WJZ anchorwoman Mary Bubala, who came under fire Thursday for a question she asked about the race, gender and leadership of Baltimore’s past three mayors, is no longer with the station, according to an email sent to The Baltimore Sun on Monday night by general manager Audra Swain.
“Mary Bubala is no longer a WJZ-TV employee. The station apologizes to its viewers for her remarks,” the statement said. Swain declined to comment further.
The criticism of Bubala that started last week in the wake of the WJZ anchor asking Loyola University Maryland Professor Karsonya “Kaye” Wise Whitehead an on-air question about the race and gender of the past three Baltimore mayors has continued to build.
“We’ve had three female, African-American mayors in a row,” Bubala said in setting up her question. “They were all passionate public servants. Two resigned, though. Is this a signal that a different kind of leadership is needed to move Baltimore City forward?”
On-air Thursday, Whitehead was very clear in saying no, it does not suggest a different kind of leadership is needed.
In a statement sent to The Sun today in the wake of WJZ’s action, Whitehead wrote, “The current conversations around leadership in Baltimore are challenging, emotional, and at times include layers of racism and sexism. There is an assumption that since three black women have served as mayor — and the city has not entirely changed for the better — then perhaps black women are not fit to lead this city. No one can ask racially biased questions in the public sphere — including in the media — without being held accountable.”
Nicki Mayo, who worked in TV news and is immediate past president of the Baltimore Association of Black Journalists (BABJ), posted video of the interview on Twitter last week, and the social media blowback to Bubala’s question was immediate.
Bubala apologized on Twitter on Thursday and Friday.
WJZ, meanwhile, remained silent even as the BABJ on Monday posted a statement on its website labeling Bubala’s question “racist and sexist.”
The statement from Swain on Monday night was WJZ’s first official response to the controversy.
WJZ took down its promotional page for Bubala on Monday.
Bubala emailed the following statement to the Sun Tuesday morning confirming her departure from the station:
“In my 22 years of working in TV news in Baltimore — 15 of those years with WJZ — I have always treated people with the utmost respect and dignity. I loved my job because I love the people of Baltimore.
“Last week I realized I made a mistake in the language I used on air. 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. 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. Thank you Baltimore for all of your support during this difficult period of time. It means so much to me.”
Mayo responded to the news of WJZ’s action, saying, “Firing or letting her go does nothing to relieve the greater problem here. So, I don’t take any joy in another journalist not working.”
But, she added, “This was another ceremonial falling on the sword that continues to cut a serious hole in efforts for newsroom inclusion and diversity.”
In addition to the racism of Bubala’s question, Mayo said she was also hurt by the sexism of it.
“I fall at the intersectionality of being black and a woman,” she said. “In something like this, I expect a woman to be more sensitive to generalizing a demographic. I don’t know any white women who would be comfortable with an anchor or anyone asking a question like the one we heard, saying, ‘Well, we’ve had three women back to back. Do you think it’s time for a different kind of leadership?’ I think every white woman I know would have been, like, ‘What do you mean by that?’”
Mayo said, “I don’t understand how tone deaf a fellow woman could be. That broke my heart.”
“She messed up. I get it,” Mayo said. “But you know that line, ‘The mouth speaks the truth of the heart?’ She told you how she feels.”
Whitehead said in an email Tuesday that a question like the one Bubala asked ignores and can further mask the deeper structural forces that underlie Baltimore’s problems.
“To imply that this city is where it is today because of the leadership is misleading at best and a lie that erases the systemic racism at work in this city at worst,” she wrote.
“Baltimore City is struggling under the weight of decades of historical divestment, systemic inequality, redlining, and a disconnect between the people in power and those who are being impacted by their decisions,” Whitehead added, saying that she has been discussing the controversy on her WEAA show this week.
“We deserve better, and the next mayor must be and do better,” she concluded. “I hope we can move on from the layers of racism and sexism of the current conversations and work together to build a positive future for Baltimore City.”