Irony is inescapable as you watch the Deadspin video that stitches together Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s reporters as they recite a script hypocritically claiming to defend democracy. It evokes a hair-raising feeling of dread reminiscent of 1984.
The message criticized fake news, which seems like a noble message until you consider the political context. From a national news standpoint, the script echos Trump’s favorite talking point about “fake news.” From an independent journalism standpoint, the command to broadcast is threatening to mute journalists’ critical and individual voices as the message was broadcast across Sinclairs’ stations. And from a business standpoint, Sinclair Broadcasting Group owns or operates 193 stations currently and is negotiating a $3.9 billion deal with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to buy more stations despite controversy of their huge market share of local broadcast television.
These are educated journalists, are you telling me that they couldn’t write their own script to get a message of honesty and integrity out? Journalists, whose whole careers based around synthesizing information to make it relevant and impactful for their audience, had to resort to a prewritten script?
While Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s news stations avoid right-wind areas, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, the impact on voters and the United State’s mindset. Sinclair currently reaches an estimated 72% of U.S. households. Their reach is huge, and their modus operandi of refusing to let journalists do journalism has long-term impacts of harming independent news as a whole.
You know the gut feeling when something isn’t quite right? The intuition when you meet something new and you never want to be alone with him or her? Or alone at night in Downtown Los Angeles and thinking, “I shouldn’t be here.” That’s how I felt watching this. It was sending up so many subconscious danger signals. I wondered, who could support this?
Well, President Trump did. He tweeted, “The Fake News Networks, those that knowingly have a sick and biased AGENDA, are worried about the competition and quality of Sinclair Broadcast. The “Fakers” at CNN, NBC, ABC & CBS have done so much dishonest reporting that they should only be allowed to get awards for fiction!” as controversy heated up.
Sinclair responded to public’s uproar an an internal memo obtained by CNNMoney.
“For the record, the stories we are referencing in this campaign are the unsubstantiated ones (i.e. fake/false) like ‘Pope Endorses Trump’ which move quickly across social media and result in an ill-informed public,” Sinclair SVP Scott Livingston wrote. “Some other false stories, like the false ‘Pizzagate’ story, can result in dangerous consequences. We are focused on fact-based reporting. That’s our commitment to our communities.”
In a creepier twist, this script with a political agenda is not unique to the company.
“Sinclair has been spotlighted for injecting right-leaning coverage and commentary on national issues into its local broadcasts since well before its ‘fake stories’ advisory became public,” according to The Washington Post.
Some Sinclair journalists spoke out on social media and under conditions of anonymity; however, their jobs are in jeopardy if they do.
“We had several closed-door meetings and even had to re-record our version because we looked so mortified in the first cut,” San Antonio local news anchor Delaine Mathieu said on Facebook.
Beyond hoping the upcoming merger gets blocked by the FCC or boycotting Sinclair Broadcasting Group affiliated stations, there’s not much the average person can do.
The video concludes with the words, “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.”
Somehow, I believe killing journalism is dangerous to our democracy, too.