Former WJZ anchor Mary Bubala, who was fired in May after asking a question on air some deemed offensive, joins WBFF.
Former WJZ anchor Mary Bubala, who was fired in May after asking a question on air some deemed offensive, joins WBFF. (Baltimore Sun Staff)

Anchorwoman Mary Bubala, who was fired in May by WJZ as fallout from a question she asked on-air that some deemed offensive — about the race, gender and leadership of recent Baltimore mayors — joined WBFF (Fox45), the station confirmed Tuesday.

“As you know she is a tremendous talent with more than 20 years of experience reporting on issues that matter to the Baltimore community,” Bill Fanshawe, the station’s general manager said in an email to the Sun. “She has an impressive body of work, and we are excited to have her as part of our incredible news team.”

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Bubala’s first day at the station was Monday, according to Fanshawe. She appeared on-air during Tuesday’s 4 p.m. newscast reporting its lead story.

Bubala’s May question and subsequent firing caused a firestorm in local media for several days, with people taking strong stances for or against Ms. Bubala on social media.

It began on the day Mayor Catherine Pugh resigned from her position, as a result of revelations reported in The Sun about hundreds of thousands of dollars she received for a series of “Healthy Holly” children books.

WJZ went into live coverage.

Mary Bubala, left, questions Loyola University Maryland Professor Karsonya "Kaye" Wise Whitehead, far right, in the wake of Catherine Pugh's resignation as mayor of Baltimore.

“We’ve had three female, African-American mayors in a row,” Bubala said to one of her guests in the live interview that day. “They were all passionate public servants. Two resigned, though. Is this a signal that a different kind of leadership is needed?”

Video of Bubala asking the question was posted on social media, and the blowback was powerful. It continued over the weekend, and on the following Monday, the Baltimore Association of Black Journalists posted a statement on its website labeling the question “racist and sexist.”

In an answer to questions about Bubala’s wording, Audra Swain, the station’s general manger, sent an email to The Sun saying, “Mary Bubala is no longer a WJZ-TV employee. The station apologizes to its viewers for her remarks.”

In confirming her firing in May, Bubala sent a statement to The Sun.

“Last week I realized I made a mistake in the language I used on air,” it began." I immediately apologized for any hurt I unintentionally caused. I received immediate support from WJZ because they knew it was not in my heart to intentionally cause this kind of harm. I wanted to do an on-air apology but was not allowed. I hope that the people of Baltimore know that I would never do anything to hurt anyone."

“Unfortunately, I now stand in the path of the tornado,” the statement continued. "WJZ was forced to let me go. I am saddened and shocked by this decision. Baltimore City has been my home for 25 years and I treasure and am so grateful for the relationships I have made with the people of Baltimore during this time. I fully intend to fight to restore my reputation because I’ve invested my heart and soul in my work and my city.”

WJZ-TV lost almost half of its 5 p.m. news audience in a key demographic during the May sweeps in the wake of the controversial question and firing, according to figures confirmed by the Nielsen Co. and WJZ. It’s hard to say how much of that is attributable to Bubala’s leaving. In the fragmented world of TV news, it is difficult for any one local news figure to dramatically affect ratings. Viewers are generally looking more for information than personality.

With her move to WBFF, Bubala rejoins Kai Jackson with whom she co-anchored at WJZ for four years until he left the station in 2013. Jackson joined WBFF as one of its lead anchors in 2015. He has been partnered on air primarily with Jennifer Gilbert. It will be interesting to see if he and Bubala do wind up side by side again at any of the newscasts.

Jackson and Gilbert were anchoring the newscast on which Bubala appeared as a reporter Tuesday.

The station is an affiliate of Sinclair Broadcast Group, which is headquartered in Hunt Valley and has become controversial in its own right for its conservative politics. It hired Trump communications aide Boris Epshtyne as chief political analyst and forced all of its stations that produce news to carry his highly-political, Trump-friendly commentaries. In 2018, Sinclair was critically blistered for forcing anchors at its stations across the country to read an identical script about “fake news.”

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Calls to Bubala and her agent were not returned.

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