Since it is the press controversy of the week regarding the war, it seems best to review the business with the Sinclair Broadcast Group and ABC News, a division of the Disney Corporation.
Friday, March 30, on his show ABC show "Nightline" - broadcast after the late local news around 11:30 in most markets - the host and producer Ted Koppel read the names of all the soldiers killed to date in Iraq. Sinclair Broadcast Group decided not to air the show on their stations. Sinclair General Counsel Barry Faber said this: "We find it to be contrary to the public interest."
The boycott affects eight ABC-affiliated Sinclair stations.
To be official about this, here are the positions:
STATEMENT OF THE SINCLAIR BROADCAST GROUP
ABC NEWS STATEMENT IN RESPONSE TO SINCLAIR
The ABC Television network announced on Tuesday that the Friday, April 30th edition of "Nightline" will consist entirely of Ted Koppel reading aloud the names of U.S. servicemen and women killed in action in Iraq. Despite the denials by a spokeswoman for the show the action appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq.
While the Sinclair Broadcast Group honors the memory of the brave members of the military who have sacrificed their lives in the service of our country, we do not believe such political statements should be disguised as news content. As a result, we have decided to preempt the broadcast of "Nightline" this Friday on each of our stations which air ABC programming.
We understand that our decision in this matter may be questioned by some. Before you judge our decision, however, we would ask that you first question Mr. Koppel as to why he chose to read the names of the 523 troops killed in combat in Iraq, rather than the names of the thousands of private citizens killed in terrorists attacks since and including the events of September 11, 2001. In his answer, you will find the real motivation behind his action scheduled for this Friday.
Here are the stations -
We respectfully disagree with Sinclair's decision to pre-empt "Nightline's" tribute to America's fallen soldiers which will air this Friday, April 30. The Nightline broadcast is an expression of respect which simply seeks to honor those who have laid down their lives for this country. ABC News is dedicated to thoughtful and balanced coverage and reports on the events shaping our world with neither fear nor favor -- as our audience expects, deserves, and rightly demands. Contrary to the statement issued by Sinclair, which takes issue with our level of coverage of the effects of terrorism on our citizens, ABC News and all of our broadcasts, including "Nightline," have reported hundreds of stories on 9-11. Indeed, on the first anniversary of 9-11, ABC News broadcast the names of the victims of that horrific attack.
In sum, we are particularly proud of the journalism and award winning coverage ABC News has produced since September 11, 2001. ABC News will continue to report on all facets of the war in Iraq and the War on Terrorism in a manner consistent with the standards which ABC News has set for decades.
WXLV, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point NC
KDNL, St. Louis
WSYX, Columbus OH
WLOS, Asheville NC
WCHS, Charleston, Huntington W VA
WGGB, Springfield MA
Is honoring "our war dead" in this way is a political statement aimed at undermining support for the war? Or is Sinclair defending Bush. The Sinclair Group is pretty loyal to the administration, as you can see from their political contributions.
Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly reports this:
So which is it - a left-wing political stunt to embarrass the president, or a gesture of respect to honor these people?
Washington Monthly editor Ben Wallace-Wells emails to say he discussed Nightline on a radio show in a deeply Republican area of North Carolina recently and got a different reaction:
The host and his sidekick (whose brother was KIA in Vietnam) opposed Koppel on the established conservative line: it's politically opportunistic, it's a cynical ratings-grab, it's unpatriotic to drum up opposition to a war president. But we heard from 6 or 7 callers, all but one conservative (and even the Democrat was a military wife), and to a person they disagreed with the hosts, thought the reading was noble and honorable, a proper way to honor our dead. Some still agreed that the timing was opportunistic, politically motivated, but nevertheless they said they supported the name-reading.
Yeah, well, that's one way of seeing it.
... war supporters need to get a grip. In a popular war, battlefield losses serve to redouble public commitment to the fight, and honoring the dead is viewed as a solemn and patriotic gesture. It's only in unpopular wars that combat deaths cause public support to decline.
Present day conservatives seem to unthinkingly assume that any public acknowledgement of Iraqi war deaths is obviously just an underhanded political gesture designed to weaken support for the war. This is partly a result of their paranoid conviction that the sole purpose of the media is to undermine conservative causes, but it's also a tacit admission that this is, fundamentally, a war with very shallow support indeed. If they really believed in the war and in the administration's handling of it, they'd show some backbone and welcome Ted Koppel's gesture of respect tonight. Instead they're acting as if they're ashamed we're over there.
Want to hear from a Republican, conservative war hero? Here's John McCain's letter to Sinclair:
Okay, now it come down to name-calling. The Sinclair Broadcasting Group says Ted Koppel and the ABC Disney folks are unpatriotic. McCain, war-hero, former prisoner-of-war in Vietnam, and one of the two senators from Arizona, says the Sinclair Broadcasting Group is unpatriotic.
