This is an archive, please visit for current posts.
PressThink: Ghost of Democracy in the Media Machine
Recent Entries
Like PressThink? More from the same pen:

Read about Jay Rosen's book, What Are Journalists For?

Excerpt from Chapter One of What Are Journalists For? "As Democracy Goes, So Goes the Press."

Essay in Columbia Journalism Review on the changing terms of authority in the press, brought on in part by the blog's individual--and interactive--style of journalism. It argues that, after Jayson Blair, authority is not the same at the New York Times, either.

"Web Users Open the Gates." My take on ten years of Internet journalism, at

Read: Q & As

Jay Rosen, interviewed about his work and ideas by journalist Richard Poynder

Achtung! Interview in German with a leading German newspaper about the future of newspapers and the Net.

Audio: Have a Listen

Listen to an audio interview with Jay Rosen conducted by journalist Christopher Lydon, October 2003. It's about the transformation of the journalism world by the Web.

Five years later, Chris Lydon interviews Jay Rosen again on "the transformation." (March 2008, 71 minutes.)

Interview with host Brooke Gladstone on NPR's "On the Media." (Dec. 2003) Listen here.

Presentation to the Berkman Center at Harvard University on open source journalism and NewAssignment.Net. Downloadable mp3, 70 minutes, with Q and A. Nov. 2006.

Video: Have A Look

Half hour video interview with Robert Mills of the American Microphone series. On blogging, journalism, NewAssignment.Net and distributed reporting.

Jay Rosen explains the Web's "ethic of the link" in this four-minute YouTube clip.

"The Web is people." Jay Rosen speaking on the origins of the World Wide Web. (2:38)

One hour video Q & A on why the press is "between business models" (June 2008)

Recommended by PressThink:

Town square for press critics, industry observers, and participants in the news machine: Romenesko, published by the Poynter Institute.

Town square for weblogs: InstaPundit from Glenn Reynolds, who is an original. Very busy. Very good. To the Right, but not in all things. A good place to find voices in diaolgue with each other and the news.

Town square for the online Left. The Daily Kos. Huge traffic. The comments section can be highly informative. One of the most successful communities on the Net.

Rants, links, blog news, and breaking wisdom from Jeff Jarvis, former editor, magazine launcher, TV critic, now a J-professor at CUNY. Always on top of new media things. Prolific, fast, frequently dead on, and a pal of mine.

Eschaton by Atrios (pen name of Duncan B;ack) is one of the most well established political weblogs, with big traffic and very active comment threads. Left-liberal.

Terry Teachout is a cultural critic coming from the Right at his weblog, About Last Night. Elegantly written and designed. Plus he has lots to say about art and culture today.

Dave Winer is the software wiz who wrote the program that created the modern weblog. He's also one of the best practicioners of the form. Scripting News is said to be the oldest living weblog. Read it over time and find out why it's one of the best.

If someone were to ask me, "what's the right way to do a weblog?" I would point them to Doc Searls, a tech writer and sage who has been doing it right for a long time.

Ed Cone writes one of the most useful weblogs by a journalist. He keeps track of the Internet's influence on politics, as well developments in his native North Carolina. Always on top of things.

Rebecca's Pocket by Rebecca Blood is a weblog by an exemplary practitioner of the form, who has also written some critically important essays on its history and development, and a handbook on how to blog.

Dan Gillmor used to be the tech columnist and blogger for the San Jose Mercury News. He now heads a center for citizen media. This is his blog about it.

A former senior editor at Pantheon, Tom Englehardt solicits and edits commentary pieces that he publishes in blog form at TomDispatches. High-quality political writing and cultural analysis.

Chris Nolan's Spot On is political writing at a high level from Nolan and her band of left-to-right contributors. Her notion of blogger as a "stand alone journalist" is a key concept; and Nolan is an exemplar of it.

Barista of Bloomfield Avenue is journalist Debbie Galant's nifty experiment in hyper-local blogging in several New Jersey towns. Hers is one to watch if there's to be a future for the weblog as news medium.

The Editor's Log, by John Robinson, is the only real life honest-to-goodness weblog by a newspaper's top editor. Robinson is the blogging boss of the Greensboro News-Record and he knows what he's doing.

Fishbowl DC is about the world of Washington journalism. Gossip, controversies, rituals, personalities-- and criticism. Good way to keep track of the press tribe in DC

PJ Net Today is written by Leonard Witt and colleagues. It's the weblog of the Public Journalisn Network (I am a founding member of that group) and it follows developments in citizen-centered journalism.

Here's Simon Waldman's blog. He's the Director of Digital Publishing for The Guardian in the UK, the world's most Web-savvy newspaper. What he says counts.

Novelist, columnist, NPR commentator, Iraq War vet, Colonel in the Army Reserve, with a PhD in literature. How many bloggers are there like that? One: Austin Bay.

Betsy Newmark's weblog she describes as "comments and Links from a history and civics teacher in Raleigh, NC." An intelligent and newsy guide to blogs on the Right side of the sphere. I go there to get links and comment, like the teacher said.

Rhetoric is language working to persuade. Professor Andrew Cline's Rhetorica shows what a good lens this is on politics and the press.

Davos Newbies is a "year-round Davos of the mind," written from London by Lance Knobel. He has a cosmopolitan sensibility and a sharp eye for things on the Web that are just... interesting. This is the hardest kind of weblog to do well. Knobel does it well.

Susan Crawford, a law professor, writes about democracy, technology, intellectual property and the law. She has an elegant weblog about those themes.

Kevin Roderick's LA Observed is everything a weblog about the local scene should be. And there's a lot to observe in Los Angeles.

Joe Gandelman's The Moderate Voice is by a political independent with an irrevant style and great journalistic instincts. A link-filled and consistently interesting group blog.

Ryan Sholin's Invisible Inkling is about the future of newspapers, online news and journalism education. He's the founder of and a self-taught Web developer and designer.

H20town by Lisa Williams is about the life and times of Watertown, Massachusetts, and it covers that town better than any local newspaper. Williams is funny, she has style, and she loves her town.

Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing at is a daily review of the best reporting and commentary on the presidency. Read it daily and you'll be extremely well informed.

Rebecca MacKinnon, former correspondent for CNN, has immersed herself in the world of new media and she's seen the light (great linker too.)

Micro Persuasion is Steve Rubel's weblog. It's about how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the business of persuasion. Rubel always has the latest study or article.

Susan Mernit's blog is "writing and news about digital media, ecommerce, social networks, blogs, search, online classifieds, publishing and pop culture from a consultant, writer, and sometime entrepeneur." Connected.

Group Blogs

CJR Daily is Columbia Journalism Review's weblog about the press and its problems, edited by Steve Lovelady, formerly of the Philadelpia Inquirer.

Lost Remote is a very newsy weblog about television and its future, founded by Cory Bergman, executive producer at KING-TV in Seattle. Truly on top of things, with many short posts a day that take an inside look at the industry.

Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide. keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

Syndicate this site:

XML Summaries

XML Full Posts

October 13, 2004

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.

Just posted (Oct. 15). PressThink, Sinclair Broadcast Group: What Are They Doing in the Middle of Our Election?

We welcome your comments regarding the upcoming special news event featuring the topic of Americans held as prisoners of war in Vietnam. The program has not been videotaped and the exact format of this unscripted event has not been finalized. Characterizations regarding the content are premature and are based on ill-informed sources. Sinclair Broadcast Group web page, Oct. 12, 2004 and currently…

Sinclair Broadcast’s inexact plan to air Stolen Honor in the weeks before the election is an unprecedented move, and it signals the arrival of a new combination in broadcasting: a political empire made of television stations.

Sinclair has been saying for some time that it intends to be that: something new on the American scene. The empire it has assembled so far reaches 25 percent of the U.S., and it can increase that portion by buying up more stations. Or more newspapers.

Will it be allowed to buy more stations? Will it be allowed to buy your local newspaper when it already owns your local Fox station? Ultimately that is a political question— regulators, courts, Congress, the White House will decide. It has a great deal to do with who wins in November.

Sinclair wants something to do with who wins in November. And it’s willing to take actions once unthinkable because the company thinks differently about what is permitted in political television. To risk a public fight over interference in an election is a major departure for a local broadcaster. Not only law, but broadly understood custom once prohibited it.

During California’s recall election in 2003, Sci Fi channel and FX both canceled plans to run Arnold Schwarzenegger films until after the special election. (See this article.) They didn’t want to be seen as “helping” one side win. Regulators actually have very little power over cable channels; rather, it was public opinion—the storm of criticism—that Sci Fi and FX feared when they decided to play it safe.

In a commercial empire it makes no sense to invite a storm like that. But what if a company were built for that sort of storm? A lot depends on how we define Sinclair Broadcast Group: as a media company with a political agenda, or a political actor that’s gotten hold of a media company and is re-shaping it for bigger battles ahead.

There are plenty of signs that Sinclair is a different animal. Supporters and critics of showing Stolen Honor should both understand that.

Joe Flint of the Wall Street Journal said it yesterday: Sinclair Broadcasting “quietly has become an empire of 62 television stations.” Remarkably little has been said about the nature of this empire— its tendencies, or plans, and what it’s organized to accomplish.

A political force in broadcasting is something intrinsically different. It seeks dynastic ends, goodies greater than ownership: power, influence, reputation, a booming voice, or even a political destiny, merging with national destiny, as with Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. (More on him later.)

We’ve had media barons with political ambitions before, plenty of them. But they did not own 62 local television stations (a record) that reach a quarter of all American homes. The Sinclair situation is new. No prior broadcasting empire has chosen to insert itself into an election this way— although some say CBS tried and failed this season with its Sixty Minutes story on Bush’s years in the National Guard.

Sinclair’s decision to acquire Stolen Honor is consistent with a series of prior moves. These include:

  • Developing at the company’s Maryland offices a capacity to speak to national issues through the stations. That means one big microphone at Sinclair headquarters, with 62 local amplifiers around the United States in 39 markets. You have to visualize that mike to understand what CEO David Smith and company are up to.
  • To go with the added capacity to speak nationally, Sinclair has a coherent political message. It is pro-Bush, pro-war, conservative and sometimes populist, Republican, hyper-patriotic, resentful of liberal elites— a familar mix. This comes from the Smith family itself, which controls Sinclair.
  • To deliver the message and put a human face on Sinclair (and the Smiths), the company appointed a grand wizard of communications, one Mark Hyman. He hosts The Point, televised commentaries that run on all Sinclair TV stations and reach a daily audience of more than four million. Hyman, the voice of a company that has chosen to have voice, was front and center this week as Sinclair’s plans for Stolen Honor became known. Since he is also a Vice President for Corporate Relations there is no chance he will wander off message. Quick— name a figure in broadcasting with a job like Hyman’s. You can’t because there has never been a job like Hyman’s. That’s a signal to us.
  • In earlier action leading up to its Stolen Honor moment, Sinclair created a new national news operation. It’s called News Central, and it operates from the Hunt Valley, Md., headquarters. This was part of a strategic decision to turn local news operations into slightly modified versions of a newscast produced at the center. Investment could be withdrawn from the stations, which allegedly had less to do, since more was being done for them (allegedly at lower cost) by News Central.
  • By refusing to air on its ABC affiliates Nightline’s show, “The Fallen,” a reading of the names of U.S. war dead, Sinclair demonstrated that it would invite public controversy and do battle with adversaries— not only Koppel and ABC, but Senator John McCain. This meant it was willing to sustain public relations losses unthinkable for ordinary commercial broadcasters, who try to avoid upsetting viewers and live in fear of advertisers. (See PressThink on The Fallen.)

