Saturday, October 16, 2004

Sinclair's Low Blow

Greetings from Washington.

It always seems that the most truly disturbing news gets tucked away on Page 6 or so of your local newspaper. (We might recall that the Holocaust was first mentioned on page 13 or so of the New York Times.) So while the front page is obsessed with Kerry and Bush trading verbal jabs that border on the absurd, the adventurous reader is blessed - or cursed - with articles that illuminate some of the darker dealings of our political system.

The most telling of these is Sinclair Broadcast Group's recent decision to pre-empt all programming for one hour later this month to air "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal," a film that most observers agree is blatantly anti-Kerry. Furthermore, they are denying Kerry and his campaign the right to respond in kind. Sinclair, not surprisingly, has donated heavily to Republicans and to George W. Bush's reelection campaign.

We also recall that Sinclair made headlines last year for its refusal to allow stations it owned to air an episode of "Nightline" where anchor Ted Koppel read the names of all Americans who had died in Iraq. Their decision on the Koppel matter is defensible - Koppel was making a political statement, and media outlets can be understandably uncomfortable with a political statement in a setting that purports objectivity. However, to deny Koppel his views while pushing theirs is the absolute worst kind of hypocrisy.

Readers of Chomsky and others who understand the influence corporations have over the content of the media will be unsurprised by this event. However, it should deeply disturb all Americans that a media outlet - an entity we turn to when we want the facts - would stoop so low as to air programming with the purpose of influencing a presidential election.

A biased media that influences elections is the province of corrupt and anti-democratic regimes. We decry Vladimir Putin's closing of all non-state-run media in Russia. We look with horror at Ukraine's corrupt president Leonid Kuchma, who is using his pawns in the media to attempt to sway an election in his favor. We all but laugh at North Korea's fabricated "news" that they feed to their citizens. And all dictatorships in recent memory have gone hand-in-hand with a media printing not the facts but state-sponsored propaganda. In contrast, many a democratic thinker has remarked on the importance of a free press to a democratic society.

Don't get me wrong - it is well within Sinclair's constitutional rights to air this program. And I have no quarrel with the producers and stars of "Stolen Honor;" their views deserve to be heard as much as Michael Moore's. (Incidentally, could you imagine the brouhaha that would result if a media group decided to air "Fahrenheit 9/11" for free? Conservatives would be all over that like a pack of dogs on a three-legged cat.) Indeed, I would not be as incensed as I am if Sinclair had asked the "Stolen Honor" people to pay for their airtime like everybody else. Or if Sinclair had proven itself open to all points of view, like the ideal editorial page.

As it is, though, Sinclair is using its clout as a major media outlet to attempt to swing the election to Bush. It is sacrificing its duty to journalistic objectivity in order to help out a friend in the White House. The American people deserve better from those who claim to serve them.


Anonymous said...

I wish to make a comparison here between Sinclair's recent actions and other news outlets. One might say, fine, Sinclair's airing biased programming, but what about CNN's Lou Dobbs? And what about Dionne and Cohen and Will and Krauthammer in the Post? My response is that CNN and the Post make the distinction between news and analysis. Sinclair is airing a 42-minute opinion column as news, in essence attempting to pass off as fact the opinions of the filmmakers. Sinclair can still come out of this honorably by using a disclaimer - something to the effect of "the following program expresses the opinions of the filmmakers and should not be taken as objective reporting." But I doubt they'll do that.

Furthermore, I admit I haven't seen "Stolen Honor." If it is in fact a two-sided production, I retract my objections. But I doubt that, too.

Mike said...

As a representative from the League of Three-Legged Cats (LTLC, which is not a cool acronym), I'm afraid I must strongly reprimand you for the defamation of said felines included in this article. Statistically, 84% of three-legged cats who have been set upon by a pack of dogs have managed to escape unscathed, due largely to the fact that the dogs usually get bored with them rather quickly and return to simply sniffing and licking each other.

That being said, I'm not sure journalistic objectivity has existed for quite some time (although as I've mentioned in my blog I do think they try their best). This would be an exception to that statement. As you say, they have every right to air whatever they wish, but they certainly undermine the concept of an unbiased media in doing so. I suppose if no other good comes from this, maybe at least people who constantly complain about how liberal the media is will shut the hell up.