The following is a news opinion and analysis.[hr]
[dropcap]If[/dropcap] you watched the mash-up of Sinclair station anchors reading their national promo and were convinced it was something evil and nefarious, you’ve been hoodwinked.
A few of you asked for my view on this continuing propaganda campaign put together by certain political interests and Sinclair’s competitors, as Sinclair seeks to close on a deal to buy Tribune companies.
Watch the Deadspin mashup of Sinclair station promos:
From what I can tell, this issue breaks down along ideological lines, and minds are not likely to be swayed. My friends on the far left are convinced that Sinclair anchors reading a national promo is Hitler-esque Orwellian brainwashing. My friends on the far right are happy and hopeful that Sinclair might, indeed, be pushing conservative views. Those in the middle don’t care or seem to think it’s much ado about nothing.
[dropcap]There’s[/dropcap] legitimate debate to be heard on many topics surrounding media fairness and consolidation. It's obviously perfectly fine for you to disagree, but I find nothing to argue with in the nonpartisan, national Sinclair promos at issue. (The text is printed at the end of this article. You can decide for yourself.) In fact, I’ve heard many conservatives and liberals alike make these same points: That we have a problem with one-sided, false and biased news; that some reporters are pushing agendas; and that untrue stories are being published without proper fact checks. These assertions are pretty indisputable, wherever you sit.
Read a local Sinclair anchor's commentary on the issue
The promos go on to say that Sinclair stations are committed to factual reporting neither “left nor right.” The anchors were even instructed not to wear blue or red, lest the colors be incorrectly interpreted as politically-charged in today’s environment. Somehow, this was portrayed by leftists as "Turning news anchors into soldiers for Trump's war on the media." They're saying that the idea of news that's fair, accurate and neither left nor right --is a right-wing idea. It's all the more ironic considering that it was left wing interests who invented the anti-"Fake News" campaign, as I reported in my TEDx talk and The Smear. Yet, here, the same interests oppose the notion of a stated, corporatewide commitment to fair, accurate reporting.
Watch Attkisson's TEDx Talk "Is Fake News Real?"
Those who disagree with this approach appear to be indicating they prefer to receive biased news. And that may be the real issue here: Many people do.
[dropcap]As[/dropcap] for the idea that it’s “brainwashing” or weird for a national company to have a promotional campaign that sets forth its mission statement, I think of the promos I did when working at local CBS stations in concert with the annual CBS promo campaigns. The network provided us wording and themes so that we could coordinate our local promotional campaigns with the national effort. One campaign, for example, was “Experience You Can Trust”.
When I worked at WTVT-TV in Tampa --then a CBS affiliate-- the network flew national anchor Dan Rather down to Florida and arranged for me to interview him on my local noon program. The tour was to promote Dan and the national CBS Evening News. The particular promotional campaign was built to emphasize Dan's field chops compared to his competitors, so he spoke of that in his appearance with me and at other local stations on his tour.
Since at least the 1980s, national anchors for the networks have routinely appeared and delivered scripted wording alongside local anchors in promos to run on local stations, such as the examples below for NBC and Telemundo. (As a local station group, Sinclair doesn't have a daily national newscast with an anchor to co-promote the news. Thus, the local Sinclair anchors did the promotions without a national nightly news anchor sitting beside them.)[hr]NBC "Journalism Makes a Difference" promotion 1981: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2yVoMovhYxc
Telemundo promotion with local news anchors: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYninFYyJCc
CBC "Facts Matter" promotion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6aAZPJHXEpQ[hr]Today, national network morning anchors appear each day on local affiliate news programs-- during actual local newscasts-- doing a "round robin" of promos with similar wording one right after another. All of us who do Sunday news programs promote the weekly topics on our stations or affiliates by doing "talkbacks" with the local anchors.[hr]
[hr]One could edit together all of these ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and Telemundo promos on various local stations showing the same wording and, I suppose, try to present them as nefarious brainwashing — but the interests behind the Sinclair mashup apparently aren’t inclined to do that with other outlets.
You may have seen another famous local news mashup of identical wording as edited by comedy program Conan O'Brien. A lot of people aren't aware, but local stations often receive news stories from their station groups, networks or the network "affiliate services." This is part of the reason for the national-local relationship; the local stations receive news content. When the various stations around the country use the same stories and they are edited together, it is, indeed, very entertaining! But it's not reflective, in my view, of any sort of mind control.
