Why can't WBFF get a Democratic gubernatorial debate in Baltimore?


Hard on the news that Baltimore viewers are scheduled to be excluded from a TV debate May 7 among Maryland's Democratic candidates, WBFF (Fox45) said Wednesday that it has "been negotiating for months" with  Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Del. Heather R. Mizeur for a debate in Baltimore.

"We're still confident that details will be worked out," Mike Tomko, news director at the Sinclair-owned Fox affiliate in Baltimore, said Wednesday morning in the wake of dueling press releases among the candidates arguing over a Baltimore-staged debate.

"We want to be the station to bring the debate among Democratic candidates to Baltimore in May," Tomko said. Discussions have centered on the last week in May, according to him.

You have to love the irony here: A station that wants to spend the money to stage a debate to bring voters more information about the candidates in this important election is being blocked from doing so, while stations that have access to the first debate for free are declining to do so.

As I reported Tuesday, the May 7 debate, which is being produced by WRC-TV, the NBC-owned station in Washington, offered a live feed to WBAL-TV, Baltimore's NBC affiliate, but the station declined.

Meanwhile, state-owned Maryland Public Television, which would certainly seem the natural spot for making the telecast available in Baltimore if commercial broadcasters won't, says at this point, it has no plans to carry the May 7 debate -- even though the debate is being co-hosted by two state universities.

As for WBFF's offer, a press release by Lieutenant Gov. Anthony G. Brown's campaign early Wednesday saying it was set to do only two TV debates (one on May 7 with WRC, and another June 2 with MPT), drew a shared press release from the camps of his two opponents.

"Early this morning the Brown campaign released a statement that was misrepresented as a joint agreement from our three campaigns. This does not reflect the intentions of the Gansler-Ivey or Mizeur-Coates campaigns, as the original agreement was for three televised debates," the release said.

Brown is the one that doesn't want to do the debate that would be staged in and broadcast by a Baltimore station -- and in prime time, no less, as opposed to the 7 to 8 p.m. period where syndicated programming normally airs.

I am not going to speculate here about the reasons that WBFF, Gansler and Mizeur all thought there was going to be a third debate in Baltimore, and Brown now pre-empts them with a Wednesday release.

It does need to be noted that WBFF is perceived by some as having a conservative orientation because of its Sinclair ownership. It has been among the most vocal critics of the administration in which Brown serves.

But between some of the stations that don't want to carry the May 7 debate in Baltimore and a candidate who doesn't want to do one on WBFF, I do know this: The citizens of Baltimore are being cheated.

I hope the media will keep the heat on the stations -- and the candidates.

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