Fri Apr 30 2004 11:29:49 ET
Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) issued the following letter today to Mr. David Smith, President and CEO of Sinclair Broadcast Group, in response to the preemption of this evening's Nightline program:
I write to strongly protest your decision to instruct Sinclair's ABC affiliates to preempt this evening's Nightline program. I find deeply offensive Sinclair's objection to Nightline's intention to broadcast the names and photographs of Americans who gave their lives in service to our country in Iraq.
I supported the President's decision to go to war in Iraq, and remain a strong supporter of that decision. But every American has a responsibility to understand fully the terrible costs of war and the extraordinary sacrifices it requires of those brave men and women who volunteer to defend the rest of us; lest we ever forget or grow insensitive to how grave a decision it is for our government to order Americans into combat. It is a solemn responsibility of elected officials to accept responsibility for our decision and its consequences, and, with those who disseminate the news, to ensure that Americans are fully informed of those consequences.
There is no valid reason for Sinclair to shirk its responsibility in what I assume is a very misguided attempt to prevent your viewers from completely appreciating the extraordinary sacrifices made on their behalf by Americans serving in Iraq. War is an awful, but sometimes necessary business. Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war's terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking detail, is a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. It is, in short, sir, unpatriotic. I hope it meets with the public opprobrium it most certainly deserves.
Here's General JC Christian over at Patriot Boy writing to the Sinclair Broadcasting Group, and this is satire of course. -
Yeah well, the week ended with everyone weighing in on this.
Dear Mr. Smith,
I'm sure the traitors among us will disagree with Sinclair Broadcasting's decision to spare our nation the trauma of putting names and faces to the young men and women who lost their lives in Iraq. It is better that we hide our dead away and never speak of them. Remembering the fallen only risks shaming Our Leader at a time when he's working very hard to bring us four more years of his wise leadership.
I hope that you'll consider helping another great leader as well. For many years, the names of the dead found on the 1969-1973 sections of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Wall have served as silent criticism of Richard Milhous Nixon's war policies. Isn't it time they were removed and replaced by scenes depicting the President's greatest moments--events like the secret invasion of Cambodia and Kissinger's announcement of a secret plan to end the war after the '72 election?
Gen. JC Christian, Patriot
Here you'll find background on this Sinclair organization. Some nuggets -
The rest of the item goes on to discuss how Sinclair programs news on these sixty-two stations - basically a feed from Baltimore of all items not strictly local that only seems to come from the local station - all carefully managed. To maintain the appearance of local news, the Baltimore on-air staff is coached on correct local pronunciations. Or the weatherman, safely removed from the thunderstorms in, say, Minneapolis, will often engage in scripted banter with the local anchor to maintain the pretense: "Should I bring an umbrella tomorrow, Don?" "You bet, Hal, it looks pretty ugly out there..."
Like many a media empire, Sinclair grew through a combination of acquisitions, clever manipulations of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules, and considerable lobbying campaigns. Starting out as a single UHF station in Baltimore in 1971, the company started its frenzied expansion in 1991 when it began using "local marketing agreements" as a way to circumvent FCC rules that bar a company from controlling two stations in a single market.
These "LMAs" allow Sinclair to buy one station outright and control another by acquiring not its license but its assets. Today, Sinclair touts itself as "the nation's largest commercial television broadcasting company not owned by a network." You've probably never heard of them because the 62 stations they run - garnering 24 percent of the national TV audience - fly the flags of the networks they broadcast: ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and the WB.
TV Barn's Mark Jeffries calls Sinclair the "Clear Channel of local news," a reference to the San Antonio, Texas, media giant that has grown from 40 to more than 1,200 stations today thanks to the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which relaxed radio ownership rules. But the parallels extend beyond their growth strategies. Jeffries describes Sinclair as having a "fiercely right-wing approach that makes Fox News Channel look like a model of objectivity," while Clear Channel is best known for sponsoring pro-war "Rallies for America" during the Iraq conflict. And like Clear Channel's CEO L. Lowry Mays - a major Republican donor and onetime business associate of George W. Bush - the Sinclair family, board, and executives ply the GOP with big money. Since 1997, they have donated well over $200,000 to Republican candidates.
You get the idea.
Over at the conservative site NewsMax you get a more positive view of Sinclair.
Sinclair, The Next Fox, 'Fair and Balanced'
Wes Vernon, Thursday, Jan. 29, 2004
Of course not.
WASHINGTON -- One of the nation's newest and fastest-growing TV news networks says it's tired of left-leaning news reporting and wants to offer Americans a fair and balanced perspective, just as Fox News Channel does.
Fox News eschewed politically correct news to become the dominant force on cable news. And now the Sinclair Broadcast Group has been following in Fox's footsteps to do the same for broadcast news in news markets across the nation.
