Mary Bubala let go from WJZ-TV after question about race, gender and leadership of mayors

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Photo via Mary Bubala/Facebook

Mary Bubala is out at CBS affiliate WJZ-TV after asking a question last week that linked the race and gender of the last three mayors and wondered if the city needs a new direction in leadership.

“Mary Bubala is no longer a WJZ-TV employee,” Audra L. Swain, vice president and general manager of the network, confirmed in an email to Baltimore Fishbowl. “The station apologizes to its viewers for her remarks.”

Following Catherine Pugh’s resignation last week, Bubala asked radio host and Loyola University 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 it a signal that a different kind of leadership is needed to move Baltimore City forward?”

The other mayor to resign would be Sheila Dixon.

Criticism on social media was swift, with a number of journalists weighing in to say the question was racist.

Bubala released a statement apologizing, saying the question did not come out as she intended.

“I am so deeply sorry and sincerely regret the words I chose. I appreciate those who have contacted me to share how this has impacted them. I am devastated that the words I used portray me as someone that I know I am not. I hope you allow me the opportunity to regain your trust.”

In an apology reply to a couple Twitter users, Bubala said she combined two questions in her head.

“The way my question came out was not what I intended to ask because race and gender are irrelevant to one’s leadership abilities,” she said.

She did not respond to an email from Baltimore Fishbowl asking what those questions were.

On Monday, the Baltimore Association of Black Journalists released a statement calling for an on-air apology from Bubala and the network, which did not happen the day after the segment aired.

“The question implies race and gender are qualifiers in one’s ability to lead while also demonizing African-Americans and women as poor leaders,” the statement said, in part. “We feel certain Bubala would not have asked this question of white male leadership.”

Whitehead also addressed the issue on her WEAA 88.9 FM radio show, “Today with Dr. Kaye,” and brought on a panel of journalists (including a friend of mine, Lisa Snowden-McCray) to discuss the question.

At the top of the show, Whitehead read a statement saying her response on WJZ–which was cut off in many of the clips of the exchange posted online–was that black Baltimoreans are capable of both defending Catherine Pugh from some of the racist overtones that come in criticism of her scandal, while also holding her accountable.

She went on to say white people caught up in scandal are not held to the same standards as people of color.

“Your behavior or misdeeds are not extended to or seen as an indictment of all people.”

In a Facebook post, which she also sent in an email to The Sun‘s David Zurawik, Bubala said she asked 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,” she said.

She added: “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.”

Brandon Weigel

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  1. Are we even somewhat serious here? It’s fine to say we’ve had too many old white men run for president (we have). It’s fine to say — and I grew up in Providence — we had too many mafioso Italians for mayor for too many years up there. So back then we had an open and honest discussion about it and went with a different kind of cat for mayor.

    But, in Baltimore, a journalist asks a question with an obvious point if you take your outrage glasses off for two freaking seconds: that the black population of a mostly black city votes as a block, and that block has thrice swung the election to candidates that put the city’s interests well behind their own.

    People voted for these women because of the color of their skin and not the content of their character. There are thousands of qualified African American women out there who could do a bang-up job of running Baltimore City, but that was not who was running and that was not who was elected.

    Thanks to the sustained mismanagement of this trio of tansparently corrupt officials, gangs, drugs, and riots have killed any opportunity for our gorgeous seaboard city to enjoy the economic revival that has helped New York, Boston, DC, Providence — everywhere else! Almost literally every other comprable city has lower crime rates, beautiful shining down towns, and — while not even prosperity — general prosperity.

    I’m pretty mad about this, obviously. I’m pretty mad about seeing beautiful old buildings sold for scrap, literally, on North Rose Street– the bricks and floorboards viewed as treasured relics from a once-great place and being sent away. The city’s very bones being shipped out and sold in other, better-off cities.

  2. The action taken by WJZ to fire Mary Bubala over a single insensitively worded question has left me confused and searching for reason for such an extreme reaction. There are two things that deeply trouble me about this.
    One is that I don’t think her intent was to dishonor women or African Americans. However, no one ever asked her what her intent was but everyone assumed it was overtly sexist and racist and jumped to holding her accountable.
    The second is that if we live in a society where a single misstep is punishable by the most severe penalty, which I think losing your job qualifies as, then where does that leave us as a society… intolerant and without a forum in which to disagree and try to understand another perspective.
    No doubt we all stick our foot in our mouths occasionally, and if the same statement had come from the mouth of someone who had expressed similar thoughts at other times, even if only privately, then a strong and swift reaction might be appropriate. But I see no evidence of that from Mary.
    In a recent column, David Brooks writes that, “We live in a cruel time, when people attack you when they see a hint of vulnerability,” but… “Vulnerability is the only means we have to build relationships, and relationships are the only means we have to experience joy.”
    We could all benefit from a little more joy, which might just mean accepting the imperfections and missteps of our neighbors by giving them the benefit of the doubt and opening the door to dialogue.

    • You couldn’t have put your thoughts any better. I am in total agreement with your well worded and thoughtful editorial. Don’t we all live in glass houses in one way or another? We have become so thin-skinned and intolerant. If we are able to forgive or neglect our president who lies every day, surely we can give Ms. Bubala a right to apologize on air and be given her spot back on WJZ.

    • You state that no one asked what her intent was but that is incorrect. Bubala said that she misspoke and combined two questions in her head. The Fishbowl reached out to her to ask her what those questions were, and they did not receive a reply. Her question implies that a black woman cannot be a good mayor of Baltimore City. That is a racist question. Further, she takes no responsibility for her racist question in her apology, as it is one of those “sorry if I offended anyone” type of apologies, and “I’m not really a racist.” She framed her question by stating two of the last three black women failed as mayor, so what do you think she meant by new leadership? A normal person would think she meant not a black woman, like they’re all the same. If any of you work with black women, you know this is not true.

  3. So sad to see such a special person like Mary being let go over a comment she would take back in a heartbeat. She is a true professional who would never hurt anyone. WJZ to quick to pull the trigger on this one.

  4. Regardless of what offends anyone Bubala just gave an opinion. These days it’s become to easy to commit career suicide if your musings don’t meet the standards of the thought police.

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