Sinclair Broadcast Group of Maryland, owner of the largest chain of television stations in the nation, plans to preempt regular programming two weeks before the Nov. 2 election to air a documentary that accuses Sen. John F. Kerry of betraying American prisoners during the Vietnam War.
Sinclair has ordered its 62 stations, some of which are in the critical swing states of Ohio, Florida, Iowa and Wisconsin, to air "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal" during prime-time hours next week. The Sinclair station group collectively reaches 24 percent of U.S. television households.
"Stolen Honor" focuses on Kerry's antiwar testimony to Congress in 1971 and its effect on American POWs in Vietnam. Kerry testified that U.S. forces routinely committed atrocities in Vietnam. The film, produced independently of Sinclair, includes interviews with former POWs who say their Vietnamese captors used Kerry's comments to undercut prisoner morale.
Sinclair, based in the Baltimore suburb of Hunt Valley, decided to air the film after it was rejected for airing by the major broadcast networks, vice president Mark Hyman said. "This is a powerful story," Hyman said. "The networks are acting like Holocaust deniers and pretending [the POWs] don't exist. It would be irresponsible to ignore them."
Kerry campaign spokesman David Wade yesterday called the film "lies" and "a smear" and characterized Sinclair as "another one of President Bush's powerful corporate friends trying to help him."
Hyman said Sinclair has invited Kerry to appear on a discussion program after the broadcast, but Kerry's campaign has declined. The invitation to Kerry could help Sinclair satisfy federal requirements to provide "equal time" to candidates in an election.
Sinclair's top executives, including members of the controlling Smith family, have been strong financial supporters of Bush's campaign. The company made news in April when it ordered seven of its ABC-affiliated stations not to air a "Nightline" segment that featured a reading of the names of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq; a Sinclair executive called that broadcast "contrary to the public interest."
Sinclair also is one of the few station-group owners that puts corporate opinion on its local newscasts. Hyman delivers conservative commentaries called "The Point."
The "Stolen Honor" documentary, which was released in early September, raises many of the same issues brought up by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, an anti-Kerry group that has run ads in battleground states criticizing Kerry's wartime record and antiwar activities, especially his 1971 testimony.
The documentary's producer -- a small production company in Harrisburg, Pa., headed by a former journalist, Carlton Sherwood -- has no official connection to the Swift boat group. However, one of the POWs in the film, Paul Galanti, has appeared in a Swift boat ad.