Baltimore TV anchor ousted after backlash to question about 'female, African American mayors'

Mary Bubala said in a Facebook post that WJZ "was forced" to let her go and that she was "saddened and shocked" by the decision.
Catherine Pugh
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh during her inauguration ceremony inside the War Memorial Building in Baltimore on Dec. 6, 2016.Patrick Semansky / AP file

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By Janelle Griffith

A Baltimore television station has dismissed one of its anchors who drew criticism for a question she posed late last week about the gender and race of the city's past three mayors.

The ouster of Mary Bubala from WJZ-TV was first reported by the Baltimore Sun.

Bubala faced backlash after she asked a professor an on-air question about Catherine Pugh, the former mayor who resigned on May 2 amid a widening scandal involving children’s books that she wrote.

“We’ve had three female, African American mayors in a row,” Bubala said while speaking with Loyola University Maryland professor Karsonya Whitehead. “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?”

The question drew swift backlash, including from the Baltimore Association of Black Journalists (BABJ) and one of its former presidents, Nicki Mayo, who posted a video of the segment on Twitter.

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"I'm not even sure I want to hear the excuse for this," Mayo said last week. "I'm cringing and cursing."

Bubala apologized on Twitter on Thursday and Friday, saying in part, “during a live interview, I asked a question that did not come out the way I intended." She also said that she regretted the words she chose.

The station initially remained silent.

The BABJ on Monday issued a statement labeling Bubala's question as racist and sexist and demanded an apology be administered on air, "in the same fashion that the damaging question was delivered."

“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 association said. “We feel certain Bubala would not have asked this same question of white male leadership.”

The station has since taken down its promotional page for Bubala. And on Tuesday, Bubala said in a Facebook post that WJZ "was forced" to let her go, a decision that "saddened and shocked" her.

"I immediately apologized for any hurt I unintentionally caused," she said. "I received immediate support from WJZ because they knew it was not in my heart to intentionally cause this kind of harm."

Bubala, who had spent the majority of her 22-year career with WJZ, said she wanted to issue an on-air apology but was not allowed.

"I fully intend to fight to restore my reputation because I’ve invested my heart and soul in my work and my city," she said. "Thank you Baltimore for all of your support during this difficult period of time. It means so much to me."

In a statement to NBC News, WJZ confirmed that Bubala was no longer an employee and said, "The station apologizes to its viewers for her remarks."

Mayo told NBC News that WJZ's decision does "little to nothing to remedy the greater problem" and that an apology is still owed to the people of Baltimore and to black viewers and employees of the station.

"It’s a ceremonial falling on the sword that continues to cut a hole in efforts for newsroom diversity and inclusion as well as working to build the public trust," Mayo said. "It took a weekend to respond to this… I can only hope WJZ-TV management is reinforcing in-house that this is reprehensible and will not be tolerated."