After the mass airing of promotional news segments warning the public of the dangers of ‘fake news,’ conservative media titan.
The Chicago Tribune reports that “interest in Sinclair picked up recently after reports exposed a seemingly Trump-friendly script the company ordered its anchors around the country to read, lambasting “irresponsible, one-sided,” and “fake” news stories.”
The one-minute-long script, which appeared to echo Trump’s efforts to attack any reporting he disagrees with by titling it “fake news,” brought to the fore long-standing critiques about what many see as the company’s rightward tilt, says the Chicago Tribune.
Scott Livingston, senior vice president of news for Sinclair, wrote in a response email to the Baltimore Sun that the goal of the promotional messages was to reiterate Sinclair’s ‘commitment to reporting facts.’ “The stories we are referencing in this promo 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’s public announcement promised to report the news “fairly and accurately” and requested that viewers comment on the station’s website if they believe that the news coverage is unfair, according to the New York Times. Corresponding to this series of announcements was a March 2018 report from CNN, which alleged that many local station anchors were uncomfortable with the speech and pointed out that in July 2017 Sinclair vice president Scott Livingston was broadcasted reciting the exact same material.
It was this report that would catch the attention of Deadspin video director Timothy Burke, who supercut audio and visual clips from various aired promotions into a video. This video, which has since gone viral, highlighted several eerily similar lines from multiple public broadcasts, including “Some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias”, and “This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”
In light of these startling details, Sinclair has since drawn the ire of the public. Peter Chernin, president of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, described the Sinclair promotions as “insidious” and North Carolina congressman David Price referred to the broadcasts as “Pro-Trump propaganda” while campaigning for a bill that would block Sinclair’s upcoming merger with Tribune Media, according to his personal Twitter.
If the $3.9 billion buyout of Tribune receives federal approval, Sinclair will add 42 more local television stations to its collection of 192, thereby asserting influence over regions including Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York.
However, despite the current backlash, Kellie Stanfield of the Washington Post points out that “Journalists at Sinclair stations have been forced to run right-leaning segments for years. If viewers didn’t notice the “must-run” segments before, they either weren’t paying attention or didn’t have the skills to differentiate news from opinion.”
Stanfield asserts that if anything, this scandal shows that Americans often do not know who owns their local television station, and therefore are oblivious to how that ownership impacts the lens in which they consume mass media.
“Something productive has come from the publicity of Sinclair’s latest stunt in that consumers now know to be critical of the news they consume,” Stansfield writes. “Not just who’s making it but what issues are covered or ignored and whose voice is represented or missing. Consumers critically examining news for bias and balance hold journalists accountable for their work, and that can only be good for democracy.”