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Real issue in Bubala firing: media's racial bias

Mary Bubala and Kai Jackson in a publicity photo taken in happier times to promote WJZ's 4 p.m. newscast.
Mary Bubala and Kai Jackson in a publicity photo taken in happier times to promote WJZ's 4 p.m. newscast. (WJZ-TV)

Not everybody is on the same page with the firing of veteran news anchorwoman Mary Bubala from the local CBS affiliate station (“The reaction to Mary Bubala’s question on WJZ says more about us than the question does about her,” May 8). That’s fine. It’s more than fine. Diversity of opinion is healthy. The impact of what she meant versus what she said, however, breaks down largely by skin tone. Therein lies the problem.

The Sun reported on May 8 that the whole rigmarole involved “a question [Bubala] asked about race, gender and leadership of Baltimore’s past three mayors.” What Ms. Bubala said is a Rorschach test of sorts. Some people heard an undeniable truth while others recognized a familiar dog whistle. When the Baltimore Association of Black Journalists expressed concern and asked for an on-air apology, the heat in the kitchen became hotter for WJZ than cooking a roast in the oven while boiling potatoes in the stove.

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The Sun made the story about the criticism — the “blowback” — and not about the words and sentiments attached that ended her tenure after 15 years. It’s true that the expressed outrage and concern sparked the spineless cadre of executives at WJZ to ax the reporter. In her typed words in The Sun, Ms. Bubala laments “Unfortunately I stand in the path of the tornado.” Every person involved sent a personally crafted written statement to The Sun: Ms. Bubala who asked the question, Karsonya “Kaye” Wise Whitehead who answered it, Nicki Mayo who openly criticized the anchorwoman and Audra Swan, the person who fired her. Phones don’t work at The Sun? How can there be a conversation or clarity of her intentions when the Sun settles for a PR move instead of an interview?

Ms. Bubala expressed dismay that the station that initially backed her pulled a Sansa Stark and sacrificed her in order to escape having a public and unplanned discussion about race. Any general manager or managing editor can have race relations special just in time for ratings sweeps (or with an eye on a Pulitzer). But to face racial conflict in real time? Nope. #hardpass. Both WJZ and The Baltimore Sun chose to ignore the 800-pound gorilla in the room: How can media do better in curbing individual bias as well as improve coverage of the black experience in a majority black city?

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If anyone was truly wronged in this ordeal, it’s been those dependent on local news in Baltimore.

Keesha Ha, Baltimore

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