When these moves are plotted on a commercial grid, or against the history of station ownership, they make limited sense— or none. So it’s not surprising that market-wise, Sinclair is a poor performer: “With its heavy concentration of Fox and WB affiliates, ranking in the middle of the pack in mostly midsize markets, Sinclair is barely profitable and laden with debt,” wrote David Lieberman in USA Today. Net profit in 2003 was $14 million on revenue of $739 million. (This in one of the most lucrative businesses in America: owning TV stations.)

The pressure put on advertisers by opponents of Sinclair’s October Surprise has yet to be calculated, but it could be severe. I doubt very much that the company factored into its Stolen Honor strategy how the greatly reduced costs for getting like-minded (and angry) people together—one of 2004’s great political lessons courtesy of the Net—might make for a surge in effective activism against the firm and its stations, aimed especially at Sinclair’s local advertisers. (See this too.)

It’s hard to make sense of these risky and unorthodox actions in market terms or the tradition of station ownership that held up to now. You can hear the puzzlement in Lieberman’s report from Tuesday:

NEW YORK — Wall Streeters, political activists and media critics Monday were trying to answer a perplexing question: Why would Sinclair Broadcasting CEO David Smith embroil himself in controversy by ordering his stations to air Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal — a documentary challenging Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry’s Vietnam service — within days of the presidential election?

Dumb move, said the Street; we’re going to punish you the way we know how:

The decision annoyed investors. Sinclair’s shares, which have lost about half their value in 2004, closed Monday at $7.38, down 12 cents. That’s about as low as they’ve been since 1995.

I believe this decision, perplexing perhaps to investors, makes more sense in light of Sinclair’s earlier steps to consolidate news control inside the firm itself. The company was being readied as a platform for a new political brand in television news, even though for most of the broadcast day it operates in the same fashion as the rest of the industry. (Sinclair distributes other brands; it has 20 Fox affiliates, eight ABC stations, four NBC, three CBS.)

With News Center up and running, control of the message from headquarters becomes practical. The Point creates a programming slot where political issues can be joined. Mark Hyman gives the company its Rush Limbaugh or Cal Thomas. By centralizing news production Sinclair also weakens the power of local traditions and craft norms in journalism. That’s a plus if you want to re-construct news.

Forces at the center de-throne and defang the local newsroom, making it the arm of a larger operation. At headquarters the necessary “perspective” in national affairs can more easily be added. But also, more headway can be made against holdovers from the Liberal Media who don’t have the message yet. They must be made to go.

The Sinclair strategy becomes a little clearer in this report from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s television writer, Rob Owen, about the changeover to the News Center system. “News Central sinks ratings at WPGH.” (June 24, 2004)

What was once a solid local newscast changed overnight into an unusual hybrid, part local newscast, part carrier of national and international news and weather piped in from Sinclair’s headquarters in suburban Baltimore. It was an awkward mix from the start. The local news remained objective and fair, while national news reports came with a decidedly conservative bent.

Of course those phrases for characterizing the news—“objective and fair” vs. “decidedly conservative”—are themselves in bitter dispute. And this is another thing to realize about Sinclair: it’s like an action arm for the Liberal Media thesis, putting that whole critique into practice. Picture Spiro Agnew with TV stations and you have some idea of who David Smith is. (Who’s Agnew, again?)

Showing “Stolen Honor” in the final weeks of the campaign, during prime time, pre-empting regular programming for programming of your own, adjusts for the skewed priorities of the Liberal Media. (Which Hyman calls the “Axis of Drivel.”) That is how the Sinclair empire stands for truth, even when it looks to be intervening in politics. The cause of truth has an opponent, who skews things. Sinclair corrects these things. Here’s Mark Hyman explaining the decision to acquire Stolen Honor as another case of Big Media bias:

This is news. I can’t change the fact that these people decided to come forward today. The networks had this opportunity over a month ago to speak with these people. They chose to suppress them. They chose to ignore them. They are acting like Holocaust deniers, pretending these men don’t exist.

To oppose the Holocaust deniers: is there a cause more just and reasonable than that? All empires need glory to cover themselves in; and that, I think, is the meaning of Hyman’s remark. We’re proud to stand up for these guys, the POW’s with a story about Kerry.

In 21 of its markets, Sinclair comes through in stereo, since it owns not one but two TV stations, a situation with no parallel in broadcast history, but then Sinclair makes its history as the first firm through the gates when Barriers to Bigger are falling away. Here’s Lieberman in USA Today on the company’s plans:

Sinclair hopes to [start] solidifying its hold on local markets by controlling, for example, two stations in more cities and sharing operating and news-gathering costs. But it needs the federal government to relax several media ownership restrictions.

I’m still figuring this out, blog world. Hey, Political Animal, or anyone who can help in matters of definition: Is Sinclair a broadcasting empire getting what it needs from politics, or an ideological empire getting what it needs from broadcasting, possibly on the way to some larger and more potent combination? Tell me how you read this report:

Sinclair wants officials to permit a company to own two or more stations in more communities than allowed now. It also wants the FCC to ease a restriction that bars a company from owning TV stations reaching more than 35% of all homes, and to lift the rule that keeps companies from owning newspapers and TV stations in most markets.

Yesterday as Mark Hyman’s voice came through the speakers with the Sinclair argument: Stolen Honor, the film, is major campaign news ignored by Big Media, and we will pre-empt everything to correct that omission… I phoned Alexander Stille, a journalist and writer for the New York Review of Books and the author of several works on modern Italy. I knew he was writing a book about Italian Prime Minister and media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi. (Interview with Stille on the subject.)

I wanted to ask Stille if his case—Berlusconi’s political empire, where the original source of power is commercial broadcasting—shed any light on my case: Sinclair’s early steps to assemble its platform. Stille said everything changed inside Berlusconi’s media operations when he got involved in politics.

Before 1993, there was little attempt to coordinate programming, message, or “news” across the many Berlusconi properties in TV and the press. After ‘93 this coordination became vital because a media company was evolving rapidly into a political machine, capable of promoting the boss and his fortunes, but also able to attack opponents, and put them on the defensive in the news cycle.

Stille said that Berlusconi began lecturing the heads of his media properties on the need to attack and train “concentrated fire” on enemies and critics. A sudden shift took place as traditions of autonomy and professionalism ended overnight. People who couldn’t or wouldn’t perform under the new rules were replaced. Control from the center increased. Message coordination was openly discussed across Berlusconi properties, in ways that were unthinkable before.

But the “thinkable” had to change. One kind of empire was becoming another.

“Where I see America Bertlusconi-izing is something that he is very good at: eliminating neutral ground,” Stille told me. “Accusing anyone who is critical of being an enemy. Then since you are attacked you have to defend yourself.” Pretty soon there is nothing but the cycle of attack and defend— “contending factions in a struggle for power,” as he put it. There are no institutions that can adjudicate disputes and say something happened or didn’t.

“In an unregulated media climate like ours,” Stille said, “where the media also have enormous power, and there’s a custom where people say, ‘you can’t do that,’ it’s very tempting to do it for just that reason.” This is something he had learned from studying Berlusconi, who created more power for himelf by breaking taboos on the political use of media. If a prohibition had been there, that was almost a good reason to try it.

After Matter: Notes, reactions and links…

New PressThink, 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…”

Sign of the times is this resource, Sinclair Broadcast Group, From dKosopedia, the free political encyclopedia.

No More Timid Media… My NYU colleague Siva Vaidhyanathan is guest-blogging at Altercation. He’s against using the FCC or FEC to stop Sinclair.

We should not be comfortable with policies and habits that make media more timid, regardless of political orientation. I don’t think either federal agency should be policing content as much as they do now.

We need a serious, bold politically engaged set of political voices on our airwaves, regardless of orientation. We need real conservative media and real liberal media (and perhaps libertarian media and socialist media and Silly Party media). Right now we have boring, spineless media.

Effective, link-filled round up from The American Street on Sinclair and affiliated companies— all from the political activist and corporate sleuth’s point of view: how the company fights, what it wants, who’s been fighting Sinclair, where the future battles will be found: “… Common Cause is ready to handle the license challenges, so the rest of us can focus on the boycott.”

Temptation? Former FCC head Reed Hundt writes to Josh Marshall on what was customary: “Part of this tradition is that broadcasters do not show propaganda for any candidate, no matter how much a station owner may personally favor one or dislike the other. Broadcasters understand that they have a special and conditional role in public discourse. They received their licenses from the public — licenses to use airwaves that, for instance, cellular companies bought in auctions — for free, and one condition is the obligation to help us hold a fair and free election… Sinclair has a different idea, and a wrong one in my view.”

Sinclair’s Mark Hyman on the PBS Newshour, Oct. 12: “Again, we’re talking about a program here that hasn’t even been developed. Gentlemen, this program doesn’t even exist. There is a documentary. That’s the basis upon which we want to put a program together. Again, John Kerry could have the bulk of this presentation if he just decides to join us.”

Brian Montopoli for Campaign Desk on CNN’s interview with Hyman, conducted Oct. 12 by Bill Hemmer:

Hemmer didn’t bother with the larger issue at stake during his interview with Hyman. Instead, he asked if there was a “bias at Sinclair against John Kerry” — an obvious question with an obvious answer, Hyman’s denial notwithstanding. If CNN is going to invite people like Hyman onto the air in a misguided attempt at balance, it needs to engage his argument, not let it pass without comment.

The Swift Boat veterans showed us what happens when a torpid media gives airtime to partisans without checking out their stories. CNN apparently still hasn’t learned that its credibility depends upon showing viewers the difference between news and spin.

Paul Schmelzer at AlterNet: The Death of Local News: “The corporate tactics of the Sinclair Broadcast Group offers a glimpse of the post-deregulation world where local news may be produced in one giant newsroom.”

This link gets you to the archive of Mark Hyman’s TV op-eds for The Point.

Alexander Stille in the New York Review…

On January 26, 1994, Silvio Berlusconi —the country’s richest man, owner of a vast real estate, publishing, financial, and media empire—appeared simultaneously on the three private TV networks he owns and announced that he was founding a new political party and running for prime minister. Berlusconi’s sudden appearance in the living rooms of most Italians, commandeering the airwaves for what sounded like a presidential address, created the bizarre sensation that he was somehow already prime minister even though the campaign was just beginning. It began to seem inevitable that he would be elected, and he was.

David Folkenflik, Baltimore Sun: Sinclair’s TV program on Kerry is called illegal donation to Bush.

“Theirs is a powerful story that the news gatekeepers have ignored,” Hyman said yesterday. “It’s a little unfair if the media allows a candidate to campaign on the basis of his Vietnam experience and to cherry-pick only certain parts.”

The Democratic Party officials, including Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, took pains to say that the producer of Stolen Honor was a discredited journalist who held no standing in the profession.

Dow Jones News Service, FCC Can’t Do Much On Sinclair Kerry Film Flap.

Posted by Jay Rosen at October 13, 2004 2:00 PM   Print


Jay, this is very important stuff. I think at some point, though, you may have to stop pulling your punches.

Posted by: praktike at October 13, 2004 2:56 PM | Permalink

Opposition to our free speech is evil and pointless.

"Will it be allowed to buy your local newspaper.."

No patriot will support this un unAmerican law, no traitor will ever again be appointed to the Supreme Court.

