Police Abuse

Reminder To All the News Outlets Hiring Rahm Emanuel: He's Awful

Emanuel was a habitual violator of Illinois' public records laws and shielded the police from public scrutiny whenever he could.


It's been quite a day for former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The Atlantic announced that Emanuel is coming aboard as a contributing editor to the venerable magazine's "ideas" section. Meanwhile, ABC News announced it has hired Emanuel as a contributor. All within 48 hours of his leaving office.

The former Obama White House chief of staff has almost seamlessly transitioned to the next phase of his career: a sage political observer with his finger on the pulse of what 2020 Democrats need to do to defeat Trump. It's completely predictable but still inexcusable for media outlets to hire him.

Besides the fact that Emanuel has been a mercenary politician his entire adult life, which should be disqualifying on its face, he should at the very least be blackballed from media gigs for his unrepentant and habitual violations of Illinois' Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Under Emanuel's leadership, the city government was notorious for stonewalling public records requests from news outlets and activists, most notably in the case of the 2014 fatal police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by Chicago police.

Police dash cam video clearly contradicted the police narrative that McDonald "lunged" at an officer with a knife, but the Emanuel administration sat on the footage for more than a year—an election year, it so happens—citing an ongoing investigation. The city settled with McDonald's family for $5 million, but part of the agreement forbid the family from releasing the tape until the "investigation" was complete. Chicago only released the video after it lost a FOIA lawsuit brought by an independent journalist, who was later barred from the press conference where the video was first shown.

"Rahm Emanuel's administration was a FOIA disgrace, and he was no friend to the Chicago media," says Matt Topic, a government transparency attorney at Loevy & Loevy who litigated the lawsuit over the McDonald video. "He represents everything that is wrong in government when it comes to transparency and accountability, and he was a shameless self-promoter with little regard for actual facts."

The fight over the McDonald tape was only the most high-profile instance of Chicago dragging its feet or wrongly denying public records requests. In 2015, an Illinois judge ruled, in response to a Chicago Tribune lawsuit, that Emanuel's office illegally withheld emails and texts from Emanuel's private devices regarding the city's controversial red light camera program. In 2016, Chicago paid out $670,000 in public records lawsuits. In 2019, another judge ruled that the Emanuel administration owed the Tribune $387,000 in attorney's fees over the lawsuit for his private communications. The total cost to taxpayers exceeded $1 million. Those communications, by the way, showed a number of people illegally lobbying Emanuel.

It's no wonder that one of new Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot's priorities is improving compliance with FOIA requests—"a marked reversal from outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting FOIs during his two terms," The Washington Post notes.

Not content with shielding police records from public scrutiny, Emanuel also resisted, slow-walked, and tried to negotiate his way out of forcing the Chicago Police Department, and its politically powerful unions, to clean up its act in response to a damning Justice Department report. He's now trying his hand at revisionist history, claiming in a New York Times op-ed that he successfully reformed the Chicago Police Department.

But as the Chicago Tribune editorial board wrote in a sharp-tongued rebuttal, "Wherever there was an escape hatch allowing him to avoid court oversight, Emanuel was lifting the lid."

If national news outlets want to hire and promote a man who abetted lies about the fatal police shooting of a teenager, and who continues to spin that record, I suppose that's their business, and their reputation.