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Wednesday, October 13, 2004 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | NEXT: FBI Questions Hundreds of Muslims Ahead of...
2004-10-13

Conservative TV Chain Orders 62 Stations to Pre-Empt Regular Programming To Air Anti-Kerry "Documentary" Before Election

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18 Democratic Senators are urging the Federal Communications Commission to investigate Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s decision to air what they view as an unpaid 90-minute attack ad against Kerry. FCC Commissioner Michael Copps called Sinclair’s decision to air the program a "abuse of public trust." [includes rush transcript]

As millions of Americans sit down in front of their TVs in the coming days to watch their favorite prime-time shows, many of them will instead be made to watch a controversial new documentary criticizing John Kerry’s record in Vietnam.

That’s because the nation’s largest local television chain, the Sinclair Broadcasting Group, ordered its 62 TV stations to pre-empt regular prime-time programming in favor of airing the film "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal." The documentary was produced by Carlton Sherwood, a former Washington Times reporter who used to work for Department of Homeland Security director Tom Ridge while he was governor of Pennsylvania.

This week, 18 Democratic Senators urged the Federal Communications Commission to investigate Sinclair’s decision to air what they view as an unpaid 90-minute attack ad against Kerry. Sinclair’s television outlets reach nearly a quarter of the nation"s homes including in many key swing states such as Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps released a statement calling Sinclair’s decision to air the program a "abuse of public trust."

This marks the second time this year Sinclair made headlines for its programming decisions. In April, the network refused to run an episode of Nightline when the anchor Ted Koppel read the names of every U.S. soldier killed in Iraq.

  • Danny Schechter, Executive editor of Mediachannel.org. He has been covering the Sinclair Broadcasting controversy closely. Mediachannel has a new report called "Sinclair Plays Fast and Loose With the News." He is also the producer and director of the new documentary "Weapons of Mass Deception" which will premiere in New York on October 29.
  • Wally Bowen, media activist and lead organizer of Sinclair Media Watch, a grassroots citizens group formed to evaluate local news coverage provided by WLOS-TV, the only broadcast television station based in Asheville, NC. Their evaluation will be published and shared with the FCC during the public comment period for the renewal of the station’s license.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Danny Schechter, executive director of mediachannel.org. He has been covering the Sinclair Broadcasting controversy closely. Tell us, your latest piece, "Sinclair Plays Fast and Loose with the News." Your response.

DANNY SCHECHTER: Well, you know, the problem here is that they’re packaging this as news. If they were simply saying, "Okay here’s another point-of-view documentary that we’re making available to viewers," that might be one thing. If they also opened their airwaves to other point-of-view documentaries, which of course, they do not, so in the context of how this is being presented, it’s clearly a political act, and in a sense there’s nothing illegal about it given the fact that we have had so much deregulation for so long of broadcasts, and standards have been eroded. The traditions of so-called objectivity, which we all know are rarely practiced by but often spoken of, have been eroded as well. That is one more nail in the coffin of traditional mainstream television broadcasting as we see more and more polarization on the airwaves which mirrors in a way the polarization in the country, only their megaphone is louder because they own more TV properties. They, of course, this company is a beneficiary of the rules that have allowed for more media concentration. They have a lot of the prominent investors, Media Channel has a list. I have been listing all of the owners of Sinclair Broadcasting. There are various boycott calls in effect. There’s going to be a coalition meeting to try to actually seek to deny their license, broadcast licenses. On the other side, Rush Limbaugh has sent out an urgent message to all of his ditto-heads urging them to support Sinclair Broadcasting, once again from attacks by the loony left. You know, once again, media issue has become a political issue, and it’s a major attack in a sense not only on the traditions of what supposedly is news, but also shows how media power is often shaping the discourse of our whole election. We just had weeks of the Swiftboat veterans, also trashing John Kerry’s history, and here’s a documentary which seeks to keep alive, you know, the kind of bitterness of the Vietnam War, which most people have left behind. So, that’s an important issue. What I’m doing, Amy, is I am writing today to the chairman of Sinclair Broadcasting and saying "Look, if you want to run a point-of-view documentary about the Vietnam War, how about running one about the Iraq War?" My new film, WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception, is coming out in New York this month. I’m offering it to Sinclair and also I’m willing to go on the panel on Sinclair and debate these people, because what they’re doing is outrageous. Everybody knows it. It’s just a power move and a political partisan move in the name of news and in the name of, you know, independent media, which of course, it isn’t. It is ironic that Mr. Smith, the head of Sinclair, has also criticized what he calls the dumbing down of news, but his view is, you know, instead of the dumbing down of news, the entertainment direction of news, he wants to add more right wing content to the mix.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Danny Schechter, executive director of Mediachannel.org, about Sinclair Broadcasting. We’ll be back with him and others in a minute.