Posted by: Ripper at October 13, 2004 3:08 PM | Permalink

Once again, we see the results of our failing telecommunications regulation policies, particularly in broadcast. I've forseen such an effect, but thought it would be focused on a more corporatist agenda. I should have recognized the liklihood of political co-option.

Nevertheless, such efforts, now that they have been demonstrated will be adopted by others. They are all but inevitable given our current regulatory climate.

Reed Hundt speaks of "tradition" - well, so what? Traditions are weak controls at best.

Broadcast licenses are essentially free, in return for public service obligations. May I ask why? It is precisely because of our poor regulatory choices that Sinclair is creating a political network. We have three choices: 1) Do nothing; 2) Regulate Content (otherwise known as censorship - the government deciding what is "news" and what is "fair" - if you support this, you'll get what you deserve; and 3) Stip the gatekeeper function from broadcast networks. No one worries if Sinclair goes on a buying spree of websites. Turn broadcast into the internet. Problem solved.

Imagine if the government licensed newspapers. Deciding, as they have in the television context, that one more newspaper in a particular geographic area would be too much competition, reducing advertising revenues so that existing newspapers might go out of business and thus another newspaper must not be allowed.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at October 13, 2004 3:44 PM | Permalink

Not sure if anyone's pointed yet to David Neiwert's current series, over on Orcinus - first part (The Morphing of the Conservative Movement) is
most recent part is here

Here's Wikipedia on Agnew, for those who weren't around or paying attention at the time.

Posted by: Anna at October 13, 2004 3:52 PM | Permalink

(the above Neiwert links are relevant, since having a uniform media makes it much easier to get your message across and accepted)

Posted by: Anna at October 13, 2004 3:54 PM | Permalink

On the surface, Sinclair's financials make it look like a debt-ridden company that needs to expand or die and is betting its existence on Bush's re-election. However, PGL at Angry Bear speculates that in fact the majority owners, the Smith family, might be doing OK at the expense of both their minority investors and taxpayers.

Wheels within wheels, but nowhere do I see anything that looks at all like the public interest being served. Quite the contrary, in fact.

Posted by: Lex at October 13, 2004 4:01 PM | Permalink

Here's the Mark Hyman archive Google cache

Posted by: Anna at October 13, 2004 4:06 PM | Permalink

If a television broadcaster is not serving in the public interest, then they can lose their license.

That requirement does not apply to other non-broadcast media. If the NY Post is openly partisan, we might agree that such open partisanship by a newspaper is not in the public interest. Yet, there is not the threat that the NY Post would be required to cease publication if it was determined not to be serving in the public interest.

You can either regulate media such that the government decides what is the public interest and what isn't, or you regulate media such that you don't have to worry about the government trying to make speech "fair".

No one cares about whether various websites are partisan. There is no requirement that blogs serve the government's definition of the "public interest." There are no Berlusconis of the internet.

Sounds suspiciously like free speech to me.

But, apparently, free speech is dangerous when wielded by a broadcaster. We have to be concerned about the public interest.

Is that just the natural case for broadcasting? Or, perhaps, is it the result of the regulatory choices we've made, the way government has structured the broadcast industry?

I don't like what Sinclair is doing, but I also feel such efforts are inevitable given the currently regulatory climate. You cannot rely on "tradition" and gentleman's agreements to keep people from doing things you don't like. You have to create legal barriers or structural ones.

Our current broadcast regime creates not structural barriers, but if it was changed, it could. Instead, people seemed focus on the legal barriers, governmental determinations of what speech is or isn't in the public interest.

Call me crazy, but I thought we have a First Amendment to prevent such governmental decision-making.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at October 13, 2004 4:14 PM | Permalink

A better URL for the NewsCentral "The Point" archives
(since once you're at 1 piece, you can select another)

Posted by: Anna at October 13, 2004 4:23 PM | Permalink

Thanks, Anna, for those resources.

important stuff. I think at some point, though, you may have to stop pulling your punches.

praktike... thanks, but where do you find them pulled? Maybe if I know more about the missing, I can tell you where the punches went.

My main point here was to re-describe Sinclair in a way that reveals some of its original features. "Agnew with stations" is the most condensed re-description I have in here. I also say Sinclair is a political empire in formation. I am trying not to pull my punches, so I say it directly as I can.

Ernest: I honestly don't know what the solution is at this point. I do know that rules on how many properties you can own are looking awfully good to me right now. Rules about what you can say, or broadcast? Less so.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 13, 2004 6:02 PM | Permalink

Berlusconi comparison is interesting. Is SBG being structured to be a king-maker or make someone from SBG a king?

I wonder how much it really matters to the public today, or especially tomorrow, that a broadcaster (or broadcast TV producer) decides to air content that is also readily available on the web; as many political ads and documentaries already are. Today, the issue simply seems to be quantitative audience and left over qualms of the defunct Fairness Doctrine.

Is there a distinction anymore between broadcast, cable, satellite, fiber ... which are all transport for a myriad of content? Public shmublic. Everything goes through the spectrum somewhere. Bundled content is transmitted. Only broadcasters are scrutinized.

In fact, if we consider progress being net savvy, linking, and a greater transparency of the process/reasoning, then why wouldn't other media attempt to incorporate and replicate web content as well?

FCC Can't Do Much On Sinclair Kerry Film Flap - Experts

Spiro Theodore Agnew: Television News Coverage (PBS)

Posted by: Tim at October 13, 2004 7:09 PM | Permalink

That's the difference: The numbers one can reach using the public venue.

If that's true, then SBG is making the smart move. The broadcast audience is shrinking, and in the case of network news audience, dying, literally.

State of the News Media 2004: Network News

Posted by: Tim at October 13, 2004 7:47 PM | Permalink

I may be wrong, but I was under the impression that Schwarzenegger movies were quashed because of arcane California election laws, not the Will of the People.

As well, asserting that Sinclair's 25 percent "reach" of the U.S. is an "empire" is charmingly antiquated in today's saturated media market. As you note, many of those stations are FOX and WB, which are not always available without satellite or cable, and even then have weak ratings.

Posted by: bryan at October 13, 2004 8:18 PM | Permalink

Jay, pixels are cheap, but I am sensitive that these are your pixels. I thought it was worth excerpting here the portions from the CNN interview here where Hyman talks about these POWs as news and the other networks (all emphasis mine):

Well, this is definitely a newsworthy event. These Vietnam prisoners of war had suffered horrific abuse and unspeakable torture for many years. And they -- most of them maintained silence for 31 years and felt a need to respond to claims made by John Kerry.

They have only recently come forward and, as you may know, they've approached the broadcast networks who all said, "We're not interested in speaking to you folks." Nobody has earned a right to speak on the Vietnam experience more so than these men. There are a pair of Medal of Honor winners in this particular group. So, these folks have some standing.

Now, our goal here is to get John Kerry to sit down and talk with these guys, get a chance to tell them why he branded them as war criminals, why he accused them of committing wartime atrocities. These are questions...


I think the question should be asked of the networks: Why aren't they talking about this issue? Probably perhaps more importantly: Why won't John Kerry speak with these Vietnam POWs? He has been avoiding them for 31 years. If he's afraid of a bunch of 60 and 70- year-old men who were wounded and tortured in Vietnam, what does it say about his ability to respond to al Qaeda if they were to attack the U.S. if he were serving as president?

If he's afraid of Americans -- you know, what's the story here? Why can't he sit down and speak with these Americans who deserve to have their voice heard?
Reynolds: "I try to help provide a fuller picture than the TV folks, whose chief goal, it sometimes seems, is to help Kerry get elected."


Posted by: Tim at October 13, 2004 8:51 PM | Permalink

These are the veterans (POWs) Mark's refers to in his "headline".

Posted by: Tim at October 13, 2004 11:18 PM | Permalink

Thanks for the link, Jay!

Posted by: Stet at October 13, 2004 11:24 PM | Permalink


Ownership limits are arbitrary. How large an audience is too large? If the New York Times (or the WSJ or USA Today) is becoming the nation's newspaper, should they have restricted markets? Should they be geographically limited? Why should broadcast be treated different than other media?

Would it be better if there were two or more Sinclairs, each with their own geographically limited audience?

In any case, ownership limits merely shift the balance of power from broadcasters to the networks. Is there some structural reason we should trust the networks more?

Why not make broadcast more like the internet? Who (other than broadcasters) would be hurt by such a goal?

Posted by: Ernest Miller at October 14, 2004 1:25 AM | Permalink

SBG stock has been sliding since January, and it's pretty clear that if an explanation is needed for the stock price volatility -- and SBG has bounced around for years -- the mountain of debt the company has been piling upon itself through serial acquisition works better than the curious argument that the market is punishing the firm for political activism.

Investors don't see things in "blue" or "red" terms: they see them in shades of green. Debt matters. By the way, recent fluctuations in SBG's stock price seem pretty ordinary when compared to the high-amplitude noise of the past five years. Lieberman (at USA Today) apparently couldn't be arsed to call up a graph of SBG's stock price over at Yahoo Business, or he'd have discovered that SBG's stock was actually down to about five bucks as recently as 2001. The decision to air the documentary may have "annoyed" investors, but it obviously didn't annoy them much.

That said, I find it curious that Jay has spent this great stretch of essay exploring and tut-tutting over behavior that doesn't look very different from CBS's behavior during this election. Except in that SBG's politics seem to be more honest, whereas CBS's fabricated anti-Bush stories and perennial anti-GOP program are not.

It's bizarre to see Reed Hundt's pontifications on the "tradition...that broadcasters do not show propaganda for any candidate" repeated here when the outing of CBS as an appurtenance of the Kerry campaign aroused no such indignation. Where was the dripping sarcasm then? Where were the worries about the effect CBS's lies might have on our ability to conduct "fair and free election[s]"?

Never mind. I think we know the answer.

Posted by: Harry at October 14, 2004 1:57 AM | Permalink

As the Left is organizing and activating to apply public and economic pressure on SBG not to air Stolen Honor (see The Reagans), the NYT is asking for public support for Judith Miller.

Now I understand there are regulatory, legal and constitutional issues involved. But my question is much simpler.

Is there a difference between the public's interest in:

  • CBS broadcasting fiction about the Reagans
  • CBS broadcasting forged memos
  • what our country's most highly decorated POWs have to say about a Presidential candidate
  • what a government official told a reporter about Plame and Wilson

Just asking.

Posted by: Tim at October 14, 2004 2:59 AM | Permalink

Harry: who said "the market is punishing the firm for political activism?" I didn't.

Second, I'll explore and spend great stretches of PressThink on whatever interests me. Clear enough? The sins of CBS interested me a great deal and I wrote a great deal about them. This Sinclair story interests me too.

Statements like Sinclair's behavior "doesn't look very different from CBS's behavior during this election," don't require an argument. Anyone familiar with the details of both stories can judge how similar the two cases are.

If you, or my friend Tim, want to assert that Sinclair's plan is "just like," kinda like, analagous to, or even fairer than what CBS was up to with its National Guard story, you go right ahead and score that point. Cha-ching!

If ABC announced that a week before the election it would air "Going Up River" and was pre-empting its national schedule to do so, I would think it unwise, unfair and an illegitmate attempt to sway the election; and you wouldn't have any trouble seeing how the ABC case is different than the CBS case.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 14, 2004 9:42 AM | Permalink

Funn, I don't think of Agnew when I think of Smith. I think of Robert Welch, the founder of The John Birch Society.

