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Is Mayor Lightfoot right to only grant interviews to journalists of color?

Is Mayor Lightfoot right to only grant interviews to journalists of color?
WRITTEN BY
05/21/21
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Fact Box

  • Lori Elaine Lightfoot has served as the 56th mayor of Chicago since 2019. Previously, she was President of the Chicago Police Board and held positions in the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications. 
  • On Wednesday, May 19, 2021, Major Lightfoot announced that she will grant interviews “solely” to journalists of color to celebrate the two-year anniversary of her inauguration. She defended her decision based on the City Hall press being “overwhelmingly White in a city where more than half… identify as Black, Latino, AAPI or Native American.”
  • She faced criticism from some reporters for basing her decision on skin color. One Latino reporter turned down an interview request from the mayor saying, “Politicians don’t get to choose who covers them.”
  • According to a Pew Research study in 2018, 77 percent of newsroom employees are White with 61 percent being male. 
  • In a poll conducted between June 21-23, 2020 of 500, Lightfoot received an approval rating of 78 percent.

Andrew (Yes)

Mayor Lightfoot is shining light on a major demographic disparity in her city. As the Mayor explained, the population of Chicago is more than half Black, Latino, AAPI, or Native American, while the City Hall press corps is nearly entirely White. Considering what we know about biases, both conscious and unconscious, and the larger movement toward racial justice in America, bodies such as the City Hall press corps should be more diverse and reflect the populations they serve. Messaging from the government and questioning leaders on issues of importance to the community should be filtered through those with the lived experience found in those communities to a greater degree.  

Those opposed to the Mayor's actions will undoubtedly call this reverse racism or out-of-control political correctness. The fact of the matter is that it takes intentional and significant effort to tackle issues such as institutional racism, which are so thoroughly ingrained in our society. This action will put reporters of color front and center, ensuring that voices and issues from marginalized communities receive attention, showing young people from those communities that they belong in those roles.

Mayor Lightfoot is delivering the promises she made during her election campaign by shaking things up. A recent tweet saying 'I ran to break up the status quo that was failing so many,' explains her thinking on making such a bold move. Mayor Lightfoot was elected for exactly this reason; because her constituents wanted someone to take bold action on big issues. Prioritizing reporters of color is simply the Mayor following through with the promises that got her elected.

 

Elizabeth (No)

Whether or not Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot actually is a racist, she's certainly acting like one this week. Her recent announcement to grant one-on-one interviews only with 'Black and Brown' journalists is despicable and will only further divide the already racially-charged Chicago. Additionally, it underscores her administration's utter failure on other multiple fronts in Chicago.

If Lightfoot were, for example, a White Republican mayor who declared she would only take questions from White reporters, she would be dragged through every media outlet. There would probably be protests and violence. Even if one argued this was simply a poorly thought-through decision (that doesn't appear to be the case, as she's now doubling-down), what is Mayor Lightfoot trying to accomplish by this? No politician should be allowed to choose how they're represented in the press, nor who does the reporting. It very well may be there are disparities in racial representation in Chicago's media. If so, particularly if the reason happened to be racially-based, Chicago must confront that. But for Lightfoot to unilaterally determine that's the case without providing evidence is both ridiculous and an inherently racist claim in itself.

There's precious little support for this statement. One Latino journalist who'd been granted an interview canceled it when Lightfoot's office denied his request to change their decision. Others, including the National Association of Black Journalists disagreed with her, even while acknowledging the need for increased representation. The African American dean of Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University pointed out, correctly, this behavior would never be tolerated from a White mayor from any party. 

Lightfoot has reportedly accomplished little halfway into her term. Focusing on improving life for her majority-minority residents and helping them find more opportunities would be a much better use of her time.

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