There are many ways to keep up on the news today, some more responsible than others. One of the less-responsible ways is the good old-fashioned local TV news broadcast. No doubt there is a range of quality in these programs across the country, but I have to think that anyone who relies on the local broadcast news to understand what’s happening in the world is going to be seriously underinformed if not misinformed.
With consolidation in the local news market, a new, profoundly serious danger has cropped up. Perhaps it has been happening for a while, but this is the first I’ve seen it, and it is scary. Sinclair Broadcast Group, a public company whose majority owner is the family of Julian Sinclair Smith, now operates nearly 200 stations in 100 television markets. Although the Federal Communications Commission has rules to limit the number of stations the number of broadcast stations one entity can own, Sinclair has been active in efforts to deregulate the market, and the FCC, in the Trump era, has indicated it wants less regulation.
This is the context for a video recently published by Deadspin:
This should send a shiver down every American’s spine. Apparently Sinclair sent a script to its stations and required its local anchors to read it on air:
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 KOMO News 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 KOMO 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 KOMOnews.com 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.
This isn’t how the news works in America. The Orwellian spectacle of local news personalities reading the same statement over the air, toeing the Administration’s line, should be a wake-up call to Americans—we need more, not less, protection against concentration of ownership in the news media. It’s great that we have become attuned to the risk of foreign influences interfering in our politics, but a I noted in my post on the indictment of Russian nationals who were part of the scheme:
Of course, foreign governments shouldn’t be allowed to distort our politics by publishing misinformation and stirring up irrational ideas, hatreds, and passions. But that’s something we have been allowing big parts of the American media to do for many years now. We need to get to the bottom of the Russian plot and to take real steps to deter a repeat. But we won’t have solved our political problems until we address our problems at home. The problem is both on the demand side and on the supply side. On the one hand, there are a lot of suppliers of news and opinion who do not respect journalistic standards and who do not seem to have the best interests of the country at heart. On the other hand, there are a lot of Americans who choose to get their news from such sources. My unrealistic wish is that Americans of all political stripes could simply stop reading political twitter, stop reading opinion columns, and stop reading partisan news sources for a month or two. We would all be happier and healthier.
The answer, in short, is not just more robust regulation of media ownership. It is also civic education of the citizenry.