The New York Times & PBS Newshour & John Oliver & Courage Campaign – 2018-04-03 01:37:00
TV Anchors Decrying ‘Fake News’
Puts Spotlight on Sinclair Broadcast Group
“This looks like something we would mock the Russians for doing during the days of Pravda.”
— Joe Scarborough, Morning Joe / MSNBC
“News anchors looking into camera and reading a script handed down by a corporate overlord, words meant to obscure the truth not elucidate it, isn’t journalism. It’s propaganda. It’s Orwellian. A slippery slope to how despots wrest power, silence dissent, and oppress the masses.”
— Dan Rather
“Nothing says ‘we value independent media’ like dozens of reporters forced to repeat the same message over and over again, like members of a brainwashed cult.”
— John Oliver, “Last Week Tonight”
Sinclair’s Soldiers in Trump’s War on Media
Sinclair Made Dozens of Local
News Anchors Recite the Same Script
Jacey Fortin and Jonah Engel Browmwich / The New York Times
(April 2, 2018) — On local news stations across the United States last month, dozens of anchors gave the same speech to their combined millions of viewers.
It included a warning about fake news, a promise to report fairly and accurately and a request that viewers go to the station’s website and comment “if you believe our coverage is unfair.”
It may not have seemed strange to individual viewers. But Timothy Burke, the video director at Deadpan, had read a report last month from CNN, which quoted local station anchors who were uncomfortable with the speech.
Mr. Burke tracked down the Sinclair affiliates and found when they had aired what he called a “forced read.” Then he stitched together the various broadcasts to create a supercut of anchors eerily echoing the same lines:
“The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.”
“Some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias.”
“This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”
The script came from Sinclair Broadcast Group, the country’s largest broadcaster, which owns or operates 193 television stations. The company is seeking a $3.9 billion deal to buy Tribune Media, a move that’s being held up by regulators over antitrust concerns.
Last week, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer published a copy of the speech and reported that employees at a local news station there, KOMO, were unhappy about the script. CNN reported on it on March 7 and said Scott Livingston, the senior vice president of news for Sinclair, had read almost the exact same speech for a segment that was distributed to outlets a year ago.
Mr. Burke’s video — along with a similar one created by ThinkProgress, the left-leaning news outlet — spread quickly on social media over the weekend, leading to prominent criticism of Sinclair.
Peter Chernin, a media investor and longtime president of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, called it “insidious.” David E. Price, a Democratic North Carolina congressman, called the video “pro-Trump propaganda” on Monday.
Piggybacking on the attention, House Democrats resurfaced a letter, dated March 22 and signed by 38 lawmakers, that called for the Tribune merger to be rejected.
President Trump responded to scrutiny of the broadcaster on Monday in a tweet.
“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,” he said.
In a statement on Monday, Scott Livingston, Sinclair’s senior vice president of news, called the backlash “ironic,” and said the stations “keep our audiences’ trust by staying focused on fact-based reporting and clearly identifying commentary.”
“We aren’t sure of the motivation for the criticism, but find it curious that we would be attacked for asking our news people to remind their audiences that unsubstantiated stories exist on social media, which result in an ill-informed public with potentially dangerous consequences,” he said.
A union that represents news anchors did not respond immediately to requests for comment on Monday.
Dave Twedell of the International Cinematographers Guild, who is a business representative for photojournalists (but not anchors) at KOMO in Seattle and KATU in Portland, Ore., said Sinclair told journalists at those stations not to discuss the company with outside news media.
Although it is the country’s largest broadcaster, Sinclair is not a household name and viewers may be unaware of who owns their local news station. Critics have accused the company of using its stations to advance a mostly right-leaning agenda.
“We work very hard to be objective and fair and be in the middle,” Mr. Livingston told The New York Times last year. “I think maybe some other news organizations may be to the left of center, and we work very hard to be in the center.”
Sinclair regularly sends video segments to the stations it owns. These are referred to as “must-runs,” and they can include content like terrorism news updates, commentators speaking in support of President Trump or speeches from company executives like the one from Mr. Livingston last year.
But asking newscasters to present the material themselves is not something that Kirstin Pellizzaro, a doctoral candidate at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, remembered from her experience as a producer at a Sinclair-owned news station in Kalamazoo, Mich., from 2014 to 2015.
The station had to air “must-run” segments that came from Sinclair, which is based outside Baltimore. “Some of them were a little slanted, a little biased,” Ms. Pellizzaro said. “Packages of this nature can make journalists uncomfortable.”
Sinclair representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday. But Mr. Livingston told The Baltimore Sun that the script was meant to demonstrate Sinclair’s “commitment to reporting facts,” adding that false stories “can result in dangerous consequences,” referring to the Pizzagate conspiracy as an example.
“We are focused on fact-based reporting,” Mr. Livingston continued. “That’s our commitment to our communities. That’s the goal of these announcements: to reiterate our commitment to reporting facts in a pursuit of truth.”
Ms. Pellizzaro said she can talk about Sinclair more freely now because she is working in academia, whereas journalists at stations owned by Sinclair might feel pressured not to bite the hand that feeds them.
“I hope people realize that the journalists are trying their best, and this shouldn’t reflect poorly on them,” she said. “They’re just under this corporate umbrella.”
Sinclair has been accused of using connections in the Trump administration to ease regulations on media consolidation. In an effort to expand its reach, the company is seeking approval from the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission for its $3.9 billion deal to buy Tribune Media.
John Oliver on Sinclair’s Propaganda
Sinclairâ€™s Media Takeover
(April 2, 2018) — A terrifying video released this past weekend showed dozens of Sinclair TV newscasters simultaneously reading the exact same script echoing Donald Trump’s attack on the free press.
And now Trump is tweeting in support of Sinclair, calling it “far superior” to “Fake News Networks.”(1)
The FCC is currently reviewing Sinclair’s proposed merger with Tribune Media, which would give Sinclair reach into 72% of American households, turning the local news into a Trump propaganda machine.(2) We can’t let that happen.
Local TV news gets more viewers than all the cable news stations combined. That’s why this is such a big deal. If the merger is approved, three out of four American homes would be subject to Sinclair’s must-run “news” segments, constant commentary from Trump-sycophant Boris Epshteyn, and forced readings of Sinclair-written statements.
The message read by the newscasters edited into the Deadspin video sounded straight out of 1984. Newscasters everywhere, from Des Moines to Seattle to D.C., were required to announce that “Some members of the national media use their platforms to push their own personal bias” and “this is extremely dangerous to a democracy.” (3)
These same journalists read the line, “At [our station], it’s our responsibility to pursue and report the truth . . . our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility” — while never mentioning that the very statement they were reading did not come from their own station.
One news anchor said, “I felt like a POW recording a message.” (4)
A free, independent local news media is essential to our democracy, but during the 2016 campaign, Sinclair literally cut a deal with the Trump campaign that guaranteed favorable coverage for Trump on Sinclair stations.(5)
We need to stop the Sinclair-Tribune merger now, while all eyes are on the company.
Yours in the fight against media consolidation,
How Sinclair Broadcasting Puts a
Partisan Tilt on Trusted Local News
PBS Newshour / Public Broadcasting System