News Anchors At Sinclair Owned Stations Caught Reading From Same Corporate Mandated Script

News anchors at dozens of local stations owned by conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group were recently required to read a script mandated by corporate headquarters, and it's leading to some bad media coverage for Sinclair.

Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns nearly 200 local television stations across the country as well as a wide variety of other assets in radio and online media, is under scrutiny this morning after video emerged of local anchors at a number of the stations it owns reading what appears to be a corporate-prepared script that touches on the whole so-called “fake news” phenomenon:

On local news stations across the United States last month, dozens of anchors gave the same speech to their combined millions of viewers.

It included a warning about fake news, a promise to report fairly and accurately and a request that viewers go to the station’s website and comment “if you believe our coverage is unfair.”

It may not have seemed strange to individual viewers. But Timothy Burke, the video director at Deadspin, had read a report last month from CNN, which quoted local station anchors who were uncomfortable with the speech.

Mr. Burke tracked down the Sinclair affiliates and found when they had aired what he called a “forced read.”

Then he stitched together the various broadcasts to create a supercut of anchors from Seattle to Phoenix to Washington eerily echoing the same lines:

“The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.”

“Some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias.”

“This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”

The script came from Sinclair Broadcast Group, the country’s largest broadcaster, which owns or operates 193 television stations.

Last week, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer published a copy of the speech and reported that employees at a local news station there, KOMO, were unhappy about the script. CNN reported on it on March 7 and said Scott Livingston, the senior vice president of news for Sinclair, had read almost the exact same speech for a segment that was distributed to outlets a year ago.

Mr. Burke’s video — along with a similar one created by ThinkProgress, the left-leaning news outlet — spread quickly on social media over the weekend, leading to prominent criticism of Sinclair. Peter Chernin, a media investor and longtime president of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, called it “insidious.” David E. Price, a Democratic North Carolina congressman, called the video ”pro-Trump propaganda” on Monday.

(…)

A union that represents news anchors did not respond immediately to requests for comment on Monday.

Dave Twedell of the International Cinematographers Guild, who is a business representative for photojournalists (but not anchors) at KOMO in Seattle and KATU in Portland, Ore., said Sinclair told journalists at those stations not to discuss the company with outside news media.

Although it is the country’s largest broadcaster, Sinclair is not a household name and viewers may be unaware of who owns their local news station. Critics have accused the company of using its stations to advance a mostly right-leaning agenda.

“We work very hard to be objective and fair and be in the middle,” Mr. Livingston told The New York Times last year. “I think maybe some other news organizations may be to the left of center, and we work very hard to be in the center.”

Sinclair regularly sends video segments to the stations it owns. These are referred to as “must-runs,” and they can include content like terrorism news updatescommentators speaking in support of President Trump or speeches from company executives like the one from Mr. Livingston last year.

But asking newscasters to present the material themselves is not something that Kirstin Pellizzaro, a doctoral candidate at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, remembered from her experience as a producer at a Sinclair-owned news station in Kalamazoo, Mich., from 2014 to 2015.

The station had to air “must-run” segments that came from Sinclair, which is based outside Baltimore. “Some of them were a little slanted, a little biased,” Ms. Pellizzaro said. “Packages of this nature can make journalists uncomfortable.”

Sinclair representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday. But Mr. Livingston told The Baltimore Sun that the script was meant to demonstrate Sinclair’s “commitment to reporting facts,” adding that false stories “can result in dangerous consequences,” referring to the Pizzagate conspiracy as an example.

“We are focused on fact-based reporting,” Mr. Livingston continued. “That’s our commitment to our communities. That’s the goal of these announcements: to reiterate our commitment to reporting facts in a pursuit of truth.”

Here’s the video that Deadspin created from the various Sinclair-owned stations:

CNN, which originally broke the story about this script in early March, reported that the revelation has caused some discontent from reporters at Sinclair owned stations:

The Sinclair employees who originally contacted CNNMoney about the promo shoot said they felt it advanced the company’s agenda at the expense of their own credibility.

The employees said they felt they needed to speak anonymously because they were worried they could lose their jobs if identified.

After CNN’s initial story in early March, others expressed concern and frustration.

