Chicago, IL

Chicago Journalists Outraged Over Mayor Only Granting Interviews to Reporters of Color

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Spokeswoman says Chicago Mayor is only granting interviews to black or brown reporters.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Chicago journalists are furious over Mayor Lightfoot’s new policy to only give 1 on 1 interviews to black or brown reporters. Chicago political reporter Mary Ann Ahern tweeted yesterday about Lightfoot’s hallway point in her first term as well as discussing her failed attempts to gain an interview with the mayor.

As the responses to Ahern’s tweet poured in, it became clear that Ahern wasn't the only one. Dozens of other journalists said they had the same experience.

"I was told the same thing," WTTW Chicago Tonight anchor and correspondent Paris Schutz reacted to Ahern's tweet.

"I can confirm," Chicago politics reporter Heather Cherone similarly tweeted.

Even news agencies whose reporters have been granted interviews are upset. Gregory Pratt, a Chicago Tribune reporter who is Latino, said he was one of the journalists who had been granted an interview. However, when the Mayor’s new policy came to light he asked her to lift the ban on other reporters. When she refused, Pratt said the Tribune canceled the interview.

Today, Lightfoot confirmed that she was, in fact, intentionally prioritizing reporters of color when it came to access to City Hall. Forced to address her decision this morning, Lightfoot tried to justify it saying it was a shame that in 2021 the majority of reported covering Chicago city government were white.

In a series of tweets, Lightfoot stated, “I ran to break up the status quo that was failing so many. 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.

“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.”

Some couldn’t believe this news could be true. Alderman George Cardenas (12th Ward) responded with disbelief, tweeting, "how is that even true, be serious.” When several journalists confirmed the report, Calderas stated, “This should be corrected.”

Since the announcement of Lightfoot’s race-based access policy for reporters some have suggesting the policy is actionable wondering if the media is prepared to sue Lightfoot over her discriminatory interview policy.

The use of race-based criteria normally violates anti-discrimination laws. Lightfoot, has warned businesses that she will not tolerate any race-based discrimination. At the same time, many are saying that despite the fact that the reporters do not work for her, this is exactly what she is doing.

Because anti-discrimination laws were enacted to prevent discrimination against groups that were historically disadvantaged and denied opportunities in the workplace, there is sometimes a perception that the same laws do not protect members of majority groups. However, anti-discrimination laws prohibit all forms of discrimination based on protected characteristics, including race, regardless of whether a person belongs to a majority group.

It's unclear when the Chicago Mayor began limiting one-on-one interviews to journalists of color and whether the policy applies only to local reporters. On Monday, the mayor was interviewed by MSNBC's Stephanie Ruhle, a white reporter. However, it’s possible that non-local reporters scheduled interviews with Lightfoot longer in advance than local reporters, given that non-local media outlets likely need more time to determine the balance of news from different areas.

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