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Journalists From Sinclair Broadcast Group Fire Back

Vox: We’re journalists at a Sinclair news station. We’re pissed.

Some journalists from a Sinclair-owned news station have anonymously written a group letter airing some of their grievances over the controversial must-read segments that went viral from an edited Deadspin video which showed anchors at 45 local news stations simultaneously reciting their scripts.

“We are journalists at one of the 193 local television stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, a media corporation with conservative and pro-Trump ties. We are writing this essay because we’re disturbed by the editorial direction our leadership is taking, and we want people to know that many of us at Sinclair reject what our company is doing. We’re writing this anonymously because if we spoke out under our names, we could lose our jobs — and potentially owe money to Sinclair.”

These journalists’ jobs are held hostage to force them into spreading propaganda. In order to continue providing for themselves and their families, they have to do what their bosses tell them. Everyone working for Sinclair is essentially facing the same threat: obey, or be punished. And with Sinclair trying to buy up even more stations to expand its reach–possibly even double it–they are about to lower that same guillotine over even more news workers. Say what we tell you to say, or else.

I’m torn on how to feel about the employees of Sinclair who are put in this position. On one hand, I want them all to refuse, resign, whatever they have to do in order to stop the spread of this blatant propaganda on behalf of the Trump administration. But on the other hand, that’s a huge sacrifice for any of these people to make–they would be putting themselves and their families at risk, possibly even facing expensive legal repercussions.

There’s the crowdfunding route–they make a public display of quitting and hope that the public backs them up to pay their legal bills and support them if they can’t find another job. This has worked in the past for some, but it’s putting a lot of trust in what must feel like a moonshot from someone forced into that decision.

What we need to solve the root problem is to bring back the Fairness Doctrine:

The fairness doctrine of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), introduced in 1949, was a policy that required the holders of broadcast licenses both to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was—in the FCC’s view—honest, equitable, and balanced. The FCC eliminated the policy in 1987 and removed the rule that implemented the policy from the Federal Register in August 2011.

Obviously, there’s a lot of room for interpretation with “controversial issues of public importance” and “honest, equitable, and balanced.” But in a practical sense, this law meant that if you were going to use public airwaves, you had to do it in the public interest and in a balanced way:

“The Fairness Doctrine had two basic elements: It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows or editorials. The Fairness Doctrine simply prohibited stations from broadcasting from a single perspective, day after day, without presenting opposing views.”

Oddly enough, in the 2005 article I just referenced looking for information on the Fairness Doctrine, Sinclair Broadcast Group rears its ugly head again:

“When the Sinclair Broadcast Group retreated from pre-election plans to force its 62 television stations to preempt prime-time programming in favor of airing the blatantly anti-John Kerry documentary Stolen Honor: Wounds that Never Heal, the reversal wasn’t triggered by a concern for fairness: Sinclair back-pedaled because its stock was tanking. The staunchly conservative broadcaster’s plan had provoked calls for sponsor boycotts, and Wall Street saw a company that was putting politics ahead of profits. Sinclair’s stock declined by nearly 17 percent before the company announced it would air a somewhat more balanced news program in place of the documentary.”

Since we don’t have the Fairness Doctrine, the only thing we can rely on to change Sinclair’s mind is their profits. A boycott by their advertisers would achieve that:

“If companies decide they are no longer willing to advertise on a propaganda platform, this could have an impact. Look at Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News host and alleged serial sexual abuser who was fired after an advertiser boycott last year. In the midst of the boycott, O’Reilly went on Easter vacation with his family and never reappeared on air. It’s happening at Fox again now: Currently, Laura Ingraham, the Fox New host whose show was dropped by at least 15 advertisers after she attacked Parkland shooting survivors, is also on “Easter vacation” with her family.”

There are problems with this strategy too, though, because advertisers are unlikely to respond as quickly or aggressively to a boycott of Sinclair as an entire media company:  “Sinclair’s fragmented, inherently local structure … makes it much more difficult to rally a boycott against than a national program like Laura Ingraham’s ‘The Ingraham Angle,’ for instance.” So the pushback against Sinclair will have to be very strong for advertisers to take notice and join a boycott. For now, it seems they’re waiting to see how the public reacts:

“Specifically, advertisers are paying close attention to channels in more liberal markets such as KOMO-TV in Seattle (whose reporters too have been more critical of the Sinclair mandate), according to another local TV buyer. They are watching ratings closely in these markets to see if these mandated right-leaning scripts at all have an impact on the number of people that tune in. If the numbers take a hit, advertisers may take the plunge.”

