Local TV forced to denounce ‘one-sided news’ by America’s largest media company

Reporters have been required to read from a script about fake news and to air segments on the "Deep State."

Sinclair Broadcast Group forces reporters to read from a script about fake news, in must-run segments. (CREDIT: William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)
Sinclair Broadcast Group forces reporters to read from a script about fake news, in must-run segments. (CREDIT: William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

Seattle-based ABC affiliate KOMO-TV says its owner, the conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group, is forcing its reporters to air pre-scripted segments about fake news media, in an attempt to undermine non-Sinclair stations.

Sinclair has long produced “must-run” segments for its stations, dispersing them to its various subsidiaries and requiring the local stations to run controversial, typically conservative commentary promos alongside their regular news coverage. However, in recent weeks, it’s begun turning its sights on the competition, throwing in mentions of “fake news,” among other things.

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“The promos, which began airing on the station last week, are part of a Sinclair campaign that forces local anchors to read Sinclair-written scripts warning of the dangers of ‘one-sided news stories plaguing our country,'” the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported on Thursday.

The Post-Intelligencer published one of the scripts this week; in it, the authors lament the “trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories” and the “sharing of biased and false news,” referencing President Trump’s preferred term for the press, “fake news.”

The full script reads:

Hi, I’m(A) ____________, and I’m (B) _________________…

(B) Our greatest responsibility is to serve our Northwest communities. We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that KOMO News produces.

(A) But 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.

(B) More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories… stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first.

(A) 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 a democracy.

(B) At KOMO it’s our responsibility to pursue and report the truth. We understand Truth is neither politically ‘left nor right.’ Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever.

(A) But we are human and sometimes our reporting might fall short. If you believe our coverage is unfair please reach out to us by going to KOMOnews.com and clicking on CONTENT CONCERNS. We value your comments. We will respond back to you.

(B) We work very hard to seek the truth and strive to be fair, balanced and factual… We consider it our honor, our privilege to responsibly deliver the news every day.

(A) Thank you for watching and we appreciate your feedback.

The script’s authors provide no proof to back their claim that mainstream news outlets are intentionally running false stories without fact-checking first. More alarmingly, they do not specifically cite which media members are supposedly  attempting to “control” the way the public thinks, despite casting a wide net and claiming that certain journalists pose a threat to democracy.

According to the Post-Intelligencer, employees at Sinclair-owned stations were upset about the script.

“They’re certainly not happy about it. It’s certainly a forced thing,” one KOMO employee told the outlet.

Sinclair regularly runs disinformation segments favorable to President Trump: one of its staples is a recurring pre-taped segment featuring Sinclair’s chief political analyst, Russian-born former Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn. As ThinkProgress previously reported, those segments frequently include misleading talking points and misinformation from the Trump administration, packaged as actual political analysis and news coverage.

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Another previously recurring segment, “Behind the Headlines” with Mark Hyman, Sinclair’s vice president for corporate relations, frequently parroted administration talking points on controversial subjects like health care, immigration, free speech, and extremism, functioning as right-wing and white nationalist propaganda.

More recently, Sinclair pushed a must-run segment featuring former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka complaining about the existence of the so-called “Deep State,” and unelected group of government officials who are supposedly manipulating policy and controlling the public narrative. The segment was reportedly produced by Sinclair national correspondent Kristine Frazao, who previously worked at Russian state-run media outlet RT.

In December, the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, admitted that the Trump campaign had struck a deal with Sinclair during the 2016 election in order to obtain more favorable coverage. Scott Livingston, Sinclair’s vice president of news, later told Politico that the company had offered a similar deal to Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton, but said that Clinton declined.

“Our commitment to our viewers is to go beyond the podium, beyond the rhetoric. We’re all about tracking the truth and telling the truth and that’s typically missing in most political coverage,” he said at the time.

Sinclair is currently awaiting approval on its proposed purchase of Tribune Media, which owns or operates 42 broadcast television stations in 33 markets, according to its official FCC filing. If the purchase is approved, Sinclair will be able to broadcast to at least 70 percent of American households.