Thursday, 09 May 2019 21:27

COLUMN: Americans need to stop silencing each other

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Most of the time, this column is pretty lighthearted and fun. Rarely do I take a step toward hard journalism or topics of controversy. That's not to say there aren't topics that catch my interest and stir within me a desire to write about them. 

As I have mentioned before, I am not a reporter. I don't do hard news and when current events are mentioned in this column, they are done so with a humorous slant. Once in a while, though, something gets my goat and I think about writing about it. Most of the time I don't, because people read this column looking for something fun. 

This week is not fun. 

This week, I am a bit perturbed at something that occurred to a journalist of sterling reputation. This something cost the woman her job and reputation. A direct, albeit it controversial, question was asked and it caused a firestorm. 

Let's back up a bit. It goes without saying that I am not a fan of television news. I have friends in television news and I mean them no disrespect, but what you get most of the time from television is the fast-food equivalent of news. Whatever will fit in a 60-second package with great video. Surely there is some substance, but most of the time it's sound bites and video clips packaged together to get you through the spot between the sports and weather. 

Where I live, the nightly news always begins with the weather and everything is secondary. Small-town television is like that sometimes, and the weather most of the time is the most exciting thing going on. Large city markets are different. Larger markets with a larger audience have a tendency to offer flashy and lurid newscasts that begin with the shock of that day's violent crime for 10 minutes, then a story about some health crisis and then your weather for the next few days. It's a tabloid on video. 

On television, in some markets, you have investigative reporters. You know the kind. They are the ones who are advertised like hardscrabble investigators and generally have segments with the word “eye” in the title. They ask hard-hitting questions that we all want to know the answers to, but can't ask because we aren't on television. These reporters are the ones you want to watch when they are covering something controversial. You expect them to be controversial. This is all part of the package. No one wants to see a hard-hitting report on frozen yogurt. You want to see an investigative journalist pounding the pavement at city hall, not talking about the newest flavor of gourmet yogurt. 

My hometown of Baltimore is in a bit of a crisis at the moment. Crime is rampant. The city infrastructure is crumbling. Citizens are fleeing in hordes to the suburbs. The criminal justice system is in shambles. Two of the last three mayors have been forced to resign because of criminal activity. The mayor who didn't resign was out of her depth and in over her head in a city that was too far gone for her to get a handle on. After the resignation of the latest mayor, some folks were brought on television to speak with one of the local anchors, a woman named Mary Bubala. 

Mary Bubala is an accomplished journalist. She is revered in the community. She's pleasant, professional and, according to mutual friends, is a hell of a nice person. Over night, however, Mary has suddenly become a racist and a sexist. 

Now, you and I both know this does not happen overnight. Mary must possess some deep-seated hatred for folks that are not like her. Mary must be the devil. How did she get this point? Did something happen to Mary that caused her to be this way? Was she raised this way? Was she harmed by someone and harbors a resentment? 

Not hardly. 

Mary asked a question. Mary asked a direct and blunt question that made people very uncomfortable. 

When discussing the current state of the city, Mary asked Loyola University Maryland Professor Karsonya Wise Whitehead the following question:

“We’ve had three female, African-American mayors in a row. 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?”

By all admission, the question is about as blunt as a brick through a plate-glass window. It's an ugly question. Had I asked the question, I may have worded it a little differently. I may not have. When I want answers to things, I ask questions. Sometimes the questions are unpleasant. Sometimes they are controversial. That is what we, as journalists, do at times. We ask the questions no one else wants to ask. At this point in time, journalists are walking on social justice eggshells, unable to get answers for fear of offending someone. 

The details here are the last three Baltimore mayors are African-American women. Professor Wise Whitehead is an African-American woman. Mary Bubala is not. Mary Bubala is a white television reporter. The question Mary Bubala asked set off a firestorm on social media that could be called the “Shot Heard 'round Baltimore.”  Mary fell on her sword and offered to apologize on air if her comments offended people. She apologized on social media. WJZ-TV fired her immediately. 

We have reached a turning point in society and journalism. We have reached a point where people of all races and religions, genders and ages, feel offended at the slightest word. We have gotten to the point where if we disagree with someone or have a differing opinion, we immediately call for their public crucifixion. When we should be discussing, we are immediately calling for the destruction of our opponent in discussion. I imagine it would be akin to doling out the death penalty for jaywalking. 

I am fortunate that the editors I write for recognize that I, alone, am responsible for my words. I am also a grownup who takes responsibility for my words and actions. Mary Bubala is as well. We'll never know because the ones who should have supported her made her a martyr. 

The questions will never be answered if we keep throwing those who ask them to the wolves. If we don't ask, we can't get answers. Without answers, there is only speculation. We cannot grow as a society if we stop talking to each other. Stop taking offense at every word. Words hurt, but they also heal. I'm willing to ask the questions if you're willing to answer them, even if you don't like the questions. In turn, you can ask me questions I don't like and I will answer them honestly. We will never be able to sit down and discuss topics if we keep silencing each other. 

 

Joe Weaver, a native of Baltimore, is a husband, father, pawnbroker and gun collector. From his home in New Bern, he (usually) writes on the lighter side of family life.

 

 

Last modified on Thursday, 09 May 2019 21:52