Conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group agreed to air an ad critical of the media company and its notorious must-run segments this week, but bookended it with messages criticizing the ad as misleading hysteria from a biased group.
The ad, created by the left-leaning Allied Progress, lashed out at Sinclair, the nation’s largest owner of local news stations, for forcing anchors and reporters to read from a script denouncing “false news” and journalists who injected “personal agenda[s]” into their reporting. That script, leaked by KOMO-TV and published by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, was one of the many “must-run” segments Sinclair frequently forces its stations to air, which often contain misleading information, White House talking points, and right-wing propaganda. CNN first reported the script’s existence in early March.
“What happens when your local news isn’t local? This,” the ad states, before playing back a video compilation of dozens of Sinclair anchors repeating the same scripted words over one another. The video, created by Deadspin, expanded on an earlier video created by ThinkProgress, which highlighted the same pattern.
“Sinclair owns this station and and nearly 200 others. It forced dozens of anchors to recite the same political message, word for word. Now, Sinclair is trying to control local news stations in 72 percent of American homes,” the ad continues, referring to Sinclair’s proposed purchase of Tribune Media, which is awaiting approval by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The ad concludes by asking viewers to petition the FCC to stop the merger.
The ad was buffered by two 15-second spots from Sinclair itself, which warned viewers about the ad’s content.
“Sinclair Broadcast Group is proud to present both sides of issues. For that reason, we have agreed to air the ad you are about to see, opposing Sinclair’s acquisition of additional television stations,” the voiceover claims. “We think the ad is misleading, but wanted to let you decide.”
The second spot, aired directly after the Allied Progress ad, directly calls out the watchdog group for promoting “hysteria.”
“The misleading ad you just saw focused on a brief promotional message that simply said we’re a source for truthful news. It ignored thousands of hours of local news we produce each year to keep you informed,” it claims. “The ad was purchased by a group known for its liberal bias, and we hope you won’t buy into the hysteria and hype.”
It’s unusual for a media company to purchase an ad it believes is inherently false and directly precede it with a disclaimer saying as much. But aside from the peculiarity of the situation, Sinclair’s criticism of Allied Progress falls flat, considering that Sinclair itself frequently engages in right-wing propaganda.
“When we bought airtime with Sinclair we didn’t think they’d respond by admitting they actively push a partisan agenda. But that’s essentially what they’ve done by attacking Allied Progress for a supposed ‘liberal bias’ while simultaneously claiming they want viewers to hear the other side in their response,” Allied Progress executive director Karl Frisch said in a statement on Sunday. “…We’re clear about who we are. Sinclair is not. By claiming ‘both sides’ and attacking a critic’s liberal politics, they are acknowledging they actively disseminate partisan conservative propaganda, something clearly at odds with their repeated claims to the contrary.”
Frisch added that Sinclair had not sought Allied Progress’ permission before adding the content warnings before and after its ad.
“That did not happen here, which is hardly surprising coming from a company that doesn’t even subscribe to the basic pillars of independent journalistic integrity,” he stated.
Sinclair has come under heavy criticism for airing must-run segments favorable to the Trump administration, under the guise of real news. Oftentimes, the segments are aired in the middle of regular news broadcasts, injecting partisan talking points in between unbiased local reporting. Many of those segments feature former Trump advisers like Boris Epshtyn repeating administration-friendly rhetoric on topics like extremism and immigration; one recent segment warned of the so-called “Deep State,” a popular right-wing conspiracy theory that federal bureaucrats are attempting to overthrow the Trump administration.
Since KOMO-TV’s script went public, Sinclair employees across the nation have come forward — many of them anonymously for fear of retribution — saying that the anchors and reporters subjected to the company’s must-run segments are unhappy, but unable to leave due to strict contracts Sinclair forces all new hires to sign. In at least a handful of cases, employees have said that they were threatened with lawsuits which would have required them to pay back up to 40 percent of their annual compensation to Sinclair if they attempted to leave before their contracts were up.
As of last week, Sinclair was still airing its must-run segments, one of them featuring pro-Trump talking points about the impending trade war with China. Sinclair also currently has nearly a thousand active job listings for editorial positions at its many outlets, across both JournalismJobs and LinkedIn.