And if you at the Birchite agenda -not their paranoid rationales, but their goals - the Bushites are well on the way to achieving virtually everything the Birchers wanted.

And I remember when the Birchers were a joke and a man with Kerry's record would have an opponent with an equally impressive one.

Posted by: tristero at October 14, 2004 11:04 AM | Permalink

Sinclair is stepping up to the plate for Bush, trusting that the subsequent rewards will outweigh the immediate commercial fallout. One thing that might be prompting this move right now, is that Rupert is coming! (see, Sinclair really has to carry some heavy water if it wants to come out from under that big shadow.

Of course, Murdoch already is here, has been since the '70's and increasingly so every year, as his The News Corporation increases its size and influence. The shareholder vote, which is a mere formality, on the decision to re-incorporate Fox New's Australian parent as an American corporation, is scheduled for Oct. 26. Murdoch already has placed vast media resources at the disposal of conservatives, and it's difficult to imagine a grateful Bush Administration every saying no to a Murdoch acquisition/consolidation in the future. Murdoch already has a multi-media empire which is poised to become the virtual mouthpiece for the next conservative administration. Murdoch will be better positioned to carry out this essential function if he is allowed to further consolidate the available media resources. He already has his arms around broadcast, cable, satellite, newspaper and magazines and book publishing. One wonders why he hasn't taken up radio. Perhaps some nitpicking FCC limitations? Rupert will be able to swat away such things as if they were gnats if he can put Bush over.

The emergence of Fox as the Force in the news\cable industries has been indispensable to the Bush Administration long campaign of "black is white". Fox can be counted on to neutralize rational press coverage. Given its commercial success, it can also be counted on to set the agenda, tone and much of the content for the rest of the market.

Posted by: Mark J. McPherson at October 14, 2004 11:34 AM | Permalink

To Mark McPherson: I'm not sure I know what you mean by "Fox can be counted on to neutralize rational press coverage". Could you give an example?

Posted by: paladin at October 14, 2004 11:49 AM | Permalink

praktike... thanks, but where do you find them pulled? Maybe if I know more about the missing, I can tell you where the punches went.

Hmmm .... reading this over again, maybe you're right. You have an explorational style; you probe, you question, you muse ... in the end, what I think you say here is that our media culture is at risk of sliding towards that of Italy. You want to know if that's the right comparison, but most importantly you wonder what Sinclair wants. Correct?

Posted by: praktike at October 14, 2004 1:12 PM | Permalink

If you, or my friend Tim, want to assert that Sinclair's plan is "just like," kinda like, analagous to, or even fairer than what CBS was up to with its National Guard story, you go right ahead and score that point. Cha-ching!

Is that some kind of pre-emptive debate technique? Do I get to respond in kind as you did at Buzzmachine?

You go right ahead and write my unspoken thoughts on your blog. Cha-ching, says Jay.

Posted by: Tim at October 14, 2004 1:14 PM | Permalink

If Mark Hyman were really interested in news rather than politics he would be running a program that sat down with the highly decorated POWs and said,"Pentagon documents establish beyond a shadow of a doubt that hundreds if not thousands of war crimes were committed in Vietnam, the Pentagon identified these war crimes and then refused to seriously prosecute or punish hundreds of soldiers guilty of serial murder, rape, and worse.

How does your suffering as a POW entitle you to be a historical revisionist PRECISELY ANALOGOUS WITH NAZI and JAPANESE REIVISIONISTS WHO CLAIM THEIR CRIMES WERE ALL JUST FOREIGN PROPAGANDA. And how could John Kerry's airing of the truth about war crimes in Vietnam be objectionable? Unless you insist on denying the Pentagon documented facts? Would you rather he shut up and collaborated with war crimes? That seems to be your position. Are you saying we have an ethical responsibility to the nation to stay quiet and collaborate with the commission of war crimes? Is that really what's best for America?"

Of course, Mark "Every terrorist bomb in Iraq is an in-kind contribution to the Kerry campaign" Hyman won't go there. Because he clearly has no interest in truth, or justice, or the best interestes of the American people.

I respect you as an articulate, serious, and well-informed supporter of your cause. But I think your position on this issue is unconscionable and unforgivable. What's your excuse? Do we really have a patriotic duty to collaborate in the commission of war crimes?

Posted by: Ben Franklin at October 14, 2004 1:25 PM | Permalink

Unspoken thoughts? I think they're spoken loud and clear. The agenda and moral eqivalence relativism are even more clear to those capable of analyzing the message and barrage of one-way links.

Posted by: Joe-six-pack at October 14, 2004 1:47 PM | Permalink

Jay: a little research I assembled yesterday. It's been gaming the system for awhile and Rainbow/PUSH has been fighting it, among others. Common Cause is on it now, too.

My second post on Sinclair provided an overview of major net doings, and one commenter tossed in a massive response as well.

Posted by: Kevin Hayden at October 14, 2004 2:19 PM | Permalink

What's your excuse? Do we really have a patriotic duty to collaborate in the commission of war crimes?

What an insulting and idiotic question, Ben.

Tell me Ben, what better way to get the truth out than to have John Kerry discuss on prime-time television his statements to the Senate in 1971 with these Vietnam veterans and POWs?

Why would you not be an advocate of that? Why would Kerry, and articulate and persuasive speaker, not want to set these alleged historical revisionists straight on national TV?

And how could John Kerry's airing of the truth about war crimes in Vietnam be objectionable? Unless you insist on denying the Pentagon documented facts? Would you rather he shut up and collaborated with war crimes? That seems to be your position. Are you saying we have an ethical responsibility to the nation to stay quiet and collaborate with the commission of war crimes? Is that really what's best for America?
Well John Kerry? Why are you not taking Jay's advice and accepting Sinclair's offer? Why are you not willing to speak in defense of your statements to the Senate committee in 1971? Why not meet with these POWs? See John run as war hero. See John run as anti-war hero. See John the war criminal. See John the whistle blower.

Is that my unconscionable and unforgivable position Ben? Ben who never saw a day of combat? Ben who never served his country in uniform? Same with Joe-six-pack and Mark York.

And you call other people cowards and question their morality.

F- Mark Hyman. This isn't about Mark Hyman. Tell me Ben, why is Mark Hyman or Sinclair Broadcast Group making news on this story?

Posted by: Tim at October 14, 2004 2:27 PM | Permalink

Well it's a good thing this discussion won't get bogged down in idiotic comments about Vietnam or tiresome, cartoonish insinuations about Rupert Murdoch.

I sense a lack of confidence in the public at large and overconcern about the way Sinclair's actions will change the landscape. It think it is far too soon to tell. If I had to bet I would bet that this move will flop or become a limited but sustainable failure (cf Air America).

No one's going to buy up every station in the country and force you to watch evil conservative documentaries. The fear on display here is misplaced. The media does not brainwash anyone. Fox isn't sending millions of drones to vote for Bush in Nov. and neither is CBS, CNN, MSNBC, etc. Amazingly people can watch biased coverage and still retain their ability to think. If Sinclair's program (which does not seem like it would be very relevant to the election or helpful to Bush) does not have an audience, what difference will it make? This is different from Moore's "documentary" how exactly? Because it's on the television? Sinclair reminds me of the televangelists from the 80s. I guess everyone here has forgotten about them and how their great empire of syndicated sanctimony has given them access to the corridors of power, etc.

If Sinclair gutted the local news programming, it was probably a mercy killing. And whatever they do to broadcast news could not possibly make it worse than the lazy, dumbed down edutainment that is currently on air.

Posted by: Brian at October 14, 2004 3:23 PM | Permalink

Hmmmm. A whole post on this, and no mention of the implicit threat issued by John Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton to use governmental power to clamp down on a media outlet? Clanton is quoted as saying:

They better hope we don't win.
Wow. I might have thought *that* would be the story.

I'll admit that I'm on my lunch hour and quickly skimmed the post. Maybe I missed some reference to it?

Posted by: Patterico at October 14, 2004 3:29 PM | Permalink

Tim: Maybe the cha-ching was excessively sarcastic. It was my way of saying that "it's just like..." reasoning is getting tiresome-- to me, if not to others. But there's a reason I'm tired of it. I have observed that for people of all political leanings, "it's just like ..." arguments are actually their way of not attending to the political object in question, looking away from its actual features toward the rhetorical and ideological uses it has, rather than examining closely the way a botanist in the field might. So this is what's behind an impatience.

Brian: Largely for the reasons you state--people don't lose their brains when presented with biased coverage--I am against using the FEC or FCC to stop Sinclair, and I am against using the courts. (I am not at all against people protesting, using boycotts, speaking out against Sinclair, pressuring advertisers.) I have also advised Kerry to accept Sinclair's offer and confront Vietnam again.

I think you are being way too cavalier, however, about the concentration of ownership that Sinclair represents.

Pattericco: I didn't know about that quote. But I wouldn't use it without seeing the transcript, which I couldn't find at Drudge. It is interesting that he said that, and definitely part of the Sinclair story, which I will probably keep writing about.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 14, 2004 4:08 PM | Permalink

On Trolls, from the wiki:

"If you find yourself patiently explaining, at length and in great detail, some obscure point to someone who isn't even being polite to you, then you are probably being trolled.
Like the many trolls who have camped in listserv mailing lists and Yahoo message boards and my evening classes, he had spotted an ecological niche where there was a captive audience, one forced to hear him, and some complex behavior norms which prevent his ejection."

Posted by: Anna at October 14, 2004 4:10 PM | Permalink

Patterico -- good point.

Jay says:
"who said "the market is punishing the firm for political activism?" I didn't."

What you said: "[d]umb move, said the Street; we're going to punish you [for airing a politically charged documentary]." I took that as an endorsement of Lieberman's view, but perhaps it was just a paraphrase. Apologies.

Jay also says:
"If ABC announced that a week before the election it would air "Going Up River" and was pre-empting its national schedule to do so, I would think it unwise, unfair and an illegitmate attempt to sway the election; and you wouldn't have any trouble seeing how the ABC case is different than the CBS case."

That's nothing but a hamfisted ad hominem, since you don't have clue how I'd respond to the hypothetical. The point of your insult is to imply that I evaluate the merit of an argument on the basis of its political color; it's therefore an attempt to discredit what I've said without responding on substance. Attempt acknowledged.

Regarding your choices of what to write about, Jay, all I can say is: more power to you. You may write about whatever you wish, at whatever length, and if I feel moved to respond I may write that I agree, disagree, or simply find your work "curious" -- as I did here. Clear enough? If not, then why do you maintain a comments facility?

Posted by: Harry at October 14, 2004 4:28 PM | Permalink

Hmm. [He says, not paying particularly close attention.] What is the difference between George Soros buying x amount of time for an infomercial and Sinclair allocating x amount of time losing the same amount of money he won't get in revenue from elsewhere? (And don't say because he has the authority to schedule it himself. Some other venal media baron will make time available.)

Hmm. [He says, again, thinking of something different.] Since you can't control it, for your own safety's sake, I guess you are just going to have to inoculate people with enough smarts to defend themselves against such programming incursions. It seems to me that a bad idea remains a bad idea whether it is said once or a thousand times and whether it is said quietly or shouted from the roof tops.

