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2004-04-30

GOP Allied Media Group Orders Affiliates To Preempt "Nightline" Show Honoring Slain U.S. Troops

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Citing political reasons, the Sinclair Broadcast Group ordered its ABC affiliates to preempt a broadcast of ABC News’ "Nightline" where host Ted Koppel will read the names of every U.S. soldier killed in combat in Iraq. 98 percent of Sinclair’s political contributions in 2004 have gone to Republican candidates. We speak Jane Bright, who lost her son in Iraq and Norman Solomon of the Institute for Public Accuracy. [includes rush transcript]

We examine why some ABC stations have been ordered not to broadcast a special edition of "Nightline" where host Ted Koppel is planning to spend the show reading the names of every U.S. soldier killed in combat in Iraq.

On ABC News today, Nightline anchorman Ted Koppel will read aloud the names of more than 500 U.S. service men and women killed in combat in Iraq. In total, over 730 US soldiers have been killed since the beginning of the invasion. A corresponding photo will appear on the screen of the slain soldiers along with their name, military branch, rank, age and hometown. The entire broadcast will be devoted to reading the names.

But not all ABC viewers will be watching today’s program.

Earlier this week, the Baltimore-based media company Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. ordered its ABC affiliates to preempt the Nightline broadcast saying the program is "motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq."

Sinclair holdings include 62 local TV stations in 39 markets affiliated with ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, WB and UPN.

Political motivations of Sinclair executives appears to have played a part in the company’s decision to block the popular ABC news program. According to The Center for Responsive Politics, 98 percent of Sinclair’s political contributions in 2004 have gone to Republican candidates.

  • Norman Solomon, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy in San Francisco and the co-founder of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is co-author of "Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn’t Tell You" (Context Books, 2003).
  • Jane Bright, mother of Sgt. Evan Ashcraft who died on July 24, 2003 along with two other U.S. soldiers in an ambush near Mosul. Evan was 24 years old.

Transcript

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

JUAN GONZALEZ: On ABC news today, "Nightline" anchorman Ted Koppel, will read aloud the names of more than 500 U.S. servicemen and women killed in combat in Iraq. In total, over 700 U.S. soldiers have been killed since the beginning of the invasion. A corresponding photo will appear on the screen of the slain soldier along with their name, military branch, rank, age, and hometown. The entire broadcast will be devoted to reading those names. But not all ABC viewers will be watching today’s program. Earlier this week, the Baltimore based media company Sinclair Broadcasting Group, Inc., ordered its ABC affiliates to preempt the "Nightline" broadcast saying the program is quote, motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq. Sinclair’s holdings include 62 local TV stations and 39 markets affiliated many of the stations with ABC or CBS, FOX, NBC, the WB network or UPN network. Political allegiances of Sinclair executives appeared to play a part in the company’s decision to block the popular ABC news program. According to the center for responsive politics, 98 % of Sinclair’s political contribution in 2004 have gone to Republican candidates. We are joined by two guests to talk about this development: Norman Solomon, the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy in San Francisco, and the co-founder of FAIR, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. He’s also the co-author of "Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn’t Tell You." We’re also joined by Jane Bright, the mother of Sergeant Evan Ashcraft who died July 24,2003, along with two other U.S. soldiers in an ambush near Mosul. Evan was 24 years old. I’d like to welcome both of you to the show. Jane Bright, I’d like to begin with you, your reaction to the decision by Sinclair to preempt the "Nightline" show.

JANE BRIGHT: Good morning, Juan. I think that it’s typical of how our mainstream media handles the war. What it does is it completely devalues the role of our military, both the living and the dead. The more that the American public needs to see, needs a visual of the aggregate of loss, and when they don’t see that, they continue to just take the losses as one by one, you know, ten here, five there, day by day, but it’s quite shocking to see the total number, and I am sure that’s what Sinclair does not want to show.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And we have reported several times here on Democracy Now! about the other visuals that the Bush administration does not want shown. Obviously, the refusal of the administration to allow the press to cover the arrival of any of the caskets of the dead soldiers at Dover Air Force Base. Your reaction to the general — this general problem of the attempts to basically blot out the actual cost of war to the American people?

