- Jay Godwin/Flicker | Daniel X. O'Neil/Flickr
- Author Robert Caro | Mayor Rahm Emanuel
As part of a late-in-life effort at self-improvement, I'm trying to become a better journalist by studying Robert Caro and Rahm Emanuel.
OK, that's a joke—at least in regards to Mayor Rahm.
It's a different story with Caro, the great investigative journalist. I was recently up until dawn reading Working, Caro's latest book.
In gripping detail, Caro explains how he dedicated hours of his life poring over millions of mind-numbing documents to find the truth behind the dastardly deeds of powerful men.
In contrast, Rahm falls into the category of powerful men committing dastardly deeds. And yet in his latest essay in the Atlantic, he offers interview tips to journalists.
Word of warning, people—taking advice from Rahm on truth-telling is like turning to Donald Trump for lectures on ethics.
Welcome to another installment in my latest series—the remaking of Rahm by Rahm, aka, Rahm's attempt to convince the rest of the world that he's not as bad as people in his hometown say he is.
In recent columns, I've written about how Rahm's changed the record on taxes, police, and schools.
For the record, this is the second recent series. The first was on the Lincoln Yards TIF deal—aka, the fleecing of Chicago by Mayor Rahm.
I was hoping to convince the City Council to vote no on those deals.
No chance. The council overwhelmingly approved the deal. Enjoy your rising property taxes, Chicago.
But back to Rahm's rewriting of Rahm.
The recent article in the Atlantic is not the first essay Rahm has written. Or, should I say, it's not the first to go under his name.
Mick Dumke—my old pal and colleague—has long debated whether Rahm actually writes the columns under his byline.
Bending over backward to be fair, Mick says there's no proof that Rahm didn't write them—which, of course, is not quite the same thing as saying he did.
I, on the other hand, insist that the real issue is whether he even reads them.
To be continued—right, Mick?
In his latest essay in the Atlantic—"What the Press Is Missing About Pete Buttigieg"—Rahm criticizes journalists for being too shallow in their coverage of the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who's among the front-runners in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
"Voters relying on mainstream coverage to keep them informed probably know only three things about him," Rahm writes. "He's a candidate for the Democratic nomination. He has a funny-sounding last name. And he's gay."
Then Rahm chides journalists for not "digging much deeper than his orientation."
Then he offers a theory as to why journalists are so obsessed with sex. "In the places where they live—in the pockets of the country that the Donald Trump minion Stephen Miller has disparagingly labeled 'cosmopolitan'—sexuality is a hot topic. Maybe even the hottest topic. Military service? Not so much. Religious faith? Not at all."
Then he offers an example of a question they should ask Mayor Pete.
"When lots of his peers at Harvard and Oxford grabbed their diploma and headed off to Wall Street or Silicon Valley, Buttigieg decided to serve his country in the military. Why?"
And then—oh, god, read the rest of this drivel, if you dare.
This is Rahm in full spinning glory. As he, one, tries to distinguish himself from the rest of the "cosmopolitans"—you know, like he's a regular guy.
And two, tries to promote Buttigieg under the guise of asking him a tough question. I mean, Rahm's sample question is a textbook example of pretending to interrogate someone by asking something that highlights their strengths. He might as well have asked: "Hey, Mayor Pete, what's the greatest challenge in your life, being astoundingly brilliant or exceedingly good looking?"
Mayor Pete's sexual orientation—like his religious beliefs and his military service—are part of a larger narrative about Mayor Pete's life that Mayor Pete's campaign has carefully constructed to divert us from the fact that Mayor Pete's barely taken a stance on any of the major issues of the day.
Concentrating on any piece of the narrative—military, religion, or sexual orientation—helps Mayor Pete dazzle voters into supporting him, even if they have no clue as to what he stands for.
In any event, I hope there are no aspiring journalists out there who really think it's a good idea to take journalistic advice from Rahm.
Good god, this is the guy who spent the last eight years ducking and dodging almost every question he was asked with clumsy stabs at sarcastic humor.
Rahm's attitude toward transparency and truth and government is best symbolized by what Joanna Brown—a Logan Square activist—received when she filed a public records search on a school closing . . . a blank piece of paper.
Rahm's flunkies at the Chicago Public Schools might as well have just flipped her the bird.
In contrast, Caro has dedicated his life to finding the truth. He's finishing up the fifth volume of his study of former president Lyndon Johnson. But my favorite Caro book is The Power Broker, his massive biography of Robert Moses, the all-powerful bureaucrat who built the expressways, parks, and bridges of New York City.
"During the decades of his power, [Moses] used that power to bend the city's social policies to his philosophical beliefs, skewing . . . the allocation of the city's resources to the benefit of its middle, upper-middle, and upper classes at the expense of the city's lower middle class and its poor," Caro writes in Working.
Sounds like Rahm's Chicago.
Someday a journalist will do to Rahm what Caro did to Moses—dig deep into the files to find the truths that our mayor fought hard to conceal. Let's hope the Atlantic publishes that. v