Sinclair Tells News Anchors To Denounce 'Fake News'
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The Sinclair Broadcast Group is one of the most important and least-known TV news players in the country. Sinclair owns more local stations than any media company in the U.S. In its political commentary, the company's pro-President Trump. Well, now Sinclair is under fire for directing its anchors to chide other journalists for their perceived bias. Here's NPR's David Folkenflik.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: The development was first reported by CNN. Last week, Sinclair news anchors were told they would need to tape segments voicing their concerns about, quote, "the troubling trend of irresponsible and one-sided news stories plaguing our country." The script continued like this.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
SCOTT LIVINGSTON: The sharing of bias and false views has become all too common on social media. More alarming, national media outlets are publishing these fake news stories without fact-checking.
FOLKENFLIK: That's Scott Livingston, vice president for news at Sinclair.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
LIVINGSTON: Unfortunately, some members of the national media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think. This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.
FOLKENFLIK: This is from a promotional spot that aired on Sinclair stations more than 200 times last spring. Now local anchors are being ordered to make similar statements in their own voices. Sinclair journalists expressed discomfort to CNN. American University Professor Jane Hall is a former media critic for Fox News.
JANE HALL: It's naked in the sense that it's forcing people in the news to read something that is a corporate piece of propaganda, in my opinion.
FOLKENFLIK: She says the use of the term fake news is no accident and says those words are...
HALL: Something that just can't be seen as anything other than promoting Donald Trump's view of the rest of the news media.
FOLKENFLIK: Sinclair's top news executive, Scott Livingston, rejects that. He tells NPR that Sinclair's reporting is nonpartisan. And he says that gets obscured by all the criticism being directed at the company.
LIVINGSTON: The CNN story claimed our promotion message was an attack on national media, but our message is a warning about fake news circulating on social media.
FOLKENFLIK: Livingston shared the final promotional script with NPR. It differed from the one CNN's Brian Stelter obtained in that the word national was not coupled to the word media. Again, Scott Livingston.
LIVINGSTON: We want to separate ourselves from the competition. We want to be transparent about our commitment to factual and objective reporting. And we know that there's a lot of noise out there.
FOLKENFLIK: Political commentaries on Sinclair have been consistently conservative over the years, and its news coverage has been frequently accused of favoring Republicans. Sinclair was also accused of coziness with the Trump campaign, which executives deny. Chris Ruddy is chairman of Newsmax, a right-of-center news site and cable channel.
CHRIS RUDDY: Sinclair has a very strong position. I think they have a lot of similarities to Breitbart.
FOLKENFLIK: Ruddy notes that Sinclair's chief political commentator is a former Trump campaign aide and Breitbart commentator.
RUDDY: They definitely have a political interest. And I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with that. I just think there should be a diversity of political opinions.
FOLKENFLIK: Sinclair owns and runs 190 stations and is seeking federal approval to buy more than 30 more from Tribune Media. Ruddy says that's too much consolidation of ownership, and he objects to the deal. The $3.9 billion proposed transaction is under scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Justice. The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, elevated by Trump, is under investigation by the agency's inspector general for his interactions with Sinclair on the deal. David Folkenflik, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.