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)

Television journalist Mary Bubala, whose firing from WJZ in May after she posed a controversial question on air set off a firestorm of reaction, was at the center of another hot social media conversation yesterday in the wake of news first reported in The Sun that WBFF was bringing her back to the Baltimore airwaves.

This one was more positive toward Bubala ― and the move by WBFF. Commenters on social media (an admittedly unreliable gauge of public opinion) and respondents in interviews and emails to The Sun on Tuesday and Wednesday expressed approval of the hiring, with several saying they had stopped watching WJZ after her firing, and will now watch WBFF because of Bubala.

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Her first day at the Sinclair-owned station was Monday, according to General Manager Bill Fanshawe. She appeared Tuesday on the station’s 4 p.m. newscast as a reporter for its lead story.

The 20-year veteran of Baltimore TV news was fired in May by WJZ after asking a question that some deemed offensive. In a live interview on the day Catherine Pugh resigned as mayor, Bubala asked Loyola University Maryland Professor Karsonya “Kaye” Wise Whitehead, "We’ve had three female, African-American mayors in a row. They were all passionate public servants. Two resigned, though. Is this a signal that a different kind of leadership is needed?”

The blowback was intense. The Baltimore Association of Black Journalists labeled the question “sexist and racist,” and Bubala was fired four days later by WJZ, which led to a different blowback — from viewers who believed the punishment was too stiff.

“It’s good to have her back,” Donna McDonough, of Perry Hall, said in a telephone interview Wednesday. I think it’s a good thing, her joining WBFF. [She’s] a good anchor and reporter. I don’t typically watch WBFF. But I like Kai [Jackson, an anchor who came to the station in 2015 from WJZ]. With her there now, I might check it out."

Tom Holmes, of Lutherville, said in an interview that he thought Bubala’s firing had been “grossly unfair.”

“I just stopped watching WJZ,” he said. “I’m very excited for her, and I am going to click her on at WBFF.”

Holmes and Donahue were among hundreds of area viewers who sent emails to me in response to articles I wrote about her firing in June. While Holmes judged WJZ’s actions at the time as totally wrongheaded, Donahue was more conflicted.

“My first reaction was that it was a poorly framed question that was both racist and sexist,” she wrote in an email in June. “But having seen Ms. Bubala over these many years, I believed she had a right to explain and apologize for her words. She has never, as far as I know, demonstrated any affinity for racism or sexism.”

I reached out to some others viewers who had sent earlier messages to me.

“Well, can’t say I like Fox... but good for her,” Wendy Noyes wrote an email response. “I do watch Kai, and am still a fan of his. I wish her the best and have to say except for the Ravens games, CBS has not been on in our household since Mary was so unfairly let go. Haven’t missed a thing.”

Glenn Andreasik wrote in an email response: “I read the article and was very happy to hear that [she has joined WBFF], since she is a very professional news person. I have since changed over to channel 11 in the mornings and evenings but will now watch WBFF since she is on there as well as Kai Jackson. It’s a shame that WJZ was so quick to cut ties with her after all those years with them.”

Even the criticism of Bubala and her hiring was somewhat muted compared to statements made in May.

Nicki Mayo, a multimedia journalist and immediate past president of the BABJ, tweeted a response to the initial news of the hiring, but declined further comment on it when contacted today. “I mean... it IS the Sinclair flagship station . This is on brand with their news ops,” she tweeted of WBFF, which is owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, based in Hunt Valley.

Speaking on behalf of BABJ, Mayo said the group had no “formal statement” on the hiring at this time.

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Whitehead, the professor who fielded Bubala’s question, could not immediately be reached.

There were some negative comments, but they were generally about WBFF ― not Bubala.

“As I do not tune in to any Fox stations I will not be watching her,” Dolores Griffin wrote in an email. “Wish another stations would have picked her up as I thought she was a terrific newscaster and personality.”

The Sun’s Tuesday story of Bubala’s hiring generated more than 1,100 comments on The Sun’s Facebook page by 4 p.m. Wednesday, with the majority approving of the move ― something not often found on social media posts about media figures and corporate personnel moves.

Neither Bubala nor her agent returned calls from The Sun.

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