This was my first exposure to the Sinclair Broadcast group:
Sinclair Broadcast Group is a right-leaning media company that owns nearly 200 local television stations (including WKRC in Cincinnati). They are in the process of expanding after an agreement was reached last year to purchase the Tribune Media Co. for $3.9 billion and assume $2.7 billion in debt. While Sinclair mostly covers small and medium markets, the Tribune deal would extend Sinclair’s reach into major metropolitans like New York and Chicago. The merger hasn’t been approved yet.
Here’s the problem:
- Sinclair forcing stations to run conservative commentary, such as Trump-surrogate Boris Epshteyn, is one thing. However, station managers are also forced into running segments called “Must Runs”. These are scripted commentaries that the company requires local anchors to be read on the air. Deadspin published an example over the weekend:
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) March 31, 2018
- When trusted local anchors are forced to read scripted commentary (some concerning ‘Deep State’ conspiracy theories or ‘black African gun crime’) without clear warning of their idealogical leanings (or batshit crazy theories) you’re setting a dangerous precedent; this isn’t a typical problem with CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News because you know what to expect. However, you shouldn’t expect partisan bullshit from your local news.
Thankfully, the country is starting to pay attention:
- Sinclair Broadcast Group’s ‘false news’ promo, which it made news anchors recite, goes viral [LA Times]
- How America’s Largest Local TV Owner Turned Its News Anchors Into Soldiers In Trump’s War On The Media [Deadspin]
- Sinclair Made Dozens of Local News Anchors Recite the Same Script [NY Times]
John Oliver, who brought awareness to Sinclair last year (see above), updated his story calling anchors “members of a brainwashed cult.”
“When you see just how many local stations were forced to read it and you watch them together, as many have been doing online in the last couple of days, you begin to realize the true effect of Sinclair’s reach and power,” Oliver said.
Representative Adam Schiff weighed in:
Local news stations now required by Sinclair Broadcasting to parrot the talking points of the President, moving America one step closer to its own version of state run media. And another freedom is assailed under this Administration. https://t.co/LwBnqdhM3b
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) April 2, 2018
Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfield announced his refusal to watch Channel 12, who is also owned by Sinclair. And most the comments agreed.
Creepy, cult-ish, and way too propagandistic for my taste. As I’ve said before, I love many of the individual people at Channel 12 – but the direction of their ownership, @WeAreSinclair, is deeply troubling, and will prevent my propping up their revenue stream by being a viewer. https://t.co/GIyyYvKDLo
— P.G. Sittenfeld (@PGSittenfeld) April 1, 2018
It should be noted that the anchors and station managers at Local 12 are victims; they are forced to read commentary provided by Sinclair, who also own 22 (WKEF) and 45 (WRGT-TV) in Dayton. Many anchors, who have mortgages to pay, are justifiably “uncomfortable”, writes CNN.
Internal documents call the new initiative an “anchor delivered journalistic responsibility message.” But the staffers who shared the documents with CNN say the promos are inappropriate — yet another corporate infringement on local journalism “At my station, everyone was uncomfortable doing it,” a local anchor said. The person insisted on anonymity because they believed they would be fired for speaking out. Other local anchors also said the promos were a source of dismay in their newsrooms.
“I worked for Sinclair during most of my time in El Paso,” former Sinclair employee Bill Melugin tweeted on Saturday. “They were awful & I would never work for them again. What they’re doing now is ridiculous propaganda and it’s an embarrassment to the profession. I feel for my former colleagues being forced to read this garbage.”
One supporter of Sinclair is, you guessed it, Donald Trump:
So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased. Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 2, 2018
The truth is, no company, organization, or government should have this much ownership in the media (you could argue too few companies own too many properties already). This leads to propaganda, and that’s clearly dangerous. Regardless, the attention on Sinclair is a good step to confronting state-run propaganda.