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Sinclair Broadcast Group Is Extremely Dangerous to Our Democracy

This has nothing to do with writing or science fiction.

I’m not sure which is more disturbing–watching this video of 45 local news anchors simultaneously reciting a script given to them by their bosses at Sinclair Broadcast Group, or reading the script itself as it was given to the anchors at Seattle’s KOMO News.

Hi, I’m(A) ____________, and I’m (B) _________________…

(B) Our greatest responsibility is to serve our Northwest communities. We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that KOMO News produces.

(A) But 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.

(B) More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories… stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first.

(A) 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.

(B) At KOMO 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.

(A) But we are human and sometimes our reporting might fall short. If you believe our coverage is unfair please reach out to us by going to KOMOnews.com and clicking on CONTENT CONCERNS. We value your comments. We will respond back to you.

(B) We work very hard to seek the truth and strive to be fair, balanced and factual… We consider it our honor, our privilege to responsibly deliver the news every day.

(A) Thank you for watching and we appreciate your feedback.

These anchors were forced to sign contracts in order to work for Sinclair which “stipulated that employees could be subject to a ‘liquidated damages’ clause requiring them to pay Sinclair up to 40 percent of their annual paycheck as penalty.” So not only are they at risk of losing their jobs if they refuse, but if they tried to quit in protest they could be liable for thousands of dollars in damages to Sinclair for ending their contract early. They were essentially held hostage to spread “fake news” propaganda–exactly the same thing they’re seemingly warning people about.

David Smith, the executive chairman of Sinclair Broadcast, is using these local anchors to exploit the trust they’ve built up with their audiences in order to spread his message. Think about what they’re saying. They warn of “irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country,” and how “members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think.”

You might say, well yeah, of course there’s fake news! And members of the media DO use their platforms to push their own personal bias! And you’d be right. So let’s talk about biased members of the media pushing false, one sided news stories, what they push, and who they’re pushing it on.

If you lean left, you might be thinking Breitbart, Limbaugh, Drudge, Fox, InfoWars…

If you lean right, you might be thinking NYT, MSNBC, ThinkProgress, The Young Turks…

“Fake news” is a term that Hillary Clinton first used, believe it or not. In December 2016, she made a speech decrying “the epidemic of malicious fake news and false propaganda that flooded social media over the past year.” Trump only picked it up a month or so later when he told CNN’s Jim Acosta, “you’re fake news.” Then, he began repeating it endlessly after Trump supporters responded well to it.

Either way, Sinclair Broadcast Group is definitely a right-leaning organization: “During the 2016 election, Sinclair stations were perceived to have offered Donald Trump soft interviews on local news outlets in states that were important to his electoral college victory. The station group recently hired Borys Epstein, a former White House spokesman, as a commentator.” David Smith of Sinclair said on April 3, 2018 in an exchange with New York Magazine, “The print media is so left wing as to be meaningless dribble which accounts for why the industry is and will fade away.”

And now, Sinclair has forced 45 local news stations to air “must-read” segments “warning of the dangers of ‘fake news’ in language that echoes President Trump’s rhetoric.” Ajit Pai, head of the Trump Administration’s FCC, “intends to raise the limits on the ownership for TV stations, currently capped at reaching 39% of the country.” This would lead to Sinclair “extending its reach to 72% of American households.”

72% of American households would be getting their local news from David Smith’s perspective, while thinking that each channel was independent and looking out for their best interests. Think about that video, and how anchors A and B established trust with their viewers by reminding them that they’re from the local community–eastern Iowa, mid-Michigan, San Antonio, etc.

They are trying to get people to mistrust other news sources in favor of theirs. Sinclair aligns with Trump and the right wing, so what they’re doing is discrediting “liberal” or “left” news, even though they try to claim that “truth is neither politically ‘left nor right.’ Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever.”

Factual reporting cannot be their focus when the anchors are forced to say these things. Propaganda is dangerous to our democracy.

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