“I try everyday to do fair, local stories, some Trump-related, but it’s always washed out by this stuff they do at a national level,” one local reporter said.

Another employee came forward and told CNN that “as a producer who finds it unethical, I will refuse to run it.”

The promos started airing in late March. It is unclear if any stations have refused to broadcast them.

An all-newsroom email from one station news director read: “Let me be absolutely clear here… These MUST Run. If they do not, my job is on the line. I don’t say that to scare you by any means but I do say this so you understand how serious SBG is about this project.”

SBG is the corporate abbreviation for Sinclair.

A Sinclair spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday.

In his memo to stations, Livingston described a “Trust and Truth research” project the company did involving a well-known consulting firm called Magid.

“Trust is the fundamental issue with connecting to news consumers. And we are a trusted news source,” he wrote, describing the promos — “the local anchor message on Journalistic Responsibility” — as a followup.

(…)

Some of the concerned Sinclair staffers said they appreciated the national attention, but they’re more worried about how local viewers are reacting. They pointed out that station Facebook pages and Twitter feeds are receiving criticism about the promos.

“I feel bad because they’re seeing these people they’ve trusted for decades tell them things they know are essentially propaganda,” one local anchor said.

The person, who has been in touch with counterparts in other markets, said anchors are especially bothered “because they have all this experience in news, and now they’re being degraded like this.”

To be fair, local news stations using “canned” material provided by their corporate owner isn’t an entirely new phenomenon, and it isn’t unique to stations owned by Sinclair. As several commentators noted last night on Twitter, Conan O’Brien has made showing these pieces where local anchors at different ends of the country reading the same script or running the same piece on some topic a regular part of his show. What’s different about this type of segment is the fact that it clearly seems to be an opinion piece or editorial and there’s no indication that it was labeled as such when it was broadcast by any of these stations. Instead, it was reported as if it was straight news alongside local crime reports, sports, and weather. It’s also worth noting that, in addition to its television assets, Sinclair also owns a number of radio stations and other assets, including several conservative-leaning websites on the Internet. Based on the commentary pieces that it has required local stations to run in the past, and the ideological leaning of its radio station assets, it’s fairly clear that Sinclair leans in the conservative direction politically and that it has sought to use its media platform to push pieces based in ideology. In the past, this has included reports that it would require some stations to run an hour-long piece critical of 2004 Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry just weeks prior to the Presidential election, that a handful of its stations had run an infomercial critical of President Obama in 2010, and that several Sinclair stations ran a pre-election special critical of President Obama in the weeks before the 2012 election.

President Trump came to Sinclair’s defense this morning on Twitter:

President Donald Trump on Monday morning defended Sinclair Broadcasting after the company came under fire for requiring local news anchors to read promotional material alleging bias from other media organizations.

“So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased. Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke,” the president tweeted Monday morning.

Trump’s tweet came several minutes after CNN aired a segment on a viral video from Deadspin that cut together footage from Sinclair-owned stations reading the same script on “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country.” CNN first reported on the promo.

Sinclair, a conservative-leaning company, owns or operates nearly 200 television stations in the U.S., including Fox, ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates.

Here’s Trump’s Tweet:

This last part comes as the President continues to bash Amazon and its owner Jeff Bezos largely in response to what he sees as negative coverage from The Washington Post, which is also owned by Bezos but not affiliated with Amazon. It also comes at an especially critical time for Sinclair given the fact that it is seeking to purchase the broadcast properties of Tribune Media, the entity that emerged from Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in 2012 that consists largely of the broadcast assets of Tribune Company. If approved, the deal would give Sinclair ownership of a total of roughly 233 stations covering 72% of the United States. Because it would give Sinclair control over even more local television and radio stations and other assets, thus making it among the most powerful media companies in the country alongside Comcast, Fox News parent company News Corporation, and Disney, Sinclair must get the approval of this acquisition from the Federal Communications Commission and other government elections. I have not followed this proposed deal closely so I can’t speak to the question of whether or not it ought to be approved, but the fact that the President of the United States is fairly obviously putting his thumb on the scale in Sinclair’s favor even while agencies of the Executive Branch decide the fate of this acquisition is, to say the least, concerning.

