The great Sinclair Broadcasting kerfuffle

This reminds me of the uproar over Cambridge Analytica and Facebook: There’s legit reason to be concerned but the disproportionate media panic can only be explained by the fact that there’s a Trump-aligned entity at the heart of it. Deadspin’s video, though, is a masterpiece of editing, stitching together segments from dozens of local news affiliates across the country owned by Sinclair Broadcasting to create an Orwellian crescendo.

The insidious repetition is so hypnotic that it becomes hard to follow what they’re saying, ironically. Here’s the transcript:

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

It’s a speech chastising big media for spreading fake news, whether because they picked up a garbage story online and amplified it without checking or because their own personal bias distorted their original reporting. By the standards of Fox News primetime, say, it’s exceedingly tame. It doesn’t mention Trump; it doesn’t single out any “fake news” purveyors; it doesn’t mention left or right; the only action it calls for is for viewers to complain to the station if its own coverage strays too far from neutral. “If this same message were read by Brian Stelter on CNN, word for word, nobody would have any problem with it,” writes Ben Shapiro. That’s correct — because viewers would have assumed that it was aimed at Fox News, a left-wing enemy. Instead, coming from right-wing Trump ally Sinclair, it’s an indelible stain on journalism.

But that video is something. The reason there are so many iterations of this speech is because Sinclair HQ told its many, many subsidiaries that the speech was “must-run,” a designation typically reserved for things like networks promos, not mini-lectures about the nature of news. Sinclair is a right-leaning company, the biggest owner of TV news affiliates in the country and one that’s looking to get bigger: It’s awaiting regulatory approval to acquire Tribune Media, which would give it some juice in major media markets on the coasts and boost its ability to compete with Fox News. But that approval has taken longer than many anticipated. If you were a cynic, you might think that the company was trying to pander to the Trump administration with this spiel about the president’s bete noire of fake news in hopes of getting the green light.

And if you were very cynical, you might think it was working:

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/980799183425802240

You might likewise think that the outsized left-wing outrage over this is also aimed at influencing the regulatory process. Another wrinkle of the clip is the fact that Sinclair asked local anchors to deliver the speech. Typically a “must-run” is provided to the affiliate to air as-is; in this case Sinclair provided the text and asked each affiliate to create its own version using the local anchors, which is what made the creepy Deadspin clip possible. There are bad vibes in that: Airtime belongs to the owner but no one who works in media likes having opinions put in their mouths by management. “I feel bad because [viewers are] seeing these people they’ve trusted for decades tell them things they know are essentially propaganda,” said one local Sinclair anchor to CNN of the clip. A newspaper’s publisher can run anything he wants in his paper, but he can’t run it under one of his reporters’ bylines. Not ethically, at least.

If Sinclair had offered the affiliates a pre-packaged clip of someone from HQ delivering the speech, their problem here would have been partially solved. If it had asked local anchors to deliver their own unique commentary along the same lines as the speech, provided they agreed with the content, that would have partially solved it too. It’s the robotic repetition of the message spread across scores of employees that alarms people more than the actual content, I think, the subtext being that if Sinclair can dictate this message, they can dictate any message. It took some stones for them to complain in the transcript about media outlets “push[ing] their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think'” in a must-run speech forced on reporters across the country by a single powerful owner.

Anyway, now that the left is ganging up on a right-wing entity, we can expect the right to unite around Sinclair, no? Er, no. Remember: If that Sinclair/Tribune acquisition goes through, Sinclair could end up in Fox News’s weight class. Go figure that people at Fox aren’t fans of Sinclair’s “must-run” robotic talking-points video:

“Whatever Fox’s shortcomings, and there definitely are some, there’s precisely zero editorial direction from above,” one Fox News host told BuzzFeed News. “I’ve never been told a single time what to say.” Another network insider said the comparison between Sinclair and Fox News was “ludicrous” and that Sinclair anchors in the video “looked like hostage victims.”…

“Sinclair is pretty foolish to be doing to be doing this in the middle of a controversial acquisition,” said one Fox News insider. “They may be in over their heads.”

It does seem true looking in from the outside that Fox doesn’t dictate editorial direction to hosts. Tucker and Ingraham follow a nationalist pro-Trump line while Hannity follows a more classic “whatever Trump wants” pro-Trump line. A multitude of voices, each their own.

Exit question via Stu Burguiere: How much is the right expected to care about Sinclair’s single-think on “fake news” while contending with the wider media’s groupthink? What’s more insidious, local anchors reading a canned message inviting viewers to complain if they see bias or CNN anchors turning into a gun-control Super PAC?