Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot doubled down on her policy granting interviews only to “black and brown” journalists overnight on Thursday, calling the Chicago press corps “overwhelmingly white” in a Twitter thread and in a letter addressed to Chicago’s media.
“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 speak only to Black and Brown reporters, she said, was part of her lifelong battle to fight for diversity and inclusion,” Fox News reported late Wednesday.
— Tahman Bradley (@tahmanbradley) May 19, 2021
In her letter, she accused Chicago media outlets of embracing “overwhelming whiteness and maleness,” claiming it is the mayor’s job to address the lack of diversity by filtering those who get direct access to the mayor.
“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,” Lightfoot 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.”
“If I as the black woman mayor, the first-ever, don’t challenge us, the collective us, to do better, to really make sure that in every institution it reflects the diversity, nuance, and texture, then shame on me,” Lightfoot continued.
“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 went further, taking to Twitter early Thursday morning to defend her policy in a series of posts.
“I ran to break up the status quo that was failing so many,” Lightfoot tweeted. “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,” she continued. “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.”
Critics blasted Lightfoot’s decision from all sides Wednesday. Beyond the journalists who noted that they were shut out by the policy limiting interviews, Lightfoot faced criticism from a Latino news organization, which refused to interview the mayor after she refused to lift the moratorium on white journalists, per Fox News.
She also faced blowback on Twitter, where racial justice advocates suggested that Lightfoot was likely using the policy to distract from her inability to handle questions of violence. “Lori Lightfoot presided over an enormous increase in homicides, almost all of them in African American or Latino communities, and she’s hoping these PR stunts get liberal America to give her a pass for failing to save people’s lives,” journalist Zaid Jilani pointed out.
Indeed, on the same day that the mayor’s office announced the policy favoring “black and brown” reporters, Lightfoot aides announced that “a compromise plan to make past police disciplinary records available to the public,” essentially turning down a request from Chicago’s racial justice activists to expand police transparency.