Original Sin(clair)

By Scott Miller

April 14, 2018

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oday I flipped on the Six O’clock News on KOMO-TV (Seattle) for the first time in years.  I learned about a good cop killed in the line of duty and a bad cop being sent up the river for domestic abuse. The most in-depth story centered on a woman found dead in a rolled-up carpet with her wife the prime suspect.  (She claimed it was a wrestling match run amok.) Then there was the “nightmare bacteria” that is stalking me everywhere I go. Even the weather, in the balmy sixties when I began watching, was set to go to hell over the weekend.

But, in fact, I didn’t venture into the sensational world of local TV news for a pick-me-up. I tuned in to watch the ads.

Why the ads?

Let’s pull back the lens. Sinclair Broadcast Group owns almost 200 local TV stations and wants the government to allow them to swallow forty more. Sinclair is also best buddies with the Trump Administration. They are like-minded in their nativist, xenophobic tendencies and their complete rejection of the tenets of a free press. Sinclair had already made headlines by forcing stations to run prerecorded editorial turdlets from the likes of Boris Epshteyn, one in a long line of failed Trump “advisers” who have gone on to fame and fortune in the burgeoning conservative media.  These might play well in some Sinclair markets like Sioux City or Abilene, but out here on the Left Coast, they were sources of supreme embarrassment.

Some Sinclair stations, like KOMO, buried this “required listening” in time slots once covered by Army recruiting films, ads for miracle home products and--if you are old enough to remember--test patterns. No big deal, I told myself. After all, at least Boris’ rubbish was coming straight from his own pie hole.


here was no burying the latest Sinclair missive making the headlines . Anchors at Sinclair stations were ordered to read a takedown of their own profession, with a rant about “fake news” that reads like a Donald Trump tweet after a bad day on the golf course...and a stone silent lunch with Melania. A mashup has been making the rounds on social media . That prompted a slew of opinion pieces--heroic stories of  staffers quitting rather than acquiescing, and others whining about how “Zey are just following orders,” hands tied by draconian contracts that might actually require them to make a personal sacrifice to stand up for their beliefs.

Which brings me back to the ads. I spent 23 years in TV journalism. I was always astonished that so many friends and acquaintances assumed the content of my stories was delivered from on high. In fact, it never happened. Not once. Sure, I battled editors about length and wording. Sure, I made mistakes in stories that I would later correct. And the work of every reporter is subject to the internal filter of life experience that creates an inherent bias, which good journalists must always be vigilant to recognize. But corporate interference mandating a certain story “angle” or “slant” was just not something I ever witnessed.

With a couple of notable exceptions.

Early in my career, while working at a station in Klamath Falls, the bleachers at the County Fairgrounds collapsed during the annual Timber Carnival, sending a few people to the hospital. It was a front-page headline in the Klamath Falls Herald and News. However, our station's General Manager put the kibosh on even a mention on our newscasts. The Timber Carnival, you see, was buying ads within the news. In that case, it bought them a cover up as well. Years later, in Seattle, I recall an investigative series on downtown crime being pulled because of complaints by downtown merchants who, again, were advertisers on the news. However, in a typical and less shameful vein, pressure from advertisers was routinely resisted--but it was certainly applied with regularity.

Sinclair’s latest actions, however, are not in response to pressure from advertisers. They constitute a naked attempt to promote a political agenda lifted straight from White House talking points.  Those points, among many other things, seek to erode freedom of the press, which provides a much-needed check-and-balance on government corruption, lies and ineptitude. In the latest round of this saga, we learned that Jared Kushner bragged during the Trump campaign that he had cut a deal with Sinclair, granting them increased "access" in exchange for “straighter” coverage. Cutting deals with the people you are supposed to be covering is sort of an original sin in the world of journalistic ethics. The prospect of the Prince of Peach Fuzz whispering sweet nothings into the ears of dozens of local anchors makes me want to hit Sinclair where even more reputable news operations have proven themselves vulnerable--right in the pocketbook.


o, with that in mind, here is a list of advertisers gleaned from my recent encounter with KOMO's 6 O’Clock News. You can easily compile the same kind of list in your own TV market.  I encourage all of you anywhere to think long and hard about whether you want to keep supporting businesses as long as they are supporting Sinclair with their ad money. And if you do decide to jump on the #BoycottSinclair bandwagon, please take the necessary step--let these businesses know. That can be as simple as including their Twitter handle in a tweet about how you are supporting freedom of the press by exercising your own freedom to spend your money however you damn well choose.

Tell them that you care.  

(Editor’s note: Does this kind of media concentration seem like it should be illegal?  At one time, it was.. A quick history here.)