[dropcap]Besides[/dropcap] Sinclair's competitors being worried about Sinclair's pending expansion, I suspect what is really upsetting liberals is the conservative bend of Sinclair's ownership. Most of my career, I worked for national news outlets powered by liberal billionaire interests (CBS and CNN). I also worked for PBS. For the most part, the liberal ownership/management didn't impact my work whether I reported on stories that some partisans would probably consider liberal or others they would call conservative. And to date Sinclair's conservative ownership hasn't impacted my work at Full Measure as I've reported on a wide variety of topics that (again) partisans looking for labels might call liberal or conservative. But the landscape when it comes to bias in news has shifted dramatically in the past couple of years and there are certainly worthy issues to debate in terms of who-owns-what and the influences -- especially hidden influences -- at play. It's a net win when the public at large and we, as news employees, pay attention and ask questions.
The more worrisome trends (to me) are when national news personnel censor entire themes or viewpoints, shape stories in ways that aren't reflective of the facts, bend to the will corporate advertisers, layer news stories with reporters' opinions and biases, uncritically use talking points du jour from political and corporate interests, report unsubstantiated and sometimes false information, and use "consultants" without disclosing their conflicts of interest. I've written extensively about how I believe these conflicts have woven their way into many national newsrooms.
Lastly, as a noted propagandist told me for my book The Smear, “Nearly every theme or image that crosses your path in daily life was put there for a reason, often by an interest who paid a lot of money to place it there.” I counsel people to ask—Who wants me to believe this and why? In the case of the Sinclair mashup, a critical thinker might ask—in whose interest is it to present the Sinclair promos in a one-sided and negative light?
Who wants me to believe it and why?
Who’s really trying to do the “brianwashing"?
Think for yourself.[hr]
Sinclair Promo Text example from KOMO in Seattle
Our greatest responsibility is to serve our Northwest communities. We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that KOMO News produces.
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.
More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories… stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first.
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.
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.
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 (feedback reference).
We value your comments. We will respond back to you.
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.
Thank you for watching and we appreciate your feedback.[hr]
SFC Cheryl McElroy US ARMY (RET) says
The synchronized, verbatim wording of dozens of news anchors involving the same line of propaganda, is a blatant effort to 'brainwash' low information people. The only people being hoodwinked are the ones who believe the redundancy of fake news; people who get their information from only liberal sources and don't bother to do independent research.
Please read the article. It wasn't "synchronized wording" it was a national promo for the stations owned by Sinclair. Like many promos.
SFC Cheryl McElroy US ARMY (RET) says
The promos were word for word synchronized. I don't believe I heard differently.
SFC Cheryl McElroy US ARMY (RET) says
The "promos" were synchronized word for word. I don't believe I heard differently.
Abu Nudnik says
You're confusing cause and effect. They were promos sent to local affiliates. If you'd read the article, you'd have seen that this is common, the only difference being that CBS and other networks have national broadcasts: in those cases, the anchors would sit in with the locals for these promos. But you'd have known that if you'd read the article rather than coming in all steamed up ready to gore the matador.
uh, that's how promos are done. News stories, too, at many stations (you can argue whether you like it or not, but stations have various sources where they get stories, it's always been that way, and therefore each station that runs the story runs, well the same story. sorry, nothing nefarious about it). Although I admit it's funny when edited together (especially since people at home don't really understand the background of what they're seeing). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1o9x-yDyN78
Tim Martin says
Thanks for another great piece. Seems the main difference between the Sinclair promo and the bickering on the other side is that Sinclair actively invites criticism from their viewers.
(Also: in your next to last line, I think "brian" has been thoroughly washed -- unless you're referring to the former NBC anchor).
bj pershing says
The inability to think critically isn't rooted in media, it's rooted in education.
William Warren says
I have to disagree with you. There is no problem with the actual message which the promo was trying to convey. The problem lies in giving a script to be read verbatim without any indication that is what it is. It may have been clear on some stations, it wasn’t on many. The problem is compounded when you consider they aren’t even all the same network.
It gives the impression one cannot trust the people one is watching because they are simply mouthpieces for unknown others. What else do they say which are coming down from on high and not actually their words? Maybe nothing, but how would viewers know?
I understand how this happened. And I can understand why it probably seemed reasonable (being fairly standard practice and all). But this is not like the obvious promos on live TV of decades past. The news industry has a major problem of trust and this was very, very poorly considered. If the newsmakers want viewers to trust that the messages they give come from themselves they should probably not get caught all reading the exact same script.
