Accuracy in Media

Sinclair Broadcasting struck back Tuesday against the “concern” mainstream media expressed over a script sent to its local news stations last week.

The broadcaster posted a video to the websites of its local stations that, according to one of those concerned media outlets, the Washington Post, “challenges CNN’s reporting on Sinclair’s controversial promos – a script, echoing President Trump’s criticism of the mainstream news media, that Sinclair distributed to its local stations and required dozens of its TV anchors to deliver.”

The four-minute video juxtaposes warnings from Brian Stelter of CNN with the warnings read by Sinclair’s anchors to point out how similar the messages were.

The piece opens with Stelter saying Sinclair “attacking fake news … was kind of like the Fox ‘fair and balanced’ slogan … saying ‘we’re fair, everyone else is biased … sort of taking a page out of Trump’s playbook.”

The video then pointed out it more likely came from Stelter’s own playbook – that he himself issued such warnings in 2016.

It returns to a quote from Stelter: “Fake news has become a plague on the web, especially on Facebook. Countless sites designed to trick and mislead people are popping up every single day.” Which, as Sinclair’s video says, sounds a lot like the warning its anchors were issuing.

The video then points to a Monmouth poll from earlier this month that found 61 percent of Democrats, 82 percent of independents and 89 percent of Republicans thought major media outlets have disseminated fake news.

Then, it’s back to Stelter.

“I think these lies – and they are lies – matter because they influence. It’s like they just try to make you angry. Make you afraid. Make you resentful. Make you doubt the very legitimacy of the election. It’s false, misleading, confusion information … it’s like junk food – bad for our body, bad for our democracy.”

All of us have a responsibility to “triple check before we publish links,” Stelter said.

But the Washington Post insisted this is not a case of the pot calling the kettle black or of condemning Sinclair for steps CNN itself took.

“Although it attempts to equate its own campaign with CNN’s warning about ‘fake news,’ the video doesn’t mention the shifting definition of the phrase,” writes Post media critic Paul Farhi.

“Around the time of the 2016 presidential election, many media commentators raised concerns about a spate of hoax stories, produced by little-known websites and planted in social media to spread misinformation and stoke fears – claims that Hillary Clinton was on the verge of being indicted, for example, or that the pope had endorsed Trump. It was those hoaxes that Stelter warned about more than a year ago.”

So, it was news that reflected poorly on Clinton and favorably on Trump that was the real problem? No, Farhi said. It was truth.

“But the phrase ‘fake news’ was quickly taken up by Trump as an insult to wield against mainstream journalists, for anything from quickly corrected errors to solidly reported stories he found unflattering.”

Farhi goes on to explain this was Sinclair’s response to the “media and public drubbing it took last week after Deadspin and ThinkProgress edited together dozens of the company’s anchors reading its promotional copy.”

This was not a hard video trick. The anchors had been given a script and instructions on how to deliver it, so yes, they all sounded the same. Farhi did not mention the video released elsewhere in response that cobbled together all the mainstream media talking heads saying they were “concerned” about the Sinclair anchors’ statements.

He did provide a platform for Stelter’s response on Twitter: “There’s a huge difference between my coverage and Sinclair’s mandatory promos,” Stelter tweeted. “No one tells me what to say. But these anchors were told exactly what to say.”

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