Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot's decision to only give interviews to 'POC reporters' sparks outrage

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Photo credit: Getty Images

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has sparked outrage after deciding to only grant one-on-one interviews to "POC [people of colour] reporters" in commemoration of her two-year anniversary in office.

Lightfoot, who is the city's first female black Mayor, was forced to address the controversy on Wednesday (local time) after the decision drew fierce complaints from journalists on social media.

Some claimed the Mayor was exhibiting racist behaviour by using a reporter's race to determine whether or not they would be granted an interview. 

Gregory Pratt, a journalist for the Chicago Tribune - who is Latino - revealed on Twitter that Lightfoot had accepted his request for an interview. However, the paper decided to cancel the article after the Mayor refused to lift her ban on white reporters.

"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," Pratt tweeted.  

"Politicians don't get to choose who covers them."

On Wednesday, Lightfoot confirmed in a series of tweets she was intentionally "prioritising media requests from POC reporters", implying the decision was continuing her pre-election promise to "break up the status quo".

She added it was a "shame" journalists assigned to report on Chicago's City Hall in 2021 were "overwhelmingly white", calling the under-representation of black, Latino, AAPI or Native American journalists an "imbalance that needs to change".

"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," she tweeted. 

"Diversity and inclusion is imperative across all institutions including [the] 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."

The news first broke on Tuesday (local time) when NBC Chicago's political reporter Mary Ann Ahern, who is white, tweeted: "As @chicagomayor reaches her two year midway point as mayor, her spokeswoman says Lightfoot is granting 1 on 1 interviews - only to black or brown journalists."

A number of other local TV reporters subsequently confirmed they had received the same information, with Lightfoot's decision quickly proving divisive on social media.

Steve Cortes of Newsmax tweeted: "Never mind the thousands of young black men dead in my city while Lori Lightfoot presides over systemic failure = she's facilitating 'healing' by discriminating against white reporters."

But Becky Vevea, a political reporter with WBEZ radio, expressed support for Lightfoot's decision, saying: 'Let's root for and support our colleagues who get one-on-ones with @chicagosmayor. It's not a competition. Our city needs all the watchdogging it can get."

Meanwhile academic, author and activist Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, who is an assistant professor of African-American Studies at Princeton University, suggested Lightfoot's decision was a strategic move to deflect attention from her failures. 

"Such astonishing mastery of deflection and distraction... always hiding from her disastrous record of boldly upholding the status quo in Chicago," Taylor tweeted.

It comes as Chicago continues to suffer from devastating homicide rates and a vicious cycle of gun violence. Local police told ABC7 that five people were killed and 48 people were shot in a spate of attacks over the past weekend, with two police officers and six children among the victims.

Officials and the Chicago Police Department will launch a multi-agency approach to combatting violence over the coming summer, with plans to target 15 areas across the city now underway. 

It's thought the post-pandemic summer season may spark a particularly virulent outbreak of crime in the city, with law enforcement agencies bracing for an uptick in violence as people "explode" after spending months cooped up indoors.

"So if all that pent-up energy, because you're in quarantine, explodes with all these people being out, people being inactive in the outdoors - we want to make sure it's safe," Chicago Police superintendent David Brown told reporters on Monday (local time).