Anchors reading off Sinclair's script
Anchors reading off Sinclair's script

This past week­end, the fine folks over at ThinkProgress and Dead­spin did Amer­i­cans a great ser­vice when they each post­ed fright­en­ing videos show­ing anchors of a pletho­ra of Sin­clair-owned tele­vi­sion sta­tions across the coun­try read­ing off the same Trumpian script on orders from their cor­po­rate over­lords in Hunt Val­ley, Mary­land, where Sin­clair is headquartered.

Anchors reading off Sinclair's script
Anchors read­ing off Sin­clair’s script

The videos have become a sen­sa­tion and have been viewed by mil­lions, draw­ing reac­tions from many elect­ed offi­cials and celebrities.

“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,” tweet­ed Dan Rather. “A slip­pery slope to how despots wrest pow­er, silence dis­sent, and oppress the masses.”

“This is extreme­ly dan­ger­ous to our democ­ra­cy,” agreed Jim­my Kim­mel, whose show airs in late night on many of Sin­clair’s stations.

Rarely have we seen a pair of videos that so pow­er­ful­ly demon­strate the ter­ri­ble harm that comes from unchecked media con­sol­i­da­tion and con­cen­tra­tion in our coun­try, a high­ly destruc­tive trend that has been con­tin­u­ing unabat­ed for years, result­ing in few­er jour­nal­ists, few­er news­rooms, and few­er local owners.

Sin­clair — which HBO host John Oliv­er calls the largest media con­glom­er­ate you’ve nev­er heard of — owns dozens upon dozens of local tele­vi­sion sta­tions across the coun­try, includ­ing sev­er­al in the Pacif­ic North­west it acquired when it bought up Fish­er Broad­cast­ing in 2013. NPI opposed Fish­er’s sale to Sin­clair, but regret­tably, the acqui­si­tion was approved by the Oba­ma administration.

Fish­er is thus no more, and its sta­tions, Seat­tle’s KOMO and Port­land’s KATU among them, are now cogs in Sin­clair’s machine. Not only are they forced to car­ry the right wing pro­pa­gan­da pro­duced out of Sin­clair HQ, man­age­ment occa­sion­al­ly tries to skew their news cov­er­age. The Seat­tle Times’ Mike Rosen­berg explains:

KOMO jour­nal­ists say it is rare for Sin­clair to give them sto­ry assignments.

But they occa­sion­al­ly hap­pen. Two KOMO jour­nal­ists recalled a Seat­tle Times edi­to­r­i­al that railed against the Sin­clair pur­chase of KOMO in 2013. Sin­clair then imme­di­ate­ly told KOMO to run a “smear” piece on the Times, the KOMO staffers said. (The sto­ry as envi­sioned nev­er ran; staffers say they refused to do it, but KOMO did run a piece on the decline of news­pa­pers around that time).

Anoth­er for­mer KOMO staffer recalled sub­mit­ting a sto­ry about a Seat­tle City Coun­cil vote over a non-essen­tial project requir­ing tax­pay­er funds. They inter­viewed sev­er­al peo­ple dur­ing “man on the street” report­ing and found no one was against the funds being used.

But the KOMO direc­tor in charge said Sin­clair had encour­aged reporters to find oppo­si­tion when cov­er­ing those types of sto­ries, to pump up the idea of tax­pay­er waste.

The KOMO direc­tor said, “Cor­po­rate is watch­ing, and they need this angle,” a for­mer KOMO staffer who worked on the sto­ry said. “And I wouldn’t do it. It’s com­plete­ly plant­i­ng the news.”

The worst, some KOMO staffers fear, is yet to come. One told Rosenberg:

“We have midterms com­ing up,” a jour­nal­ist there said, refer­ring to the Novem­ber elec­tions. “Who’s to say what’s going to come from (Sin­clair) when that rolls around. This is not going to be the last effort by cor­po­rate to try to dis­sem­i­nate their message.”

Amer­i­ca’s air­waves are part of its com­mons and belong to the pub­lic, but you would­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly know that by look­ing at the media land­scape we have.

Sin­clair has been allowed by the our gov­ern­ment to con­trol way too much of our pub­lic air­waves. And right now, Sin­clair is try­ing to get even big­ger. It wants to buy out Tri­bune and add a choice group of tele­vi­sion sta­tions to its portfolio.

That planned acqui­si­tion should be blocked (as should AT&T’s pro­posed deal for Time Warn­er), and Sin­clair should be bro­ken up as part of a trust­bust­ing cam­paign to diver­si­fy our coun­try’s media own­er­ship along with Dis­ney, Com­cast (which owns NBCU­ni­ver­sal), CBS, Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry Fox, and oth­er large media conglomerates.

It must be not­ed that unchecked media con­sol­i­da­tion isn’t just bad for tra­di­tion­al forms of media like news­pa­pers, tele­vi­sion, and radio. Big media is also a seri­ous threat to Inter­net free­dom. The big­ger big media gets, the more influ­ence it has, and the more con­cen­trat­ed own­er­ship of dig­i­tal prop­er­ties get.

The Inter­net is not immune to the harms caused by media con­cen­tra­tion, and it will not save us from a future in which pro­gram­ming and edi­to­r­i­al deci­sions are dic­tat­ed by a small num­ber of wealthy, pow­er­ful peo­ple who are pri­mar­i­ly con­cerned about their cor­po­rate bot­tom lines as opposed to the well-being of the country.

That is why action must be tak­en to break up com­pa­nies like Sin­clair. Amer­i­ca needs a twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry update of its antitrust laws to get the ball rolling, and that should be one of the first orders of busi­ness under a new­ly-elect­ed Demo­c­ra­t­ic Con­gress, should vot­ers choose to fire the Repub­li­cans this autumn.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

Adjacent posts