The Sinclair Broadcast Group (SBG) is the eighth-largest network of television stations, based on revenues, and the nation's largest independent group owner of stations, according to Broadcasting & Cable.
... The broadcast operation reaches nearly 5 million viewers each night, an audience that surpasses even Fox and CNN.
And just like Fox News, Sinclair's News Central is getting some heat from some establishment media outlets for offering a more balanced and less liberal-leaning news report.
Sinclair relishes the criticism.
"Basically, [we're] in the red states," says Sinclair's Vice President for Corporate Affairs Mark Hyman in a NewsMax interview, referring to the markets SBG serves -- mostly in "red" states George Bush won in the 2000 election.
... Hyman says with some glee that Sinclair stations are "not in the Hamptons, not in the regions of the cultural elite who look down on the 'little people.' " Thus, he suggests, Sinclair is fulfilling a demand in flyover country for a fresh perspective on the news.
"I think that is good for us because the folks who live in the red sections of the country are the ones most starved for a balanced newscast," he adds.
... As Hyman puts it [referring to critics], "The left's real beef is who controls the microphone. We're not liberal. We're not providing a slanted view. And that's what really angers them."
Sinclair CEO David Smith echoed that sentiment, telling the Washington Post that his aim is to offer a "fair and balanced" news program, something missing on the major network news programs.
"Our objective is to tell the story in the most truthful and honest way possible," he said, adding, "There will be no spin."
Still, this sort of thing from the city where I grew up is a bit distressing.
Ah, not important.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania)
August 17, 1996, Saturday, SOONER EDITION
David D. Smith, president and chief executive officer of Sinclair Broadcast Group, was arrested this week in his hometown of Baltimore and charged with a misdemeanor sex offense. Sinclair owns WPGH, the Fox affiliate in Pittsburgh, and programs most of WPTT.
The Baltimore Sun reported that Smith, 45, was arrested Tuesday night in an undercover sting at a downtown corner frequented by prostitutes.
On Thursday night, Sinclair issued a statement that Smith's arrest was unrelated to company business and ''The company will continue to operate under the direction of its current management.''
But you might like juicy detail.
Broadcasting official charged in sex stakeout
Sinclair president, woman arrested in company car
Published on: August 15, 1996
Byline: SUN STAFF Peter Hermann
The president of Baltimore-based Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., which owns the local Fox television affiliate, was arrested Tuesday night and charged with committing a perverted sex act in a company-owned Mercedes, city police said.
David Deniston Smith, 45, of the 800 block of Hillstead Drive in Timonium, who also is Sinclair's chief executive, was arrested in an undercover sting at Read and St. Paul streets, a downtown corner frequented by prostitutes, Baltimore police said yesterday.
Smith and Mary DiPaulo, 31, were charged with committing unnatural and perverted sex act. Smith was held overnight at the Central Booking and Intake Center and released on personal recognizance at 2 p.m. yesterday. DiPaulo's bail status was not available.
Officials at WBFF-TV (Fox 45) and Sinclair, one of the fastest-growing broadcasting companies in the nation with 28 television and 34 radio stations, would not comment yesterday. The company had $126 million in sales in the first half of this year.
Police said undercover Officer Gary Bowman, on a prostitution detail, was talking to DiPaulo about 9: 15 p.m. in a car at St. Paul and Read streets. She left the undercover car after telling Bowman that ``she had just seen her regular date driving in the area,'' according to court documents.
Police said DiPaulo ran across the street to a 1992 Mercedes, registered to Sinclair, and got in on the passenger side. Police followed the car onto the Jones Falls Expressway, where they said they witnessed the two engage in oral sex while Smith drove north.
Police said they followed the car back to Read and St. Paul streets, where they arrested Smith and DiPaulo, who lives in the 700 block of Washington Blvd.
But none of that has much to do with the "Nightline" show and the roll call of the dead.
April 30 may come to be a turning point kind of day. The business of our soldiers, either the real ones or the subcontractors we use, humiliating, mocking and even torturing prisoners we hold near Baghdad exploded in the Arab press today - with all the pictures. ABC does this "litany of the dead" reading. The Mirror in the UK publishes photos of British soldiers treating an Iraqi civilian prisoner rather badly - photos of the guys urinating on him. And they later knocked out all his teeth, broke his jaw, then drove him off in the night and dumped him from the back of a truck - and thus lost track of him. They have no idea if he survived. Those pictures will hit the Arab press tomorrow. And our Marines have decided not to mess with Fallujah - and one of Saddam's generals has been brought out of retirement, rounded up more than a thousand former Iraqi soldiers, and will take care of things for us there. That doesn't look good to the locals - Saddmam's guys with guns are back. And we set it up.
Things are, indeed, going a bit sour as this week ends.