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Inaugural videos for Baltimore’s new mayor and City Council president show strikingly different media styles | COMMENTARY

Baltimore mayor Brandon Scott swears in council President Nick Mosby.
Baltimore mayor Brandon Scott swears in council President Nick Mosby. (Karl Merton Ferron)

You can sometimes tell a lot about politicians from their media styles ― things they might not think they are revealing as they construct a media identity and perform it in front of the cameras. Studying their media styles early on in their tenures can provide insights into how they might govern down the road.

In 2018, when then Mayor Catherine Pugh started borrowing from the media style of President Donald Trump by attacking the press, I started seriously thinking there was something dishonest about her and that she was not to be trusted. She tried to use social media and TV appearances to push a false narrative that Baltimore’s image problems were the fault of the press being excessively negative ― not the fault of Baltimore leaders like her.

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And so, I could not help but be struck by the clear differences in the media styles shown in the inaugural videos of Mayor Brandon Scott and City Council President Nick Mosby last week.

Mr. Scott’s was a modest, no-frills video of the him being sworn in with just his mother and father on hand. It includes Mr. Scott stepping outside City Hall after the brief ceremony to deliver a plain-spoken address to the citizens of Baltimore. The version posted on Charm TV and YouTube runs 12 minutes and 44 seconds.

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The version of Mr. Mosby’s City Council inaugural video posted on Facebook and YouTube, on the other hand, was a more lavish and theatrical production that included musicians, a singer and dancers filmed in various locations throughout the city in addition to the actual swearing in of Mr. Mosby, his address to citizens and the swearing in and video greetings from other council members. It runs 31 minutes and 27 seconds.

I am not suggesting that I was able to read anything as clear in the two videos posted last week as I was in the media style of Ms. Pugh. For one thing, the pandemic dictated how each man would have his formal entry into office recorded and posted. And yet, each responded in very different ways to the restrictions demanded by the same COVID-19 reality.

I have analyzed Mr. Scott’s media image more closely than Mr. Mosby’s in recent years, so I have a better sense of continuity ― or lack of it ― between what happened in the inaugural video and what came before in onscreen appearances. During the campaign for mayor, I asked Marvin James, the candidate’s campaign manager, how he would describe the Brandon Scott appearing in ads.

“That person is a son of the city, a son of Park Heights, who understands citizens in Baltimore have been disenfranchised for years,” Mr. James said.

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The “son of Park Heights” persona is exactly what I saw again in the inaugural video.

That is partly the result of Mr. Scott’s age, 36, and the presence of his parents looking on. The young man standing there to take the oath of office seemed humbled by the job ahead, but also determined to get on with the work. The stripped-down tone of the production seemed in sync with the times.

In his address, Mr. Scott went for plain talk rather than soaring rhetoric.

He bluntly described the city as “unsafe and dirty.”

While he emphasized major issues such as public safety and equity, his promises also included such nitty-gritty matters as the resumption of curbside recycling pickup. For many residents, nothing matters more than what services the city does and does not deliver.

Rather than Mr. Mayor addressing constituents in a formal tone, this was Citizen Scott talking straight to fellow residents.

Mr. Mosby’s video was far more skillfully produced and engaging as entertainment. It seemed aimed at inspiring its audience as much as informing them.

After a brief introduction from Mr. Mosby, a singer appears on-screen walking down a city street singing, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” He is soon joined by six dancers. In their movements, they are continually reaching upward.

In these hard economic times for Baltimore and many of its residents the cost of such a production matters. Mr. Mosby’s City Council video was produced by a private company, Storyfarm. But the cost of it will be covered by an estimated $30,000 raised for inaugural events, according to Yvonne Wenger, Mr. Mosby’s director of communications.

“No public money was used,” she said.

Mr. Mosby’s rhetoric was loftier than Mr. Scott’s even if some of the themes were the same.

“The potential of our city is immense and yet the poverty, violence and the blight have far too long created negative realities and perceptions of our great city,” he said. “I stand today to tell you that these ills and this all-too-pervasive perception are not incurable conditions.”

I prefer Mr. Scott’s media style. I have heard too much lofty rhetoric that ultimately rang hollow from politicians. But that’s a subjective call.

The good news: Neither leader is falsely blaming the media for Baltimore’s woes. Let’s hope one or both can deliver on their media promises and do something concrete about them.

David Zurawik is The Sun’s media critic. Email: david.zurawik@baltsun.com; Twitter: @davidzurawik.

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