So wrong: Chicago mayor declares she will only grant interviews to ‘journalists of color’
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” — Martin Luther King, Jr., Aug. 28, 1963.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot was just two years old when Dr. King gave that speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. But like many Americans, she probably read or watched it in its entirety when she got older. And that’s one reason why it’s so stunning that Lightfoot, the first Black woman elected as the Windy City’s mayor, would declare the exact opposite regarding race this week, in terms of granting media interviews.
“By now, you may have heard the news that on the occasion of the two-year anniversary of my inauguration as Mayor of this great City, I will be exclusively providing one-on-one interviews with journalists of color,” Lightfoot said in a letter to Chicago media. “As a person of color, I have throughout my adult life done everything that I can to fight for diversity and inclusion in every institution that I have been a part of and being Mayor makes me uniquely situated to shine a spotlight on this most important issue.”
So, there you have it: An elected official of one the country’s biggest cities states, openly and without apology, that interviews marking her second year in office (as if that’s some kind of big deal) will not be given to anyone in Chicago media who is white. Lightfoot says she is fighting against what she believes is systemic racism in the media, but she excludes certain races in her quest to do so.
If that’s not irony, I’m not sure what is.
— Mary Ann Ahern (@MaryAnnAhernNBC) May 18, 2021
“In looking at the absence of diversity across the City Hall press corps and other newsrooms, sadly it does not appear that many of the media institutions in Chicago have caught on and truly have not embraced this moment,” Lightfoot added before taking stock of the way Chicago media appears to her: “Many of them are smart and hard-working, savvy and skilled. But mostly white, nonetheless.”
“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,” she later adds. “This isn’t my job. It shouldn’t be. I don’t have time for it.”
Of course, Lightfoot apparently isn’t including Hispanic or Asian reporters in her “analysis” of minorities in the local press corps, as pointed out by the Chicago Tribune’s Gregory Pratt.
In letter to journalists, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said there are no women of color assigned to cover Chicago City Hall. But @WBEZ notes: “Two of the three WBEZ reporters covering City Hall are Hispanic and South Asian women respectively.”https://t.co/8bqMFgqVUo
— Gregory Pratt (@royalpratt) May 19, 2021
Pratt, a Latino, had an interview scheduled with Lightfoot on Wednesday. When he asked for the mayor to lift her condition on who and who does not get granted an interview, her office would not lift the prerequisite. So he cancelled.
I am a Latino reporter @chicagotribune whose interview request was granted for today. 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. https://t.co/YMW8M8ZgJm
— Gregory Pratt (@royalpratt) May 19, 2021
Thankfully, some journalists are pushing back.
— Jeryl Bier (@JerylBier) May 19, 2021
Looking forward to seeing our city’s many talented journalists of color press the mayor on why she’s failed to follow through on so many of her other promises to “break up the status quo.” https://t.co/IyFiO8bYgj
— Mick Dumke (@mickeyd1971) May 19, 2021
— HARRISFAULKNER (@HARRISFAULKNER) May 19, 2021
These kinds of stunts are designed to distract from real problems. Per the Chicago Sun Times: “Chicago was hit with its most violent weekend of the year, with a 2-year-old girl, a 13-year-old boy and two Chicago police officers among 48 people who were shot. At least six of those people were killed.”
On Tuesday alone, 14 people were shot in Chicago, leaving two dead.
Two people were killed and 12 others wounded in shootings Tuesday in Chicago, including a 16-year-old boy who was shot to death in the East Side neighborhood. https://t.co/D9XNPahNI0
— Chicago Sun-Times (@Suntimes) May 19, 2021
Overall, more than 1,200 people have been shot in the city this year, a notable increase from the 886 who were shot by this same time last year.
Lightfoot doesn’t seem to have any answers for solving that problem. Nor will she, presumably, provide them to any white or Latino or Asian reporters if asked about it this week.
There’s also the matter of unintended consequences for such an edict, because the Black or brown reporters who may be granted interviews with Lightfoot will be seen – unfairly to them – by at least some observers as only landing it due to the color of their skin, not due to their skills or experience as journalists.
The mayor thinks she’s helping here. She isn’t. You don’t fight racism by rewarding or punishing people based on the color of their skin.
Perhaps Lightfoot should watch that iconic speech by Dr. King sometime.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.