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Emanuel downplays eavesdrop act

Updated: December 15, 2012 6:18AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, at a Monday news conference, didn’t like questions about whether his press office had recorded reporters’ conversations without first seeking their consent.

That’s a big no-no under the Illinois Eavesdropping Act, one of the toughest two-party consent laws in the country.

One woman, Annabel Melongo, spent 20 months in Cook County Jail before a judge finally freed her.

Her crime: She had recorded a couple of phone calls with a court clerk. We’re talking felony, folks.

Emanuel, invoking “Will” Shakespeare, dismissed such bothersome questions about his press office doing the same as “much ado about nothing.”

Frankly, another line from Shakespeare seems a better fit for the mayor’s fit of pique: “What a piece of work is man.” (“Hamlet”)

The controversy has its origins in Monday’s Tribune story that two of its reporters were recorded without their knowledge by the Emanuel press office as they did phone interviews with city officials, including Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.

Emanuel, at his press conferences, hates it when reporters have the temerity to go off-message on him. His Monday appearance had been called to talk about physical fitness, veterans and the park district. When the wayward press corps turns to a different topic, the mayor’s default reprimand is to invoke “the children,” a subject that Emanuel believes he, and only he, really cares about. Unlike heartless news people.

“I have really big issues,” said the mayor, rebuking WMAQ-Channel 5 reporter Phil Rogers for continuing to press the issue of surreptitious tape recording. “The health of these kids, that’s my No. 1 issue . . . I don’t remember it in my 100-day plan or my four-year plan, a policy to make sure that you, journalists, that we have a record on that.”

Or, as Shakespeare put in “Antony and Cleopatra,” “Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have immortal longings.”

It is time for the smarmy, sanctimonious, I’m-the-only-guy-who-cares-about-the-children routine to end.

First of all, there’s the matter of a law that is still on the books.

Second, there was a simple, straightforward, even polite way for the mayor to answer the question, had he chosen it.

“Why not say ‘I’m conducting an investigation’?” asked ACLU Legal Director Harvey Grossman on Tuesday by phone from his office. “Rahm’s response — I know he’s the attempted master of media control — but he is very disappointing.”

The city Law Department, in an email, said, “These incidents were mistakes that were acknowledged and addressed.”

They were not “acknowledged” by the mayor who used the word “if” when saying, “If the staff has made a mistake in one or two instances, then we’ll address the mistake.”

And “addressed”?

How exactly has this matter been addressed?

We still don’t know in any substantial detail.

So no, this isn’t much ado about nothing.

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