Film & TV

Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Outrageous Assault on Our Democracy

Sinclair-run news stations. (MSNBC via YouTube)
The bipartisan case against a broadcasting behemoth’s shameless editorializing

Sinclair Broadcast Group was caught red-handed when it ordered local news anchors at its stations to read an editorial handed down from their parent corporation. The outrage that followed, heated as it was, was bipartisan and entirely justified.

Jimmy Kimmel, an increasingly vital and astute observer of the political scene, was among the first to raise the alarm after Deadspin published a video exposing Sinclair. Kimmel tweeted that it was “dangerous to our democracy” for newscasts aired by Sinclair-owned stations to include virtually identical segments in which local anchors read from a script ginned up at corporate headquarters about the dangers of biased and irresponsible reporting.

Another widely respected source of nonpartisan media commentary, Dan Rather, wrote in a Facebook post, “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.” Considering the stakes here, the grammatical lapses are forgivable. You’d lose your ability to construct a sentence too if you sensed the risk as keenly as Rather does.

The Washington Post called Sinclair’s action “stunning.” Even right-wing commentators heaped contempt on Sinclair: On her HLN program, conservative columnist S. E. Cupp compared the newsreaders who appeared in the video editorials to members of the Heaven’s Gate suicide cult.

But the Sinclair propaganda onslaught is much more troubling than the unfortunate deaths of a tiny band of crazy people. Isn’t the looming death of our democracy far more perilous? If anything, criticism of Sinclair has not gone far enough. Even the corporate overlord’s most stalwart critics haven’t taken notice of the obvious echoes of the practices of Fox News Channel, which also airs political commentary on stations seen in hundreds of cities across the country and also has millions of viewers. My research assistants have uncovered evidence that CNN and MSNBC are doing the exact same thing. This is a bipartisan scandal.

Moreover, if you’re revolted by Sinclair’s habit of airing nearly identical messages on hundreds of stations, you will be even more nauseated to learn that that Kimmel is airing completely identical political comments on even more stations than Sinclair owns — the hundreds of ABC affiliates that broadcast his show every weeknight. Kimmel is so brazen he doesn’t even launder his views by having zombie-faced local news personalities read out his thoughts on gun control or health care. He does it himself, and Americans are helpless in the face of his insidious mind-control efforts, which they can avoid only by not watching his show.

All of these observers owe much to another perceptive and even-tempered media analyst, HBO’s John Oliver, who talked about Sinclair on his show Last Week Tonight this Sunday and noted last year that by his count Sinclair local newscasts could, after a pending merger, someday reach an average viewership of 2.2 million Americans, adding, “And that is a lot!” Oliver is correct. By the time Sinclair has finished brainwashing those 2.2 million, there will be only 323.5 million Americans left unsullied by its nefarious ideas.

Yet we haven’t even discussed the staggering nature of the form in which Sinclair’s editorials were broadcast. My research team has just told me that they have data proving that canned local-news editorials delivered stiffly by blank-faced Ron Burgundys were second only to Russian Facebook memes of Jesus arm-wrestling Satan in influencing the voters to reject the otherwise inevitable and correct winner, Hillary Clinton, in favor of her evitable and incorrect challenger, Donald Trump.

Beneath that, though, the actual content of Sinclair’s message is troubling. Its most jaw-dropping passages read as follows:

We’re concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media. More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories . . . stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first. Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think. . . . This is extremely dangerous to a democracy. . . . It’s our responsibility to pursue and report the truth. We understand Truth is neither politically left nor right. Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever.

So Sinclair is against media bias, one-sided reporting, and fake news? It asserts that truth is neither “left nor right”? Preposterous. Judging by the truth as established by ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, PBS News, NPR News, CNN, MSNBC, and nearly every newspaper and newsmagazine published in the United States, the truth is actually quite similar to what the Left believes.

That plays right into the hands of President Trump, who has also said he doesn’t think the media should run fake news.

Seeking to contain the damage in an interview published in the Baltimore Sun, Scott Livingston, senior vice president of news for Sinclair, dug himself deeper into his hole. “We are focused on fact-based reporting,” he said, citing as examples of fake news the Pizzagate and “Pope Endorses Trump” stories. Such false narratives “move quickly across social media and result in an ill-informed public,” Livingston added.

Need I say more? These lunatics are actually taking a stand against false information. That plays right into the hands of President Trump, who has also said he doesn’t think the media should run fake news.

Failing to find a pretext to stop Sinclair from completing its merger with Tribune and buying some 40 additional stations will have consequences unknown. If Sinclair continues to air whatever content it likes on media properties it owns, what’s to stop other companies from also airing whatever content they choose? Newspapers, magazines, and TV networks, as well as groups of local TV stations, might feel free to publish or air political commentary, some of which could conceivably have a partisan bias. Whatever will become of this country if people use the media properties they own to simply say whatever they feel like saying?

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