AMY GOODMAN: We continue with Danny Schechter covering the Sinclair Broadcasting controversy. Stations owned by Sinclair, there are 62 of them, being told they have to air this documentary against Kerry about his Vietnam War record. We’re also joined by Wally Bowen, a media activist and lead organizer of the Sinclair Media Watch, a grassroots citizen’s group formed in Ashville, North Carolina, to evaluate local news coverage provided by WLOS-TV, the only broadcast TV station based in Ashville, North Carolina. Their evaluation will be published and shared with the FCC during the public comment period during the renewal of the station’s license. Your response, Wally Bowen, to the latest controversy and why you have been taking on Sinclair Broadcasting for quite awhile now.

WALLY BOWEN: Amy, as you said, this is the only commercial TV license assigned to this region of North Carolina. That’s quite a large mountainous region. And citizens in this mountain region rely heavily on this one TV station, and since Sinclair took it over, we have seen a marked shift in the news coverage, and it’s clear that the coverage is not being determined by the local journalists and editors, but the shots are being called from Baltimore. So, the community is very, very concerned about this, and as Danny was saying, this is a public resource, this broadcast spectrum is a public interest, part of the public trust, and this is one of the most blatant abuses of this public trust in the 70 years since Congress entrusted it to these private companies.

AMY GOODMAN: Danny Schechter, your response to the local struggle in the context of this bigger story of Sinclair Broadcasting telling its 62 stations that they’re to run this documentary produced by The Washington Times reporter, who formerly worked for Tom Ridge, who is now director of Homeland Security, was the governor of Pennsylvania.

DANNY SCHECHTER: This documentary producer also did, I think, a film, as I recall, glorifying Reverend Moon. He has a long history as a hard right ideologue and not as a journalist. Sinclair is taking all of this to the next level. We have seen the erosion of news on news programs. Some years ago, Rocky Mountain Media Watch in Denver did an analysis of local news in that market and found that the thing that was missing in the local news was news. They actually sued on the grounds of false advertising saying that they were claiming to be a news program when the content analysis showed that it wasn’t news. Well, very little news was part of the mix. And you know this is now basically people with great deal of power in centralized operations dictating a political line. We see it at Fox News. We see it here. But, you know, it’s only part of a much larger pattern of the disengaging from covering the world, disengaging from offering analysis, more pundits than reporters, less investigative reporting, shorter stories, more news in less time. All of this is a way of trying to dumb down and move the whole population to the right, depoliticize America. That’s why media issues are so important for those of us who want to change things in America, to take a stand and become engaged. We set up the Media Channel, something called Media for Democracy, and it’s a network like Move On for the media, four months ago. We now have 60,000 members who are sending emails, who are getting engaged on the media issues. The Media Channel has a lot of resources online about how to get involved, and get engaged, because this is something which, if it is not stopped, if we’re just not paying attention to this, is going to get a lot worse. You know, Democracy Now! is like a lone voice in the wilderness in many instances, and what the right wing has is an echo chamber, Sinclair has 62 stations.

AMY GOODMAN: Danny, I’m going to interrupt to share with you what Sinclair’s Mark Himan said this morning. We called and asked him to come on the show. We called all levels of Sinclair to ask them to come on. He did go on CNN, and asked if this was an in-kind contribution to the President Bush campaign. This is what he responded. He said, "If you use that logic and reasoning, which means every car bomb in Iraq would be an in-kind contribution to John Kerry. Weak job performance ratings that came out last month would have been an in-kind contribution to John Kerry, and that’s just nonsense." He said "This is news. I cannot change the fact that these people decided to come forward today. The networks had this opportunity over a month ago to speak with these people. They chose to suppress them. They chose to ignore them. They’re acting like Holocaust deniers pretending these men don’t exist." Those are the words of Mark Himan, of Sinclair Broadcasting.

DANNY SCHECHTER: That’s strong. I think that gives you an idea of the mindset here. There have been people who have supported the Vietnam War then, who support it now, who spoke out against John Kerry, and who spoke out against Vietnam veterans against the war. This is new. There’s nothing news about that particularly. This debate has been going on for over 30 years. The fact of the matter is that for most Americans, Vietnam is not a war, it’s an era. The Vietnam War is an era. Nobody wants to talk about the war, because America lost the war. To blame John Kerry for that is ridiculous. To blame the soldiers that opposed the war for that is Orwellian and insane.

AMY GOODMAN: Danny Schechter I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of Mediachannel.org. And Wally Bowen, your website is…

WALLY BOWEN: Sinclairwatch.net.

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