Baltimore Prosecutor Asks FCC To Go After Local News Broadcasters She Doesn't Like

from the looking-real-progressive-there,-Marilyn dept

It’s not often you see a politician ask the FCC to step in to punish a news station. And for good reason: the First Amendment. Politicians are welcome to fight speech they don’t like with more speech, but they shouldn’t be calling for a federal government investigation of a TV station just because they don’t like the slant of the stories about them.

Baltimore (MD) City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby thinks a local Fox affiliate is unfairly portraying her and her official doings. Rather than just accept that this is part of being in the business of politics, Mosby is asking the FCC to ask Fox to stop being Fox. Here’s the angry letter [PDF] her office wrote — one she boosted into Streisandia by airing her particular grievance on Twitter. (h/t Adam Steinbaugh)

This is a formal complaint requesting an investigation into the broadcasting practices and media content distributed by FCC-licensed station WBFF, a Baltimore City-based Fox News-affiliated network, specifically the content distributed to the public about the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO), a government entity, and its lead prosecutor, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby that upon viewing could reasonably be categorized as blatantly slanted, dishonest, misleading, racist, and extremely dangerous.

Well, that’s Fox for you. And if the FCC hasn’t done anything yet to go after broadcasters who “intentionally distort the news” — something forbidden by FCC rules — there’s a good chance it won’t be doing anything about this complaint either. And a lot of “intentional distortion” is often in the eye of the beholder. Mosby is definitely aggrieved, but being mad about stuff isn’t the same as being right about stuff, especially when the Constitution is on the line.

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.

Whew. Sounds just like any news outlet that has hosts and commentators with axes to grind. Nothing unusual here other than a government figure demanding the federal government start targeting protected speech. And speaking of conspiracy theories, Mosby has one of her own:

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.

Mosby also has problems with how often she’s being covered by the local Fox affiliate, which is another thing you don’t see too many politicians complaining about: too much press.

In 2020, there were 248 stories by the WBFF solely about SA Mosby. In comparison, other local news networks ran significantly fewer stories. When assessed over the same period in 2020, Baltimore City stations did the following: WBAL – 26 stories; WJZ – 46; and WMAR – 10. So far in 2021, the WBFF has run 141 slanted stories.

Looks like a really good use of Baltimore tax dollars: having staffers watch TV to find things for Mosby to complain to the FCC about.

Mosby claims this heated, frequent coverage of her endangers her personally. According to Mosby, the slanted broadcasting — combined with the station’s one-time broadcast of her home address — has resulted in her receiving multiple death threats and fearing for her safety. How much of this would have happened without WBFF’s allegedly unfair coverage is unknown.

The letter then lists a sampling of the “slanted” coverage that Mosby finds so disturbing her office is asking for FCC intervention. And it’s a pretty bland list.

Rollout of new policies by Marilyn Mosby needed more collaboration, experts say

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Avoids Oversight

Role Top Prosecutor Plays in Baltimore Violence

Quotes from these offending pieces are also attached and they’re equally inoffensive:

It’s been about three weeks since City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby doubled down on her plan to permanently stop prosecuting what she calls “low-level” offenses.

Findings from an Operation: Crime & Justice investigation show City and State watchdog agencies don’t audit City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s Office.

Since the riots in 2015, Baltimore City has seen hundreds of lives lost. Sean Kennedy who is a visiting fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute tells Fox45 News, “The State’s Attorney is a crucial player in curbing crime in any jurisdiction.”

Somehow this equates to an assault on the State’s Attorney sensibilities and an attack on the right of the people to be able to access “unbiased” news. Somehow this innocuous batch of pretty mild criticism is something that “incites racists to act upon their animus for the State’s Attorney.”

Mosby wraps the complaint with a paragraph that is inconsistent with everything surrounding it:

To be clear, the State’s Attorney’s Office is not above receiving criticism. 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 Attorney’s Office will only accept criticism that’s “unslanted.” It will only be held accountable by journalists it considers to be fair. And it fully supports the First Amendment rights of everyone but the broadcasters at WBFF. And, I hate to say it, commentary and opinion with a “stench of racism” is still protected speech.

If Mosby really respects the First Amendment and welcomes criticism, she should simply post this letter — minus all the stuff requesting action from the FCC — and let residents draw their own conclusions about WBFF and its coverage of local politics. A government official asking a government agency to open an investigation into a journalistic entity has the stench of censorship.

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Comments on “Baltimore Prosecutor Asks FCC To Go After Local News Broadcasters She Doesn't Like”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Fox has the Tucker precedent

But Fox News argued that Carlson "cannot be understood to have been stating facts, but instead that he was delivering an opinion using hyperbole for effect," the ruling said.

