Don't Stop Speaking Out Against Sinclair!

Before you throw up your hands in victory -- or frustration -- here's what you can do

| October 21, 2004

As Howard Kurtz reported in the Washington Post on Wednesday, Sinclair Broadcast Group backed away from its plan to carry a film attacking John Kerry's Vietnam War record, saying it would air only portions of the movie in an hour-long 'news special' scheduled for Friday, dubbed A POW Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media. Sinclair executives even went so far as to say that they never intended to show the anti-Kerry documentary, Stolen Honor, in its entirety -- even though Sinclair commentator and vice president Mark Hyman had earlier told the newspaper the movie would air unless the Massachusetts senator agreed to do an interview.

The flap is far from over, though. That Sinclair even considered running the documentary, begs a number of crucial questions about media corporations, the pubic airwaves and politics. That they are still going to air a program that features portions of Stolen Honor is still troubling to progressives, who are urging that citizens continue to make noise about the network, which has become increasingly partisan.

In the mass media's echo chamber, the accepted version of events is that Sinclair bowed to financial pressure; including falling stock prices and the specter of losing skittish advertisers. And AlterNet's Paul Schmelzer contends that this financial pressure is a direct result of grassroots organizing,. But New York University Professor Jay Rosen doesn't think it's that simple. In his blog Pressthink, Rosen argues that something more sinister has been guiding the company's decisions in the past several weeks, including its shrewd, last-minute decision to switch their strategy -- namely, the desire to become a legitimate, FOX-like media empire.

What's more, according to Rosen and the journalists at Free Press, that such a media company has such aspirations could only have happened in this era of deregulation. For the most part, this deregulation has happened behind the scenes, through legal channels not worthy of major media headlines. Sinclair, for example, has a habit of swallowing up local news stations -- often purchasing two competing stations in the same city -- and replacing local news staff with programming from corporate headquarters, according to the producers of Sinclair and the Public Airwaves: A History of Abuse, a special report written for As a result, an executive can preempt regular news programs to air a partisan documentary with no commercial breaks, all the while claiming it is not partisan at all. As Jon Leiberman, Sinclair's Washington Bureau Chief, who was fired for speaking out about his company's behavior in the Baltimore Sun, said Monday on CNN: 'We haven't done an hour-long special on anything else . . . and all of a sudden, two weeks before the election, we're doing an hour-long special based on this anti-Kerry documentary.'

It's a good guess that in the coming weeks, Leiberman's words, and his firing, will be forgotten. Especially now that Sinclair has chosen to run an hour long news show in place of Stolen Honor -- seemingly a concession. This is unfortunate, since there's no doubt Sinclair's show will be bias and its programming before and after will continue to reflect its ownership's political biases.

According to Media Matters for America, an organization that is threatening Sinclair with a shareholder lawsuit, an existing FCC rule has a provision for offering 'equal time' to candidates. Perhaps this clause was behind Sinclair's invitation to Kerry to respond to the documentary, an invitation Rosen thinks Kerry should have accepted. (Others have argued that if Kerry were to go on air to respond to the documentary, his presence would have served only to legitimize the documentary as a credible, alternate version of events.)

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