? Not to do their jobs? Run from trouble?” the script calls for the mayor to say, “Absolutely not.”
Then the mayor’s “press guidance” includes this stage direction: “TURN TO JOHN,” a reference to then-acting police Supt. John Escalante, whose lines are also included in the script.
Half of the projected questions included in the script called for Emanuel to say a line or two and then “TURN TO JOHN.”
When I read the script and stage directions to Ald. Scott Waguespack, the 32nd Ward boss laughed so hard he started to choke.
“That’s just funny,” he said, coughing hard after a deep belly laugh. “Really funny, actually.”
Waguespack, an outspoken mayoral critic, said the detailed script was especially funny because it seemed over the top even for Emanuel who “choreographs everything.”
Emanuel spokesman Adam Collins, though, didn’t see the humor.
He sent over a serious response.
“Our press staff regularly provides the Mayor with material to ensure he is up to speed on the variety of topics you and your colleagues are interested in that day, and prepared to answer any questions,” said Collins, who was recently promoted to boss of the Mayor's Press Office.
And, Collins pointed out, the mayor’s Spin Machine — a City Hall operation that pays out $2.5 million in spokesman salaries — doesn’t tell the mayor what to say.
“I’d note that these are suggestions,” Collins said.
Mayor Emanuel, you could say, improvises answers to reporter questions.
“As you might imagine ultimately he’ll decide what he is going to say (or not say),” Collins said in an email.
For the most part, reporters’ questions at the Dec. 30 news conference didn’t track with the succinct, on-topic queries the mayor’s press team expected.
Instead, Emanuel was hit with a series of long-winded, sometimes confusing two- and three-part questions that in hindsight weren’t very effective at getting more information out of the mayor than the Spin Machine wanted him to give.
That’s not a dig at fellow reporters.
I only point it out so regular folks know that you won't catch us reading from a City Hall script.
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