Eric Adams made a very important point this week: Newsrooms need to be more diverse in order for everyone to be covered fairly. However, what he followed up with exposed more about himself than the journalism industry.
After seeing some negative headlines about his recent meeting in Albany, he told reporters “I’m a Black man that’s the mayor. But my story is being interpreted by people that don’t look like me. Diversify your newsroom, so I can look out and see people that look like me.”
Fair. The unfair part? “I’m going to stop doing off topics, because if you already have your perception of me…If this is how this is going to be, then I’m just going to come in, do my announcements and bounce.”
I’ve recently left Mayor Adams’ press corps to pursue other journalism roles, but I spent the last four months covering him closely, questioning him all over the city.
I was also at his election night party covering his landslide victory. As a young Black woman in the industry, this was an amazing privilege and gave me the opportunity to write some of my best stories so early in my career.
But just because the mayor and I are both Black doesn’t mean we agree that some papers shouldn’t have access because they are critical of him. It’s antithetical to free speech, and it’s the opposite of what his office claims to promote.
Mayor Adam’s response, time and time again has been, “I’m the mayor.” He said it when he was openly criticized by many City Council members for bringing back solitary confinement (also called punitive segregation), implying that being the mayor meant he was beyond reproach. I would never assume that Adams wants to be a tyrant, but this refrain indicates that he wants to be immediately trusted without question.
Our job as the press, my job as a reporter, is to question you on everything; To be as skeptical as possible, to give you credit where it is due, and to make the public aware of when you are dodging answers. Whether it’s on COVID, policing, or meetings you’ve attended, the public deserves answers.
White reporters have a history of falsely representing Black men in the media through the use of misleading and sensational headlines, unflattering photos and cherry-picking negative moments while omitting their successes. The NY Daily News headline he referred to is clickable at best, discriminatory at worst, but it’s the same treatment other mayors got because it is the NY Daily News. Why focus on them when you could highlight the work of Black reporters?
And the mayor’s press corps should have more people of color. Not because the mayor is a person of color, but because Black New Yorkers deserve to be represented fairly by those who disseminate information that affects their lives. Though my not being there anymore means one less Black reporter, newsrooms should find ways to retain Black reporters who are probably making history themselves by joining these workplaces. I will spend my whole career trying to make sure that my people are represented fairly in the media and everywhere I work, because of our history.
But we’re out here. We are doing the work. So no, he’s not getting critique just because he is a Black mayor. One day he will, because journalism can be racist too, but it doesn’t change the fact that he needs to be more ready to be critiqued, questioned, scrutinized and doubted because he is the mayor of New York City.
Morgan C. Mullings is a staff reporter for PoliticsNY covering the mayor’s office. She will be leaving soon for a new position. We wish her Godspeed.