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Daily Caller Reporter Thomas Catenacci Sues Mayor Lori Lightfoot For Limiting Anniversary Interviews To Journalists Of Color

CHICAGO (CBS/AP) — A white reporter for the Daily Caller, a right-wing news and opinion website, is suing Mayor Lori Lightfoot for granting interviews only to Black and Brown journalists on the second anniversary of becoming mayor, accusing the mayor of racial discrimination.

Thomas Catenacci and his employer, the Daily Caller News Foundation, argue in the lawsuit that Lightfoot violated their First Amendment rights and Catenacci's right to equal protection by not responding to an interview request on the day of her second anniversary in office or in the days that followed. The suit was filed Thursday in federal court in Chicago by the conservative organization Judicial Watch.

Lightfoot, who is Chicago's first Black female and first openly gay mayor, said May 19 that she was granting interviews marking the second anniversary of her inauguration on May 20 exclusively to journalists of color. She said it was intended to draw attention to the fact that the City Hall press corps is "overwhelmingly white" and male in a city where white people make up only about one-third of the population.

Critics of the decision included Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who founded The Daily Caller, and who called Lightfoot "a monster" and racist.

Lightfoot reiterated her position at a May 20 event marking the anniversary, where she also called on media organizations to diversify their staffs.

"The fact that the City Hall press corps is overwhelmingly White, has very little in the way of diversity, is an embarrassment," Lightfoot said.

The mayor rejected any notion that she was suggesting that white reporters can't do a fair job of covering her.

"What I'm saying is it's way past time, it's way past time for the City Hall press corps, and the people that do the hiring and make the decisions, to get the memo. We are in a time where we're having a powerful and important conversation around systemic racism in every institution," Lightfoot said. "The press and the media can't be exempt from that conversation."

The mayor said she believes the City Hall press corps should better reflect the city's diversity, noting people of color make up the majority of Chicago's population.

"One day out of 365, I say that I am going to mark the anniversary of my two years in office by giving exclusive one-on-ones to journalists of color, and the world loses its mind. How about we focus on doing what is necessary to step up, make different and better hiring decisions to diversity the ranks of the Chicago press corps," she said.

University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone told the Chicago Tribune he expects the court to throw out the lawsuit. He noted public officials commonly pick and choose which media outlets to favor, and that Lightfoot said the decision applied to one date and wasn't a blanket policy.

"Given that she's talking only about one day, it seems to be blown out of proportion, to make a fuss over it," Stone said.

Catenacci's lawsuit says he emailed requests for a one-on-one interview with Lightfoot on May 20, 21 and 24. It says he had not received a response from her office as of the filing of the lawsuit on Thursday.

"On information and belief, Defendant is aware that Plaintiff Catenacci is not a 'journalist of color,' and Defendant has denied Plaintiff's interview request pursuant to her announcement that she will only grant interview requests from 'journalists of color,'" the lawsuit states.

(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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