Journalist Sues Chicago Mayor Over Interview Policy

The mayor has stated her new policy of granting one-on-one interviews to only journalists of color on the day celebrating two years since her inauguration is in the interest of inclusivity, but a white reporter’s lawsuit claims it has the opposite effect.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. (Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

CHICAGO (CN) — A journalist sued the mayor of Chicago in federal court on Thursday, claiming her policy of doing interviews only with reporters of color on the day of the two-year anniversary of her inauguration is racially discriminatory and unconstitutional.

The 5-page complaint filed in Chicago federal court by Thomas Catenacci — a journalist with the conservative-leaning outlet The Daily Caller, co-founded by Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson — says Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who is Black, did not respond to multiple requests he sent to talk about the Windy City’s coronavirus vaccination and pandemic reopening plans after she announced a little over a week ago that she would only grant one-on-one interviews to journalists of color for the two-year anniversary of her inauguration, which was on May 20.

Lightfoot “is aware that [Catenacci] is not a ‘journalist of color,’ and [she] has denied [his] interview request pursuant to her announcement that she will only grant interview requests from ‘journalists of color,'” which violates constitutional First Amendment and Equal Protection safeguards solely on the basis of race, Catenacci says in his complaint.

The mayor seems to have followed through on her policy promise so far, as she has granted at least one interview with a Latino reporter and has denied multiple requests from white reporters since announcing her policy, the complaint says.

A representative with Lightfoot’s office said in an email Thursday that “the city has not had the opportunity to review the complaint and has not yet been served” when asked to comment on the interview policy and Catenacci’s lawsuit.

The mayor defended her policy choice in a Twitter thread last week as an attempt to promote inclusion and diversity in a press corps that is “overwhelmingly white” and a fulfillment of her campaign promise to “break up the status quo.”

Meanwhile, Lightfoot has faced a mixture of praise for the sentiment behind her policy and criticism for how she acted on that sentiment. The National Association of Black Journalists issued a statement saying as much on the same day as Lightfoot’s series of tweets, stating for the record that “NABJ’s history of advocacy does not support excluding any bona fide journalists from one-on-one interviews with newsmakers, even if it is for one day and in support of activism.”

Howard Schwerber, a professor in the political science department at the University of Wisconsin, said Catenacci “has what is potentially a strong argument,” comparing the matter to when a federal judge told former President Donald Trump he could not block negative comments on his Twitter feed because it constituted a “limited public forum.”

“The precedent involving Trump’s Twitter feed suggests that a press conference might be considered a limited public forum, and if that is correct then the mayor’s actions are very likely unconstitutional,” particularly because “racial classifications are treated as the most constitutionally suspect,” Schwerber said.

Scott Idleman, a law professor at Marquette University, said, “I think it’s pretty straightforward, you can’t do this.”

He added: “While there may be a compelling interest in what you might want to call equitable access to politicians, you can’t achieve it by using a color-based or race-based rule” so long as there is even one less discriminatory, race-neutral alternative available.

Catenacci is represented by Paul Orfanedes with Judicial Watch, a conservative activist group based in Washington, and Christine Svenson with Svenson Law Offices in Chicago.

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