Posted by: sbw at October 14, 2004 4:50 PM | Permalink

Clear and reasonable. In the case of my hypothetical, ABC airs Going Up River, you're right: I have no idea what your opinion would be. I do know that I would object. As far as expressing curiosity about a webloggers choices in what to write about, that is generally a good thing to do, and, yes, what comments are for. But not if one expects balance in a blog.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 14, 2004 4:50 PM | Permalink


I have observed that for people of all political leanings, "it's just like ..." arguments are actually their way of not attending to the political object in question, looking away from its actual features toward the rhetorical and ideological uses it has, rather than examining closely the way a botanist in the field might.

Good point. You must first study the object before you can classify it.

When your neighbor complains about the thistles in your yard and you, in response, complain about the dandelions in his, it tends to take care of neither the thistles nor dandelions.

In that case, "it's just like ..." is a ploy to distract and obfuscate rather than elucidate or enlist.

But "it's just like ..." can be an explanatory tool by pointing out similarities and differences to other comparable items in a taxonomy. It can also add perspective or a way of determining degree.

I like examples and contrasts. Not everyone does and it's not always appropriate.

On ABC airing Going Upriver: Would it be less objectionable now if perceived as a response - balance - to SBG airing Stolen Honor? Would there be complaints about the quantitative audience (approximately 24% of all U.S. television households for SBG versus ??% for ABC)?

Posted by: Tim at October 14, 2004 4:59 PM | Permalink


Concentration of local station ownership means nothing to me, but this may in part be because I watch very little television. By way of comparison, Michael Moore's documentary played on thousands of screens all across the country--that's distribution Sinclair can only fantasize about. I just see what Sinclair as doing as innovative mainly by the standards of a very tiny (and unimaginative) portion of mass media. It's no more a threat to the way news is gathered than the non-fiction-based ravings of a partisan filmmaker. What is the distinction being made between one outlet for partisan views and another? Why are local broadcast stations viewed differently? If Sinclair bought up a bunch of multiplexes would *anyone* care if they chose to screen partisan documentaries in them? Is it just because anyone can watch the local station for free (if they want to)? It must be more than that.

Posted by: Brian at October 14, 2004 5:01 PM | Permalink

I also do not see how it is to John Kerry's advantage to accept Sinclair's (disingenuous) offer. The Vietnam issue lingered because Kerry had nothing to say following the Vietnam-centric convention, he seems to have changed tactics and I doubt there is anyone beyond a few disgruntled veterans who gives a damn.

Posted by: Brian at October 14, 2004 5:06 PM | Permalink

He shouldn't give them the satisfaction of an answer. The Navy answered the question. Apparently public airwaves serving up propaganda from one POV is fine as long as you buy into the claim that networks have a POV. For thinking people this is ludicrous. Go ahead peddle your agenda; see who hears the deceptive message.

Posted by: John Henry at October 14, 2004 5:49 PM | Permalink

Jay -- it hardly needs saying that I find your blog thought-provoking, or I wouldn't be here.

P.s. I agree with your own reaction to the ABC hypothetical, and SBG's behavior makes me no more cheerful than CBS's. All this makes me wonder if we'd all be better off with openly partisan news media. The current state of pervasive crypto-partisanship fools nobody and, in my view, makes news journalists less credible than they would be if their politics were a matter of admitted record. There's a parallel here with financial writers, whom nobody trusts without a stock ownership disclosure (if then), but I'm not sure how good it is.

Posted by: Harry at October 14, 2004 5:51 PM | Permalink

praktike: in the end, what I think you say here is that our media culture is at risk of sliding towards that of Italy. You want to know if that's the right comparison, but most importantly you wonder what Sinclair wants. Correct?

Correct. And I think that people are far too quick to understand it as a corporation that will behave thusly.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 14, 2004 6:07 PM | Permalink

For those who may be around the radio in the right town, tonight I will be on the syndicated NPR Show, On Point, which is produced out of WBUR in Boston and airs on WNYC in New York and many other stations.

The program is from 8:00-9:00 pm, and tonight it is about Wall Street Journal reporter Farnaz Fassihi's email from Baghdad, the Accidental Baghdad Dispatch that has drawn so much interest. I wrote about it here.

The first part, 8:00 to 8:40, is interviews conducted today with U.S. correspondents in Baghdad, who were read the Fassihi e-mail. They react, I am told, with quite a bit of force. Then from 8:40 to 9:00 I will be dicussing what we heard from the journalists, and the larger issues of reporting from Iraq.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 14, 2004 6:32 PM | Permalink

DNC Files FEC Complaint Against Sinclair Broadcasting, 11 October 2004
NewsMax: Sinclair 'Better Hope We Don't Win', 12 October 2004

It doesn't appear that Fox News Dayside has transcripts available, but you can purchase a video of the show. NewsMax (yes, I know) has more quotes than Drudge.

EMBATTLED BEAT: "Terence Smith talks with Brian Rooney of ABC News, Rajiv Chandrasekaran of The Washington Post and Brian Bennett of Time magazine about the dangers and challenges of reporting from Iraq."

Posted by: Tim at October 14, 2004 6:40 PM | Permalink

Serving in uniform now gives license to condone war crimes? Come on.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at October 14, 2004 6:46 PM | Permalink

Couple of thoughts:

1)Was the media's refusal to cover the SwiftBoat Vets story in April anexample of political interests getting control of media organization? Some of their charges have been shown to be supported, some not. If I were a socialist or libertarian, I'd say that the media have politically controlled the news to my detriment for years.

2)Granting that propaganda can be effective, I prefer that the government stay out of what I'm allowed to read, view or hear. Full disclosure: I believe that McCain-Feingold violated at least the spirit of the First Ammendment as I understand it.

3)I think the Feds should charge substantial fees for television licenses to use the public airwaves. Stations are already priced out of reach of non-millionaires. What access would be lost?

4) If the media assumes the mantle of guardian of truth, why do we see so much "if it bleeds it leads" vs chips fall where they may coverage of boomers and Social Security or requirements to be considered a journalist? Doctors, lawyers,architects, engineers et al have to practice and/or pass a test to be certified or liscensed as professionals. Journalists don't.

5) My perference is to let anyone say just about anything, but with the requirement of full disclosure of funding (to include charities and foundations sources of funds). If journalists really mean what they say, far right/left, lib/con, big/small govt folks will keep each other honest. Soros vs Scaife?

Jay, Great blog.

Posted by: oldtom at October 14, 2004 7:14 PM | Permalink

Idiotic is being outraged that Kerry told the truth about war crimes.

The veterans who are pissed off should blame their fellow soldiers for committing war crimes, the officers who didn't prosecute the war crimes, and the Pentagon leaders, like Rumsfeld in the 70s, who decided not to pursue justice. Blaming the man who told the truth about what happened does not enter into the picture in a rational world. Being angry about the truth IS idiotic.

By holding a grudge about the truth you are declaring yourself to be an idiot. An idiot opposed to the Geneva convention and Americans like Kerry who stand up for it. Your decision.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at October 14, 2004 7:34 PM | Permalink

The FCC can't do anything about the broadcast except allow equal time AFTER the airing of the screed due to a "gap" in the law.

I sense this upsets you. It's not "fair" or something.

Posted by: Brian at October 14, 2004 7:44 PM | Permalink

Jay is on "On Point" now.

My observation: So if Iraq is more dangerous now than it was before. To what conclusion should one jump?

As one reporter said, Zarqawi considers journalists specifically targeted. Yet Zarqawi representatives feel confident enough to go to Badghdad to see that reporter.

Where is the judgment by the reporter that sees those actions for what they are -- uncivil -- and says, "These insurgents deserve to be taken out. We will not promote their message."

Posted by: sbw at October 14, 2004 8:48 PM | Permalink

Further radio live blog:

Jay: discordant picture out of Iraq.

News media has to convey that it is a reliable purveyor of information.

Rod Nordland (Newsweek): Talking about spin by the administration.

David: Strange that her private email has the real story. Why isn't it going into her story.

Rod: The terms of address that were different in a story. Reporters have to shade how they report to protect themselves from verbal assault from all sides.

Tom: My concerns. If information in email is correct. Don;t we have to have doubts about what administration is true. Isn't credibility of journalism at stake.

Question: Qhat is press responsibility for lack of comprehension.

Rod: We have written about this before. We've told it but people aren't listening.

[sbw thought: suppose it is bad. That doesn't necessarily change what should be done.]

Rod: We very much hope that this is a temprorary situation. We worry about losing the Iraqi voice in our reporting.

[sbw thought: Who is making Iraq violent? How should we respond to that.]

Posted by: sbw at October 14, 2004 8:58 PM | Permalink


It takes more than some wannabe local broadcasting mogul to make me agitate for the government to act as playground monitor. Demands for equal time are best addressed to the candidate being criticized, who can pretty much guarantee that his view will get aired to far more people than will watch this program, whatever it is. Recall that for about a month Kerry assiduously avoided the national press. He seemed to be waiting for someone else to make his case for him. He had an opportunity for equal time by involving himself in this mini-circus event, at any rate. (That's probably why Sinclair made the offer, knowing it would be turned down.)

Posted by: Brian at October 14, 2004 10:17 PM | Permalink

The News We Kept to Ourselves
Voices of Iraq (via Blogs of War)
IWPR's Iraqi Press Monitor

Posted by: Tim at October 14, 2004 10:29 PM | Permalink

How often did Zarqawi bomb civilian Iraqis before Dubya's invasion "freed" them for military occupation by the US and al Tawid?

Why didn't Bush take out Zarqawi in the no-fly zone in one of the three chances he had to hit him before the war?

Posted by: Ben Franklin at October 14, 2004 11:13 PM | Permalink

The other serious comparison to Murdoch and Sinclair after Silvio Berlusconi is Randolph Hearst and the fictional yellow journalism of the Filipino and Spanish American War.

Did Randolph Hearst have a right to falsely convince the country we'd be doing the Filipino's a favor by fighting a fourteen year war against them after we went there to "free" them in "support" of their rebellion against the Spanish? After they helped us defeat the Spanish?

Free speech doesn't allow shouting fire in a theater. It also shouldn't allow shouting "terror" when there aren't terrorists prior to Bush opening up the country to them. It is a violation of public trust in both cases that calls for prosecution, not defense. There certainly isn't a constitutional right to lie to the country. Treason is not a civil right.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at October 14, 2004 11:25 PM | Permalink

Sinclair's partisan political move is unfair, a real October Surprise, and those who oppose it are right to pressure advertisers and local stations in an effort to make them stop.

As I wrote in my Online Journalist blog today, there's also something to be said for having a variety of media which project distinct points of view. A formative experience for me was a year in France (25 years ago), where the daily news came in a spectrum of political hues, from royalist through right-wing, center, left-wing, all the way to Communist. Getting anything like a complete picture of any given news event meant having to read several daily newspapers - but the resulting, multifaceted view was fascinating and informative. Those newspapers made no bones about their partisan proclivities, and readers knew what they were getting.

That situation didn't arise overnight in France, of course. If that's what the US broadcasting establishment is evolving towards, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Posted by: Doug Millison at October 14, 2004 11:27 PM | Permalink

Ben Franklin:

What State are you from? Whichever State, I am sure there are statistics that quantify a depressingly large number of assalts, rapes, burglaries, etc... I suppose you would not mind if one of your fellow State X residents went before Congress to testify that these crimes are condoned at the highest levels by the Governor and the Legislature, Community Leaders, & even the Professors at the University of X (without evidence), and are commonly practiced in most neighborhoods of State X. If this was credulously accepted by Congress, the Media and others at face value (who never visited State X), and you were vilified whenever you left State X, tarred with the same brush so to speak as those who may actually were committing such crimes, you would think that was just fine.

