Understanding the importance of language in framing such culturally volatile issues, Warren went through the words line by line for viewers, while the producers skillfully illustrated certain passages. This is the opposite of the if-it-bleeds-it-leads coverage that local broadcasters are often mindlessly accused of. Warren and WJZ regularly framed the debate as supporters of the law versus supporters of "traditional marriage" -- as opposed to those who have framed it as supporters of the law versus those against gay marriage. There's a difference.
WBAL has aired more than a dozen stories, and it now features a page -- http://www.wbaltv.com/same-sex-marriage-extended-coverage -- where all of its coverage has been compiled.
Typical of the network-quality work WBAL does at its best is the May 29th report from Annapolis by David Collins on opponents of the law filing what they said were 113,505 signatures to bring it to referendum.
Collins reports the facts against a backdrop of spot-on video shot showing the opponents marching into the State House to deliver their boxes of petitions. The facts are accurate, and the pictures are engaging, with lots of energy.
The interviews of supporters and opponents are crisply edited to add clarity to the conflicting points of view. And as leaders on both sides start to make larger cultural and political claims, Collins moves on to explain how same-sex marriage laws and referendums have fared elsewhere.
This is local TV news produced to make politics and governance informative and engaging, if not exciting, for viewers.
Last week, at least, WBFF did that as well as anyone in town with a 90-minute town hall meeting on Question 6. The Thursday-night session streamed live online. It can be seen from 10 to 11 a.m. Sunday on Fox 45. Readers can judge for themselves.
I have been watching WBFF's reporting on this story for months. Readers, colleagues and TV news professionals have guaranteed me that, given Sinclair's history of sometimes over-the-line support of conservative causes, its coverage of this issue would be a journalistic disgrace.
But if you saw Thursday's town hall session, which clearly took a lot of effort and resources, you saw none of that. The panel was balanced, and the two members in support of the law, Baltimore Democratic Del. Mary Washington, and Ezekiel Jackson, of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, were given full rein. Ultimately, they bested Baltimore Democratic Del. Emmett Burns and Derek McCoy, of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, in a lively debate.
WBFF anchor Jennifer Gilbert opened the session and skillfully handled a steady stream of intense social media, while Mark Hyman, host of Sinclair's "Behind the Headlines" show, served as moderator.
Hyman brings considerable right-wing baggage with him for some of his Sinclair commentaries. He will probably never live down having called the French "cheese-eating surrender monkeys." While he's not the smoothest moderator in the world, he did his job Thursday without unduly leading the discussion one way or the other.
"We have a huge responsibility to help viewers understand Question 6," says Dan Joerres, general manager of WBAL. "It's part of our job to make sure voters have the facts and know what they are voting for."
I intend to keep watching through Nov. 6 to see who does and doesn't meet that obligation as the ad dollars roll in.