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A video with dozens of news anchors reading a script about “fake stories” put in stark visual terms what for weeks had largely been an academic debate about media consolidation and the Sinclair Broadcast Group’s efforts to promote a consistent message across its stations.
The 98-second video, posted on Deadspin on Saturday, has already been viewed by millions of people and provoked more than one tweet by President Donald Trump in support of the corporation.
Sinclair owns nearly 200 local stations and had ordered its anchors to read a statement expressing concern about “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing the country.” Some outlets publish these “fake stories” without checking facts first and some people in the media push their own biases, the statement said.
The anchors give no specific examples. Sinclair, whose corporate leadership leans right, uses terminology familiar to Trump and his criticisms of “fake news.” In the message, the anchors say they “work very hard to seek the truth and strive to be fair, balanced and factual.”
A Sinclair executive said Monday that he finds it curious that the company would be attacked for asking news people to remind the audience that unsubstantiated stories exist on social media.
“It is ironic that we would be attacked for messages promoting our journalistic initiative for fair and objective reporting, and for specifically asking the public to hold our newsrooms accountable,” said Scott Livingston, Sinclair’s senior vp news. “Our local stations keep our audiences’ trust by staying focused on fact-based reporting and clearly identifying commentary.”
After the story was reported Monday on CNN and MSNBC, Trump jumped to Sinclair’s defense.
“Funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticizing Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased,” he tweeted. “Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.”
On Tuesday, the president tweeted that “The Fake News Networks, those that knowingly have a sick and biased AGENDA, are worried about the competition and quality of Sinclair Broadcast.”
MSNBC’s Morning Joe did a lengthy segment on Timothy Burke’s Deadspin video Monday, showing the words being repeated by several anchors. Co-host Mika Brzezinski said she was surprised some of the local anchors didn’t refuse to read it. “This looks like something we would mock the Russians for doing during the days of Pravda,” said co-host Joe Scarborough.
Dan Rather’s website said that it was “sickening” to watch local journalists being forced to read something that trashes their own profession.
Deadspin received a hat tip from HBO’s John Oliver, whose Last Week Tonight did a lengthy story on Sinclair last season. “Nothing says ‘we value independent media’ like dozens of reporters forced to repeat the same message over and over again, like members of a brainwashed cult,” Oliver said.
Burke said he’s received a number of emails from people who work at Sinclair stations but he’s been too busy at his regular job posting sports videos to look into them. “I’m glad it received a large audience,” he said.
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