I had no reason to think or care about Sinclair before this. Now I have no trust they do not exercise untoward editorial control over the news stations they own. They caused this problem themselves. Past practice may explain how it happened, but it really doesn’t excuse them from the foreseeable consequence of the reaction by a modern audience. If they want to use a script, it should probably start with a statement it is a message from the corporate owner.
Jamie Santos says
It does not matter one iota if their aim was to espouse "A National Promo" ( promulgated by the Sinclair Group ) to their captive audience, but, rather the organized effort of this Sinclair entity ( are we really to believe it is just one conglomerate involved in controlling the narrative? Ridiculous! ) to malign those citizen journalists who are actively engaged in usurping the concentrated power of this beast system known as 'Media'.
It does not matter that these talking heads are parroting their master's mantra for personal gain and control of the airwaves over their "competitor".
What matters is that the Media, as a whole, has been used as a propaganda machine to completely lobotomize the individual 'consumer'. It has been used as any weapon of mass destruction and it has used it's unearned authority for the better of 70 years in manipulating reality to serve 'IT'S' agenda.
The better question to ask is this, "WHO is desiring to control our reality, and, to what lengths will they go to stifle dissent." These are the valid questions that many are asking and finding the answers to.
The mere fact that the entire Media Conglomerate ( Not just the Sinclair Group ) is using it's social power to stifle our dissent and outrage over egregious crimes perpetrated by them and their masters is exceptionally damning evidence of their collusion. Have we forgotten 9/11? I have not. My son died for this lie...this Talmudic Public Sacrifice.
You've shown your true allegiances and they are not to your fellow human.
It is laughable for a network to denounce orgs pushing their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’--- when all they offer is conservative commentary and nothing progressive.
Any 'fair, balanced' claim, any denouncement of biased coverage is totally ironic in the face of 9 days of Boris and no featured voices to counter his arguments.
You can make that argument; I would say that the counter to your point is that most of these stations run a great deal of "must run" programming from their networks each week, much of it politically biased on the left, and Sinclair argues it's balancing a bit of that with a fairly small amount of political commentary on the right. But I hear you, if I were still a local news producer, I wouldn't like the idea of any "must runs" within my newscast or various reasons.
Sophia Lansing says
You lost me immediately when you tried to dismiss centrists as not caring about this and tried to smear those who do as over-the-top because of the rare Hitler comment.
Godwin's law (or Godwin's rule of Hitler analogies) is an Internet adage that asserts that "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches.
You could basically find a Hitler argument in any major topic being discussed online, so way to try and skew this argument right off the bat by focusing on nonsense, then pivoting to loaded language like "leftist" and trying to cap it off with a "BUT THEY ARE THE ONES BRAINWASHING YOU".
Beyond your worst arguments, at the core you really flirt around the problem. Cbs local didn’t have a must run political commentary series, so your promotional campaign story is pointless.
Why should local anchors throw shade at unnamed news orgs for biased news? Why bother, their competition is local. Local news usually has no political commentary. The promo is pointless.
We can only assume their competition is local, so if this info is true, should viewers agree and consider that every local market assume that competitor local news is full of fake and biased info? This is not the sort of script where one size fits all. If you do believe other local news competitors are biased, better to run some reports on them instead of generalize.
And you must admit these talking points are straight out of the president's playbook. He popularized them, your network is propagating them.
With respect, you're incorrect on several fronts.
The competition is not just "local." Polls show that national news has almost completely lost the trust of the viewing public, but that Americans still trust their local news a bit more. The Sinclair promo was to promo was, in part, to tell viewers that the station is committed to fact-checking, accuracy, and fair news "neither left nor right."
I'm not sure why, when these promos acknowledge that some news is biased and inaccurate-- something that's widely discussed and factually indisputable-- that it upsets so many on the far left. The news sources that liberals turns to most, such as MSNBC and CNN, address this same fact all the time (as does Fox News) but in a much more partisan way.