In the past, of course, it would have been possible for a company like Sinclair to get away with stuff like this without anyone really noticing. Even with 200 stations nationwide, most people who watch local news aren’t going to know that what they saw on their local news, often delivered by anchors who they have known for years because they’ve either stayed at the same station or been employed by different stations in the same market, is being fed to them from a corporate office in Maryland. If this were packaged as an editorial or opinion piece, perhaps it would be excusable within boundaries of what is generally considered journalistic ethics. As I noted above, though, there’s no indication at all that any of the stations that followed this script did that, and little indication that they made any effort to inform their viewers that what they were viewing was the product of a corporate boss with an obvious political bias seeking to use their media empire to spread a political message. That’s unfair to viewers, and it’s unfair to the reporters and anchors who have now had their own credibility, and perhaps their ability to be employed outside the Sinclair universe, on the line.

Photo Montage via YouTube and The New York Times

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Economics and Business, Media, Politicians, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. John430 says:

    That’s a click-bait headline, Doug. All the SBG corp. announcement says is that Sinclair tries to report the truth and if you disagree, let the station know. Not unlike GM having their dealers announce a Spring Discount Sale or Walmart making all stores maintain a standard Return Authorization process.

    As far as making “journalists” uncomfortable, too bad. Consider this, MSNBC makes half of the nation’s viewers uncomfortable by putting rabid leftists on the air and calling them “journalists”.

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  2. Moosebreath says:

    “Some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias.”

    “This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”

    Yep, far better to have members of the media using their platforms to push the biases of their employers. /snark

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  3. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @John430:

    All the SBG corp. announcement says is that Sinclair tries to report the truth and if you disagree, let the station know.

    That’s why all their local anchors are freaking out.

    “I felt like a POW recording a message,” one of the anchors said.

    And lets be clear…what you right wing extremists call fake-news is anything that doesn’t fit your view of the world…facts be damned. Like Stormy Daniels is fake news…President Dennison never fvcked her. He just paid her $130K to shut up for the heck of it.
    Maroons….

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  4. An Interested Party says:

    All the SBG corp. announcement says is that Sinclair tries to report the truth and if you disagree, let the station know. Not unlike GM having their dealers announce a Spring Discount Sale or Walmart making all stores maintain a standard Return Authorization process.

    Is it any wonder that corporations have so much power in this country, when we have foolish enablers dismissing anything inappropriate that they do? Nothing to see here, folks, move along…

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  5. KM says:

    What’s different about this type of segment is the fact that it clearly seems to be an opinion piece or editorial and there’s no indication that it was labeled as such when it was broadcast by any of these stations.

    Yeah, conservatives have a real problem with that *coughcoughFOXNewscough*

    Fake news segments complaining about fake news. Recursiveriffic!

    That’s unfair to viewers, and it’s unfair to the reporters and anchors who have now had their own credibility, and perhaps their ability to be employed outside the Sinclair universe, on the line.

    If you read from the script, you know you’re reading from the script. This isn’t like a memo that just happens to show up on your desk. The boss gave you this and expects you to go out there and sell it. It’s clearly pablum, clearly partisan and clearly BS. Your credibility as a journalist took a punch to the face when you decided to read the script on air knowing that.

    I pity the viewers who don’t know it’s not true and trusted the news to be honest. The reporters who decided to tow the line without a disclaimer don’t really deserve pity – they choose a paycheck over morals so respect their choice.

  6. Franklin says:

    @John430:

    All the SBG corp. announcement says is that Sinclair tries to report the truth

    And all the Fox News tagline says is that it’s Fair and Balanced (TM). Which stupid people like you believe.

    The real problem is that conservative networks try to blur the line between opinion and fact. And by using the word ‘blur’, I’m being quite generous.

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  7. gVOR08 says:

    The current top stories at CNN are the Dow dropping because of Trump and trade, this Sinclair story, and teacher walkouts. At WAPO it’s Trump invited Putin to WH, market drop over trade, and teacher walkouts. At FOX it’s Trump slams Amazon, Chuck Todd was mean to Christians, and police are already seizing guns under red flag laws. It’s not so much “fake” as carefully selected. But I hear FOX dropped the “Fair and Balanced” slogan. Sinclair seems to want to pick it up. Sounds a lot like Trump’s signature “trust me” just before he lies.

