Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot last week said she would only grant interviews about her two-year
in office to journalists of color. The decision to discriminate against White reporters was shockingly racist and came off as a desperate act to deflect negative press coverage.
I agree that diversity in the news media is important. However, answering racism with more racism is divisive, alienates political moderates and helps to fuel a reactionary backlash.
Lightfoot, who is Black, also opened the door to criticism that her concern for journalists of color is inconsistent with the past.
In her letter, Lightfoot contrasted the diverse political leadership of Chicago with "overwhelming whiteness and maleness" of the city's media outlets, saying "the group of reporters assigned to
cover City Hall is practically all white. Many of them are smart and hard-working, savvy and skilled. But mostly white, nonetheless."
She wrote that the City Hall press corps
doesn't have any women of color, saying: "I find this unacceptable, and I hope you do too."
Lightfoot also suggested negative coverage is rooted in racial bias: “For the
past two years, more often than not, we have debated internally, then chosen to say nothing, to let it go, lest we be accused of whining about negative coverage or of ‘playing the race
card.’ And the truth is, it is too heavy a burden to bear, on top of all the other massive challenges our city faces in this moment, to also have to take on the labor of educating white, mostly
male members of the news media about the perils and complexities of implicit bias.”
Her accusations didn't sit well with some members of the media.
Chicago Tribune objected to the restrictions, declining to participate in an interview with Lightfoot for her two-year anniversary. Gregory Pratt, a reporter at the paper who describes
himself as Latino, protested the mayor's policy by canceling a scheduled interview with her.
“Politicians don’t get to choose who covers them,” he
Of course, politicians routinely grant or deny access to reporters to control the narrative as much as possible. That should never stop a reporter from doing the work of
cultivating sources and breaking news outside the confines of a staged press briefing.
The board of National Association of Black Journalists provided a more balanced response
to Lightfoot's actions. While calling for greater diversity in the City Hall press corps and better access for Black and brown journalists to officials, it disagreed with the mayor.
“NABJ’s history of advocacy does not support excluding any bona-fide journalists from one-on-one interviews with newsmakers, even if it is for one day and in support of
activism,” the board said in a statement
Lightfoot's short-lived policy doesn't set a precedent for other political leaders to discriminate against journalists, based on their race or ethnic background.