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.