Earlier this month CNN broke the story that Sinclair Broadcasting would require their local news anchors to attack the “fake stories” found in other news outlets. (I wrote about it here.)
The CNN report, based upon an internal Sinclair document, clearly explained what the anchors were to do:
"Please produce the attached scripts exactly as they are written," the instructions say. "This copy has been thoroughly tested and speaks to our Journalistic Responsibility as advocates to seek the truth on behalf of the audience."
Last night I watched* WTOV anchors Jennifer Black and Rich Pierce deliver Sinclair’s message. This morning, anchors Jessica Haberley and Bill Phillips repeated the exact same message. As CNN predicted:
The promos begin with one or two anchors introducing themselves and saying "I'm [we are] extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that [proper news brand name of local station] produces. But I'm [we are] 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," the script says. "More alarming, national media outlets are publishing these same fake stories without checking facts first. 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."
Then the anchors are supposed to strike a more positive tone and say that their local station pursues the truth. "We understand Truth is neither politically 'left or right.' Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever."
In Great Britain, Jennifer, Rich, Jessica, and Bill would be called “news readers” instead of news anchors or reporters – a distinction that removes journalistic standards from their job description. Even so, as commenter mwildfire said on my last Sinclair post:
I feel sorry for all those local news anchors, all over the country, forced to choose between giving up their jobs and mouthing biased, dishonest Orwellian crap.
Sinclair is not the only national news source changing its messaging to become more explicitly pro-Trump. As some of you may know, Fox News has dropped its “fair and balanced” tagline. It’s replacement is “Real News, Real Honest Opinion.” As Media Matters recently reflected upon the changes at Sinclair and Fox:
They are telling their viewers that they stand with the president of the United States, in opposition to his foes in the rest of the press. They are stating -- implicitly in the case of Fox, explicitly in the case of Sinclair -- that while other media outlets are producing “fake news,” they are not. It’s a declaration that the networks are a safe space for conservatives: If you are worried about turning on the television and hearing criticism of the president, you can tune in to these networks and instead hear praise of his many successes.
I don’t trust any news source that has to periodically lecture me on why I should believe them. By the way, aren’t we due for another Ogden editorial telling us what a great job they do bringing us the news?
*Note – I could not download the WTOV/Sinclair promotional videos but you can find these segments on the WTOV site or simply wait -- this is not the last we've seen of them.
3/28 Update -- Another take on Sinclair becoming Trump TV
In an article just posted, Eric Levitz at New York Magazine examines Sinclair's obvious rightward shift:
Local News Is Turning Into Trump TV, Even Though Viewers Don’t Want It
Levitz cites Sinclair's recent expansion and asks:
So, why has Sinclair’s programming become more right-wing, even as it has expanded into more left-leaning media markets? Does the audience for local TV news tilt conservative — and thus, enjoy pro-Trump political content — even in Blue America? Or does Sinclair care more about promoting the GOP agenda than about maximizing its profits?
Levitz attempts to answer these questions by citing a recent study:
A new study from Emory University political scientists Gregory J. Martin and Josh McCrain suggests that both of these explanations are wrong: The ideological bent of Sinclair’s programming does turn off local news viewers — but broadcasting such unpopular, ideological content is (probably) a good business decision for the company, anyway.
Using the study, Levitz explains why. (It's a complex argument which I cannot do justice to in this short space.)