John Henry:

Who do you think wrote the after-action reports for the "official Navy records" you cite as so persuasive? As somebody with personal experience in this area, I can assure it was not some detached, eye-in-the-sky camera operator the Navy flies artound to record chaotic events for posterity. As it happens, in this case, John Kerry has admitted he wrote many of these reports himself (a thankless, paper-pushing exercise most of his peers would have gladly avoided), and had them submitted, without review by his peers some time after the actual events in question. Takes a lot of cheek to cite yourself to corroborate yourself. Does this explain why Kerry will not sign DOD Form 180 (Bush did, a long time ago)and release the remaining files the Navy confirms they have in their posession? Perhaps it is only to cover the fact he was not honorably discharged, and can only claim this status today because of an upgrade to his discharge status processed by the Carter Administration in the late 1970s. What do you think?

Posted by: Evor Glens at October 14, 2004 11:52 PM | Permalink

I think this is one of the best reports I've read on PressThink. I also have a question: How do you reconcile the implicit critique of Sinclair's desire to present a certain kind of news, a certain kind of truth--the truth it think matters and is real--with the implicit earlier acceptance of Halperin's ABC memo?

I am not talking about the larger issue of Sinclair's desire to grow its political and broadcasting influence but the immediate end to which it puts such influence: adjuticating--making judgements--on the news and broadcasting according to those judgements. This is why Halperin's memo in some ways enables Sinclair, I am inclined to believe.

Posted by: Lee Kane at October 15, 2004 12:30 AM | Permalink

Newspapers don't exist because of public largesse. Television stations do. There's no comparison.

If Sinclair is actually interested in balancing the presentation, the way to do it is by inviting equally qualified Kerry supporters to comment on a showing of "Going Upriver."

John McCain has expressed strong support for Kerry's service record. Perhaps he'd do it. If not, I'm sure Wes Clark or the two former joint chiefs chairmen in Kerry's corner would. Ask them to their faces if they think that by supporting John Kerry, they're selling out the institutions to which they've devoted their entire working lives.

That would satisfy me.

I keep seeing comparisons between "Stolen Honor" and "Fahrenheit 9/11." There aren't any other than that both are polemics. If "Stolen Honor" had a prayer of drawing anyone into theaters, that's where it would be.

As it is, anyone who wants to see the show can order it from the producer's website or download it for five bucks. It isn't being suppressed in any way.

The question here is whether broadcasters are accountable to the public, through the vehicle of whatever regulatory agencies are involved, for the broadcasters' use of the airwaves.

Obviously, the people who are terrified by Janet Jackson's nipple and Howard Stern's antics think that's so.

I do too, and I think Sinclair has decided to test the depth of that accountability and to destroy it if they can.

Everything contains the seeds of its own destruction. If Sinclair and those who support it attempt to impose a communications environment akin to the procedural environment established by House Republicans during the past several years -- and Jay's right, that is what they're doing -- the results will be destructive for all of us. GOP-TV will have no more interest in encouraging the airing of opposing points of view than the House Rules Committee.

Posted by: weldon berger at October 15, 2004 12:45 AM | Permalink

Speaking of Halperin, anybody else see this? (I don't think this is really off-topic given the exchange going on here.)

Reuters version of a Schwarzenegger quote:

"Both of them did not answer some of the questions, which I think is upsetting to me," Schwarzenegger told KGO radio in San Francisco. "I think it is much better to be straightforward with the people."

"I mean if you get a question about Iran and about the nuclear power and what you are going to do in the future with this nuclear power, and you don't even answer that question, I think it's a mistake, You know like Kerry did," he continued. "Bush did the same thing in some instances, not really get into it and answer it."


"Both of them did not answer some of the questions, which I think is upsetting to me. I think it is much better to be straightforward with the people.... You know like Kerry did. Bush did the same thing in some instances, not really get into it and answer it."

Clash between title and text notwithstanding, this kind of meaning-reversing quote surgery seems pretty far beyond the pale, but I suppose it may not be outside the envelope defined by Halperin's recent policy statement.

Posted by: Harry at October 15, 2004 12:51 AM | Permalink

Evor Glens,
The parallel would be if all those things were true of my state and the police knew about it and the Justice Department knew about it and they just kept letting it happen and when they found out about it they refused to prosecute or punish the criminals.

If John Kerry made a speech saying the state was letting its criminals get off without punishment, I'd be cheering him on. The last thing in hell I'd demand is that he apologize for speaking the truth about the corruption of state officials. If the state was full of citizens like you who'd rather let the criminals get away then prosecute them, we'd deserve to have a bad reputation.

The command structure at all levels in Vietnam DID refuse to prosecute or seriously punish war crimes. That's a fact. It started at the top and needed to change.

Would a corrupt state that didn't prosecute murders and rapes be better off if we pretended there were no murders and rapes because people might think poorly of other people who live in the state? This must be the dumbest thing I've heard in a LONG campaing of record-setting idiocy.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at October 15, 2004 1:17 AM | Permalink

Here's a link for the veteran's hatchet job Bush organized for McCain in South Carolina in 2000. I don't know if J. Thomas Burch, Jr. has participated in SBVT, but the rhetoric and M.O. is nearly indistinguishable. It's almost enough to make you think it doesn't have much to do with Kerry other than that he happens to be Bush's opponent. These kinds of things just magically tend to happen to Bush's opponents. Amazing coincidence, that.

"The template has already been used by Bush's campaign, on Sen. John McCain, another Vietnam hero, in South Carolina during the 2000 Republican primaries.

Here is how The Houston Chronicle reported one episode in its Feb. 4, 2000, edition. A dispatch from Sumter, S.C., began: "George W. Bush prompted an attack Thursday from military heroes, activists and a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman on rival John McCain's voting record on veterans and POW/MIA issues. Bush himself refused to criticize McCain but stood alongside the veterans' activist who made the attacks.

"'He came home. He forgot us,' J. Thomas Burch Jr., chairman of the National Vietnam & Gulf War Veterans Coalition said of McCain, who spent nearly six years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam before his elections to the U.S. House and Senate from Arizona.

"McCain dismissed the attack as 'foolishness' brought on by Bush's 19-point loss to McCain on Tuesday in New Hampshire and a new poll showing McCain with a five-point lead over Bush in South Carolina."

Note that Bush "stood alongside" while someone did the attacking for him."

Posted by: Ben Franklin at October 15, 2004 1:22 AM | Permalink

I saw footage of the S. Carolina hatchet job on McCain as part of a PBS documentary on Bush and Kerry broadcast Tuesday night.

While Bush guiltily smirked twenty feet away, the veteran Bush had invited to his campaign rally was claiming that McCain informed on other prisoners and caused them to be tortured. He had betrayed them and could not be trusted to be commander in chief because he had appeased the enemy and betrayed his fellow soldiers. Sound familiar?

Posted by: Ben Franklin at October 15, 2004 1:32 AM | Permalink

Yes Ben, "it's just like ..."

Posted by: Tim at October 15, 2004 1:42 AM | Permalink

John O'Neill exposed as the lying hack he is.

Viet Cong veterans who were firing on PCF-94 the day John O'Neill claims there was no fire and therefore Kerry deserved no medal speak to ABC on camera about where they were and what they were shooting at.

Worse yet, the SBVT crew had already been to the village, heard the truth, and made a propaganda-mercial with the lie anyway.

They just had to leave the interview with the Viet Cong on the cutting room floor because it didn't fit the lie. What pathetic hacks.

Duped Republican foot-soldiers, we're waiting for your apologies.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at October 15, 2004 1:49 AM | Permalink

Unfit for Command, Chapter 5, scroll down to Silver Star

What Happened in Kerry's Vietnam Battles?

Posted by: Tim at October 15, 2004 2:25 AM | Permalink

So F911 made money, this anti-Kerry doc won't, and that's why they are different. How terribly discerning and capitalist of you. And the line about television stations existing because of "public largesse" is nice. PBS exists because of "public largesse" and they manage to be about a 1000 times less accountable than SBG. It would take the ideological reversal of PBS' programming over the course of a decade to allow "equal time", but strangely none of Sinclair's critics see that as a big priority.

If I seem to be suggesting that the critics here of SBG are partisan hypocrites horrified by their enemy's excesses but totally unconcerned about those of their friends', well, that's exactly what I'm suggesting.

Meanwhile I ask again of Sinclair's critics why the offer made to Kerry wouldn't satisfy "equal time" (which by the way is not required of Sinclair). Again, Kerry's supporters want to have it both ways. Kerry can refuse to talk to reporters but we're supposed to hold the mike for him (or anyone in his campaign) until they get over their snit and decide to say something, probably something totally off subject. It's a childish, whiny display.

Posted by: Brian at October 15, 2004 6:00 AM | Permalink

What's interesting to me is the fact that no one here (including Jay) has seen Stolen Honor, yet all feel qualified to judge it. How can you know the veracity of the contents? Shouldn't that be a condition for judgment?

Posted by: paladin at October 15, 2004 8:30 AM | Permalink

Jay, to me, what should have been discussed on the show you were on last night was this:

The news isn't news any more. Reporters aren't reporters. They've lost their bearings.

A "reporter" covering Iraq said that he could no longer safely go outside the green zone for fear of being kidnapped and beheaded by Zarqawi's insurgents. The reporter added that Zarqawi's representatives could safely come speak to him in Baghdad. (And he let them.)

Did it ever occur to him that his safety was threatened by Zarqawi? Did it occur to him that the rest of the community was in turmoil because of Zarqawi? Did it occur to him that serving as Zarqawi's mouthpiece he was furthering Zarqawi's campaign. That by not denouncing Zarqawi's actions, he was not reporting.

A human being, a reporter, or a community, climb above the animals lower in the kingdom if they decide to fashion civilization -- that is, if they decide to live together in an organized way. A reporter in jeopardy of losing his head is not 'living together' with the one who would kill him.

He could report who's raw violence is uncivil and intolerable. He could report that it is unsafe to venture out and who is responsible for making it that way. He could report that he is protected by being in the green zone, and thank goodness for that.

There are good reasons to be there. And good reasons to stay there. They are lost in the lazy thinking of those who would call themselves reporters.

And this comment line is about Sinclair?

Posted by: sbw at October 15, 2004 9:10 AM | Permalink

Ben Franklin:

You can call me dumb if it makes you feel superior. Like all metaphors, mine was not perfect, but instead of acknowledging the real pain and anguish felt by a large cohort of Veterans over having their honorable service recast as pure evil, you would rather avoid this obvious issue and stick to your mythical vision of a homogeneous military machine that was systematically raping and pillaging defenseless Vietnamese villagers. Maybe you should skip your daily viewing of the Oliver Stone version of history in Platoon...

I am sure there were war crimes committed by some individuals, that some unit commanders covered this up or otherwise condoned these acts (LT Calley), and one can make the case -- in retrospect -- that not enough was done to prevent or prosecute this bahavior by certain high ranking officials. Granted. Name another nation -- in the histry of the world -- that would even look into these kinds of problems and actually prosecute their own troops ( I can list the UK, Australia, Canada, that's about it. We are not perfect, but we are certainly better than the rest.

On top of which, of all the military forces that operated in SE Asia in the 20th century, the US has the best record -- by orders of magnitude -- than any other (including France) when it comes to obeying the rules of war -- however you wish to define them. So you are right that we should be critical of those lapses that did occur, admit there were failures in military discipline and learn from them. But you take it so far in the other direction you seem to lose touch with reality in order to support your fever dreams of AMERIKA as the source of all evil.

