Shortly before Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg demonstrated the obvious necessity for term limits on Capitol Hill, outrage swelled regarding a ‘must-run’ script issued by Sinclair Broadcast Group to 173 local news stations. Here is the script, read verbatim by dozens of anchors:
Hi, I’m(A) ____________, and I’m (B) _________________…
(B) Our greatest responsibility is to serve our [local] communities. We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that [station] produces.
(A) 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.
(B) More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories… stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first.
(A) 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.
(B) At [station] 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.
These remarks were politicized and denounced by mainstream media sources, accusing Sinclair of airing a message in favor of President Donald Trump. Yet, if one reads the script carefully, where exactly is the overt support for the president? How many would truly disagree with these remarks, especially given Zuckerberg’s testimony that the dissemination of fake news is a serious issue for the company? Issues remain regarding Facebook’s status as publisher or platform, but the issue remains relevant: modern sources of information must be critiqued and compared constantly.
Propaganda-laden mainstream outlets including MSNBC and CNN went on the offensive, characterizing Sinclair’s script as a “threat to democracy.” These complaints were ironically delivered in lockstep, though their condemnation of Sinclair’s message was far more political; indeed, beneath the unanimous outcry is an opaque admission that bias already affects one’s worldview far greater than local news. Organizations such as The New York Times have even admitted to this bias, wherein former editor Arthur Brisbane admitted that “the paper’s many departments … share a kind of political and cultural progressivism … this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.” The only admirable quality of Brisbane’s statement is his truthfulness, which is otherwise suffocated by public relations specialists.
Consternation about Sinclair’s bias is laughable compared to the 130 million monthly readers of The New York Times, a statistic reported by the company which has profited deeply from the Trump administration. Conversely, if the same script were read by the anchors of NBC’s “Morning Joe,” few would have batted an eye. The controversy arose solely because Sinclair is owned by Trump supporters — a repugnant thought for many journalists, including many writers for this publication. “Most reporters and editors are liberal,” read the opener of a story written by former National Public Radio CEO Ken Stern. Even Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy concluded that roughly 80 percent of the media coverage on Trump’s first 100 days as president was negative.
The script read by Sinclair affiliates was entirely apolitical, and it is rather absurd to believe that most Americans are being fed conservative or moderate news on average. The message was not crafted to support Trump; rather, it was a desperate plea for viewers to cautiously evaluate the information they consume and to watch local news stations. Claiming that Sinclair is a monopoly — even if it does merge with Tribune Media Company — ignores its minuscule role in the 1,775 television stations and 5,200 cable systems run by 660 different operators.
The notion that Sinclair is eliminating competing viewpoints from the news marketplace lacks intellectual rigor and reasoning.
Sinclair Broadcast Group is exactly what it appears on prima facie analysis: a profit-driven organization that thoroughly enjoys acquisitions and laying off local news teams. The business model was developed to dominate a legacy market that is both outdated and overlooked, despite the undeniable importance of local stations. The market for mainstream affiliates such as KUTV, KJZZ and KMYU is quick drying and Sinclair is trying to capitalize. However, none of these statements make its script any less applicable to the modern era, which is replete with false stories.
Eventually, Sinclair will crumble as sedentary viewership dwindles. Was their scripted message, read in unison across the country, a particularly cringe-worthy spectacle? Absolutely. Remember, one-sided news stories are extraordinarily profitable for many mainstream media outlets. Revolting because of one apolitical script is not only naive but reeks of irony too.