By Greg Markley
When an official naming of a new federal courthouse in Albany, Georgia, was being planned in November 2000, an organizer called The Albany Herald where I was a reporter (1999-2001). He wanted “the Black reporter” to be assigned to the story because the building was being named after Chevene Bowers King, a pioneering African American attorney, civil rights leader and politician in Georgia.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects all media from being told how to cover events and with whom unless a true emergency arises. So, my editors were not happy with the organizers putting pressure on them. In fact, we once had an African American reporter, but she got a job in another state months before this brouhaha. I did not cover the event myself, but another white man did.
This demand for discriminating against white reporters has reared its ugly head again as Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said recently that she would grant interviews only to “Black or Brown media members.” In an angry letter, she criticized the city’s media institutions for their “overwhelming whiteness and maleness.”
She has a point. The Windy City is one of the most diverse in America. To not have at least one minority reporter in every large outlet covering city hall seems odd. Newspapers, TV and radio stations are part of the problem. They are not mandated to address this situation by accommodating frustrated officials like Lightfoot. But they should balance things more, not with quotas but by sending the best Black reporters to the city hall beat when an opening occurs. Yet many questions arise:
Does she think Black reporters would give her more positive coverage? Wouldn’t a liberal white be more generous than a conservative Black? What about the city’s conservative Black radio hosts? As the first African American mayor of Chicago, will Lightfoot encourage media to place more Black women on her beat? Will she seek to have more LGBTQIA+ individuals cover her full-time? Lightfoot is the first openly lesbian mayor of a major U.S. city.
“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,” Lightfoot wrote in a letter distributed to the press, on May 19.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Lightfoot said media organizations had yet to fully address “institutionalized racism” in their own companies. She said she would only give one-on-one interviews to Black and Brown reporters, for now. Lightfoot calls the arrangement part of her long battle to advance diversity and inclusion.
In her first two years in office, Lightfoot battled the murder rate, with 18 murders recorded on one day, May 31, 2020. The last time 18 murders were committed in one day in Chi-Town was 60 years earlier. Her predecessor, Rahm Emanuel, was daunted by the high crime. He ended his bid for a third term after losing the support of many Chicagoans for weaknesses in criminal justice.
Mayor Lightfoot remains popular despite her leadership missteps. Between May – October 2019, her highest poll score was 77% and the lowest 54%. Then, between May – September 2020 her best approval rate was 78% and the worst 61%. Although she was one point below 55% once, she had an average approval rating in the mid-60s. Anything above 55% is exceptional for reelection chances.
Lightfoot’s statement that she would not use white reporters for one-on-one interviews, especially related to her second anniversary in office, riled former Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard. The ex-congresswoman from Hawaii said the decision was “anti-white racism” and called for her to resign.
Democratic activist Qasim Rashid tweeted: “White is not a culture. There’s German culture. French culture. Dutch culture. Irish culture. Celebrate them! But no such thing as ‘white culture.’ So when people label racism as ‘anti-white’ – they’re not defending any culture – they’re defending being racist without consequence.”
Judicial Watch is suing Lightfoot on behalf of a Daily Caller reporter, claiming the mayor violated the man’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. But did we ever read about the conservative Judicial Watch and Daily Caller getting upset when a recent president called journalists “enemies of the people”? Going to court about a stupid but unsustainable policy is trivial. Having the leader of a republic questioning a revered Amendment is not trivial, but terrible.
Lori Lightfoot won a historic 2019 election as mayor, using the slogan “Bring in the Light.” Many Chicagoans had high hopes that she would not be as divisive as Rahm Emanuel. Judging by the response to her discarding of white journalists for a certain period, Lightfoot’s popularity is flailing.
She was right about media hypocrisy: They advocate for diversity and inclusion, but do not practice it in high-profile reporting beats. The request back in 2000 of a newspaper in Albany, Georgia for a “Black reporter” to cover a story of racial progress is long ago. Yet, as W.E.B. Du Bois predicted, “the color line” endures.
Greg Markley first moved to Lee County in 1996. He has a Master’s in education and history. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to the Observer for 10 years. firstname.lastname@example.org