I am also sure that there with over 3 million Americans in-country over more than decade of fighting, this was the exception -- not the norm. There were undoubtedly many unreported instances of unit commanders doing the right thing to limit this kind of criminal behavior. It is not unreasonable for the SBVT & POWs to get angry when Kerry says they were all guilty -- by association -- of condoning atrocities. There are no recored instances of criminal acts in Kerry's own account of his 4 month stint in the swift boat squadrons; yet he impugned all of them when he got home and saw an opportunity to establish a high profile in the anti-war movement.

Most of the veterans I know who served in SE Asia agree that the anger against John Kerry would be driving this movement regardless of who he was running against -- it has nothing to do with Bush. These people have as much right to be heard as the so-called band of brothers, who have suddenly & mysteriously disappeared from the campaign since Kerry realized his mistake in basing his case for CinC on this war hero/anti-war hero contradition.

Let these old men be heard -- they have been waiting to clear their names for 30+ years. Kerry opened the door, they can walk through it.

Posted by: Evor Glens at October 15, 2004 9:51 AM | Permalink


Those are great points, which I think Jay tried to ask of journalism (specifically as it applies to SPJ's Code of Ethics) and us in What if Everything Changed for American Journalists on September 11th? My Speculations. As a webby way of responding, my thoughts are here and here.

Also these:
Air War College's Media and Terrorism
Terrorism as propaganda

I think it is also noteworthy that the discussion, except among the few and the hyper, has lost much of its partisan bias heat and is being discussed more openly in terms of perspective and, yes, even humility. Realism has a way of moderating both the wishful optimists and panicky nabobs. Again, Jay had offerred us a thinking map for such discussion in The News From Iraq is Not Too Negative. But it is Too Narrow.

Posted by: Tim at October 15, 2004 10:46 AM | Permalink

We now know CBS cut out all dissenting voices on their Memogate story. What did Ted Koppel leave on the cutting room floor?

Posted by: paladin at October 15, 2004 11:50 AM | Permalink

I guess you're right --- if Ted Koppel says so, it must be true.

Posted by: paladin at October 15, 2004 12:22 PM | Permalink

Also being provided without comment:

What They Saw (Transcript of exchange between Koppel and O'Neill)

I think there is no such "code" in the records saying who wrote them. I've looked.

New Document Indicates Kerry Wrote Disputed Vietnam Report

It details Mr. Kerry's participation in a naval operation on the Bay Hap River on March 13, 1969, in such glowing terms that Mr. Kerry was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star [This article is not about the February 28, 1969 Silver Star event; however, the communications procedure was established prior to that event also, as noted later - Ed.] for pulling Special Forces officer James Rassman out of the water while under heavy enemy fire. This third Purple Heart award allowed Kerry to cut short his tour in Vietnam after only four months. [snip] An operations order re-sent two months earlier, on January 3, [1969], by Admiral Hoffman, set the format for the designation. The operations order procedures, originated by the operational commander of the Coastal 11 An Thoi unit Mr. Kerry served with, Commander Adrian Lonsdale, were the basis for the terms of designation used in this kind of report subsequently. [snip] The head of the Operational Archives Branch of the Naval Historical Center in Washington, Kathy Lloyd, has verified the operations order of January 3, 1969. [emphasis and link added]

Posted by: Tim at October 15, 2004 1:43 PM | Permalink

Tim: Those are great points, which I think Jay tried to ask of journalism ... my thoughts are here and here.

Thanks for the reminders. I'm not suggesting a reporter identify with a flavor of government, but with the more basic underpinnings. You cannot propose civilization without constructing mutual peaceful process resolution to which Zarqawi, by his action, renounces.

No. A reporter doesn't have to pledge allegience to a flag, has to value at least those few concepts that make possible society in general.

(Interestingly, you can teach the advantage of those concepts across cultures and religions.)

Posted by: sbw at October 15, 2004 2:02 PM | Permalink

Well, I'm going to continue to write about Sinclair because I think the story and its significance are being missed, but that leads me to a question for supporters of Bush who consider themselves unconcerned about Sinclair's actions. Really, it's a scenario to which I'd like any reader's reaction. I consider it extremely plausible, others may not. And some will have a "ho hum" attitude.

Picture Sinclair succeeding with its present plan of growth until it can reach, say, 40 percent of the country with TV, and it's picked up 20 newspapers, most of them in towns where it owns one or more TV stations. And yet as a publicly traded company, it's having difficulty getting the margins expected and shareholders are angry. The expected happens: capitalism works and there is a takeover battle, based on the claim of underperforming assets.

Sinclair's business prospects remain poor, but it's proven itself an effective propaganda vehicle and potential king maker. And that's why George Soros swoops in at the end to claim the prize and take Sinclair in a different direction. Mark Hyman is fired that day, and his belongings are placed on the street. Katrina van den Hueval, editor of The Nation, takes his place. Soros has the dough and he takes the company private. The FCC rules say he can keep adding stations, buying newspapers. Soros has his own Washington bureau, and it does all the news for the 90-plus stations that Soros Broadcasting owns.

Are you happy campers? Oh, I forgot something. Unlike the Smiths, he can sustain losses indefinitely.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 15, 2004 2:31 PM | Permalink

I also think the story and its significance are being missed. I just think it is a different story: one concerning the fundamnetal basis of broadcast regulation.

As for the scenario Jay paints of Sinclair being bought out by Soros, I'd say the same thing I'm saying now. We have to change the fundamental way we regulate broadcast to eliminate its government-created gatekeeper role. Regulate broadcast to make it more like a common carrier and/or the internet, and then it won't matter how many stations Soros or Sinclair own. Soros can buy as many websites as he wants. So what? No one really cares that much.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at October 15, 2004 2:48 PM | Permalink


Soros already has been spending millions--in a more effective medium than television, I might add--to unseat the current president. Your amusing nightmare scenario is already in progress.

I enjoy reading this site but I'm dumbstruck that you can't see the pointlessness of your hypothetical. We already know there are people who will spend millions, perhaps billions, to create Democratic propaganda to offset what they see as Republican propaganda, and are willing to shoehorn it into television programs, rock concerts, and any other medium they have access to. Who put up the money for Air America? Who sends in checks to NPR stations? Who dominates most of the major newspaper editorial boards? Who dominates the schools? It ain't Sinclair or any of their *scary* conservative businessmen, I'll tell you that.

Hollywood churns out movies year after year that lovingly stroke leftist ideology. In academia it is uncontroversial for a professor to say seriously that conservatives are mostly idiots. You can't scare conservatives with your nightmare vision, because we've been living it for decades. Take off your blinders.

Soros can spend his money as he wishes. No one is saying he shouldn't be allowed to fund or all the other thinly disguised factories of left-think, or for that matter buy up television stations and run his drivel 24 hours a day on them. I don't know anyone on the right who is a great fan of Soros, but you won't hear conservatives demand the government figure out a way to regulate his speech.

But again, as we are told over and over again in this argument by assertion, with broadcast TV stations "it's just different". Well Air America's radio stations are broadcasting over the airwaves too--oh wait, that's radio, not television, so obviously that's also a totally different animal. What was I thinking even bringing it up? Plus it's just the good clean voice of the people, who doesn't want that?

Posted by: Brian at October 15, 2004 2:52 PM | Permalink


Would it help to break the issue down?

- Do we care if there is a Sinclair Broadcast or Soros Broadcast if they are only in 10% of media households?
- Do we care how many households if they are "objective" or "fair" or "content regulated" by law, FCC regulation or National News Council?
- Do we care if BOTH Sinclair Broadcast AND Soros Broadcast are in 80% of the SAME households?

Also, in case someone is interested: The Benton Communications Policy Mailing List

Posted by: Tim at October 15, 2004 3:33 PM | Permalink

Media Ownership Rules:
A Community and Media Market Profile of Phoenix, Arizona

The FCC has considered four aspects of diversity:
  • Viewpoint diversity ensures that the public has access to "a wide range of diverse and antagonistic opinions and interpretations." The FCC attempts to increase the diversity of viewpoints ultimately received by the public by providing opportunities for varied groups, entities and individuals to participate in the different phases of the broadcast industry

  • Outlet diversity is the control of media outlets by a variety of independent owners.

  • Source diversity ensures that the public has access to information and programming from multiple content providers.

  • Program diversity refers to a variety of programming formats and content.
The FCC has relied on the principle that competitive markets best serve the public because such markets generally result in lower prices, higher output, more choices for buyers and more technological progress than markets that are less competitive. In general, the intensity of competition in a given market is directly related to the number of independent firms that compete for the patronage of consumers.

Posted by: Tim at October 15, 2004 3:39 PM | Permalink

Quick-- name a figure in broadcasting with a job like Hyman's. You can't because there has never been a job like Hyman's.

I seem to remember television stations in the past having an owner or general manager offer an editorial piece regularly at the end of the evening news.

Posted by: Mike at October 15, 2004 3:46 PM | Permalink

CNS is reporting that the Kerry campaign is asking for equal time from Sinclair. Let's go! Put up or shut up.

Posted by: paladin at October 15, 2004 4:37 PM | Permalink

I get tired of hearing Soros - or true progressives - being cast aside as 'left-think', setting up a contentiousness I want no part of. My definition of such people is 'humanitarian' and I reject other definitions as having an agenda to diminish humanitarians.

Sinclair, on the other hand, has sufficient wealth that could generate wealth without pressing boundaries of the law. Instead, its owners prefer to suck up to power, skirt the rules and generally behave like an enfante terrible.

That is neither humanitarian and quite uncivil. People like that deserve repudiation simply because they create a stink where there was no need for stink. Little Lord Fauntleroys don't earn respect; they earn something else from people with heart.

They are a menace to civilized beings.

Posted by: Kevin Hayden at October 15, 2004 6:09 PM | Permalink


I think the answer following your followup question says it best. Conservatives like me (actually, perhaps a bit more to my right) think this has already happened.

The case for FCC regulation was always a fantasy. But the true arrival of narrowcasting has peeled away whatever veneer of respectability it once had. I am more and more convinced that the only thing regulation enthusiasts - like their cousins, campaign finance reform enthusiasts - really object to are the amplified voices of their opponents.

Let us assume the Sinclair special is as bad as "F911". I won't make the case that it advances our politics, but NOTHING in our politics advances things very much these days. So, why shouldn't "we" have a little "fairness", given the barrels of sympathetic ink Moore and his ilk have enjoyed?

To speak of the public "owning" the airwaves any more than it owns the utility easements, ground-to-satellite-airspace, and assorted interstices between my computer and your website is nonsense. And to presume that government could ever be trusted to regulate the content flowing between us is nonsense on stilts. Already, there is talk of "fixing" McCain-Feingold by taking it to the internet. I can assure you that this worldview has much in common with the "public interest" criticism of Sinclair.

I've never thought of myself as a prude, but this is what it has come to: It is permissible, and passes unnoticed that the dinner hour is taken up by people being paid to eat worms and excrement on our so-called publicly regulated broadcasters. But it is illegal for groups of citizens funded a certain way to mention political candidates by name, and some wish to restrict a network from showing a documentary film about a man who foolishly made his war service the central plank in his campaign.

Posted by: adam scales at October 15, 2004 7:31 PM | Permalink

Michael Moore would be the first to claim that he made his film to influence the election. Of course, he thinks it's true - much of it actually IS libelous, by the way, but only in a technical sense (I teach libel law, no doubt with "breathtaking ignorance") - and I presume the Stolen Valor people think their version is true.

