The media’s “untouchable” self-image apparently runs all the way down to local news.
On Wednesday, Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” penned a critical report on Sinclair Broadcasting’s recent “journalistic responsibility message”–accusing the news company of pushing “pro-Trump propaganda.”
Sinclair, the largest television operator in the US by number of stations, instructed anchors at its local outlets to read a scripted message stating the company’s determination to provide “factual reporting” rather than “biased and false news.”
A copy of the message obtained by CNN read:
“The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media. More alarming, national media outlets are publishing these same fake stories without checking facts first.
“Unfortunately, some members of the national media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’ … This is extremely dangerous to our democracy… We understand Truth is neither politically ‘left or right.’
“Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever.”
The non-partisan message from the Maryland-based company was accompanied by the instruction that anchors should promote the appearance of objectivity with their attire.
“Talent should dress in jewel tones — however they should not look political in their dress or attire,” a document from Sinclair read. “Avoid total red, blue and purples dresses and suits. Avoid totally red, blue and purple ties, the goal is to look apolitical, neutral, nonpartisan yet professional.”
Sinclair’s effort to deliver non-partisan journalism was met with opposition from many among the company’s staff.
“This is so manipulative,” one employee said. Another claimed that “at my station, everyone was uncomfortable doing it.”
One anchor even reported he “felt like a POW recording a message.”
According to Stelter, the reason for the employees’ frustration is that the message “sounds like pro-Trump propaganda.”
The CNN host described the Sinclair statement as “media-basing” and “echoing President Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric about ‘fake news.'”
Stelter criticized Sinclair leadership for allegedly promoting a “right-wing agenda” at their news stations.
“In recent years Sinclair’s owners, the Smith family, have made several programming decisions that reflect a right-wing agenda.
“Most noticeably, pro-Trump commentaries by former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn have cut into local news time.”
He accused Sinclair of “corporate infringement on local journalism.”
Sinclair staffers shared these documents with CNN because they believe the promos are inappropriate — yet another corporate infringement on local journalism… https://t.co/rPVyLSGRkc
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) March 8, 2018
Another issue for Stelter was Sinclair’s decision to have corporate, not local stations, handle feedback from viewers.
Scott Livingston, Sinclair’s senior vice president of news, defended the company in a statement to CNN.
“Promo messages, like the one you are referring to, are very common in our industry. This promo addresses the troubling trend of false stories on social media, and distinguishes our trusted local stations as news destinations where we are committed to honest and accurate reporting. This promo reminds our viewers of this mission.”
The FCC is currently reviewing Sinclair’s acquisition of Tribune Media.
CNN and other major news outlets don’t have an issue with “media-bashing” when the object of scrutiny is Fox News, whether it’s Don Lemon calling Fox “state-run TV” or Joy Reid asking whether the rival network has standards.
— Joy-Ann Pro-Democracy & Masks Reid 😷 (@JoyAnnReid) March 28, 2017
In the eyes of the mainstream media, only if you’re a left-leaning outlet does freedom of the press make you untouchable.