The Media Today

Sinclair’s ‘Orwellian’ attack on the press

April 2, 2018

By now you’ve probably seen the video. If not, watch:

The compilation of local news anchors at stations owned by Sinclair Broadcasting Group reading a corporate-mandated script attacking other outlets for producing “biased and false news” went viral over the weekend. Deadspin’s Timothy Burke wrote that the journalists looked “like hostages in proof-of-life videos, trying their hardest to spit out words attacking the industry they’d chosen as a life vocation.”

RELATED: The bizarre analogy found in a must-run Sinclair segment

CNN first reported on the existence of the “anchor delivered journalistic responsibility message” last month, quoting one Sinclair anchor acknowledging, “this is so manipulative.” In late March, the spots began running on channels from Seattle to Washington, DC.

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The Maryland-based Sinclair is the largest owner of local television outlets in the US, controlling nearly 200 stations. Sinclair announced plans last May to acquire Tribune Media Company’s 42 television stations, a move which would expand its reach to nearly three-quarters of American households. It is currently awaiting approval of the deal from government regulators.

With “must-run” commentary from ex-Trump aide Boris Epshteyn and fear-mongering updates from its “Terrorism Alert Desk,” Sinclair has already forced its stations to air commentary that tilts to the right. The latest message, described by more than one observer as “Orwellian,” makes explicit the corporation’s efforts to undermine trust in the press. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer transcribed the message as it ran on local Sinclair station KOMO, part of which reads:

“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.” 

In part, at least, the message contains a truth. This sort of attack on the press certainly qualifies as “dangerous to a democracy.”

RELATED: What if the right-wing media wins?

Below, more on Sinclair and its insidious message.

  • Dissent from within: CNN’s Brian Stelter spoke with journalists at Sinclair stations who voiced disgust over the propagandistic promotion. “It sickens me the way this company is encroaching upon trusted news brands in rural markets,” one reporter told him.
  • The view from Maryland: Baltimore Sun television critic David Zurawik says Sinclair is on its way to becoming the “most reviled TV company in America.”
  • What’s at stake: “Encouraging Americans to lose trust in the press is certainly easier than making an argument in favor of a corrupt and possibly criminal @WhiteHouse. Using anchors to convey that message is just Orwellian,” tweeted Rolling Stone’s Jamil Smith. “Sinclair Broadcast Group is a public danger, and I don’t say that lightly.”
  • John Oliver’s take: The HBO host, who first turned his withering gaze on Sinclair last year, returned to the company last night, saying of it’s new message, “That statement is creepy enough, but when you see just how many local stations were forced to read it and you watch them together…you begin to realize the true effect of Sinclair’s reach and power.”
  • Left and right unite: Last summer, Politico’s Jack Shafer noted that Sinclair’s proposed purchase of Tribune’s stations made strange bedfellows of critics from the left and right sides of the political aisle.


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Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.