Baltimore Sun: ‘Kill a Cop’ Story May Hurt WBFF Future Plans

By Kevin Eck 

wbff 'killacop'The Baltimore Sun reports Sinclair’s Baltimore FOX affiliate WBFF plans to launch a 4:00 p.m. newscast and debut new anchor Kai Jackson soon. But media writer David Zurawik writes, the launch will likely be overshadowed by the station’s handling of what has become known as the “Kill a Cop” report.

In December, reporter Melinda Roeder and photographer Greg McNair were fired after a story about a local protest aired with WBFF claiming the protestors were chanting “Kill a cop” when they were actually shouting “We can’t stop. We won’t stop, till killer cops are in cell blocks.”

Zurawik casts doubt on whether the two were acting alone and questions the “credibility, accountability and trust” of parent company Sinclair Broadcast Group.

“The role of “higher-ups” at WBFF is exactly what troubles almost everyone — from readers to other media reporters and critics — who have contacted me about this matter. The terms “scapegoats” and “fall guys” are often used in their emails and texts.”

While Roeder and McNair were “terminated” by the station, [news director Mike] Tomko was given a one-day suspension.

I also contacted several staffers at WBFF, but none was willing to go on the record.

Roeder told me that the story idea for the video came from management — it was not hers. Further, she said, management “directed” her “to use a YouTube link.”

In conversations with Roeder, a winner of 12 local Emmys and seven Murrow Awards, I get the impression that she understands the dangers of grabbing video off the Web when the provenance of it is not known.

That’s another issue WBFF needs to address: Whether or not Roeder and McNair were directed to the video, why are journalistic standards so low at Fox 45 that the station is using video on the air without vetting it — knowing who created it and how?

There are many issues raised by this ugly incident — not the least of which is how the station treats members of the community it covers. If the treatment received by [protest leader Tawanda] Jones is any indication, the answer is not very well.

In an interview on Fox 45 in which anchorman Jeff Barnd apologized to Jones on behalf of the station, she called the misrepresentation of her words “disgusting” and “horrible.” She said she has law enforcement officers in her family and has always insisted that protests be peaceful.

Typical of the transition WBFF is undergoing this month, Barnd, who was part of the first anchor team at the station in 1991, left town last week for a job as national correspondent for Sinclair in Washington. That’s the job Jackson held the last year while he waited out a one-year no-compete clause in his contract at WJZ.

I have to admit, when I first heard about Jackson and the added newscast, I was encouraged by the thought of Sinclair directing more resources and talent to covering Baltimore — just as I would be with any of the other stations and media corporations that populate our local media landscape.

But in the wake of the inflammatory edit and the lack of an explanation, not so much.

“As journalists often tell other public officials and prominent people: Transparency can bring trust from the public,” Deggans wrote in an email. “And for journalism outlets that have made an error, it’s the surest way to win back the confidence of the audience.”

Not doing so, on the other hand, is a good way to damage that core relationship with the audience — as well as with critics.

TVSpy asked WBFF for comment but has not heard back. We will update when we do.