Conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. has been gobbling up independent television stations across the country. People think that they have been getting real news from NBC, ABC, etc. when in fact, they may have been getting conservative talking points. A free media is essential to a democracy, but this ugly underside of the business just showed itself.
Donald Trump made the term “fake news” popular, and not so popular, during his 2016 presidential campaign. His definition of “fake news” was anything that did not agree with or criticized him. He specifically criticized CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.
Now, we find that a national broadcasting chain forced reporters to read from a script that condemned “fake news.” The script claimed that so many journalists have been politically biased, it has alarmed the nation. Oddly enough, the scripts’ talking points were reminiscent of those Trump used and continues to use.
Fortunately, three of Sinclair-owned stations in Lewiston, Washington (near Spokane) refused to air the lies put forth by their boss. KLEW, KLEW-2, and KLEW-3 would not read the segments. These stations still do have a link up to Sinclair’s conservative Behind The Headlines show.
Chair of journalism and media production at Washington State University’s Edward R. Murrow College of Communcations, Douglas Hindman, said that the show was strictly editorial. Yet, the program shows up on the stations’ website menu under the heading of “News.”
Hindman said that Sinclair had been remarkably successful in forcing its news anchors to read editorialized material without labeling it as such. The journalists could not indicate that Behind The Headlines was opinion-based. Sinclair traded on the good reputation of its anchors to promote conservative propaganda.
The university chair said Sinclair risked the “credibility of anchors,” according to Spokesman.com:
‘They’re free to do that. What changed is where they asked anchors to read from a provided script, and considerably borrow the credibility of anchors and their connection with viewers to carry and transmit the opinions of the ownership group.’
KLEW General Manager David Prago released an email statement saying the news station was “extremely proud” of its reporters. They were not free to comment, but Prago said:
‘Our agenda is to serve our communities by sharing relevant information to alert, protect and empower our audiences. (Our reporters) are committed to producing the best, most informative and accurate content for our viewers.’
A news release issued by Sinclair said the company’s promotional segments had “no political agenda.” According to NPR, Sinclair owns over 190 TV stations spread across the country in over 80 markets. That is:
‘More than any other media company, and is seeking to acquire dozens more by purchasing Tribune Media.’
Sinclair sent out a news release that indicated the company had “no political agenda.” Senior vice president of news at Sinclair, Scott Livingston, commented that the focus of all of the company’s stations was “fair and objective reporting:”
‘(We) find it curious that we would be attacked for asking our news people to remind their audiences that unsubstantiated stories exist on social media. It is ironic that we would be attacked for messages promoting our journalistic initiative for fair and objective reporting.’
The Seattle Times reported that many of Sinclair’s television journalists were frustrated. In 2017, The Times wrote that Sinclair had been forcing journalists at his stations to run conservative talking points editorial segments as fact-filled news for years.
KOMO in Seattle is one of Sinclair’s stations. Journalists at the station said that it was rare for Sinclair to command them to read a specific script. Yet, Sinclair told them they had to run a smear campaign against The Times, when the newspaper criticized media consolidation and Sinclair bought KOMO.
The smear campaign never hit the air waves, but KOMO did a segment on the death of newspapers – just like The Times.
KOMO journalists said they were worried about more owner demands like this as the 2018 midterm elections gets closer, according to The Times.