Sinclair poisons local news with a partisan slant

Sam Groves

If you happened to be browsing CBS Austin’s website on Tuesday, you might have noticed a banner ad at the top of the page reading “CNN’s hypocritical attack on Sinclair.” The ad directed users to a YouTube video titled “Did CNN Attack Sinclair For Doing Exactly What CNN Has Done For Years?” — which, to Sinclair’s credit, is a deliciously clickbait title.

Some context: Sinclair Broadcast Group owns dozens of local news stations across the country, including CBS Austin’s associated station KEYE-TV. Last week, a video showing anchors for Sinclair-owned stations reading from the same script in a promo went viral. The promo denounces “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country.” With just enough vague rhetoric to maintain deniability, the piece was thinly veiled right-wing propaganda — an extended riff on a Trump tweet with marginally better prose.

The viral video, which came from Deadspin, is chilling to watch. It depicts a chorus of anchors finishing each other’s sentences, speaking in unison, all hewing to the precise language dictated by their corporate owners. And this isn’t the first time Sinclair has done something like this. They regularly send their stations “must-run segments” that provide political commentary with a partisan slant. A recurring example of these is “Bottom Line with Boris,” which is hosted by Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump White House official who “reliably parrots the White House’s point of view on most issues.”

But this recent wave of bad press seems to have struck a nerve with the company. Sinclair’s response video is just as disingenuous as the original promo. It claims that all they were doing was expressing concern about the proliferation of fake news, just as other media outlets such as CNN have done repeatedly since 2016. “Fake News is a problem,” the video says. “Everyone knows it. Calling out Sinclair for calling out ‘Fake News’ is dishonest and reprehensible.”

This argument cynically takes advantage of the confusion surrounding fake news that has become a fixture of the Trump era. Once, the term “fake news” referred to fabricated stories from disreputable sources shared widely on social media. But as soon as corrupt politicians and public figures caught wind of the panic over this phenomenon, they weaponized it — and used it to nullify any bad press they were receiving.

In both in their promo and their response video, Sinclair asserts that major media outlets “re-publish fake stories without fact checking.” But the fake news problem has never been about major media outlets. CNN may attract the ire of the president, and Fox News may engage in selective, slanted and incredibly toxic programming, but neither are in the business of habitually reporting abject falsehoods.

We should all be concerned about shady, obscure outlets circulating fictitious nonsense that goes viral before the truth can catch up. But Sinclair’s assertion — that the news media writ large misleads its viewers in service of a partisan agenda — is propagandistic drivel dreamed up by people who are afraid of the truth: people like Donald Trump and Sinclair Broadcast Group. As one of 81 broadcast markets served by Sinclair-owned stations, Austin deserves better.

Groves is a philosophy junior from Dallas.