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Justin Simmons, a journalist who worked for the Sinclair-owned KHGI-TV in Nebrasksa, resigned over efforts by the parent company to force anchors to read pre-packaged scripts he viewed as dishonest. (Photo: Courtesy of CNN)

'Least I Could Do': As Sinclair Clamors for Merger, TV Producer Resigns Over Forced Scripts

"The Sinclair/Tribune merger isn't dinner—it's the appetizer."

Jon QueallyAndrea Germanos

As Sinclair continues to face criticism after a viral video showing local news anchors reciting scripts pre-packaged by the right-wing broadcasting behemoth, one TV producer announced Wednesday that the forced propaganda drove him to resign in protest.

"I didn't go into news to give people biased information," said Justin Simmons of Sinclair-owned KHGI-TV in Nebrasksa.

While the forced scripts put a spotlight in recent days on the power wielded by the right-wing media giant—and its proposed merger with Tribune Media—he told CNNMoney, "I've always kind of been on edge about Sinclair." Simmons, who tendered his resignation on March 26, cited increasingly frequent "must-run" segments such as the "Terrorism Alert Desk."

It was the promo highlighted in the viral video—which Simmons said was "almost forcing local anchors to lie to their viewers"—that served as the last straw.

"Resigning seemed like the least I could do," he added. "I wish there was more."

While other local broadcasters have also spoken out in the wake of the viral video by Deadspin, news of Simmons' resignation comes amid renewed focus this week on the Sinclair-Tribune merger and the right-leaning coverage pushed by Sinclair executives, including CEO David Smith.

"There isn't a viral video long enough to demonstrate the type of power Sinclair would have to push its partisan political agenda into all of our homes if the company is successful in gobbling up so many stations that only two owners remain."
—Karl Frisch, Allied Progress
According to Karl Frisch, executive director of the liberal watchdog group Allied Progress, Sinclair is dangerous not just because of its political agenda, but because of Smith's stated desire for nearly total market domination by powerful broadcasters like his.

In a 2004 interview with an broadcast industry news outlet, Smith stated that if  he "was going to wish for anything and I could snap my fingers and make it happen […] it would be for an instantaneous final consolidation of the industry." Smith went on to say that such a consolidation—a nightmare scenario for progressives who see the corporate control of the media system as a direct assault on the role of journalism in a democracy—was "absolutely doable" in the future.

"The Sinclair/Tribune merger isn't dinner—it's the appetizer," warned Frisch. "Smith won't be content until his singular wish of the local news industry's 'final consolidation' is complete. That's a frightening prospect."

He concluded, "There isn't a viral video long enough to demonstrate the type of power Sinclair would have to push its partisan political agenda into all of our homes if the company is successful in gobbling up so many stations that only two owners remain."

In an essay published at the Huffington Post on Wednesday, a separate Sinclair producer—who requested anonymity over fears of retribution—told people: "If you want to make a difference, lobby your lawmakers to have them stop the Tribune deal from going through, because that is what is dangerous about this. It's dangerous for any company to own as many stations as Sinclair does."


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