Z on TV Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV

Baltimore Mayor Pugh gets into on-air spat with Laura Ingraham — and it wasn't pretty

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh got into an on-air spat with Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Wednesday night, and it wasn’t pretty.

I would like to be a hometown booster and say Pugh really gave it to one of the nastier right-wing commentators on American TV. But the truth is the mayor desperately needs better media advice. It was not a good look for the mayor or Baltimore.

It got to the point where almost all dialogue broke down and all you had was cross talk, with Ingraham asking questions intended to make the mayor and Baltimore look bad, and Pugh just filibustering her talking points.

The tipping point came when Pugh said, “Get your facts straight, love. I don’t know if you’re trying to become the communications director for the Trump administration. ...”

“I don’t know why you’re getting personal, mayor,” Ingraham said. “I don’t know why you’re getting personal.”

One of the many facts Pugh was disputing was Ingraham’s claim that the city would be paying as much as $100,000 for buses to take Baltimore students to Washington on March 24 to participate in the “March for Our Lives” gun control rally there.

“We’re not funding,” the mayor said. “We’re providing assistance to young people to make sure they get to Washington, D.C., safely.”

While the $100,000 figure and the city's role with the buses were widely reported Tuesday Pugh said Wednesday the city would try to raise private funds to help pay for the buses. But she left the door open that the city could end up paying for the buses. So why say “we’re not funding,” if that’s what you are doing? And why use that claim right after telling Ingraham to get her facts straight?

The mayor also called Ingraham “dear” — and it did not sound as if it was said with affection.

The sarcasm just made Ingraham, a seasoned cable TV cage fighter, punch harder with a wall of negative facts about Baltimore City schools — something there is no shortage of. And then the host went after Pugh for her recent staff hirings.

“Teachers are being laid off, personnel are being fired,” Ingraham said of the school system. “You just hired 20 new people including a new marketing director in your office. … Teachers are being fired, personnel fired, and you’re shuttling people down to a rally. That doesn’t seem to make sense.”

“We hired people to take care of the homeless,” Pugh replied. “We hired 22 people to take care of the homeless on our streets. We hired people to take care of our neighborhoods, our communities.”

“And a marketing director, correct?” Ingraham interjected.

“No we did not,” Pugh said. “A public affairs director.”

“OK, so that story’s not true?” Ingraham said sarcastically. “There’s a lot of reporting apparently that’s not true.”

Is that not classic Catherine Pugh? Read The Sun accounts of her staff changes and see who has more of their facts right in that exchange.

Look, I detest the way prime-time Fox News hosts like Ingraham, Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity have allowed their shows to become political weapons steeped in right-wing propaganda and disinformation intended to aid the Trump administration. I have written extensively about it as one of the greatest dangers to democracy that I have encountered in my professional life.

So, let me put this delicately: What the hell is Pugh going on Ingraham’s show for?

Say what you will about her politics, Ingraham has one of the fastest and sharpest minds I have ever seen on cable TV. She is built for live cable TV combat, and she is only getting better at doing battle.

And worse, she is sitting in a studio with producers who control everything that comes out of the box.

Pugh, meanwhile, appeared to be in a studio in Baltimore — which I know from more than a decade of doing live cable remotes puts you at a great disadvantage when you get in an argument with the host.

So, who told Pugh it was a good idea to do Ingraham’s show?

Pugh lost the moment she made the Trump remark. That’s why Ingraham, one of the toughest gut punchers in TV, assumed the phony pose of advocate for civil discourse, saying, “I don’t know why you’re getting personal.” And doing it twice, so no one could miss who got personal and who didn’t.

This is not the way to change the narrative by challenging the media, Madame Mayor. It is so not the way.



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