The office of Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby filed a complaint with federal regulators last week asking the government to intervene over press coverage that is not favorable toward Mosby.
What are the details?
In a letter sent to the Federal Communications Commission, Mosby’s office claimed WBFF-TV, the Baltimore Fox-affiliate, is guilty of committing “heinous acts and deliberately dangerous activities” by publishing negative stories about Mosby.
Zy Richardson, communications director for Mosby’s office, called the coverage “extremely dangerous.”
In my capacity at the States Attorney’s Office, I have noted that the news coverage of the WBFF persistently follows a disconcerting and dangerous pattern: beginning with a slanted, rigged, misleading, or inflammatory headline; followed by a conspiracy theory; and supported with guest commentary from disgruntled ex-employees or political opponents that lend false credibility to their biased coverage or omission of facts.
Most disturbingly, there appears to be an intentional crusade against State’s Attorney Mosby, which given today’s politically charged and divisive environment, is extremely dangerous.
The letter goes on to complain that WBFF reports on Mosby more than other local Baltimore news stations, and then took shots at Fox News and Tucker Carlson.
“In the public sphere, Fox News is infamous for its bias against people of color, and even more against those who could be deemed ‘progressive’ people of color. Currently, the Fox national news network airs a nightly show with Tucker Carlson, despite recent calls by civil rights groups to terminate his employment because of Carlson’s frequent endorsements of white supremacy views,” the letter states.
The letter cites six stories as evidence of “distorted coverage.” The stories report on Mosby’s policies, crime, and “dark money.”
Richardson claimed the WBFF’s overall news coverage is a “megaphone that amplifies, encourages, and provides fodder for racists,” and claimed Mosby’s office respects the First Amendment, but said that WBFF’s stories have a “stench of racism.”
“We welcome being held accountable, and we support First Amendment freedom of speech. However, what we find troubling, abhorrent, and outright dangerous, is that the distinctly relentless slanted broadcast news campaign, against the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office and its lead prosecutor, has the stench of racism,” the letter states.
Richardson concluded the letter by claiming if WBFF is “not curtailed and ceased,” then “someone is going to get hurt.”
“I implore and encourage you, Madame Chairwoman [Jessica Rosenworcel] and Commissioners, to enlist the full investigative and enforcement powers granted to you by the Federal government to take action against the WBFF as soon as possible,” Richardson wrote.
What was the response?
Billy Robbins, vice president and general manager of WBFF, said the news station stands by its coverage.
“WBFF is committed to journalism in the public interest with its award-winning investigative unit being a key part of delivering on that commitment,” Robbins said. “While we understand that it’s not popular with the individuals and institutions upon which we are shining a light, we stand by our reporting.”
Richard Vatz, who taught media criticism at Towson University, told WBFF the letter “is one of the clearest, most despicable examples of intimidation.”
“It’s clearly an abuse of power,” Vatz said.
The Media Institute, a nonpartisan First Amendment advocacy organization, similarly denounced the letter.
“This matter is especially egregious because the television station holds a broadcast license issued by the FCC. It is obvious that freedom of the press would cease to be a reality for local broadcasters if every government official who received coverage perceived as unfavorable exerted a chilling effect on local TV news coverage by calling for an FCC investigation that could (if even remotely) imperil a station’s broadcast license,” the group said in a statement.