It's OK, Mayor Lightfoot, I don't interview blacks anyway.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot doesn’t seem to understand what’s wrong with her decision to do one-on-one interviews only with black or brown journalists on the second anniversary of her inauguration. She said it’s a valid way of exposing the implied racism of Chicago media because black and brown journalists are disproportionately represented in the City Hall press corps.

She’s wrong on two counts:

First, it’s so obviously wrong to filter out non-black and non- brown journalists from her interview schedule that it hardly needs commentary. What if I said I wouldn’t interview her or other black officials because they’re black?

Second, her complaint that the press corps is too white seems to be based on the assumption that its the result of racism, of the systemic or institutional kind. She doesn’t explain how that happens. Here I will argue that racism is too simplistic of an explanation.

The second first. In my four plus decades in the Chicago news business, I have never encountered a publisher or editor who would refuse to hire journalists because of their race. Quite the contrary. For decades, they made a special effort to find and hire qualified black men and women. They did it because they believed it was the right thing to do. Employment discrimination became illegal with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A business plan that discriminates black employees would be foolhardy and destructive. They’d be cutting their own throats.

Newspaper bosses I knew were anxious to increase readership in the black communities. They wanted more coverage of the black communities. They hired blacks with that in mind (until some black reporters rightfully complained that they wanted to cover other things, just like everyone else).

I’ll be told that I didn’t see the systemic racism in the news business because it was hidden. But that’s a circular argument, amounting to “We know there is systemic racism because it’s hidden. It’s hidden because systemic racism isn’t out in the open.” Even hidden phenomena require proof of their existence.

The problem with this kind disproportionately argument (e.g. the percentage of blacks in the newsroom must reflect their percentage in the population) is that it doesn’t explain anything. By itself, it is not proof of racial animus. Other variables, as social scientists call them, are explicative: education, experience, savvy, smarts and more. Self-selection also cannot be ruled out.

In other words, people are hired and promoted based on merit, as they should be. That’s an argument for another day.

As for the first argument that blacks will better understand her policies and agenda because they’re black, it’s not just insulting, it’s bull. It’s as if I was assigned to cover only whites, or Catholics, or Navy veterans, because I have a “better understanding” of them.

How, pray tell, is this supposed to work? If I sit down with Lightfoot, would I ask different questions because I’m white? If I didn’t ask the right questions, can’t she point the interview in the right direction?

Does she mean that white reporters would leave out of their stories the points she believes are important because they are racist and out to sabotage her? Is it not important for her to supply white reporters with an understanding of things they are unaware of?

So, I join with the rest of the critics who see her decision as racist. Exactly the kind of racists who judge people on the color of their skin. The ones who thought black students should not sit down with whites. Or sit at the front of the bus. Or eat at a white restaurant or drink from a white water fountain. Or vote.

The ultimate tragedy is that they fail to see their racism.


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  • What's behind this sudden pronouncement? It's not race. Or the makeup of newsrooms. It is to intimidate the mostly hapless and uncurious Chicago media to not ask questions about, oh, things like the murder rate in the city. Mayor Murder didn't just notice the demographics of the press corps two years in.

  • This just in: Lightfoot's latest interview with a black reporter....

  • I can't speak for Mayor Lightfoot, but I know that she has given interviews to reporters of all shades of skin color. If she wants to give an exclusive interview to Black reporters on the anniversary of a second year in office is her choice. To interpret her decision as racism is absurd.

    On a different point, it's interesting to see that you respect the right that Black Americans have to vote, unlike your Republican cohorts in numerous red states. Suppressing the right to vote on the basis of race, now's that actual racism. And should be called out. Why haven't you done so?

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    To interpret her decision as notracism is absurd. So is the charge that efforts to improve ballot integrity are racist.

  • In reply to Dennis Byrne:

    I agree. This woman certainly isn't being a good example of Biden's efforts to "unify" a nation already in the process of major fragmentation. Oh, well . . .

  • So much promise for improved, accountable city government being squandered in the hands of ineffective, out of her league rookie mayor. The mayor is floundering. Maybe she thinks the answer is more equity for all the citizens of Chicago. Maybe she wants to bring more equity, to equalize the crime, the murder, the poor schools, the public debt, and the fear quotient across the entire city. She's doing pretty good at that.

  • I disagree with what the mayor did, but I think you are exaggerating the significance of it for your partisan purposes. She said she would give one-on-one interviews only to reporters of color on a single day, the anniversary of her coming to office. She is not denying access to public events or to official acts.

    Contrast this with your governor. On May 6, he signed into law the Florida voting restriction bill passed by the legislature. This was an official act of law-making by Governor DeSantis. But he barred all media outlets, except for Fox News. A spokesman for the governor said that the bill signing was a "Fox exclusive."

    In my mind, this was a far greater violation of the duty of a public executive officer to conduct the affairs of state in an open and nondiscriminatory manner than anything Mayor Lightfoot did.

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