“This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”
Dozens of local news anchors recited these words in unison in a video released by Deadspin March 31.
Timothy Burke, a video editor at Deadspin, sifted through clips from local news broadcasts last month in which anchors all repeated the same lines. Burke then compiled the clips into one video with broadcasters reading portions of the lines both simultaneously and consecutively. The video has reportedly gained about 30 million views as of Monday.
The source of the eerie, dystopian-like messages from these local news anchors under a corporate umbrella come from none other than the scripts provided by Sinclair Broadcast Group.
Sinclair sounds like a foreign word to many — the biggest corporation you’ve never heard of. In actuality, Sinclair is the country’s largest broadcaster, owning or operating 193 television stations, many of which are local news networks.
Like an unseen puppeteer, Sinclair pulled journalistic strings in providing anchors with identical scripted words, what they often refer to as “must run” segments.
“Some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think,” Sinclair-owned news anchors echoed in staggered lines.
The idea that people tend to push their own beliefs on others could be considered a widely agreed upon statement, but perhaps Sinclair should have more self awareness and realize the extent of their hypocrisy.
By decrying the dangers of political agendas and biased news, Sinclair feeds directly into President Trump’s rhetoric regarding “fake news.”
Trump has repeatedly demonstrated his proclivity for condemning news outlets that veer away from his own personal script as “fake news.” Seeming to fall in line with Trump’s rhetoric, Sinclair managed to out themselves as a proprietor of that same “fake news” phenomenon.
“Funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticizing Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased,” Trump tweeted April 2. “Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.”
These messages and the manner they are broadcasted in is undeniably ironic. The content intended to place distrust in the media and how we perceive our credible news unshockingly backfired when Sinclair networks blatantly went against everything they said to have stood for.
While the controversy has somewhat slowed down since the viral video’s initial release, we are still left feeling betrayed and wondering if we are living in America or the pages of George Orwell’s “1984.”
The exposure of the scripted messages has certainly highlighted the right-wing tilt of Sinclair’s corporate agenda that has since sparked media backlash, but their “must-run” stories and political angles are far from new.
Sinclair produces segments required to air multiple times a week, including “Bottom Line with Boris” in which Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump media adviser, speaks mainly of defending Trump and right-wing ideals.
The problem lies predominantly in where these programs are aired and the capacity of their viewership.
When audiences tune into mainstream networks such as Fox News or MSNBC, most know what to expect in regards to the political slant of the programming. Local news however, should remain an even more trusted source given the content typical strays from politics and focuses on covering weather, traffic, sports, feature stories and local breaking news.
The reporters and anchors behind the corporate veil are not entirely to blame, however. Since the video went viral, many have publicly said they felt pressured to air messages they were uncomfortable with, out of fear of losing their jobs.
While it may be easy to advise anchors and producers to just quit, we should also consider the stakes. Others however have done exactly that — resign or publicly denounce Sinclair.
But the controversy is more than a bad publicity nightmare. It is an embarrassment to the journalists who have worked hard to produce fair and unbiased stories.
As journalists, the Coast Report Editorial Board feels disillusioned to the surfacing realities in which many large media groups micromanage their owned networks and publications while undermining journalism ethics through corporate power.
Reporting must be put back in the hands of journalists and out of the hands of those with a corporate or political motive.
This is not to feed into a political agenda and the ongoing witch hunt of “fake news,” but to remind everyone to stay attuned to the history and background of their news sources, and who owns them.
Sinclair Broadcast Group and others like it are exactly what they themselves warned viewers of — a danger to our democracy.