May 1, 2004
This is what we mean by rightwing media bias.
It's not about the personal views of this reporter or that anchor. It's about the power of the corporate owner to dictate what appears on the public airwaves.
When the Sinclair Broadcast Group prohibited its affiliates from airing the April 30 Nightline program in which Ted Koppel recited the names of 721 U.S. servicemen and women killed in the Iraq War, that company was engaging in corporate censorship.
It was trying to deprive viewers in eight cities--St. Louis, Jacksonville, Charleston, Winston-Salem, Pensacola, Asheville, Springfield, Massachusetts, and Columbus, Ohio--from watching the program. (Sinclair, according to The New York Times, "owns 62 television stations in 39 markets.")
And it did so based on political content, saying the program "appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq."
Here was an owner censoring probably the most distinguished network journalist in America because the owner could not tolerate even the reading of the names of the American war dead.
By the way, USA Today and The Washington Post ran photos of the war dead that same week. If Sinclair had owned them, they might have been censored, too.
Senator John McCain sent off a blistering letter to David Smith, president and CEO of Sinclair.
"Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war's terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking detail, is a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces," McCain wrote. "It is, in short, sir, unpatriotic. I hope it meets with the public opprobrium it most certainly deserves."
CNN reports that the local Sinclair affiliates did receive "angry calls from the public."
This wasn't the first time Sinclair acted like a crude, jingoistic cheerleader. After September 11, "it ordered news personnel at its Baltimore station to read patriotic statements supporting President Bush," The New York Times reported.
The media reform group Free Press has announced its intention to challenge Sinclair's license renewal applications.
"What we see in Sinclair Broadcasting, with its cozy and corrupt relationship to the Bush Administration, is TV journalism that is anything but independent of the government," said Robert McChesney, the media scholar and president of Free Press. "It is a commercial version of Pravda, and it is an outrageous and entirely unacceptable use of the public's airwaves."