Best of Baltimore


The best media columnist, new website and more

Exposé: City Paper’s “Keeping Secrets”

City Paper’s shocking story about a Fells Point barkeep accused of raping two young girls shed a harsh light on the disconnect between mental-health services in Maryland and the justice system. Suffering from dementia, Douglas Lester Sexton of the JHJ Saloon had remained free despite the allegations because he was deemed unfit to stand trial. However, the sickening stories from his accusers, as described in Edward Ericson Jr.’s unblinking exposé on the case, forced the state to reevaluate. Sexton was deemed fit to stand trial by a group of psychiatrists and his trial date, set for this summer, reminds us all of the impact of good journalism.

Farce: The General Assembly’s budget talks

The last day of the legislative session is usually a joyous occasion. Legislators in Annapolis work until midnight passing a long list of last-minute bills. When the clock strikes 12, the General Assembly adjourns to cheers and a balloon drop. Not so this year. With the House of Delegates and Senate butting heads over the state budget and a bill to expand gambling, time ran out on the legislature. Both houses failed to pass a final budget, by default triggering millions in cuts, largely to education, and leading Gov. Martin O’Malley to fume to reporters at 2 a.m. about the legislature’s failure. A special session was eventually called in May and the budget resolved, but it was a prime example of bureaucratic gridlock at its worst. Next year, bring back the balloons.

Grace Under Pressure: Gerry Sandusky

For almost a year, longtime Baltimore sports personality and Ravens announcer Gerry Sandusky has been in the unenviable (to put it mildly) position of sharing the same name (minus one letter) as convicted child sex offender (and former Penn State coach) Jerry Sandusky. To complicate matters further, both men work in football; Gerry’s father, who played for the Cleveland Browns, is named John; and Jerry’s son, who works for the Cleveland Browns, is named Jon. Despite receiving more than his fair share of hate mail, Sandusky has handled the situation with equanimity and grace. He hasn’t gotten angry over dirty looks when he introduces himself nor annoyed by the recurring question of whether or not the two men are related. Instead, Sandusky has taken the ordeal in stride, posting on his website the 20 lessons he learned from the experience and writing to his Twitter followers: “I really do appreciate those of you who have helped me inform the world of the powerful difference between the letter G and the letter J.”

Investigative Series: “Judging the Judges,” WBAL-TV

When lead investigative reporter for WBAL-TV, Jayne Miller, comes calling, it’s probably not going to be your best day. That was the case when Miller and her team trained their sights on derelict judges who get away with serious ethics violations. What they found was a system shielded from the public, in which judges remain on the bench with nothing more than a slap on the wrist for actions such as drunk driving. The investigative series didn’t go unnoticed either. Legislators in Annapolis took notice, including Baltimore City Sen. Lisa Gladden, who questioned why there was such little transparency, as did the Radio Television Digital News Association, which awarded the station this year’s national Edward R. Murrow Award for Investigative Reporting.

Live Tribute: Jim Palmer on Mike Flanagan

When word began to spread that former Orioles pitcher Mike Flanagan had committed suicide at age 59, Jim Palmer was calling the Orioles game. It was August 24, and there was still about an hour left to go. Despite the loss of a close friend and former teammate, Palmer stayed at his microphone until the very end, only allowing himself to cry during a candid live moment after the game. “I can’t tell you how much he’ll be missed,” Palmer said, averting his bloodshot eyes from the camera. Palmer went on to share anecdotes about his colleague and friend in one of the most touching moments of live television ever.

Meteorologist: Tim Williams of WJZ-TV

You know those old Westerns where the mayor is also the sheriff and the banker? That’s sort of how Tim Williams operates at WJZ-TV. Not only does he know how to work a green screen like a champ, he’s a personable and authoritative anchor as well. Beginning at 6 a.m. every weekend, the broadcast veteran juggles breaking news and the weather as he puts on his anchor hat and readily switches it for his meteorologist hat, without breaking a sweat.

Media Columnist: David Zurawik

Of course, there’s no shortage of media columnists at national publications or on the latest shout-fest on cable news, but The Sun’s David Zurawik has carved a niche for himself with his take-no-prisoners approach. Having laid into NBC’s hiring of Chelsea Clinton as a special correspondent (calling it “journalistic bankruptcy”) and blasted Fox News as “shamelessly political,” Zurawik trains his sights on both left and right. Although more conservative than most commentators at The Sun, he’s no ideologue. And when Ron Smith was dying of cancer last year, Zurawik wrote about the radio giant’s career with eloquence and compassion. He has become a must-read at the paper.

