The Sinclair Debacle Is a Big, Juicy Nothingburger

The national press is outraged after a video surfaced revealing Sinclair Broadcast Group's decision to have its local news anchors read a scripted announcement about accuracy in journalism.

So what's the big deal?

Sure, there's something unnerving about seeing local TV anchors across the country reciting a scripted message in unison.  But that's more of a testament to the power of effective video editing than anything else.  Any group chant can be painted as creepy (like when these celebrities pledged to "be a servant to" President Obama), as can any video.

Nor am I concerned with reporters saying something with which they personally disagree.  Most journalists in their career, at one point or another, have received instructions from higher-ups on what to cover and how – maybe even instructions they didn't like.

What's more, Sinclair's message is nearly identical to messages put out by Trump's most ardent critics.  A few examples: In December 2017, the Brookings Institution published an article that explained "how to combat fake news and disinformation."  Readers were advised to be "skeptical of news sources" online and warned of outlets that "resort to misleading or sensationalized headlines."  Fake news, according to Brookings, is "especially problematic in democratic systems."  Former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat, recommended in a New York Times op-ed that social media platforms adopt various transparency measures to combat fake news and "protect our democracy."  Dan Rather, shortly after dismissing Sinclair's message as "propaganda," appeared on The Young Turks to recommend that citizens "challenge [their] news" and to "understand that trusting a news outlet doesn't mean they're perfect."  If an outlet focuses on "personal, salacious and speculative stories," said Rather, "find a new outlet."

(It's worth noting, by the way, that none of these folks needed evidence or examples of fake news to make their case, as demanded of Sinclair by the Washington Post's Erik Wemple.)

Some would probably say the Sinclair broadcast wasn't addressing that kind of fake news, but instead was a rallying cry for Trump's ongoing attack on our nation's distinguished Fourth Estate.

Assuming that's true, how any average American could distill this message from the scripted announcement – and thus join Trump's "brainwashed cult" – I am unsure.  Rewatch the clip sans creepy super-cut.  Not only is there no mention of Trump, but there is no mention of any specific media outlet or political figure whatsoever.  The message is so neutral that it even invites viewers to scrutinize Sinclair-run stations as well.

Moreover, viewers couldn't have even guessed an ideological slant from the local TV station's network affiliation – affiliates of Fox, CBS, NBC, and ABC all aired the announcement.  Context clues didn't seem to help, either.  "Sinclair Broadcast Group" is not a household name, and it's doubtful Americans know Sinclair's political preferences.

A facially neutral message coupled with such a broad ignorance of Sinclair Broadcast Group means there's virtually no chance a person watching the 90-second spot saw it as a pro-Trump advertisement.  Instead, viewers likely understood it to be a quick plug to make their local station seem more trustworthy (something CNN does every day when it calls itself "The Most Trusted Name in News").

Yet for many in the media, the announcement was nonetheless "insidious." Perhaps that belief has less to do with the message and more to do with messenger – specifically, the messenger's support for Trump.

If so, Sinclair's message shouldn't be condemned, but celebrated for its perceptiveness.  Disagreeing with an idea one would otherwise normally agree with simply because of the speaker's political alignment is the very definition of bias, which in this case makes Sinclair correct to say "some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda[.]"

It's not such a crazy notion, given the story's origins.  According to the New York Times, the video at issue was created by Deadspin video director Timothy Burke and published on Deadspin's left-wing political blog, The Concourse.  Then a similarly edited video was released by ThinkProgress, a notoriously far-left outlet that has been caught on multiple occasions boosting false or misleading news stories and is characterized by Media Bias/Fact Check as an outlet that tends to "utilize strong, loaded words" and "publish misleading reports [that] omit reporting of information that may damage liberal causes."

The media's left-most members want us to believe that a media corporation instructing its anchors to educate viewers on the existence of reckless and false journalism threatens the very foundation of our democracy, simply because the corporation's leaders support Trump.  That's nonsense wrapped in partisan delusion.

The verdict here is clear: the so-called Sinclair "scandal" is a double-bacon nothingburger.  With cheese.

Thomas Wheatley is an attorney living in Arlington, Virginia and a regular contributor to the Washington Post's "All Opinions Are Local" blog.  You can email him at tnwheatley@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @TNWheatley.  Check out all of his writings at www.thomasnwheatley.com.