It added that Fox News "submits that the use of that word or an accusation of extortion, absent more, is simply ‘loose, figurative, or hyperbolic language’ that does not give rise to a defamation claim."

US District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil agreed with Fox’s premise, adding that the network "persuasively argues" that "given Mr. Carlson’s reputation, any reasonable viewer ‘arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism’ about the statements he makes."

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: Re: Fox News ≠ local Fox affiliates

I am not sure I would want to be stuck with the argument that local Fox affiliates are trusted, despite the network’s syndicated content and general reputation. It could well be that no sensible person would rely on information from the Baltimore affiliate, just as no sensible person would rely on Fox hosts such as Tucker Carlson.

I understand that if one hangs out with skunks, one may become odoriferous. If one hangs out with Foxes, one may become unreliable.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Local and possibly national Fox meanwhile: 'Sweet!'

Oh did she screw that one up… you’ve not only got the first amendment concerns of a government employee trying to punish someone for legal speech(and given the examples they provided given pretty tame at that) but she just handed them an entire stockpile of ammo to use against her in the process about a much more concerning issue, namely her attempt to punish them.

If she thought they were being mean to her before this she is in for a really unpleasant surprise…

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

One wonders if the reason they keep covering her so often is her inability to accept any criticism as being anything other than a personal attack based only on race not that fact that she is a lawyer who apparently never took a ConLaw course.

Shes jumping up and down drawing more attention to whats happening & well given human nature if these rather timid stories have her freaking out this badly… what is it she is REALLY trying to hide?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

There was a case in Philadelphia where the school board head was depicted asleep on the job after a twelve person student melee along ethnic lines. Fairly standard tame background noise hackery. Where the same political cartoonists probably keep premade templates on file so they just need to draw the snoozing head and write a name on the nameplate. whenever a politician looks negligent.

She criticized that hackery as outragous racism. I don’t recall her even putting out the standard empty suit boilerplate speech of "What happened today is completely unacceptable! " where the contents are so generic it could be reused as a sound file in a city sim game to be played at any manmade disaster from a terrorist attack, water to the school being cut off or polluted to asbestos falling from the ceiling. Nor even any plan as a result from substansial to cheesy 80s era tolerence videoes on BetaMax. I think the answer is clearly "hiding complete and utter incompetence"

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Anonymous Coward says:

A government official asking a government agency to open an investigation into a journalistic entity has the stench of censorship.

Hey Tim, how can it be censorship if it’s not Facebook or Twitter doing it? I thought they hold all the power in todays American discourse.

crazy_diamond (profile) says:

Everything Mosby complains about in WBFF’s coverage are techniques that police and prosecutors use all the time. Every day those agents put out statements which can be described by any of the adjectives she uses, and knowingly advanced even when demonstrably false. Think of all the law enforcement narratives which blow up when video shows no one could honestly give those narratives. Of course, the local news always parrots the authorities without question and I don’t hear Mosby complaining about that.

dickeyrat says:

This article in and of itself is woefully incomplete. As alluded to in other posts, WBFF-TV is NOT actually owned by Fox, just merely affiliated. FCC records indicate the station is owned by "Chesapeake Television Licensee, LLC". A deeper look into SEC filings shows "Chesapeake" is an apparernt subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcasting, a known purveyor of right-wing, Fascist-leaning crap among its television content. Albeit, this in no way justifies the Mayor’s abhorrent attempt at governmental prior restraint. As usual, the most harmful catalyst to this noxious mix is good ol’ Amerikan Public Ignorance, barking up the wrong tree, pinning the tail on the wrong donkey. Sinclair, to my own recollection, was infamous for forcing its owned & operated TV stations to carry infomercial-style "reports" shining a golden light on Herr Trump, Our Respected And Beloved Leader. Yet, if one listens to Sinclair-owned KOMO Radio ("KOMO-News 1000") in Seattle, it is between extremely diffficult and impossible to detect such bias in their actual news presentation. KOMO, and especially co-owned KVI in Seattle both do feature their fair share (overwhelmingly so, in the case of KVI) of mouth-foaming extreme right-wing blatherers, some of whom are local in origin, others who are syndicated. But Sinclair is hardly alone in foisting this bilious crap on unsuspecting Amerikans; such airwave abuses can be found in most (or perhaps, all) radio markets throughout the land.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

A deeper look into SEC filings shows "Chesapeake" is an apparernt subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcasting, a known purveyor of right-wing, Fascist-leaning crap among its television content. Albeit, this in no way justifies the Mayor’s abhorrent attempt at governmental prior restraint.

Then why would you consider that omission so critical as to call the article "woefully incomplete"?

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