The headquarters of the Sinclair Broadcast Group in Hunt Valley, Md. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
CNN was among many news outlets to highlight Sinclair’s creepy use of a “must-run” across a swath of its local television stations. “Some media outlets publish these same fake stories … stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first,” read the script, which was mouthed by Sinclair anchor after Sinclair anchor, “Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think.'” Deadspin created a mashup of the recitations, just to highlight the high degree of compliance at the chain.“Really, what it’s doing — it’s kind of like the Fox News ‘fair and balanced’ slogan. It’s a way of saying, ‘We’re fair. Everybody else is biased.’ And it’s taking a page out of Trump’s playbook,” said CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter on a March edition of his show “Reliable Sources.”
Sinclair didn’t like such commentary, so it published a fresh video seeking to rebut Stelter and CNN.
Titled “Did CNN Attack Sinclair For Doing Exactly What CNN Has Done For Years?,” the presentation examines apparent overlaps between the recent “must run” Sinclair video and Stelter’s own warnings about “fake news” from 2016 and 2017. “Fake news has become a plague on the Web, and especially on social networks,” said Stelter in a moment featured on the new Sinclair video response to CNN. “That concern about biased and fake news sounds a lot like what Sinclair anchors talked about in 2018 …,” reads a note in that video. “We’re concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.”
More: “Fake news is a problem. Everyone knows it. Calling out Sinclair for calling out ‘fake news’ is dishonest and reprehensible,” says the anti-CNN Sinclair video.
There are a number of problems with Sinclair’s rebuttal:
Documentation: As the Erik Wemple Blog has pointed out, Sinclair’s script was a journalistic abomination on its own terms. There were no examples, no supporting documentation — merely innuendo that echoed the sort of complaints often advanced by President Trump, not to mention Sinclair commentator Boris Epshteyn.
Compliance: Sinclair’s pushback ignores what really animated the country about its “must run” script: Anchors all over the country were saying the same thing, with apparent feeling. That dynamic — accentuated by the Deadspin treatment — militated against the ideal of local news as something that bubbles up from communities instead of something that gets rammed down the throats of journalists from some news honcho outside of Baltimore. As Stelter himself noted:
Definitions: The Sinclair anti-CNN video cites a Stelter monologue from October 2016 in which he states, “Fake news has become a plague on the Web, and especially on social networks like Facebook. There are so many unreliable sources about this election.” As part of that presentation, he also noted examples of the sort of information that was poisoning the public discourse, including a bogus account that a protester against then-candidate Donald Trump was paid to do his thing. In those days, “fake news” was widely interpreted as purposeful smears and lies designed to maximize political impact and revenue. Since then, Trump and his allies have hijacked the term to describe negative stories about the current administration. So Stelter and Sinclair are addressing entirely different problems.
Targets: Finally, if Sinclair really wanted to vacate the notion that it’s following Trump’s “playbook,” maybe it wasn’t the best idea to release a video attacking … CNN.