Lightfoot slams 'overwhelming whiteness' of Chicago press, defends only speaking to reporters of color

Media top headlines May 19

President Biden joking about running over a reporter and more round out today’s top media headlines.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, D., 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.”

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.

Lightfoot said she frequently received concern from “Black and Brown community leaders” that media coverage was biased in some form, but she often stayed quiet publicly for fear of being accused of playing the race card.

“This isn’t my job. It shouldn’t be,” she wrote. “I don’t have time for it. But as with so many festering problems, it has only gotten worse with time. So here I am, like so many other Black women before me, having to call your attention to this problem.”

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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