New Website: Baltimore Fishbowl

Mining Charm City beneath the surface, this news-and-lifestyle website covers everything from money and power to culture and shopping. Updated daily and with a sleek design, Baltimore Fishbowl ( has a lively and chatty tone that’s ideal for an online magazine. It’s also introduced us to the hilarious Marion Winik, whose “Bohemian Rhapsody” column——on sex, parenting, and entering middle age with grace——is an absolute hoot.

Parenting Guide: (cool) progeny

Sure, you could read the national parenting websites, but you’re cool enough to be a parent in Baltimore! Enter (cool) progeny ( With a colorful design and easy-to-navigate tabs, local parents can find everything from tips for healthy eating and style advice for the kids to networking opportunities for parents. The team of editors and writers (full disclosure, our own Baltimore Bride editor, Janelle Erlichman Diamond, is among them) are parents themselves and know the importance of keeping the little ones busy, so there’s a regular listing of family fun events in the region, as well.

Play By Play: WBAL Radio

Spend some time listening to play-by-play in other cities and you’ll come to appreciate the subtle, authoritative voices on WBAL. It’s the lack of overt homerism we like best. These guys—Joe Angel and Fred Manfra for the O’s and Gerry Sandusky and Stan White for the Ravens—are professional but fair. Yeah, they get appropriately excited when the Orioles hit a homerun or Flacco throws a TD pass, but there’s no grousing about how the refs have it in for us and no insane outbursts of overt emotion. Don’t take these pros for granted: It’s a rare and wonderful thing in sports to have such dignified voices on the air.

Political Website:

This online news site has given traditional media outlets a run for their money. Edited and published by the former Annapolis bureau chief for The Baltimore Examiner, Len Lazarick, MarylandReporter.comhas made waves with its coverage of issues that largely fly under the radar of the traditional press. Its reporting focuses heavily on issues dealing with transparency and ethics. To wit: Its series of stories on one state agency’s mishandling (and subsequent coverup) of $38 million in funds earmarked for the disabled earned a nod from the Society of Professional Journalists.

PR Move: Denise Whiting goes on TV

Two years ago, it would have been easy to peg Denise Whiting as one of the most-hated people in Baltimore. The owner of Hampden’s Cafe Hon had racked up a number of enemies after her absurd attempt to trademark the word “hon.” Reaction was so negative that her business began to falter, and her staff began to question her leadership. All that changed when celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay brought his reality TV show, Kitchen Nightmares, to town last November. After revamping the restaurant and menu, Ramsay and Whiting went on the radio to announce she was dropping her right to the “hon” trademark. Whiting looked foolish throughout much of the episode that aired earlier this year, but when all was said and done, it put a human face on a woman who loves Baltimore just like the rest of us.

PR Move, political division: Sheila Dixon enduring harsh roast

It was hard not to cock an eyebrow when Sheila Dixon agreed to sit onstage at the Comedy Factory in Power Plant Live! and endure a barrage of jokes and insults about her disgraced reign as mayor of Baltimore. Around 100 turned out to watch the skewering, including many veterans from the Dixon administration. And yet, despite the many jabs at the scandals that brought the former mayor’s career crashing to the ground, Dixon took it in stride, smiling and scribbling notes for her (spirited) rebuttals. She has yet to fully recover from the uproar that ended her political career, but her ability to poke fun at herself——hardly a quality she was known for when in office——is certainly a step in the right direction.

Reporter on Twitter: Justin Fenton

Does Justin Fenton ever get any sleep? When he’s not gracing the pages of The Sun with his exhaustive stories on crime, Fenton is on Twitter, ready to field a tip from one of his more than 8,000 followers or share all manner of breaking news. He doesn’t just Tweet and write about crime, he analyzes the data and puts it in context. He also, poignantly, has been known to retweet RIPs from friends and families of victims of violent crime in Baltimore. The city is a more plugged in——and more compassionate——place because of him.

