Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot released a two-page letter on May 19 declaring that she will not grant any one-on-one interviews to white reporters on the subject of her second anniversary in office.
She claims treating people differently according to their race is a statement against racism, calling out the “overwhelming whiteness and maleness of Chicago media outlets, editorial boards, the political press corps, and yes, the City Hall press corps specifically.” She further argues that the predominance of white men among Chicago reporters forces her to “take on the labor of educating” them against their “implicit bias.”
This discussion of a politician using the framing of “implicit bias” in an attempt to determine how reporters are meant to question and cover her is a politically correctly phrased assault on the freedom of the press. Politicians will not always appreciate how they are portrayed in the media, but it is not their place to directly attempt to control media coverage.
Lightwood’s decision has proved polarizing; some leftists have praised her for calling attention to the racial makeup of the press corp in Chicago while others expressed offense at a politician openly making decisions based on race. Chicago Tribune reporter Gregory Pratt took to Twitter to speak out about the issue. He was granted an interview with Lightfoot, but he turned it down due to the discriminatory practices demonstrated by the mayor.
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
Democratic local Rep. Alderman George Cardenas was so surprised by the news he did not believe the story could be true. He tweeted at NBC reporter Mary Ann Ahern, questioning “How is that even true, be serious.”
How is that even true, be serious
— George Cardenas (@aldcardenas) May 18, 2021
Even some who agree with Lightfoot’s argument about racism in journalism are not impressed with this stunt. The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) released a statement, declaring that they support Lightfoot’s message but “cannot support the tactic.” NABJ went on to say that they do “not support excluding any bona fide journalists from one-on-one interviews with newsmakers, even if it is for one day and in support of activism.”
The National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) took a similar position, declaring, “NAHJ does not condone restricting press access based on a journalist’s race/ethnicity. Any action that threatens the cornerstone of our democracy and First Amendment rights is unacceptable.”
Charles Whitaker, the dean of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, told the Chicago Tribune, “We would never, ever in a million years allow that of a white politician. And so it’s dangerous now to say we are going to allow that of a Black politician simply to make a point about the historic inequities in media.” He likewise questioned the efficacy of a one-time decision, which offers publicity for herself but no actual change.
Lightfoot has historically shown she cares deeply about how the press covers her. In April of last year, she went so far as to justify breaking her own COVID restrictions to get her hair done, declaring, “I’m on national media and I’m out in the public eye,” despite not long before that telling the people of Chicago that “getting your roots done is not essential.”