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October 9, 2004

John Kerry Should Accept Sinclair Broadcasting's Offer

"A final confrontation with the Right. Isn't that what the Right wants too? A chance, indeed, to clear the air about Vietnam, and a lot of other things. Will America watch? America will watch. And if he can't win that broadcast, he does not deserve to win the prize."

You have heard the news by now, from Elizabeth Jensen of the Los Angeles Times:

The conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group, whose television outlets reach nearly a quarter of the nation’s homes with TV, is ordering its stations to preempt regular programming just days before the Nov. 2 election to air a film that attacks Sen. John F. Kerry’s activism against the Vietnam War, network and station executives familiar with the plan said Friday.

“Stolen Honor” is made by Carlton Sherwood, a Vietnam Veteran and former reporter for Gannett (where he shared in a Pulitzer Prize) and the Washington Times. Jensen calls the Sinclair plan “highly unusual,” and says it was “communicated to executives in recent days.” The plot turns with this bit:

The airing of “Stolen Honor” will be followed by a panel discussion, which Kerry will be asked to join, thus potentially satisfying fairness regulations, the sources said.

This part is crucial:

…although broadcast stations are required to provide equal time to major candidates in an election campaign, the Sinclair move may not run afoul of those provisions if Kerry or a representative is offered time to respond. Moreover, several sources said Sinclair had told them it planned to classify the program as news, where the rules don’t apply.

The sources Jensen had did not know much about this invitation to a “panel discussion” and the Kerry camp said no such invite came. But it’s critical to Sinclair’s strategy to make some public wave at fairness. The “news program” is that. You invite Kerry to his dismemberment, and then ask him if he wants to respond.

Of course he’s going to say no, and you can say publicly: we gave him a chance, he turned us down. That’s the thinking. (And sure enough, a Kerry spokesman, Chad Clanton, told the New York Times, “It’s hard to take an offer seriously from a group that is hellbent on doing anything to help elect President Bush even if that means violating basic journalism standards.”) Now put aisde all preconceptions and consider it for a moment:

Kerry should accept.

If he takes the deal it sets up an historic broadcast. A final confrontation with the Right. Isn’t that what the Right wants too? A chance, indeed, to clear the air about Vietnam, and a lot of other things. Will America watch? America will watch. And if he can’t win that broadcast, he does not deserve to win the prize.

But the main reason he should take the deal is that his advisors are gonna say: are you nuts? And that’s the point: to create Kerry unbound. Alone with the camera. Let him prove himself right there and make the election about even more than it is now.

Take the deal and get someone really smart to negotiate it. The program must be live, and air unedited. Sinclair must use its own people on the panel— no hiring Britt Hume. No adding Bush to the panel. The closer to election day the better.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

Los Angeles Times, Conservative TV Group to Air Anti-Kerry Film (Oct. 9).

The upcoming “Stolen Honor” will probably bring fresh attention to Sinclair. “I can’t think of a precedent of holding up programming to show a political documentary at a point where it would have the maximum effect on the vote,” said Jay Rosen, chairman of New York University’s journalism department.

And I still can’t.

New York Times, TV Group to Show Anti- Kerry Film on 62 Stations. (Oct. 11)

Back in April, when Sinclair was in the news for refusing to air Nightine’s “The Fallen,” The Center for American Progress (left, Net savvy) compiled this greatest hits package about Sinclair’s political and “other” activities. Here’s PressThink on The Fallen and Sinclair: Of course Ted Koppel Was Making a Political Statement. So What?.

I’m afraid I’m a little cynical about this one: Latest dispatch from the shooting war on MSM. Josh Marshall on the Mark Halperin “scandal.”

Halperin is the Poltical Director of ABC News. The man behind The Note. His crime was to say: it’s untruthful to “balance” what is a manifestly unbalanced case.

Now some of the word combinations in Halperin’s memo, lifted up, dragged across town, inserted into Holy Liberal Bias Theology and outfitted with scare language at either end, can be made to end up sounding like he’s saying… tilt Kerry or some such sublime thing.

Truth content in the charge: near absolute zero. But as a war-on-MSM tactic, it’s worth a shot. Maybe knock ABC down a little or get them to think twice. Fool some of the more rabid bloggers into making a big deal of it. Spook Halperin a bit. Marshall writes:

The most noteworthy thing I’ve seen in the right-wing response is that there seems to be little effort to deny or engage the question of whether the Bush campaign is being qualitatively more dishonest than the Kerry campaign. All the whining is focused on the fact that any news organization would have the temerity to try to distinguish between them.

Which gets us to a key irony of the conservative assault on the concept of journalistic objectivity and claims of media bias. Though they attack the very notion that journalistic objectivity is practiced by the mainstream (i.e., non-Fox) media, they are most often — and certainly in this case — its great beneficiaries.

Further PressThink Commentary on the Sinclair Challenge

Call it Commentary, Call it Editorial, Call it Programming, but Don’t Call it News. Sinclair Fires Jonathan Leiberman: By interfering from above (“you will interrupt your schedule, you will run this program, you will call it news…”), and by coloring the news to match the Right’s view of the world, Sinclair hopes to flush out employees who cannot get with its agenda. “All liberals leave” is the message. Leiberman is now Sinclair’s poster boy for it; and any publicity his firing gets is good. (PressThink, Oct. 19)

Sinclair Broadcast Group: What Are They Doing in the Middle of Our Election? “What Mark Hyman has been saying to the point of braying it is— let’s negotiate. John Kerry can keep Stolen Honor off the air by replacing it with himself. Sinclair has no other invitations out. So I say send Mike McCurry and Richard Holbrooke to Baltimore. They negotiate. Five minutes of film, 55 minutes of Kerry answering questions sounds about right to me…” (PressThink, Oct. 16)

Agnew with TV Stations: Sinclair Broadcasting Takes On John Kerry and The Liberal Media. “In a commercial empire it makes no sense to invite a storm like Stolen Honor. But imagine a firm built for that sort of storm. Is Sinclair Broadcasting a media company with a political interest, or a political interest that’s gotten hold of a media company and intends to use it? There are plenty of signs that a different animal is emerging.” (PressThink, Oct. 13)

Posted by Jay Rosen at October 9, 2004 11:17 PM