The national press is outraged after a video surfaced revealing Sinclair Broadcast Group's decision to have its local news anchors read a scripted announcement about accuracy in journalism.

So what's the big deal?

Sure, there's something unnerving about seeing local TV anchors across the country reciting a scripted message in unison.  But that's more of a testament to the power of effective video editing than anything else.  Any group chant can be painted as creepy (like when these celebrities pledged to "be a servant to" President Obama), as can any video.

Nor am I concerned with reporters saying something with which they personally disagree.  Most journalists in their career, at one point or another, have received instructions from higher-ups on what to cover and how – maybe even instructions they didn't like.

What's more, Sinclair's message is nearly identical to messages put out by Trump's most ardent critics.  A few examples: In December 2017, the Brookings Institution published an article that explained "how to combat fake news and disinformation."  Readers were advised to be "skeptical of news sources" online and warned of outlets that "resort to misleading or sensationalized headlines."  Fake news, according to Brookings, is "especially problematic in democratic systems."  Former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat, recommended in a New York Times op-ed that social media platforms adopt various transparency measures to combat fake news and "protect our democracy."  Dan Rather, shortly after dismissing Sinclair's message as "propaganda," appeared on The Young Turks to recommend that citizens "challenge [their] news" and to "understand that trusting a news outlet doesn't mean they're perfect."  If an outlet focuses on "personal, salacious and speculative stories," said Rather, "find a new outlet."

(It's worth noting, by the way, that none of these folks needed evidence or examples of fake news to make their case, as demanded of Sinclair by the Washington Post's Erik Wemple.)

Some would probably say the Sinclair broadcast wasn't addressing that kind of fake news, but instead was a rallying cry for Trump's ongoing attack on our nation's distinguished Fourth Estate.

Assuming that's true, how any average American could distill this message from the scripted announcement – and thus join Trump's "brainwashed cult" – I am unsure.  Rewatch the clip sans creepy super-cut.  Not only is there no mention of Trump, but there is no mention of any specific media outlet or political figure whatsoever.  The message is so neutral that it even invites viewers to scrutinize Sinclair-run stations as well.

Moreover, viewers couldn't have even guessed an ideological slant from the local TV station's network affiliation – affiliates of Fox, CBS, NBC, and ABC all aired the announcement.  Context clues didn't seem to help, either.  "Sinclair Broadcast Group" is not a household name, and it's doubtful Americans know Sinclair's political preferences.

A facially neutral message coupled with such a broad ignorance of Sinclair Broadcast Group means there's virtually no chance a person watching the 90-second spot saw it as a pro-Trump advertisement.  Instead, viewers likely understood it to be a quick plug to make their local station seem more trustworthy (something CNN does every day when it calls itself "The Most Trusted Name in News").

Yet for many in the media, the announcement was nonetheless "insidious." Perhaps that belief has less to do with the message and more to do with messenger – specifically, the messenger's support for Trump.

If so, Sinclair's message shouldn't be condemned, but celebrated for its perceptiveness.  Disagreeing with an idea one would otherwise normally agree with simply because of the speaker's political alignment is the very definition of bias, which in this case makes Sinclair correct to say "some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda[.]"

It's not such a crazy notion, given the story's origins.  According to the New York Times, the video at issue was created by Deadspin video director Timothy Burke and published on Deadspin's left-wing political blog, The Concourse.  Then a similarly edited video was released by ThinkProgress, a notoriously far-left outlet that has been caught on multiple occasions boosting false or misleading news stories and is characterized by Media Bias/Fact Check as an outlet that tends to "utilize strong, loaded words" and "publish misleading reports [that] omit reporting of information that may damage liberal causes."

The media's left-most members want us to believe that a media corporation instructing its anchors to educate viewers on the existence of reckless and false journalism threatens the very foundation of our democracy, simply because the corporation's leaders support Trump.  That's nonsense wrapped in partisan delusion.

The verdict here is clear: the so-called Sinclair "scandal" is a double-bacon nothingburger.  With cheese.

Thomas Wheatley is an attorney living in Arlington, Virginia and a regular contributor to the Washington Post's "All Opinions Are Local" blog.  You can email him at tnwheatley@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @TNWheatley.  Check out all of his writings at www.thomasnwheatley.com.