Sinclair Has a history of Compromising its News Operations with Right-Wing Politics

Sinclair is based in Baltimore and the local paper says that the broadcaster has a history of compromising its news operations with right-wing politics.

The Baltimore Sun writes that Sinclair Broadcast Group does two things very well. It knows how to run local stations lean and mean. And it makes some of the most visually engaging local news in the country.

It also has a history of compromising its news operations with right-wing politics.

The Hunt Valley-based company is already the largest owner of local TV stations in the country with 173 and will get only bigger if the Tribune deal is approved. 

That matters because what has kept Sinclair from getting the respect its size should reasonably be expected to command are news judgments and on-air moments that seem connected to politics.

Such moments have made some question how well Sinclair stations, like WBFF in Baltimore, serve their communities. That issue multiplies exponentially nationwide if this deal goes through and is allowed after government review.

In 2014, WBFF misleadingly edited and aired video of a protest march to make it seem as if protesters were chanting “kill a cop.”

But what the marchers were actually chanting in response to the lead of a Baltimore woman, Tawanda Jones, whose brother had died while in police custody in 2013, was, “We won’t stop. We can’t stop ‘til killer cops are in cell blocks.”

That was only five months before the unrest following the death in Baltimore of Freddie Gray while he was in police custody – a time of heightened police-community tensions nationwide.

In 2012, Baltimore residents received a strange robocall voiced by Jeff Barnd, then lead anchor at WBFF. Residents were told in the call that it was a "survey." But, in fact, the language of the questions they were asked was so loaded that it could create an unfavorable attitude toward Democrat Martin O’Malley, who was then governor.

At the very least, the questions could elicit answers that might support an on-air story showing a large segment of area residents opposed to him. The common political term for such a slanted survey is "push poll."

The story goes on to talk about how Sinclair will have stations all over battleground states and that will bring in a ton of PAC money during the elections. 

Running the stations cheap and raking in the PAC money is a winning business model, but questions can reasonably be raised about how such stations serve their viewers. And it becomes an even larger question when you consider the added political clout such stations have because of their geography in swing states.

The political clout will become even greater if Sinclair uses one of the cable properties to launch a 24/7 cable operation like Fox News, which is reeling under the weight of firings and defections of top talent on and off camera. Federal investigations and discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuits are going to have Fox News on the ropes for months if not years.

Sinclair knows economies of scale, and it will be taking scale to a new level if the deal with Tribune goes through. But I have never seen anyone in the company with the kind of vision it took to build Fox News. Nor do I see the kind of digital savvy at Sinclair that CNN has.

Maybe you don’t need vision in the media any more. Maybe size is the only thing that matters in this new media environment.

Full story at the Baltimore Sun