Here are the "manipulative" ads Sinclair forced local anchors to read, now airing across the country

Here are the "manipulative" ads Sinclair forced local anchors to read, now airing across the country

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Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Weeks after CNN reported that Sinclair was requiring its local anchors to film promotional segments attacking the “irresponsible, one-sided stories plaguing our country,” the widely lambasted segments have begun to air on stations around the country.

Earlier in March, CNN obtained internal documents sent to Sinclair Broadcast Group’s local TV news stations requiring them to film and air short segments decrying “biased and false news” and accusing mainstream media figures of bias. In the script obtained by CNN, Sinclair reporters focused on mainstream press, attacking unnamed "national media outlets" for publishing "fake stories." At points, the script appears to echo President Donald Trump's attacks on press with cries of "fake news." (Though the final version of the script, as NPR noted in an interview with a Sinclair executive about the promotional spots, no longer included "the word national ... coupled to the word media.") Reporters at some of the Sinclair-owned or -operated stations shared concerns with CNN’s Brian Stelter, calling the corporate-dictated segment requirements “inappropriate” and “manipulative.”

Apart from disparaging statements about non-Sinclair news outlets, the ads mostly contain trite and inoffensive statements supporting responsible, “balanced” journalism -- and that’s part of the problem. As Stelter noted, “On its face, some of the language is not controversial. But that's precisely why some staffers were so troubled by it. The promo script, they say, belies Sinclair management's actual agenda to tilt reporting to the right.” One staffer told CNN they “felt like a POW recording a message.”

A Media Matters search of the iQ media database found that between March 23 and March 27, at least 62 Sinclair stations reaching 29 states and D.C. have now run their own versions of the scripted segment. In the clips, local news anchors say things like, “I’m concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country.” The Sinclair employees also largely seemed to follow the other reported instructions delivered from the Sinclair corporate offices, such as wearing politically neutral colors (e.g. not red or blue).

Here are just three examples, from stations in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Nevada:

WPEC (CBS 12) in West Palm Beach, FL

WHP (CBS 21) in Harrisburg, PA

KRXI (Fox 11) in Reno, NV

Here is a full transcript from one of the segments (there are slight variations among the videos).

Hi, I’m [name] with [station]. Our greatest responsibility is to serve our communities. I am extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that [station] produces, but I’m 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 alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories without checking facts first. Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think. This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.

At [station], it is our responsibility to report and pursue the truth. We understand the truth is neither politically left nor right. Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility now more than ever. But we are human, and sometimes our reporting might fall short. If you believe our coverage is unfair, please reach out through our [station] website by clicking on “Content Concerns.” We value your comments and we will respond back to you.

We work very hard to seek the truth and strive to be fair, balanced, and factual. We consider it our honor and privilege to responsibly deliver the news every day. Thank you for watching, and we appreciate your feedback.

These segments are Sinclair’s latest attempt to sneak pro-Trump messaging into local media outlets. The media company’s chief political analyst, former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn, routinely echoes his former boss in attacking mainstream media outlets he believes are too critical of the president. And in a segment that aired across Sinclair news stations last March, Sinclair’s vice president for news, Scott Livingston, read from a virtually identical promotional script.

Sinclair is now well-known for its history of abusing public trust to air right-wing spin and promote xenophobia on local news shows, and the company is currently awaiting federal approval to finalize a massive acquisition that will help it spread its conservative propaganda further across the country.

The corporate promotional segments have aired (very often, more than once) on at least the following local TV news stations:

Posted In
Media Structures & Regulations
Network/Outlet
Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.
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