Home Free SpeechEmbattled Baltimore State’s Attorney tries to leverage the power of the U.S. government to silence a tough media critic

Embattled Baltimore State’s Attorney tries to leverage the power of the U.S. government to silence a tough media critic

 

 

The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO) recently filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) against a local Fox affiliate, claiming the network was on a racist “crusade” against State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby.

 

Quick Facts

 

  • The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO) has requested that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launch an investigation into WBFF, the local Fox television affiliate.
  • The complaint alleges that FOX45, the outlet’s news division, engages in dishonest distorting of the activities of State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby in order to slander her and further claims that the station is putting her in danger from racists.
  • The station disputes the charge, and Brendan Carr, the senior Republican on the FCC Commission, has said that the agency should dismiss the complaint.

 

Mosby and her husband, Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby, have been serving in public service roles for some time. In 2015, Marilyn Mosby was elected as State’s Attorney for the city of Baltimore, making her at the time the youngest top prosecutor of any major city in the country. One of her first major decisions was to charge six police officers with the death of Freddie Gray. The case inspired major riots and destruction in Baltimore. Three of those police officers were eventually tried but acquitted, and Mosby’s office dropped the prosecution of the remaining officers.

 

In recent years, Mosby and her husband have been embroiled in a number of personal and professional controversies. A grand jury, for example, has launched a federal probe into the couple’s finances, and their home is under an Internal Revenue Service lien as a result of three years of unpaid taxes.

 

Moreover, a recently released inspector general’s report on Marilyn Mosby’s official travel history found that she attended two dozen events outside Maryland in 2018 and 2019, but she did not seek approval for 15 of those events, three of which were outside of the country. The report also found that she was physically absent from her office for 85 days during that same time period. “The OIG found discrepancies between the travel reported on SA Mosby’s state financial disclosure forms, the travel list she provided to the OIG, and the OIG’s independent verification of costs,” investigators wrote.

 

The media, including local and national newspaper and broadcast outlets, have covered the Mosbys’ professional activities and their controversies. However, Mosby has taken particular issue with the reporting by WBFF’s FOX45, the local Fox news affiliate, claiming in her FCC complaint that the station’s coverage “could reasonably be categorized as blatantly slanted, dishonest, misleading, racist, and extremely dangerous.”

 

Her letter continues,

 

“Under the FCC’s rules, ‘[b]roadcasters may not intentionally distort the news’ and ‘rigging or slanting the news is [deemed] a most heinous act against the public interest.’ Given that FCC guidance, an investigation into the persistent and slanted broadcasts of WBFF against our office and the State’s Attorney would prove that the WBFF administrators are guilty of such “heinous act[s].”

 

She claims that WBFF is on a “crusade” against her and says that the station has run many more stories about her than other networks. Mosby then launched into a diatribe against the national cable outlet Fox News as justification for her charge that the local Fox station is racist.

 

“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.”

 

Her letter also claims that FOX45 News published her home address and as a result of their coverage she has received death threats and hate mail. Mosby cites the titles of articles as an example of the alleged slanted coverage, among them “Marilyn Mosby Claims 93% Felony Conviction Rate—here are the cases she doesn’t count” and “Role Top Prosecutor Plays in Baltimore Violence.” She then says,

 

“As you can see from the examples cited, the broadcast and news coverage by the WBFF about the Baltimore City State’s Attorney Office, and more specifically against the State’s Attorney, are so slanted that they are not simply a ‘dog-whistle to the right-wing, they have become a megaphone that amplifies, encourages, and provides fodder for racists, throughout the city and beyond, to continue sending hate mail and death threats. This sort of coverage incites racists to act upon their animus for the State’s Attorney.”

 

The station responded to her by saying it “appears to be the State’s Attorney’s office attempt to leverage the power of the federal government to influence media coverage of her office.” They added,

 

“The letter was dated the day before the Radio Television Digital News Organization awarded FOX45 News four Regional Edward R. Murrow awards for journalism excellence. Three of the awards were for accountability reporting. FOX45 News was the only Baltimore Television news organization honored and is regularly the top award-winning news organization in the region.”

 

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, a Republican, agrees with FOX45. He tweeted, “A State’s Attorney filed a complaint with the FCC asking us to censor a newsroom because the official doesn’t like their coverage of her. This is a chilling & direct attack on free speech & journalist freedom. It’s part of a surge in calls by Dems for the FCC to silence speech.”

 

Carr explained that the complaint

 

“is part of a recent and troubling surge in efforts by Democrat officials to pressure the FCC and its regulated entities into censoring news coverage and political speech that Democrats don’t like. The FCC should make clear that it will not operate as the DNC’s speech police. That is why the FCC must dismiss this complaint with prejudice by the end of today. No journalists should have a complaint like this from their city’s top prosecutor hanging over their newsroom.”

 

Other organizations have also issued support for FOX45 and free speech, including the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB).

 

 

Mosby’s resorting to claims that the local Fox station is racist and trying to encourage white supremacists to attack her undermines her credibility. These claims are ad hominem attacks meant to silence anyone who would dare to speak out against her.

 

Marilyn Mosby and her husband, Nick, are high-profile politicians who wield enormous power in the city of Baltimore and should be more than capable of handling any criticism that comes with their positions. If the FCC had to field complaints from politicians over every bit of coverage that they view as unfair, slanted, or a personal attack, the agency would have no time to do anything else.

 

Marilyn Mosby, in particular, has received her fair share of criticism over the years and not just from the media. As a result of her conduct during the Freddie Gray case, for example, many in the law community called on her to resign, and a professor at the George Washington University School of Law brought a disciplinary complaint to the state bar seeking her disbarment for violating multiple provisions of the Maryland Lawyer’s Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC). The complaint described Mosby as a “runaway prosecutor” who had withheld exculpatory evidence, made improper public statements, and continued to prosecute a case after there was insufficient evidence to support a conviction.

 

The city’s chief law enforcement officer attempting to silence a particularly aggressive media critic by crying racist does not present good optics. While the station airing the Mosbys’ address was not advisable, the station did blur out the address on the web version of their story upon her request.

 

Mosby’s claim that a station’s decision to dig into and report on her controversial activities and finances somehow encourages people to commit violence against her or her family is ridiculous. Media outlets are not obligated to hide a politician’s actions or controversies to protect them from potential nut cases, any more than Mosby was obligated to cover up the actions of the police officers in the Freddie Gray case to protect them or their families from potential actions by an angry mob.

 

If she has an issue with a media outlet’s reporting, she is free to bring a lawsuit alleging malicious libel or to request the opportunity to answer a reporter’s facts and claims on the air. Asking the FCC to bring the weight of the federal government down on a local news station is just one more way that politicians are forgetting the nature of their role as public servants.

 

Mosby and her husband benefit greatly from what has been largely one-party rule in Baltimore for decades. As a Democrat, she has to run in primary elections but has never faced opposition in a general election. The only available check left on her power and those of other Democrat city politicians and bureaucrats is the media. FOX45 may be dogged, aggressive even, but making sure that elected officials are held accountable for their actions is the media’s No. 1 role in America — which is why freedom of the press is listed as a right under the First Amendment.