The largest broadcast company in the United States — Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns or runs 193 TV stations — came under fire today when mash-ups of its news anchors reciting the exact same lines across channels to millions of viewers were uploaded online. In a post-Trump era of ‘Fake News,’ having dozens of anchors recite the same script for nearly 200 mostly right-leaning local TV stations is particularly eerie, especially when the speeches being repeated were focused on that exact issue — false news — with clearly disingenuous motivations.
“The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media,” said dozens of anchors. “Some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias,” they said. “This is extremely dangerous to our democracy,” another multi-recited line eerily warned. According to The New York Times, many of the anchors asked viewers to comment online “if you believe our coverage is unfair.” This utterly transparent instance of a giant media conglomerate pushing the same exact speech to millions of homes across the country last month was outed by social-media a few days ago, when users created mash-ups showing just how ominous this effort was.
A copy of the script shared by Sinclair Broadcast Group’s anchors was published by The Seattle Post-Intelligencer last week, with the newspaper reporting that employees at Seattle’s KOMO news station unhappy about it. You can clearly see below just how dictated and stringent the script here is, with anchors merely placing their names into the blanks and reciting the same exact words as dozens of their peers were.
CNN reported in early March that the Senior Vice President of news for Sinclair, Scott Livingston, recited the same speech nearly word for word on a widely distributed segment as early as last year. “We work very hard to be objective and fair and be in the middle,” said Livingston in 2017. “I think maybe some other news organizations may be to the left of center, and we work very hard to be in the center.” I don’t know about you, but I’d definitely see Mr. Livingston as the standard of honesty and transparency, were I slightly less intelligent. Speaking of honesty and transparency, President Trump chimed in to share his 2 cents via Twitter today.
As you can see, the bizarre world we live on never stops turning, with Trump defending a broadcasting corporation clearly caught manufacturing mass-produced news scripts under an umbrella of supposed fairness, while blaming other media institutions that criticized it for doing so. According to Kirstin Pellizzaro, a doctoral candidate at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, a lot of the “must-run” segments — anti-terror or pro-Trump news distributed across Sinclair’s stations — did not the resemble a gold standard of honesty.
“Some of them were a little slanted, a little biased,” she said. “Packages of this nature can make journalists uncomfortable.” Disregarding how a journalist may personally feel about reciting a script for broadcast news, the point here doesn’t seem to be about comfort levels or companies not being allowed to broadcast whatever they want — but about the integrity of localized news across the country. If we continue mass-producing slanted news, covered in the exact same manner across dozens of channels all over the U.S., the landscape of mainstream news will resemble nothing but a mere shell of its former self. There might as well only be two TV channels left — one defending the left, and another defending the right — which this particular story, at its best, will aid to avoid.
“I hope people realize that the journalists are trying their best, and this shouldn’t reflect poorly on them,” said Pellizzaro. “They’re just under this corporate umbrella.” To her latter point, the Sinclair Broadcast Group is currently trying to assuage the Justice Department and FCC to let them buy Tribune Media for $3.9 billion — which would do nothing but expand this unnerving practice presented above. Livingston, of course, is adamant that Sinclair has nothing but good intentions. “We are focused on fact-based reporting,” he claimed. “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.” Somehow, we’re not convinced.