Some local broadcast news staff at stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group are speaking out against the company and President Donald Trump after he defended the right-wing broadcaster, which has come under fire following a viral video that showed how anchors across the country were forced to deliver a scripted statement condemning "fake" news stories "in a distinctly Trumpian fashion."
After the Deadspin video made national headlines and spread virally on social media over the weekend, Trump praised Sinclair on Twitter:
The Fake News Networks, those that knowingly have a sick and biased AGENDA, are worried about the competition and quality of Sinclair Broadcast. The “Fakers” at CNN, NBC, ABC & CBS have done so much dishonest reporting that they should only be allowed to get awards for fiction!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 3, 2018
So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased. Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 2, 2018
Mary Nam, an anchor who works for the Sinclair-owned KOMO in Seattle, challenged the president's defense of the company and noted its pending merger with Tribune Media that requires regulatory approval from the Republican-controlled FCC—which is headed by a Trump appointee with ties to Sinclair:
Actually, this isn't funny at all.— Mary Nam (@Mary_Nam) April 2, 2018
None of it.
When media giants gobble up local news stations, there are repercussions. And since you brought it up first this morning, will your admin green light the Tribune buyout? https://t.co/9Udm54LLOx
While Sinclair's senior vice president of news, Scott Livingston, has responded to the criticism by framing the scripted message as a promotion of "our journalistic initiative for fair and objective reporting," other employees and stations have sought to distance themselves from the company, which has been repeatedly ridiculed for, in the words of John Oliver, "injecting Fox-worthy content into the mouths of your local news anchors—the two people who you know, and who you trust."
Bob Herzog, an anchor at Sinclair's Cincinnati, Ohio station WKRC, responded in a series of tweets that acknowledged viewers' concerns: "I understand there are concerns about the promo as evidenced by social media reaction. I suggest you contact the station as mentioned in the spot itself. I will simply share this."
from reporters who got out & put their feet to the street. Our national stories come from CBS News, CNN &, yes, our parent company. We have a lot of resources & do our best to use them to deliver the news fairly. I work with good folks here. That’s all I’ve got for you. (3 of 3)— Bob Herzog (@Bob_Herzog) April 2, 2018
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A Sinclair-owned station in Madison, Wisconsin, meanwhile, spoke out against the mandated message on Twitter Monday evening, pointing out that local station leaders had opted not to run it:
In response to the Sinclair message aired: "WMSN/FOX47 Madison did not air the Sinclair promotional announcement during our 9pm news this weekend. Rather, we stayed true to our commitment to provide our Madison area viewers local news, weather and sports of interest to them." pic.twitter.com/MdQ568cWrH— FOX 47 Madison (@fox47madison) April 2, 2018
Despite reassurances from some local anchors and stations that they aim to provide accurate news to their communities, in the age of Trump, critiques of Sinclair's right-wing bias have intensified—particularly after reports that during the presidential campaign, the company cut a deal with Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner—and former employees continue to speak out about what it's like to work for Sinclair.
Kirk Clyatt, a former anchor at a Sinclair-owned station Baltimore, Maryland, told MSNBC on Monday that local affiliates have been required to replace regionally focused stories with "these forced, must-run, lockstep with the Trump administration commentaries."
"Over the course of my 14-year career in broadcasting, I worked for multiple corporate owners, large and small... Only Sinclair forces those trusted local journalists to lend their credibility to shoddy reporting and commentary that, if it ran in other countries, we would rightly dismiss as state propaganda."
—Aaron Weiss, former Sinclair news director
"You have these extreme commentaries coming from this station," Cylatt said, in "a very cookie-cutter way that is certainly not good for America."
In the midst of this latest controversy, former Sinclair news director Aaron Weiss reflected on his short time with the company and "must-run" stories that he says "barely passed as journalism."
"In 2013, I was a young news director at a struggling small station in the Midwest, having worked my way up the ranks as a producer in larger markets," Weiss wrote for The Huffington Post on Monday. "Sinclair executives made it clear that the must-run scripts were not to be touched by producers or anchors. I didn't last long after that."
"Over the course of my 14-year career in broadcasting, I worked for multiple corporate owners, large and small," added Weiss, who quit his job after his station was bought by Sinclair. "I have good friends who are anchors, reporters and executives at other station groups across the country. Only Sinclair forces those trusted local journalists to lend their credibility to shoddy reporting and commentary that, if it ran in other countries, we would rightly dismiss as state propaganda."