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Softened Strike: Sinclair Program Critical of Kerry, But More Balanced

Sinclair included one segment on the controversy over Bush's National Guard service, without delving into great detail. "Some say Mr. Bush signed up for the Air National Guard to avoid the draft," a Sinclair reporter said. "There are questions about whether he fulfilled his duties." A retired colonel was shown saying Bush had flown more hours than most pilots, while a former Guardsman from another unit to which Bush was assigned said no one ever saw him there.

A segment called "Media Run Wild?" included CBS anchor Dan Rather's apology for using unverified documents in accusing Bush of having received favorable treatment from the Guard. Spokesmen for the nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affairs and the libertarian Cato Institute briefly debated whether Sinclair should be doing such a program.

Demonstraters protesting Sinclair Broadcast Group rally yesterday near the White House. Sinclair aired a program largely critical of John Kerry last night. (Jocelyn Augustino -- AP)

The hour ended with scrolling type proclaiming the company's right under the First Amendment to air the special, adding: "If you agree with Sinclair, let the FCC know by going to fcc.gov." Democrats have complained to the Federal Communications Commission about Sinclair's actions.

Sinclair's stock dropped by more than 15 percent after it announced plans to air "Stolen Honor." The stock rebounded when Sinclair backed away from initial plans to carry the entire 42-minute film.

Critics -- including Sinclair's Washington bureau chief, who was fired after he protested the company's plans -- had charged that the planned program reflected the company's pro-Bush agenda. Sinclair refused last spring to carry an edition of "Nightline" in which anchor Ted Koppel read the names of all Americans killed in Iraq, saying this would advance an antiwar agenda.

Joe DeFeo, Sinclair's vice president for news, said he was "disappointed" the Kerry campaign refused to participate but that company staffers had "done our best" to include his side of the story. He said there had been "some inaccuracies out there" about the planned program, "and if we're being criticized for those, that's unfair. . . . This is meant to be as much information as we can get out there on the candidates before the election."

Sinclair aired the program in all 40 markets in which it has at least one station, many of them in swing states, and on its flagship station, Baltimore's WBFF.

A group called StopSinclair.org, part of an anti-Bush political action committee, announced an ad campaign in three swing states -- Ohio, Nevada and Wisconsin -- where the company has television stations. The ad charges that Sinclair "airs a fake news show, trying to throw the election to Bush."

Some on the right were disappointed by the final product. On the conservative Free Republic Web site, one poster wrote: "Sinclair has caved to the pressure. Very obvious that they're running scared. [They're] letting the Kerry camp spout the same old BS without challenge."

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