Since you see that all news companies do promos, many of them politically charged (unlike the Sinclair promo at issue), you moved on to say well, the issue is Sinclair's political commentary. This is a point I don't address in this article because that wasn't what the discussion was about. But, as I have written, every network has its own version of much more ubiquitous "must run" programming, including political commentary--but the same people aren't objecting to that. Sinclair has relative few minutes of "must runs" a week, on average, plus Full Measure. ABC, CBS, NBC, on the other hand, have hours and hours of "must run" programming that its stations have no choice but to run. Much of that is arguably politically biased and one-sided. For example, each time CBS News used ex-CIA official Mike Morell for commentary in a news piece without disclosing that he was (at the some time) working for a PR firm started by Hilly Clinton loyalists as she was preparing to run for president: it was a "must run" commentary from a political official. I like George Stephanopoulos on ABC, but he is a Democratic operative who worked at high levels for the Clintons, and is given an hour on Sundays (where the audience isn't reminded of his ongoing Democrat connections for disclosure purposes). Some would argue that the tone of that broadcast is often largely one-sided. (In fact, I have seen "panel discussions" with news reporters, Democrats and Republicans who are all against Donald Trump--with no balance whatsoever.) For years, Face the Nation on CBS sometimes ended with a political commentary from its host. Dan Rather on the Evening News made editorial notes. (The affiliates did not have a choice as to whether to air these commentaries. They were "must run.") Compared to the hours of must run programming the networks have, Sinclair provides relatively little to its owned stations. So if you don't like it for Sinclair, I hope you are equally as outspoken against the much more widespread practice of it when it involves the more ubiquitous and influential networks.
On the Hitler remark: I certainly can't help that that's what some people are saying. If you don't like it, you can fault them, but it doesn't make sense to fault me.
Lastly, if you think the idea of fair, unbiased, fact-checked news that's neither "left nor right," as stated in the Sinclair promos, is a Trump talking point, and so you object to what (in my book) is indisputable, I can't help you t here. I have a feeling that when CNN or other national news publications say similar things (often directed in a partisan way), you agree with it. Yet you object to Sinclair saying it in a nonpartisan way.
There's room for debate on many topics, as I have said, including media fairness and consolidation. But this organized effort directed against Sinclair only (by partisan competitors) to try to stop its acquisition of Tribune is pretty transparent (to me).
Carolyn DeLaere says
Like all articles by Sharyl Attkisson, this one is well worth reading and pondering. I have learned to trust S. Attkisson and appreciate her efforts to promote honest and principled reporting - she is one of the few media professionals who honors her responsibility as a journalist.
Thank you, Ms. Attkisson - I am a fan.
Matthew Crow says
I read the promo. It is utterly unremarkable. It even contains an invitation to contact the station if you believe that bias, agenda or falsehood has entered their reporting.
I don't think you can be fair-minded, balanced, objective or reason-driven and object to this!
Sharyl, I love the truth and spunk you bring to the News game! Please keep it going!
I think it's refreshing, if not amazing that a broadcasting company is making a public pledge to its audience to do fair and balanced news reporting. God knows, no ones else is doing it. How else are they going to do it other than announce it through their affiliate stations, and it would be stupid to let them all make up their own message about it. So, you give them your pledge to read on air. What the heck is wrong with that?????????????????
Abu Nudnik says
What I see here is mainly the traditional media trying to regain the trust of their viewers and competing with online news sources.
Bruce Z says
I began to hear the "controversy" about Sinclair Media and their local news stations being "forced to read right-wing statements" from news websites and media clips from CNN, NBC, and others.
Yet they never actually quoted these RW statements, just how horrible they were, and how much damage they will cause.
So, crazy me, I actually took the time to read the statement. Then I read it again. I must have missed something, I thought to myself. Surely the amount of uproar meant something devious was occurring.
Promise to broadcast responsible journalism
Promise not to broadcast "fake news"
Truth is neither "left nor right"
The stations' reputation is at stake and they take that seriously
A commitment to check their sources before reporting a news story
And admitting they are human, sometimes fall short, and openly ask for feedback from their viewers
How the screeching from supposed news sources like CNN, etc, can get their fantasy of right wing reporting from the actual report is insane. It is completely dysfunctional thinking.
Any reporter that cannot proudly state the message that was apparently a "must run" should immediately resign. They miss the point of their job. They have no business in a local news broadcast. But I heard Huffington Post and Yahoo! News are hiring. They regularly report "news" without verification as standard operating procedure.
And something that I know will never happen with a Sharyl Attkisson report. Keep up the great work, Sharyl.
Steve B. says
I see this promo as a mission statement from a large company to its customers. They probably should have had a single, prerecorded statement for each station to run instead of anchors reading the same statement. Ultimately the optics are a little scary and it was poorly thought out, but overall it's a benign event.
Thanks for doing such a great job informing us Sharyl.