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  8. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    These local TV stations with local content are the greatest asset of American Television. That’s something that I, as a foreigner, always envied. Allowing content to be defined from the top(specially stupid content like Sinclair does) ruins a great American Institutions, and makes American Television more similar to the crappy television stations of Mexico and Brazil.

    Sinclair will do to television what ClearChannel Broadcasting did to FM radio.

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  9. de stijl says:

    The big brains over at InfoWars and Gateway Pundit saw the Deadspin video and were outraged at this instance of obvious propaganda and immediately blamed George Soros, the Ds, and Gannett media group.

    https://wonkette.com/632067/wingnuts-so-mad-george-soros-made-sinclair-spread-conservative-propaganda

  10. Scott says:

    As words, this is fairly anodyne. However, without disclosure of the origins and the terms of the broadcast, it is clearly deceptive. Sinclair could have recorded this and sent it out to be broadcast as a corporate message. But they didn’t and tried to hide behind the local broadcasters. This alone makes it suspicious as to intent.

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  11. TM01 says:

    This is literally gaslighting.

    https://youtu.be/kdxuRCSBdeo?list=PLAA_27K4FIKnRuJZqyOnH40fCW6HYY2D1

    Give me a frakking break.

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  12. TM01 says:

    Journolist

    Fscking hypocritical leftists.

    At least this is obvious and reading a script. You’d prefer your media to collude and lie to you, all while pretending to be stalwart defenders of the Truth and above those petty biased at the other deplorable news outlets.

    #MuhRussia

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  13. Kathy says:

    @de stijl:

    On one hand, that’s hilarious.

    On the other hand, I don’t want to live in this planet any more.

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  14. OzarkHillbilly says:

    So? I give you,

    @TM01:

  15. An Interested Party says:

    You’d prefer your media to collude…

    Collude with whom? The Deep State, perhaps?

    #MuhRussia

    Talk about collusion! But I guess you prefer to be lied to and treated like an idiot by the trash in the White House…oh well, at least you’re doing your part to make America great again…

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  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @John430: You make 73% 0f America uncomfortable every time you open your yap.

  17. TM01 says:

    @An Interested Party: amongst themselves and the Democrat party. But I repeat myself.

    Left wing idiots.

    History started with Trump.
    Nothing before that counts.

    Idiots.

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  18. al-Ameda says:

    @TM01:

    Journolist

    Yeah, right. Why did you leave out “Killery” and “main stream media” ?

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  19. MarkedMan says:

    This is a real life plot twist here. The way the story usually goes is that the fascist dictators take over the government and then make the media start broadcasting their nonsense. But the way it’s played out in the last few years, at least since Fox News, is that the media itself is instituting the groupthink nonsense which gradually empowers the fascists. Huh, who woudda thunk it?

  20. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @Scott: Nationalization of local news(Even without the idiotic content from Sinclair) is a huge problem by itself. That’s in part that makes TV news in countries like Brazil and Mexico so crappy.

  21. Gustopher says:

    Sinclair Broadcasting is Erin by David Denison Smith.

    Trump’s pseudonym for a confidentiality agreement with a porn star he paid $130k to is David Dennison.

    Coincidence? I think…

    Oh god, I don’t event want to begin to think about the rationale for using a variant on David Denison Smith’s name as a psuedonym when dealing with women he was paying for sex or secrecy after sex. What the fvck is wrong with this man? Oh I feel sick. Please, please be some insane coincidence. Please?

  22. An Interested Party says:

    Idiots.

    Stop projecting…I can understand why you would be upset at being played for a fool by the disgrace in the White House but it’s not our fault that you support someone who deludes you on a daily basis…

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  23. John430 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Hardly. Since when do Ozark Hillbillies constitute that much of the population? Maybe in California or New York. Living up to your screen name again, eh?

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  24. John430 says:

    @Franklin: LOL! The NYT invented the “blur” process and CNN is the video equal of the newspaper that should rightly be renamed “Pravda”. CNN has worked hard to be in the forefront of “Fake News”.

