Lightfoot slams 'overwhelming whiteness' of Chicago press, defends only speaking to reporters of color
CHICAGO - Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot defended her controversial announcement to only give individual interviews to journalists of color and blasted Chicago media institutions for their "overwhelming whiteness and maleness" in an extraordinary letter on Wednesday.
Upon the two-year anniversary of her election, Lightfoot has drawn outrage after white journalists were told by her press office that they couldn't interview her one-on-one because of their skin color.
In a two-page letter to the media, Lightfoot, the first Black woman as well as the first openly gay mayor in Chicago's history, praised her own 2019 election for "breaking barriers" and took a shot at media organizations in the city for not adequately addressing "institutionalized racism" in their ranks.
Her decision to temporarily only speak to Black and Brown reporters, she said, was part of her lifelong battle to fight for diversity and inclusion.
"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," she wrote. "I have been struck since my first day on the campaign trail back 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."
In the statement, Lightfoot also mocked white reporters and media bosses as hopelessly out of touch.
"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, media about...implicit bias...I don't have time for it," the statement said.
Notably absent from Lightfoot's letter was specific examples of alleged bias, implicit or otherwise.
She claimed numerous incidents occurred during her first two years in office, but she did not previously complain publicly for fear of being seen as a "whiner."
Lightfoot reeled off the diversity of the city's leadership, including its "majority Black and Latinx City Council," and called it "unacceptable" that reporters covering City Hall were mostly White.
"Many of them are smart and hard-working, savvy and skilled. But mostly white, nonetheless," she wrote.
She lectured the Chicago media leadership to evolve and diversify, for fear that "this arm of our democratic system is on life support."
Lightfoot has taken heavy criticism for banning White reporters from speaking with her, with one Latino Chicago Tribune reporter saying he had cancelled his scheduled interview with her in protest.
"Fact is, elected officials, candidates, celebrities, athletes etc. choose who they want to interview them all the time. They just don't do so on the basis of race or gender. Or at least they don't admit they do," the Washington Post's Paul Farhi tweeted.
South Side native and longtime journalist Curtis Lawrence was asked what difference it makes if a reporter covering a story is white, Black or otherwise.
"It makes a huge difference! And we all know that," said Lawrence, now an associate professor of journalism at Columbia College.
He said he does not believe that a story involving people of one race can only be covered by reporters of the same race.
Lawrence said he’s glad a Chicago mayor is willing to highlight such issues.
A city council foe of Lightfoot agrees, but questions her motivation.
"You have to be a mayor for the entire city. And you can't pick and choose. And then, you know, when the current turns against you, you all of a sudden want to play the race card," said Ald. Anthony Beale of the 9th ward.
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Lightfoot concluded the letter by challenging media outlets to hire more women of color at their outlets and to analyze their own coverage for examples of bias. If an outlet only had a white reporter covering City Hall, she suggested, "make sure there's a person of color working with them as well."
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FOX 32 Political Editor Mike Flannery contributed to this report.