Accuracy in Media

As decision time nears on whether Sinclair Broadcast Group will be allowed to purchase 42 TV stations in 33 markets from Tribune Media, mainstream media has stepped up its campaign to discredit the right-leaning company and present the sale as an unacceptable move toward, as Slate put it, enabling the company to “pump poison into the brains of local news viewers.”

The latest line of attack involves a script Sinclair had news anchors read on many of its 193 television stations’ local newscasts.

“Our greatest responsibility is to serve our ___________ communities,” the script reads. “We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that [this local outlet] produces.

“But 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 pus their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think.’ This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.

“At [outlet], it’s our responsibility to pursue and report the truth. We understand truth is neither politically left nor right. Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever.

“But we are human and sometimes our reporting might fall short. If you believe our coverage is unfair please reach out to us by going to [website] and clicking on CONTENT CONCERNS. We value your comments. We will respond back to you.

“We work very hard to seek the truth and strive to be fair, balanced and factual … We consider it our honor, our privilege to responsibly deliver the news every day.”

John Oliver, the British comic with a show on HBO, created a mashup of anchors from coast to coast reading the script, as did Deadspin.

Think Progress, a liberal news site, claimed “Seattle-based ABC affiliate KOMO-TV sayts its owner, the Sinclair Broadcast GroUp, is forcing its reporters to air pre-scripted segments about fake news media in an attempt to undermine non-Sinclair stations.”

CNN’s Brian Stelter led his story on this with a quote: “This is so manipulative,” which he attributed to an anonymous anchor, quoted another anchor as saying, “At my station, everyone was uncomfortable doing it,” and declared the decision to air the segments was “another corporate infringement on local journalism.”

Several outlets acknowledged the message itself – that there is fake news, but this local operation strives for truth and invites feedback – is not controversial.

“It may not have seemed strange to individual viewers,” the New York Times reported.

Wrote Stelter at CNN: “One its face, some of the language is not controversial. But that’s precisely why some staffers were so troubled by it. The promo script, they say, belies Sinclair management’s actual agenda to tilt reporting to the right.”

Rather, it’s that anchors – who are handed a script and ordered to read it each night of their careers – are somehow placed in a bad situation by reading this script and that this script and other “must-run” products from Sinclair’s corporate headquarters, including commentary on terrorism and other national topics, cuts into time for local news time.

If Sinclair gets the mix of local v. national wrong, its stations will suffer. But that doesn’t appear to be happening yet. New York Magazine cited an “academic study” that indicates Sinclair’s “propaganda turns off viewers,” but admits those viewers are still tuning in for some crazy reason, “so don’t expect a market correction on this kind of behavior any time soon.”

The New York Times quotes an academic saying not to be too hard on the journalists involved because “they’re just under the corporate umbrella.”

But Slate was not as kind. “As for the news anchors who pretended these words and opinions were their own, they can keep calling themselves journalists if they want, but no one else should feel obligated.”

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