Sinclair: Dangerous to Our Democracy

Sinclair: Dangerous to Our Democracy

By Sue Sitton

Our constitution protects our right to a free and open press.  Do we take it for granted and forget that freedom of the press is at the core of our democracy?  Are we at risk of losing it?  Does the merger of Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media change the landscape of free and open press as we know it?   Sinclair has a practice of mandating their TV news stations to be less independent and to run “required segments” that have a conservative, Pro-Trump view.  This is not journalism; this is propaganda.  Freedom of the Press?

Sinclair has been in the news off and on since May 2017 when they announced their intent to buy Tribune Media.  At that time, it was not allowed because the FCC would not allow a single organization to own more than 34% of the market.  Problem solved … right?  No.  The Trump-controlled FCC changed the threshold to 74%.  That allowed Sinclair to fit nicely under the new rule.

Recently, Sinclair became the spotlight of most news reporting and social media.  A “mashup” video that went viral (8 million views in 3 days) showed a montage of 73 Sinclair news affiliates from across the country.  SInclair mandated their anchors to perform the exact same script in almost robotic form. The message was to warn of the dangers of “fake news” in language that echoes Trump’s rhetoric.  Some have referred to it as the “hostage video”. John Oliver describes the journalists as sounding like members of a brainwashed cult.  Is this what state-controlled media looks like?

Andy Kroll of Mother Jones reported that “Sinclair has been widely criticized for its close ties to the White House. It’s [sic] chairman and former CEO, David Smith, is active in Republican politics and supported Donald Trump’s campaign. The network’s chief political analyst, Boris Epshteyn, served as a senior adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign. During the 2016 campaign, Sinclair reportedly struck a deal with the Trump campaign to give it better media coverage.”

Sinclair Broadcast Group has been described as “Fox on steroids.”  Like Fox, corporate executives armed with far-right political agendas dictate the message and product presented on their news affiliates.  Affiliates are mandated to air commentary created and presented by Boris Epshteyn and other far-right, Trumpian propaganda messengers.

Currently Sinclair owns about 173 stations that reach about 40% of U.S. households.  If Sinclair is successful and buys the Tribune, they will own over 220 stations that reach 72% of U.S. households.

Had Enough of Trump’s spewing propaganda and fake news in the media?  The mute button helps with this problem.  What about Fox cable “news”?  We can avoid the Fox anchors’ extreme rhetoric and fake news; just don’t watch it. 

But what happens when political Trumpian propaganda enters your home through a trusted local news station like WGN?  These anchors are local and they report on stories about our neighbors.  We have a a different relationship with them than with national anchors.  Sinclair is not referenced.  We see the station’s call-letters (e.g., WGN) and the familiar faces of our local news.

Does anyone remember the reaction in Chicago when Jerry Springer was hired to give commentary on WMAQ News?  Viewers were outraged.  Carol Marin and Ron Magers both quit in protest.  Yes, those were simpler times with a lesser threat.  Carol and Ron were standing up for journalistic integrity.

As a final thought, Dan Rather Tweeted “News anchors looking into camera and reading a script handed down by a corporate overlord, words meant to obscure the truth not elucidate it, isn’t journalism.  It’s propaganda.  It’s Orwellian.  A slippery slope to how despots wrest power, silence dissent, and oppress the masses.”

Take this seriously and stay informed.  A free and independent press is critical to our democracy.