CHICAGO - Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot continued to defend her controversial decision to only speak with non-White reporters earlier this year, calling the number of the journalists of color covering her "unacceptable" and declaring she'd do it again because of the conversation it spurred.
"I would absolutely do it again. I’m unapologetic about it because it spurred a very important conversation, a conversation that needed to happen, that should have happened a long time ago," Lightfoot said in an interview published Monday in the New York Times.
Lightfoot made waves earlier this year when she announced she would only grant one-on-one interviews to Black and Brown reporters upon the two-year anniversary of her taking office, scolding the Chicago media for its "overwhelming Whiteness."
Lightfoot was still defiant as she spoke with Swisher about the widely criticized decision.
"Here is the bottom line for me, to state the obvious, I’m a Black woman mayor. I’m the mayor of the third-largest city in the country, obviously I have a platform, and it’s important to me to advocate on things that I believe are important," Lightfoot said. "Going back to why I ran, to disrupt the status quo. The media is critically important to our democracy … the media is in a time of incredible upheaval and disruption but our City hall press corps looks like it’s 1950 or 1970."
Lightfoot said reporters who show up to cover her events are "invariably overwhelmingly White" and urged media organizations to change their makeup.
"People that make the hiring decisions have to be focused on diversity," she said. "In Chicago, we have a huge amount of diverse media talent. We’ve got schools that are of journalism that are best in class across the country, and I would say, really, across the world. So the absence of journalists of color, covering the mayor of the third-largest city in a country is absolutely unacceptable. And so I decided to say something about it."
Swisher agreed on diversity being an issue but objected to politicians choosing who is allowed to cover them.
"I just taught at the University of Chicago. You have amazing diverse journalists studying there that I taught. And I agree with the need for more diversity in media. But politicians don’t get to choose who covers them," Swisher said.
"No, it’s not about me choosing who covers me, right? I gave exclusive interviews. And we do get to choose who we talk to in exclusives. I gave exclusive interviews with journalists of color, right? One 24-hour period and it was like people’s heads exploded. I had journalists saying, ‘Does the mayor think I’m racist?’ No, it’s not about individuals," Lightfoot said. "It’s about systemic racism."
Lightfoot declared she was simply calling it like she sees it.
"And challenging the heads of the media companies here in town to do a better job of bringing journalists of color, women into the fray. That’s what this is about," Lightfoot said. "And so, yeah, I could have been quiet and sat back and said, ‘Well, I don’t like this. I think they could do better,’ but kept it to myself. But why should I? If not me, who?"
Swisher then asked if her controversial strategy of only granting exclusive interviews to non-White reporters has worked.
"I would absolutely do it again. I’m unapologetic about it because it spurred a very important conversation, a conversation that needed to happen, that should have happened a long time ago," Lightfoot said. "But I don’t want just a conversation. I want results. I want to see these networks, these companies, these producers, the decision makers take this seriously, because it’s a serious issue."
Swisher responded, "100 percent," and said she’s seen the same issue plague reporters who cover the tech community.
"The media plays a very important role in our democracy. And if the only voices in the media are White guys, that’s a problem," Lightfoot said. "We need to have a variety of voices bringing different perspectives to interpreting events of the day so that we have a balanced, diverse approach to issues."
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