Chicago, IL

People are arguing over Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot's decision to only grant an interview to a journalist of color

Jennifer Geer

Some say her actions are commendable, while others call her a racist. What she has done is shine a light on the lack of diversity in the media.

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(MacLean Center/CC BY 3.0/Wikimedia Commons)

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot ignited a storm of controversy when she announced she would only take interviews from journalists of color regarding her two-year anniversary of being in office.

To be clear, she's talking about interviews for one occasion; the anniversary of her inauguration.

Mayor Lightfoot defended her actions on Twitter, "I ran to break up the status quo that was failing so many." She continued, "That isn't just in City Hall. It's a shame that in 2021, the City Hall press corps is overwhelmingly White in a city where more than half of the city identifies as Black, Latino, AAPI or Native American."

She continued in her Twitter thread:

"Diversity and inclusion is imperative across all institutions including media. In order to progress we must change.

"This is exactly why I'm being intentional about prioritizing media requests from POC reporters on the occasion of the two-year anniversary of my inauguration as mayor of this great city.

"This is an imbalance that needs to change. Chicago is a world-class city. Our local media should reflect the multiple cultures that comprise it.

"We must be intentional about doing better. I believed that when running for office. I stand on this belief now. It’s time for the newsrooms to do better and build teams that reflect the make-up of our city."

Unsurprisingly, Twitter erupted. Many comments were critical. One Twitter user replied to the mayor by saying, "Can someone explain to me how this is any less racist then [sic] a white mayor in the south in the 60s allowing only white journalists to interview them?"

Even Ted Cruz got in on the action by posting an article on the subject from NBC's Mary Ann Ahern and announcing, "Overt racism from the mayor of Chicago."

However, some commenters supported Lightfoot's decision. One response was, "What people don’t realize is that this is a step forward. If a black person asks a question then the black community is represented. This follows from the fact that people of the same color feel the same way and have the same beliefs. That’s representation!"

This wouldn't be the first time in Chicago a politician has made an effort to talk to Black journalists over issues regarding Black communities. Former Mayor Rahm Rahm Emanuel was known to hold "off-the-record- chats" with Black members of the press.

But Lightfoot, by announcing her intentions so very publicly, has shined a spotlight on the lack of diversity in Chicago newsrooms, and newsrooms around the country. It's not Lightfoot's style to handle a problem delicately and discretely. And that's certainly not what she did here.

Lack of diversity in the media is not only a Chicago problem. The news media is mainly made up of white men. According to an analysis from Pew Research, over three-quarters of newsroom employees are non-Hispanic whites, and six in ten are men.

Journalist Ash-har Quraishi tweeted in response to Ahern's article, "It’s definitely a provocative way to highlight the fact that not a single person of color runs any of the major local news stations in Chicago. And currently there are no GM’s of color either."

However, other journalists hold different opinions. Chicago Tribune reporter, Gregory Pratt tweeted the following. "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."

Still, there are others that complain this is Lightfoot's way of creating a distraction from the many criticisms her policies are facing. Political analyst Charles Thomas told WGN 9, "This is a distraction. Instead of talking about crime, talking about disarray in her administration, talking about education, talking about city finances, we’re talking about this.”

While Thomas may be correct in that there are many issues in Chicago that need to be addressed, some feel that equality and diversity among the press is one of those issues.

Whether you think her move is a racist one, or whether you believe she's promoting equality, this controversy has had the successful effect of getting us all to talk about the topic of the lack of diversity in the media.

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Jennifer covers lifestyle content and local news for the Chicago area.

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