Access denied: Reporter accuses Emanuel team of playing favorites
Mary Ann Ahern
When it comes to the next mayor of Chicago and NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5, it looks like the honeymoon may be over before it ever started.
Mary Ann Ahern, veteran political reporter at NBC 5, insists she’s not looking for a fight with Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel and his staff. But it’s clear she isn’t backing down from one, either.
In a post on NBC 5’s Ward Room political blog (headlined “How Rahm Retaliated Against Bad Press”), Ahern said she and her station were denied access to Emanuel as punishment for their reports on details of his inauguration, “which includes a plan to charge donors up to $50,000 for a premium seat at the swearing-in on May 16th.” The story had been reported elsewhere.
Added Ahern: “While noting that there will be ‘free, open and accessible’ events around the ceremony, our writers took him to task for being the first Chicago mayor to charge a fee of any sort for his inaugural. The Emanuel team says that money will pay for the event and save the taxpayers.”
The day after the critical story ran, Ahern said, Emanuel’s people “refused to notify NBC of rare one-on-one interviews allotted to our competitors. . . . When we asked why we were left out of the mix, the Emanuel communications team implied they weren’t happy with the coverage of the VIP inauguration. They didn’t challenge facts, but were upset with tone. So they left us out.”
It didn’t end there. NBC 5’s coverage of an Emanuel press conference Friday about Chicago Public Schools ended with the station showing Ahern shouting at Emanuel as he turned away and walked down a school corridor: “Can we talk to you a little bit longer, please? Or is this how we have to talk to you — shouting down the hallway?”
On the other hand, it’s not as if NBC 5 has been entirely neutral in its approach to the incoming mayor. Consider this two-sentence description of him on the station’s political blog: “Foul mouthed, iron-fisted and arrogant. Say hello to Mayor Emanuel.” So there may be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy in the “Rahmbo-as-bully” narrative playing out here.
Despite all that, Ahern says she’s optimistic about dealing with the new administration, telling me: “I’m hopeful my future professional relationship with the mayor-elect and his staff is not impacted by last week’s events.”