Chicago mayor sparks backlash after limiting media interviews to people of color

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) is drawing scrutiny and pushback from local journalists after deciding to grant one-on-one media interviews only to people of color to cover her two-year anniversary in office.

The restrictions on who could interview the mayor garnered national attention after Mary Ann Ahern, a political reporter for NBC 5 Chicago, tweeted about the move on Tuesday.

“Absolutely, they told me only Black and brown journalists are getting one-on-one interviews,” Ahern, who is white and has served as a political reporter at the NBC station since 2006, told The Hill.

In a public statement on Wednesday, Lightfoot confirmed she was “exclusively providing one-on-one interviews with journalists of color.”

“I have been struck since my first day on the campaign trail in 2018 by the overwhelming whiteness and maleness of Chicago media outlets, editorial boards, the political press corps, and yes, the City Hall press corps specifically,” Lightfoot wrote.

The mayor defended her move earlier Wednesday on Twitter, saying she was “being intentional about prioritizing media requests from POC reporters on the occasion of the two-year anniversary.”

Ahern said she was first told of the policy by Lightfoot’s communications director Kate LeFurgy on Tuesday.

“[LeFurgy] said three out of six reporters covering City Hall are people of color and not a single one is a woman of color, while white reporters get the vast majority of access all year long,” Ahern said.

The NBC Chicago reporter said in addition to the obvious racial implications, media outlets are the ones who get to decide who does or does not cover the mayor’s office.

“I think it’s outrageous for an elected official to choose who will ask questions,” Ahern said. “And it’s even more outrageous when it’s based on the color of their skin.”

Other reporters have also publicly criticized the policy, with one Chicago Tribune journalist turning down a scheduled interview in protest.

“I am a Latino reporter @chicagotribune whose interview request was granted for today,” tweeted the Tribune’s City Hall reporter Gregory Pratt.

“However, I asked the mayor’s office to lift its condition on others and when they said no, we respectfully canceled. Politicians don’t get to choose who covers them,” Pratt added.

Carol Marin, co-director of the Center for Journalism Integrity and Excellence at DePaul University in Chicago, also attacked the policy.

“It’s a very good lesson for our journalism students to learn,” Marin tweeted. “Public officials don’t get to pick their reporters. And reporters need to stand up for fellow reporters.”

Ahern said prioritizing Black and brown reporters could work if other reporters are included, but if a decision is made solely on racial grounds her station would simply decline the interview.

“Our station would not send anyone,” she said. “I’m the political reporter … they would not usurp me and send someone else over.”

Ahern said it is possible for the mayor’s office to address diversity in journalism without banning white reporters.

“Maybe City Hall and others should do something like sponsor scholarships for Black and brown journalists, so it doesn’t take them as long as it took me to get here,” Ahern said. “But to freeze us out?”

Tags Lori Lightfoot Mary Ann Ahern Press freedom
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