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Mayor bans WYPR reporter from weekly news conferences

P. Kenneth Burns

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake has banned WYPR’s metro reporter Kenneth Burns from her Wednesday press availabilities. She said Wednesday Burns is "welcome" at any of her other public events, but that the ceremonial conference room on the second floor of City Hall is "very close quarters." 

She said Burns "has consistently exhibited verbally and physically threatening behavior, particularly to my staff, and we can’t tolerate that."

Other reporters who regularly cover city hall say they haven’t witnessed any threatening behavior and the mayor would not offer specifics.

Anthony McCarthy, the mayor’s press secretary, said Burns’ relationship with the mayor has been "an on-going problem" and that he’s "very confrontational."

Official notice of the ban came in an email from McCarthy at 7:25 Tuesday night.

"Please find attached," it read, "a notice of the mayor’s decision to deny access to the Post BOE Press Availability to Kenneth Burns. WYPR may send another reporter to participate in this weekly press availability however, until further notice the denial is in effect."

The attached letter said access to the Mayor’s post Board of Estimates press conferences is at her discretion and that "effective immediately the Mayor has declined to grant her discretionary access to Kenneth Burns."

The banishment comes a week after Burns pressed the mayor over whether she had to go to Annapolis for approval of policy changes in the police department because, in a strange quirk in the law, the Baltimore Police Department is a state agency.

"I’m not 100 percent sure the specific, what specifically you’re referring to..." she started.

“...whether it’s a policy that’s governed by state law or public local law…" Burns continued.

"Yeah, I’m not going to understand it right now, your question," she said. "I can follow up with you and get you an answer on it."

Burns pressed again and Rawlings Blake told him, "You’re not going to be able to explain it, so I promise and commit to get you an answer for your question. I don’t have an answer for you."

Neither the mayor, nor anyone on her staff, has responded to the question about police policy changes.

It didn’t take long for the media twitter verse to erupt.

"@PKBNews is a professional, a good guy, not at all threatening. #FreeKenny," tweeted Pamela Wood of the Baltimore Sun.

James Wilkerson, a Library of Congress employee who described himself as “a recovering journalist,” tweeted that he’d sent an email asking the mayor to reconsider. "Hang in there," he wrote.

"This is messed up especially if you know @PKBNews and the way he goes about his job," added Justin Fenton, also of The Sun.

The mayor fired back.

"I support free press, but won't tolerate aggression to me or my staff. Burns’ behavior has been threatening & I chose to act," she wrote in one tweet.

And in another, "Suggesting that bc (because) the press won’t admit to seeing it that it didn't happen is awfully ironic 4 truth seekers."

And finally, “@PKBNews is welcome to any press event other than the close quarters of post BOE press avail. I made that clear.”

Andy Bienstock, WYPR’s vice president for programming, issued a statement saying it is "unfortunate that the Mayor has chosen to limit access to our City Hall reporter, and pick and choose who gets to ask her questions.

"We take allegations of misconduct seriously, but so far have not found any corroboration," he added. "It seems that Kenny is guilty of insistently asking the Mayor questions she did not want to answer - and that is precisely what we expect our reporters to do."

Joel McCord is a trumpet player who learned early in life that that’s no way to make a living.
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