The most embarrassed woman in Baltimore right now is Mary Bubala, who asked an utterly idiotic and insensitive question on live television the other day, and then apologized quickly and profusely. She now finds herself fired from WJZ-TV, where she previously anchored “Eyewitness News.”
“We have had three female African-American mayors in a row,” she told Dr. Kaye Wise, a Loyola College professor and radio host at WEAA-FM. “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 question is utterly idiotic for several reasons, and utterly unexpected because Bubala has spent the last couple of decades in TV news, and she’s shown intelligence, balance and not a hint of the racism with which she’s now been branded.
She made a mistake, but she shouldn’t have been fired.
But let’s not minimize why many people are upset by her question – and why Bubala, a smart and sensitive woman, fully understands where she went wrong.
We’ve had three presidents in the modern era, Nixon and Clinton and Trump, whose integrity has been questioned in the severest ways.
White males, every one of them.
Would anybody ask if we should stop electing white males to office?
We had a history here of local politicians going down in disgrace – Spiro Agnew and Dale Anderson and Joseph Alton.
White males, every one of them.
Would anybody ask if we should stop electing white males because of their records?
We had a governor named Marvin Mandel who went to prison. He was Jewish.
Would anybody ask if we should stop electing Jews because of Mandel?
Whatever Catherine Pugh and Sheila Dixon did was not because of their race or gender. It was because they’re like every other human being on the planet – imperfect, and sometimes given to doing bad things in spite of knowing right from wrong.
But Bubala’s question was idiotic on another level as well.
She is a local TV news anchor. The job of a local anchor is to capture as large a viewing audience as possible. They do this with an attractive look and a pleasing personality. They do not do this by offending viewers with controversial remarks.
Roughly 98 percent of the job of a local TV anchor consists of reading copy from a teleprompter. If they ask an occasional question, the basic rule still holds: Don’t offend any viewers.
On live TV, with all of its manifest pressures, she let a single moment get away from her.
In Bubala’s entire history, there has never been a hint of racism in her reporting or her questioning. Those who know her personally – including several retired WJZ personalities, who now feel free to express themselves – have vouched for her good heart.
She issued a quick public apology, saying, “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.
“The way my question came out was not what I intended to ask because race and gender are irrelevant to one’s leadership abilities.”
A sincere apology pic.twitter.com/gV4dz7CFkd— Mary Bubala (@MaryWJZ) May 3, 2019
In two decades on the air, Bubala had 10 seconds worth of unintended racism. It was deplorable. But it follows two decades of telling it clean, in a career which should not end because of 10 awful seconds.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books, including “Tonight at 6: A Daily Show Masquerading as Local TV News” (Apprentice House). His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” was reissued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.