It was supposed to call out the spread of “fake news” across America.
Instead, a TV news editorial broadcast on local stations throughout the United States has drawn widespread criticism, including claims it is merely “pro-Trump propaganda” where on-air talent look more like “hostages” than journalists.
Last month, stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group stations, which operates about 200 local channels across America, began running an on-camera editorial warning of the “one-sided news stories plaguing our country”. The promo is delivered by the station’s news presenters.
At the weekend, a video published by sports website Deadspin that compiled clips the dozens of anchors repeating the editorial word-for-word in unison went viral.
It followed a report from CNN that revealed news directors at Sinclair-owned TV stations were provided with the script and told must be read on air without changes.
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) March 31, 2018
“The net result of the company’s current mandate is dozens upon dozens of local news anchors looking like hostages in proof-of-life videos, trying their hardest to spit out words attacking the industry they’d chosen as a life vocation,” Deadspin wrote in an accompany article.
Echoing President Donald Trump’s complaints of “fake news”, the anchors decry that “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 our democracy,” the anchors say.
Mr Trump has lambasted established TV stations such as CNN and MSNBC and respected newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post over negative coverage.
He has also elevated fringe conservative and alt-right news providers such as Breitbart and One America News, all while promoting the pro-Trump major network Fox News.
So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased. Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 2, 2018
In 2016, Politico reported that Mr Trump’s campaign had struck a deal with Sinclair Broadcasting to secure better media coverage in return for more access to the candidate.
Networks owned by Sinclair Broadcasting, which is currently in the process of acquiring a further 40 television stations, have a long history of conservative coverage.
That has included running daily “Terrorism Alerts” and running editorials from former Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn, who has claimed Barack Obama’s 2008 election win was rigged.
These “must-run” segments – that news directors are forced to air – were mocked by comedian John Oliver on his HBO show Last Week Tonight.
However, unlike, say, an openly conservative cable outlet such as Fox News, most American viewers would be unaware their local station is owned by Sinclair, which operates CBS, NBC, Fox and ABC affiliates around America.
Sinclair’s most recent national editorial has drawn more attention than previous promos, prompting further tensions between management and reporters.
this is extremely dangerous to our democracy https://t.co/D1T8Z7J2Wn
— Jimmy Kimmel (@jimmykimmel) April 1, 2018
This is an abomination, a disgrace…and it’s frightening. Thousands have sounded the alarm on Sinclair, but seeing it implemented is more chilling than I anticipated. https://t.co/vATGjEANuo
— Ben Mankiewicz (@BenMank77) April 1, 2018
“It sickens me the way this company is encroaching upon trusted news brands in rural markets,” one investigative reporter at Sinclair told CNNMoney.
CNN also reported an email from a news director as saying: “Let me be absolutely clear here … These MUST Run. If they do not, my job is on the line. I don’t say that to scare you by any means but I do say this so you understand how serious [Sinclair Broadcasting Group] is about this project.”