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Critics of Sinclair Maintain Pressure Over Kerry Issue
Published on Saturday, October 23, 2004 by the Portland Press Herald (Maine)
Critics of Sinclair Maintain Pressure Over Kerry Issue
by Edward D. Murphy

Critics of a Sinclair Broadcast Group special that took a critical look at Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the Democratic presidential candidate, continued to lobby for an advertiser boycott right up to the last minute Friday.

One local activist took out a large ad in the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram on Friday, criticizing the Hannaford Bros. supermarket chain for changing its original plan to pull its advertising from WGME-TV, the local Sinclair-owned station. Nationally, Web sites promoted boycotts and provided databases that listed Sinclair advertisers - including several dozen Maine companies - and contact information.

Other critics showed up to picket at the station's Portland office Friday evening, just hours before the broadcast.

Several high-profile advertisers, including Lee Auto Malls and the law offices of Joe Bornstein, pulled their ads after Sinclair reportedly ordered its 62 stations, including WGME, to show the film, "Stolen Honor: Wounds that Never Heal," which features Vietnam Veterans criticizing Kerry for his antiwar activities after he returned from Vietnam.

Critics said the film's alleged bias and its air date so close to the election were unfair, and they called on advertisers to boycott the company's stations to protest.

Sinclair eventually aired a show Friday night called "A POW Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media." The company described it as a look at documentaries and the use of the media to influence elections.

It included portions of "Stolen Honor," but not the whole film. It also showed flattering segments from another documentary, "Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry," including a veteran's account of how Kerry saved his life.

Alan Cartwright, WGME's general manager, said some of the furor over the broadcast had subsided by Friday. A voice-mail number, used to handle overflow calls about the show, hadn't been used for several days.

Cartwright said he planned to have a few people on hand to take calls from viewers after the show, which aired at 8 p.m.

Cartwright declined to discuss the boycott. Sinclair's stock dropped as much as 18 percent after the controversy began, but it rebounded toward the end of the week.

A large ad in the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram on Friday took Hannaford Bros. to task for initially deciding to pull its ads from WGME and then reversing itself.

The company, which owns supermarkets in northern New England and New York, said it pulled the ads because it felt Hannaford would be "positioned politically" by continuing to buy time on WGME in the middle of the controversy.

Caren Epstein, a company spokeswoman, said Hannaford changed its mind after determining that the move served to "politicize this issue even more."

Epstein could not be reached for comment Friday.

Friday's newspaper ad said Hannaford "flip-flopped" and suggested the company was spending unresponsibly by continuing to do business with Sinclair-owned WGME.

The ad Friday carried a line saying it was paid for by Boycott Sinclair Broadcasting Group, but that organization's founder, Nick Davis, said his group did not pay for the ad or write the copy.

Davis said the ad was written and paid for by a local man, who could not be reached for comment Friday.

Regardless of who paid, Davis, who lives in Kansas City, Mo., said he supports the effort to pressure Sinclair by encouraging advertiser boycotts.

"I think it's fair," he said. "They (Hannaford) made a decision to put money into Sinclair, that we believe is using the airwaves improperly."

Hannaford, Davis said, has "chosen a political stance other than a commercial stance" and is "supporting that political statement" indirectly by continuing to advertise.

Locally, Common Cause also was encouraging advertisers to boycott WGME and Sinclair.

Michael Sylvester, the group's executive director said a rally held in front of the station's studio was intended to continue to keep up the pressure on Sinclair and applaud those advertisers who pulled their ads. He said future decisions on boycotts or advertiser pressure would depend on whether any aired advertisements during the broadcast.

© Copyright 2004 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.


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