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  25. One American says:

    Looks like he was really right once again!

  26. TM01 says:

    I just can’t believe how unabashedly pro Trump this filth is:
    Hi, I’m(A) ____________, and I’m (B) _________________…

    (B) Our greatest responsibility is to serve our Northwest communities. We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that KOMO News 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 KOMO 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.

    (A) 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 KOMOnews.com and clicking on CONTENT CONCERNS. We value your comments. We will respond back to you.

    (B) 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.

    (A) Thank you for watching and we appreciate your feedback”

    The HORROR!

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  27. TM01 says:

    Meanwhile, coming from NBC, CNN, etc., you get the exact same stories, as they use organized phrasing and talking points.

    Gaslighting.
    Trump’s speech was “dark.”
    Russia. (OMG! It’s behind your couch!)
    Trump visited Texas “too soon.”

    The list goes on and on of stories and talking points that are IDENTICAL on the different networks, and you’re all complaining about a little blurb from corporate where the anchors have say how bad fake news and to call the station if they’re concerned. Boo frakking hoo.

    And how many times do we have see the same AP story regurgitated in local papers?

    You all just get upset at having to hear a different opinion or viewpoint.

    Hell, just look at the wall to wall coverage of the anti gun march. Same story on every network. Same talking points. Same POV. Same spewing of wrong attendence numbers, “teenagers,” etc. But you get YOUR lockstep stories out there and you’re ok.

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  28. Hal_10000 says:

    I think it’s inaccurate to say that this is the result of Trump. It’s more accurate that Trump is the result of this. Sinclair has been pushing their right wing line for quite some time.

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  29. James Pearce says:

    @TM01:

    And how many times do we have see the same AP story regurgitated in local papers?

    That’s what the AP does, though. It’s a news wire. They literally sell stories for local papers to “regurgitate.”

    I think we all need to take a chill pill on the “biased media” stuff. From my biased POV, it appears that the American appetite for biased news is insatiable. It has only increased over the last two years or so. Liberals complaining about conservatives in the NYT, conservatives ticking off on their fingers all the hated alphabetical outlets: ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, NPR, next hand…

    “Someone’s biased” has no charge in a world where everyone‘s biased.

  30. Franklin says:

    I’m trying to figure out why you right-wing commentators are so angry. You guys won the last major election, you’re in charge of all three branches of government. If you’re angry, it’s because you’re incompetent. But if it makes you feel better to lash out at us, that’s fine we understand.

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  31. mattbernius says:

    @TM01:

    And how many times do we have see the same AP story regurgitated in local papers?

    The difference of course is that AP is a service and AP feed articles are almost always marked as “AP Articles” or the author is credited as being an AP stringer.

    Heck, even when a Gannett paper runs the same article across the network, they don’t change the author based on locality.

    If this “editorial” had been pre-recorded and everyone aired the same video, then you might have a fair comparison. However, this was represented as local content and the views of the anchors who were made to read it. That’s different.

    That’s before we get into the fact that newspapers are better at drawing a hard line distinction between news and editorial content.

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  32. al-Ameda says:

    @One American:

    Looks like he was really right once again!

    Yes, Sinclair is a major producer of fake news.

  33. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @TM01:

    Russia. (OMG! It’s behind your couch!)

    Actually, Russia seems to be behind the couch of everyone that worked on the Dennison campaign. Yet they never ever met with the Russians. Only they did dozens of times. But it’s all fake news. Including the guilty pleas and indictments.
    You maroon.
    Let’s be clear, again. For you right wing extremists, fake news is absolutely anything you don’t like, facts be damned.

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  34. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @TM01:
    And let’s keep in mind that the largest purveyor of fake news is President Dennison’s Twitter Feed.
    From Amazon.com, to Immigration, to the Press, to the economy, to you name it…all mendacity, all the time.

  35. Rick DeMent says:

    Whatever happened to the idea of a wall between news editorial and the corporate owners (or sales for that matter)? The fact that they are mingling at all should be a freaking crime.

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  36. grumpy realist says:

    @Franklin: They’re like the Brexiters in the U.K.