Former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, announcing his decision to run for the democratic nomination for the presidency, during his announcement at Federal Hill.
Former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, announcing his decision to run for the democratic nomination for the presidency, during his announcement at Federal Hill. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Martin O'Malley got a lot of national cable news attention Saturday morning in Baltimore when he announced he was running for president.

But most of it was bad, with analysts criticizing him from the left and the right before and after live coverage of his announcement.


The big narrative on CNN and MSNBC, not surprisingly given TV's short memory and lack of historical interest, was that O'Malley's "zero tolerance" policing initiatives as mayor of Baltimore were a major contributing factor to the civil unrest and rioting here last month.

"When he went back to Baltimore last month at the height of the riots, he was shouted down," Chris Moody, senior politics correspondent, told anchor Randi Kaye on CNN after the announcement. "People recognized him and said, 'This is your fault.'"

Pre-announcement over on MSNBC, Amy Goodman, host of "Democracy Now," hit hard at O'Malley on zero tolerance while he was mayor and the consequences for Baltimore today.

"This is really an issue of broken government, targeting one sector of society … to try to keep them out of the way," she said. "There's the numbers you're talking about of people killed or arrested in Baltimore -- one-sixth of the population arrested in Baltimore. He's got to explain himself on that."

"I get that he has direct capability in relationship to that because he made the decisions," MSNBC Melissa Harris-Perry said in reply.

Meanwhile, over on the right side of the dial at Fox News, contributor Cal Thomas was describing O'Malley as a "liberal," which is just about the worst thing you can be called on Fox - except, perhaps, a "progressive." Thomas characterized him as that, too.

Thomas also hung O'Malley with what he described as a failed city program to acquire abandoned homes and a study that ranked Baltimore at the bottom of 100 cities as environments for children to grow up in.

Talking about him as a possible standard bearer for the Democratic Party by referencing last year's gubernatorial election, CNN's Kaye said, "He couldn't even keep his state in Democratic hands."

If there was any good news in the analysis on O'Malley, I didn't find it on cable TV Saturday. Within 10 minutes of O'Malley's announcement speech which took on Hillary Clinton over her coziness with Wall Street, analysts on CNN were saying he should forget Clinton at this point and just aim at U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders who has much better financing and is running well ahead of O'Malley.

As for O'Malley's speech, let me first say I am the guy who wrote a few years ago about what a successful guest O'Malley was becoming on Sunday morning public affairs shows. And he still is good in that kind of format.

But once he gets out in a space where he has to speak simultaneously to a live and a TV audience, he never seems to calibrate correctly for those watching him on a screen. It happened big-time at the Democratic National Convention, and it happened in a smaller sense Saturday on Federal Hill.

As he swung into the home stretch and started using his John Kennedy generational rhetoric to try and fire up the live audience, he went into his glint-in-the-eye look, which is meant to suggest he sees something in the future that we can't see, but it's a beautiful thing and he is the guy who can get us there. Think Ronald Reagan's shining city on a hill.

Only with O'Malley, the look usually comes off as a little silly if not goofy when you are watching on TV.

Maybe it was the wind blowing around the papers of his speech, or the sun in his eyes, but that's the way it played on my screen Saturday. And instead of inspired, I felt a little uncomfortable, or maybe embarrassed, for him.


Nobody's going to sell Baltimore as anybody's shining city on a hill these days.

Sorry, Martin, even Federal Hill can't help you with that.