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Staples Pulls Advertising From Sinclair

News Programming Perceived as Biased

By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 5, 2005; Page E01

Office-supply retailer Staples Inc. is pulling its advertising from news programming on Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. television stations, saying the decision was fueled in part by e-mails from customers angry at what they consider to be the broadcaster's right-wing bias in news and commentary.

The Hunt Valley-based Sinclair drew attention and criticism from some quarters in the weeks leading up to November's presidential election for airing parts of "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal," a film critical of Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry and his war record.

Staples, which has 1,400 stores, will continue to buy advertising during other programs on Sinclair's 62 stations but, as of Jan. 10, no longer will advertise during news programs, which include "The Point," a daily conservative commentary by Sinclair Vice President Mark E. Hyman.

Advertising during Sinclair's news programs accounts for "a very small part of the overall buy," said Staples spokesman Owen Davis, who would not disclose the publicly traded company's ad budget.

Sinclair chief executive David D. Smith said he was unaware of Staples' decision. Smith -- whose father, Julian Sinclair Smith, founded Sinclair in 1971 -- said he has received no complaints from advertisers regarding the broadcaster's news and commentary programming. The publicly owned company is controlled by the Smith family and owns more television stations than any other company, networks included.

"No one from Staples has called me," David Smith said. "I think I would eventually hear about it if and when it happens."

Since December, Sinclair has been targeted by Media Matters for America, a liberal media group, which claimed the company was abusing the public airwaves to promote a conservative agenda and not offering politically balanced news.

The group set up a Web site -- www.sinclairaction.org -- with e-mail addresses and phone numbers of dozens of Sinclair advertisers, specifically targeting Kraft Foods Inc., Staples, Target Corp., Geico Corp., McDonald's Corp. and Sprint Corp. for their large media buys.

Without citing the campaign, Staples said it received numerous customer complaints via e-mail, though it declined to say how many.

"Staples does not disclose the decision-making or specifics of its media-buying activity," Davis said. "With that said, Staples did consider among other factors the concerns expressed by our customers" regarding the content on Sinclair news programs, Davis said.

Yesterday, Media Matters took partial credit for the Staples decision, but said it never intended to launch a boycott. Instead, its effort was meant to inform advertisers of the nature of the news and commentary on Sinclair stations, the group said.

"This was an attempt to encourage Sinclair to post a counterpoint to 'The Point' and one of the ways we thought that would be effective in doing that is having [Web] site visitors tell these advertisers what they are advertising on," said Sally Aman, Media Matters spokeswoman. "A lot of advertisers don't know the exact content that's on channels they advertise on."

Advertisers received 36,200 e-mails from SinclairAction.org since its Dec. 14 launch, Aman said.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company