JANE BRIGHT: Well, again, it devalues our military. If you recall, our president said he’s a war president, but I don’t believe the American people want an open-ended war based on lies and secrecy, especially the secrecy. As I stated in Dover, our children, our loved ones did not live in secrecy, she should not be shrouded in secrecy when they pass. Once again, it’s the shock of the visual that the president — that the administration doesn’t want the American public to see. When you start seeing faces — the total, the mass is really an eye-opener. Late last year, "People Magazine" did a couple of pages where they showed nothing, and as you know, the number was significantly less then — where they showed all of those who had been lost. People said to me, I had no idea how many there were. It’s shocking and it’s important. It’s incredibly important. One of the things that the Pentagon says is that they don’t want families at Dover when the bodies arrive. And — excuse me, they don’t want the media there, but they also won’t allow the families there. They say it’s out of sensitivity to the families, but they won’t allow the families to be there. And they won’t allow the families to be at the public airport when they — when their loved ones come home. So, it’s really not about sensitivity. It’s about secrecy.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Norman Solomon, Sinclair Broadcasting, tell us a little bit about this company. It’s a very large television operation, but one that is not very well known to the American people?

NORMAN SOLOMON: Right. Well, it’s also a very political media conglomerate, which as you mentioned, owns affiliates of number of networks, apparently seven of those they own are ABC affiliates that are not going to at last word air the "Nightline" show tonight. I think they are on the right wing of the spectrum of media ownership that is also occupied by, say, the FOX NEWS Channel, the Murdoch empire. I think this is what passes for diversity in the U.S. news media, the Disney-owned corporate ABC network stretching over to the very far right wing in terms of mass media. I think if this was a popular war then the right wing would not be upset about the show tonight. It’s all about context, the fact that for instance "New York Times" and CBS news yet both released polls showing a lot of unpopularity of this war, one-third of the U.S. respondents saying now that they think the Iraq war was, so to speak, worth the costs in U.S. lives and money, so the "Nightline" show tonight is a rendering visually of some of the human costs. And I think that ultimately what we’re looking at is an environment in which there’s a battle over the meaning of this war. Usually, it takes many more years for the opposition to build to the point that it has against this invasion and occupation war in Iraq.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Norman, how rare is it for local affiliates or a major company like this to actually preempt a program for political reasons, a national network program?

NORMAN SOLOMON: It’s pretty unusual, especially to admit that it’s for political reasons. I think in a way, the right ring has tipped its hand. People like William Kristol, another Murdoch employee, "Weekly Standard", has also denounced this showing, which after all is a rather sparse way of just showing those who died in Iraq in U.S. uniform. I think really, this, though, is not an unusual practice to show the war dead. For instance, just last night, as is their practice, the PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer at the end of the show showed what they call our honor roll, which is, soldiers, photos and names of soldiers killed in Iraq. I think that, though, we should not assume that just by showing these names and these photos that somehow that is an anti-war statement. It’s all about the political battle going out on the ground in communities and media around the country to remind people that this war was and is based on lies. The right wing will still use the war dead and the Bush political ads and so forth to try to claim that this war should be supported.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And of course, Norman, this is occurring, the "Nightline" show, very close to the one year anniversary of that infamous day when president Bush journeyed to the aircraft carrier off the coast of California to declare "combat over" in Iraq.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Yes, his May 1st "top gun photo op" on that aircraft carrier under the "mission accomplished" banner. When we look at these pictures coming out of Iraq, which are a rather paltry way of showing just the horrible anguish caused of course, the U.S. news media slow us very little about the Iraqi civilians, who are being killed every day as well as other Iraqis. And it’s notable that Colin Powell, representing a government that claims to be wanting democracy to be established in the Middle East is now leaning on the government in Qatar to try to throttle one of the only expressions of free press and journalistic openness in the Middle East and that’s the Al-Jazeera network. So, there’s an attempt to shut down the pictures and the flow of unauthorized information all around the world.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Jane Bright, I’d like to ask you, on this one year anniversary of the declaration of president Bush of the end of combat, you lost a son there after that on July 24th of 2003. Your thoughts a year later?

JANE BRIGHT: Well, I think it’s very appropriately put when it’s called the "top gun photo." I think that it exemplifies out how out of touch Bush has been from the very beginning as to the meaning of this war and the outcome, how completely out of touch the whole administration has been to the incredible human to toll, not just among Americans but the Iraqis as well of whom there is no complete count of dead and injured. No one seems to be keeping a tally. You know, economic cost aside, it’s just — what it has done to our culture and society. How it’s polarized the country. They are just —–they are out of touch. And that’s our leadership. This is the world leadership. So, for my personal loss, I — when I saw that photo last May 1st I didn’t believe it was over, because I knew what my son was saying in letters coming home, and phone calls. But it’s just — from a global standpoint, they still don’t get it. That’s what it means to me.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I’d like to thank both of you for being with us, Jane Bright, mother of sergeant Evan Ashcraft who died July 24, 2003, with two other U.S. Soldiers in Iraq. He was 24 years old. Also, Norman Solomon from the Institute for Public Accuracy in San Francisco, co-founder of FAIR, and co-author of "Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn’t Tell You."

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