What to expect from Rahm Emanuel as Obama's chief of staff.

Media criticism.
Nov. 6 2008 6:51 PM

Rahm Emanuel, Press Tamer

What to expect as Clinton's enforcer becomes Obama's chief of staff.

Rahm Emanuel.  Click image to expand.
Rahm Emanuel 

"Always be closing!"—shouted by Alec Baldwin in the movie version of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross could be Rahm Emanuel's slogan.

Working for Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign, the hyperaggressive Emanuel—who knows his way around lewd speech as well as any David Mamet character—raised money by the tanker-load, helping to make the Clinton victory happen. Inside the White House, he prodded, schemed, bullied, and screeched in service of his boss as a political director and senior aide.

After leaving the White House in 1998, he went to work for financier and vanity-press mogul Bruce Wasserstein and outdid the Baldwin character, who bragged about making almost $1 million a year, by taking down at least $16.2 million dollars in just two and a half years, according to a 2003 Chicago Tribune story. (A later Fortune article puts his haul at $18 million.)

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"It's a striking sum even in the richly paid world of corporate deal-making, let alone for someone without an MBA or any prior business experience other than running a small political consultancy," the Tribune reports. After closing that deal, Emanuel returned to politics, winning a House seat and going on to raise even larger mountains of campaign cash for the Democratic Party.

Today, Emanuel agreed to return to the site of his earlier victories by accepting the job of chief of staff under President-elect Barack Obama. Emanuel loves the press on many levels. He loves leaking to them, manipulating them, packaging stories for them, and recycling crap to them. As the New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller wrote in 1997:

Reporters say Rahm is smart, but complain that he has a bad habit of peddling shopworn goods as scoops. ''I got along with him, but like everybody else who ever covered that place, I also hung up on him,'' says David Lauter, who was in charge of the 1996 election coverage for the Los Angeles Times. ''You just want to say to him, 'Enough,' He'll call you up and start spinning something about how this is the greatest thing that any President has done in the history of man.''

Howard Kurtz's 1998 book, Spin Cycle: Inside the Clinton Propaganda Machine, portrays Emanuel as a tireless, conniving salesman of Clinton hoo-ha. Once, when Emanuel fed an assortment of Clinton mini-initiatives to several newspapers, USA Today put "Clinton Lays Plans for Millennium Activities" on Page One. "Next, reporters joked, they would be leaking presidential Post-it notes," Kurtz writes.

But far from resenting the kibble that Emanuel scattered, some in the press corps made their resentment known when they missed a feeding. In one case, according to Kurtz, Emanuel leaked Clinton's decision to request a campaign-finance rule change to USA Today, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times but passed over the Wall Street Journal's influential Michael Frisby. To abbreviate the story, Emanuel repaired relations by having the incensed Frisby (" 'I'm going to fuck you,' he declared") fed an exclusive about Clinton's "national conversation" about race. Yes, this is how Washington journalism works.

Emanuel "spent perhaps 60 percent of his time" on the press, Kurtz writes, relying on charm, insults, and bluster to advance Clinton's many agendas.

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