Longtime broadcast journalist and news anchor Dave Madsen, of Western Mass News, is criticizing his former boss, Sinclair Broadcast Group, following its decision to require its anchors to read promos decrying “fake stories” from national news outlets, a line that echoes President Donald Trump’s media-bashing.
“It bothers me that people are forced to read something,” Madsen said Tuesday. “I don’t know if this is a fact or not, but I had heard people were told if you don’t read it you don’t have a job.”
CNN reported on the promos in March, and sports, culture, and politics website Deadspin brought more attention to this issue over the weekend with a viral video mashup of anchors from Sinclair’s 173 stations reading the script in unison.
Sinclair is the largest owner of local television stations in the United States, according to CNN. A deal in the works to buy Tribune Broadcasting would give them another 43 stations including Fox affiliate WTIC-TV in the Hartford-New Haven area.
Sinclair does not own any Massachusetts television stations, but did own WGGB-TV ABC Channel 40 in Springfield from the late 1990s through 2007.
“I’m thrilled we’re not owned by Sinclair, and I’m not surprised by the decision,” Madsen said.
Back when Sinclair owned Channel 40, where Madsen has worked since 1992, the company had the station occasionally run stories pushed by the corporate office, according to Madsen.
“I think their intent was they wanted to be competitive with Fox News, who have a conservative agenda,” Madsen said. “On the whole, it didn’t impact us the way this is impacting other stations.”
Madsen said it is difficult to know what Sinclair’s true agenda is, but he said the company was placing its anchors in a “horrible position” by having them read the script.
“We just want to go in and do a good job and read the news as unbiased as we possibly can,” he said.
Madsen declined to give his own opinion on whether biased news is a problem, and said he was glad that Meredith Corporation, which now owns Western Mass News, would not put its news staff in such a position.
Anthony Cignoli, a respected political consultant and owner of A. L. Cignoli Company, which is a public relations and media company, called the move by Sinclair “disturbing.”
“What worries me even more is the damage that gets done to all other local forms of media,” Cignoli said Tuesday.
Cignoli said that in his line of work people are constantly asking him what media they can trust, and that his answer is local media with longtime journalists who have a track record of unbiased and accurate coverage.
Sinclair undermining that trust with its corporate script makes those local stations less reliable.
“Chaos is good for their agenda,” Cignoli said.
Cignoli never noticed any biased coverage out of Channel 40 during the time that Sinclair owned them, but he did have problems with the company calling into question John Kerry’s military service during the 2004 presidential election.
Cignoli also has problems with Sinclair mandating its local news stations air commentary segments from former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn.
He worries that not much can be done to stop a company like Sinclair, especially considering that a merger with the Tribune Comapny is likely to be approved by a friendly Trump administration.
One thing he did appreciate was the video mashup produced by Deadspin, which he credited with bringing a lot more attention to the issue.
“This is the kind of stuff that makes people’s eyes roll,” he said. “But when you do a mashup like that, it gives everybody the 30 to 90 seconds of material that raises their eyebrows. Other media companies large and small say, ‘What the heck is this?'”
The script, as reported by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, reads as follows:
Hi, I’m(A) ____________, and I’m (B) _________________…
(B) Our greatest responsibility is to serve our Northwest communities. We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that ___________ produces.
(A) 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.
(B) More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories… stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first.
(A) 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.
(B) At _______ 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.
(A) 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 ___________ and clicking on CONTENT CONCERNS. We value your comments. We will respond back to you.
(B) 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.
(A) Thank you for watching and we appreciate your feedback.
Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.