Return: The TV and Movie Industry

If you provide incentives, they will come. For a while, such prominent voices as John Waters and Barry Levinson insisted that if Maryland had competitive—or at least better—tax incentives for filmmakers, the state would reap the benefits. They were right. Thanks to the Film Production Employment Act of 2011, production companies are here in force, proving there is life after The Wire. With the political drama House of Cards filming all around town (including scenes in The Baltimore Sun building) and the HBO comedy Veep confirmed for a second season—plus the upcoming Olivia Wilde comedy Better Living through Chemisty—show biz in Baltimore is baaaack, baby.

Save: Washington Jewish Week buys the Baltimore Jewish Times

Maryland’s largest Jewish weekly, the 93-year-old Baltimore Jewish Times, was saved in the nick of time in a court-ordered bankruptcy auction that ended with a (surprisingly high) bid of $1.26 million from the publisher of Washington Jewish Week. The Baltimore Jewish Times, published by the family-owned Alter Communications, was already weakened by the effects of a shaky publishing industry, but got deeper into trouble when its bankruptcy filing——designed to get out of a printing contract——backfired in a countersuit by the printer. It was a dramatic save of one of Baltimore’s oldest publications, one that was backed by assurances that the weekly would remain a Baltimore-based paper. It’s a mitzvah.

Shout-Out: Vanity Fair calling Diner “the most influential film of the last 30 years”

There are many movies Vanity Fair could have deemed the most influential of the last 30 years——Pulp Fiction, Goodfellas, even Toy Story. But when they gave that plaudit to Barry Levinson’s iconic 1982 dramedy Diner, it made perfect sense. After all, the film was about nothing——just friends hanging out, giving each other grief, kibitzing. Sound familiar? Yeah. The film was the antecedent to TV shows like Seinfeld, Friends, and The Office and made stars out of actors Mickey Rourke, Ellen Barkin, and Kevin Bacon. Baltimoreans have long worshipped Diner (as evidenced by this year’s sold-out 30th anniversary screening at Shriver Hall)——it’s good to know we aren’t alone.

Stunt: John Waters’s cross-country hitchhiking trip

The Pope of Trash is the gift that keeps on giving. The 66-year-old Baltimore filmmaker and author has shown no signs of slowing down with age, and so it wasn’t entirely surprising when word began to spread that John Waters was hitchhiking across America. Taking rides from an indie band in Ohio and a married couple in Kansas, Waters made his way to San Francisco in eight days, all the while collecting material for his next book, tentatively titled Carsick. Waters didn’t need to publicize his stunt: As viral word spread that the director of Hairspray was making his way to California, drivers kept a lookout for a man with a pencil-thin mustache heading west.

Viral Video: The Wire: The Musical (Funny or Die)

David Simon’s revered Baltimore crime series The Wire was many things: gritty, harsh, addictive. What it wasn’t was particularly funny——that is until the folks at the website Funny or Die got their hands on it. The Wire: The Musical, a short parody of the show, took the Internet by storm when it was released in June. Some of the show’s original cast even reprised their roles from the series, including Michael K. Williams as Omar. The four-minute video even got the attention of Simon, who called it “Hilarious. Just great.”

Wisenheimer: The Baltimore Chop

When it comes to the truth, few deliver it more bluntly than The Baltimore Chop ( This blog about daily life in Baltimore, authored by “The Chop,” a self-described “regular dude. with a blog,” comments on the city’s indie culture and social scene with a no-nonsense style that mixes humor with a healthy dose of snark and sometimes even a touch of righteous outrage. Whether he’s commenting on the latest chic restaurant to open on The Avenue in Hampden or world politics, no one is safe from The Chop-ping block.

Wild Goose Chase: Mirlande Wilson’s claims to have won the Mega Millions

It didn’t take long for the national media to descend on Baltimore after it was announced that one of the winners of the record-breaking Mega Millions lottery had bought their $105 million ticket at a Baltimore County 7-Eleven. A day later, the face of Mirlande Wilson was plastered on the front page of the New York Post, claiming to have been the lucky winner. Wilson’s Westport home became media headquarters as a controversy stormed over whether she had to share her winnings with 15 of her McDonald’s co-workers who pooled their money to buy tickets. After several days of dodging questions and slipping out of her home in various wigs, three local school teachers who chose to remain anonymous, put an end to the controversy when they turned in the winning ticket to lottery officials. Mirlande, we hardly knew ye.