Isn't the whole point that drawing these lines becomes very difficult, yet essential when the regulatory stakes are huge? As a definite non-Moore fan, I really wasn't comfortable with the reported campaign finance law-based refusal to run ads for the F911 DVD or re-release during October. Does anyone really believe that where 80% of the public is wired for cable that Sinclair's 25% theoretical market reach is something to be dreaded? Foxnews must be at least 80%, but people have no difficulty changing the channel when they don't like what they see.

For the record, if CBS wants to air F911 on Nov. 1, in primetime, I will certainly think it sleazy, and think bad things about them. But it simply would not occur to me to ask the law to do bad things to them. Isn't that the question Jay raises?

Posted by: adam scales at October 15, 2004 8:56 PM | Permalink

Libelous does not, as most people suppose, mean "untrue". It means, "having a tendency to bring the subject into disrepute". Clearly, that is F911's aim. However, it is protected speech, and Bush is the ultimate public figure. It is not, however, a "parody" - for that one needs to turn to the infamous "Campari" ad in Penthouse magazine, involving Rev. Falwell.

I think we are at an impasse. Maybe we can find common ground with this question: In a media saturated world, do people draw distinctions based on "platforms" any more? Most theatrical releases make more money in DVD sales. How many TV clips will live forever as downloads? Newspapers, music, video games - all of these are moving easily across different media. For how long will our regulatory structure stick with platform regulation, and will the public tolerate cross-platform regulation?

Posted by: adam scales at October 15, 2004 9:41 PM | Permalink

Jay: Are you happy campers?

Hmm. What might be similar. Suppose CBS News' Dan Rather says something stupid. His credibility goes down the toilet. Advertisers bolt. CBS News gets discounted.

Now suppose Soros takes over the communications world. What's the difference. It's like Economics where the public instantly reevaluates stock value on the basis of new information. If anyone who owns media makes a news misstep, they are devalued as a source of news. In your "What if", as far as I'm concerned, Soros can own as many stations as he wants. I'm not worried.

Posted by: sbw at October 15, 2004 10:25 PM | Permalink

Like Brian, and Adam, I see lots of Leftist bias. I'm especially angry at "The Swift Boat veterans showed us what happens when a torpid media gives airtime to partisans without checking out their stories.
Faked documents pushed by Rather is worse.

There should be no surprise in any "October Surprise" -- the news media should have been on Kerry's case for a year, since he started in the primaries.
Why no Form 180? Because he's hiding something, obviously. Is it that he LIED about Christmas in Cambodia? Is it that he LIED about his first PH ? Or was the PH good, but he merely lied in his autobiography about not being under fire earlier?

Jay acts like Leftist media on the SwiftVets: "They chose to suppress them. They chose to ignore them.

Yes, the Navy said the forms were filled out -- it never said the statements on the forms were verified.

Jay, if you don't know who signed off Kerry's first PH, then the SwiftVets have NOT been discredited. Even if they all get paid by Bush; who pays them doesn't matter. Kerry's record matters.

If you can't link to a reference that does a professional job of taking SwiftVet claims, and showing they're ALL, each and every one false, then they're not discredited.

Kerry getting the chance to speak is plenty fair. He thinks having to answer tough questions in a hostile environment is too tough? He's unfit.

The press has been negligently unfit in looking at Kerry's record.

The ownership issue is really one that you're upset an opponent would get more media time. In fact, if Soros today owned those same stations, it wouldn't help Kerry much -- a lot of the audience would look for better, less biased news. Which is the reason Fox is so popular, it's much less biased. Although to Leftists seeped in group-think reality denial, Fox seems radical.

Sorry Jay, I like this site, but on the truth of Kerry being lousy terrible on his post-War junk, YOU are part of the blind Leftis press, unable to see facts, or mostly their lack, because you already know the Truth. And facts might just confuese you.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at October 15, 2004 10:58 PM | Permalink

[Off topic] Yesterday, I faced down some campaign lies -- in poetry no less. Calvin Trillin's political poem on NPR's All Things Considered, Oct. 11th, told three whoppers. Last night, Oct 14th, in their Letters section, they broadcast my doggerel in response. Nothing ticks me off more than a lie.

Posted by: sbw at October 15, 2004 11:04 PM | Permalink

So critics of Soros' propaganda are just being "contentious"--even anti-humanitarian! Thanks for the laugh.

Posted by: Brian at October 15, 2004 11:18 PM | Permalink


Your hypothetical sounds reasonable enough as you outline it, giving Kerry a chance to answer these critics and turn it into the decisive, last-minute twist he needs to help him win the election.

But the devil is in the details. Would Sinclair agree to a format that would give Kerry a chance to actually do this? Would Kerry have a chance to see the Stolen Honor film (or clips or whatever of that material Sinclair would use), in order to prepare an effective response? Would Kerry have the opportunity (and time to do it) to prepare some sort of video montage that would have the same production value and emotional tug as the Stolen Honor material? Would Kerry be able to trust Sinclair to honor any rules of debate or presentation negotiated in advance, once they actually sat down and let the cameras roll?

I can see how the "news event" that you hypothesize could become a compelling cultural happening - the run-up to it more intense than in the case of any of the three debates, because of the nearness to election day and the possibility that Kerry might somehow drop the ball, or that some other unknown factor might intervene with surprising results. Sinclair treachery is not the least of the possible pitfalls - what if they brought out some incredibly sypathetic characters, former American POWs with a grudge perhaps, without warning, in a heart-wrenching "This is your life" moment against which Kerry could mount no effective defense?

I'm happy to see your thoughts on this issue filter out to a wider audience.

Doug Millison

P.S. If you see your NYU colleague Doug Rushkoff, tell him I said hello. If my name doesn't immediately ring a bell, mention Jody Radzik, and Blaster and Morph's Outpost magazines.

Posted by: Doug Millison at October 16, 2004 2:45 AM | Permalink

It makes no sense to me to try to use the CBS memo fiasco to "balance" the Swift Vets or the palpable rightwing bias of outlets like Fox. Two wrongs does not make a right. That being said, it's hard to understand arguments that one side or the other always gets the upper hand on television as anything other than partisan myopia. Isn't it more likely that a thesis like Somerby's is right, that there's either some sort of laziness or group-think that both restricts the range of "acceptable" news stories and that amplifies certain stories (e.g. Alexandra Polier)? Just as one aruges that the media should have been dissecting Kerry's decades-old military career, one can argue that they should be dissecting the Bush administration's record over the past 4 years, or that they should have been more aggressively skeptical of the case for invading Iraq. I think our country has not be well served in any of these cases.

I can't see that our current structure for national news and politics is that useful any more. Certain people and/or corporations have an uncanny ability to promote certain ideas, often in spite of a preponderance of objective evidence against them. There is little interest in publishing or broadcasting thoughtful, critical analysis.

Finally, I don't think that a "free market" approach to news will make this better. Is regulation really an important barrier to getting a wider set of opinions aired, or to getting a more critical or thoughtful news system? Or is the recent deregulation allowing a few rich entities to exert unprecendented influence over our politics?

Posted by: tinman at October 16, 2004 11:22 AM | Permalink

"I defended this country as a young man, and I will defend it as president," says Kerry. LINK

What question is begging an answered from Kerry to generate this much interest in SBG's offer to broadcast Stolen Honor?

Here's one: Who did you defend the country against as a young man?

Against the communists threatening to "take over our McDonald hamburger stands"? Against the Johnson administration while you were heroically serving in Vietnam? Against the Nixon administration while serving as a Navy Reserve LT in the VVAW and meeting with "both sides" (the two Communist delegations — North Vietnam and the Vietcong's Provisional Revolutionary Government) in Paris? Or, were you fighting against the American servicemen and women still serving in Vietnam, who you accused of committing crimes?

We could come back to this country; we could be quiet; we could hold our silence; we could not tell what went on in Vietnam, but we feel because of what threatens this country, the fact that the crimes threaten it, no reds, and not redcoats but the crimes which we are committing that threaten it, that we have to speak out.
Is it important because Sy Hersh sees Vietnam in Iraq?

Posted by: Tim at October 16, 2004 1:27 PM | Permalink

Please Sinclair stations do not back down on your airing of "Stolen Honor" next week even if Kerry supporters boycott your major advertisers. You would be doing an injustice to the American people not to voice the truth before they go to the polls on Nov. 2nd. Thank you. p.s. What if all of the Bush supporters were to boycott all of the TV stations carrying Kerry ads? So please stick to your guns, Mr. Hyman, and staff!

Posted by: Jeanne McDonald at October 16, 2004 5:52 PM | Permalink

You still haven't faced the reality of the US Army command structure's coverup of war crimes that makes Kerry's statements true, so smirking about repetition is another red herring.

I'll pretend you're being serious and answer your link anyway. Kerry defending himself on the Sinclair Kerry Hatchet hour would be almost as informative and logical as a non-Republican going on O'Reilly to clear their name. Good luck. Patently ridiculous idea.

Any suggestion that such a program would clarify more than Sinclair's support for Bush and many veterans' misguided scapegoating of Kerry over the truth coming out about US war crimes in Vietnam is dreaming.

Self-righteousness doesn't make the denial of reality any more legitimate. It just makes it angrier.

Jay is way off on this one. Mark McPherson called it. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at October 17, 2004 12:30 AM | Permalink

You still haven't faced the reality of the US Army command structure's coverup of war crimes that makes Kerry's statements true, so smirking about repetition is another red herring.


Posted by: Tim at October 17, 2004 9:59 AM | Permalink

Ben Franklin: Worse yet, the SBVT crew had already been to the village, heard the truth, and made a propaganda-mercial with the lie anyway. They just had to leave the interview with the Viet Cong on the cutting room floor because it didn't fit the lie. What pathetic hacks. Duped Republican foot-soldiers, we're waiting for your apologies.

Kevin Drum: It's impossible to say for sure who Khoai spoke to in March (Reese doesn't know if Khoai was one of the villagers he talked to), but it appears it probably wasn't someone from SBVT. My apologies for jumping to conclusions about this.

Posted by: Tim at October 17, 2004 10:35 PM | Permalink

I wholeheartedly support Sinclairs decision to the air the documentary on John Kerry. It is high time the liberal press had a small counterbalance.

I went to the opposing site and changed the drafted email to advertisers to SUPPORT the airing.

Another Vietnam Vet (Army Infantry)

Posted by: Leo Hopper at October 19, 2004 2:30 PM | Permalink

I wonder where the all the genuine old-fashioned conservatives have gone? They would go ballistic at the thought of the Federal government allowing the kind of rampant media consolidation that has spawned thr Sinclair conglomerate.

Posted by: old grizzly at October 19, 2004 7:06 PM | Permalink

Broadcasting official charged in sex stakeout

Sinclair president, woman arrested in company car

15 August 1996
The Baltimore Sun
Page 2B

By Peter Hermann, SUN STAFF

The president of Baltimore-based Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., which owns the local Fox television affiliate, was arrested Tuesday night and charged with committing a perverted sex act in a company-owned Mercedes, city police said.

David Deniston Smith, 45, of the 800 block of Hillstead Drive in Timonium, who also is Sinclair's chief executive, was arrested in an undercover sting at Read and St. Paul streets, a downtown corner frequented by prostitutes, Baltimore police said yesterday.

Smith and Mary DiPaulo, 31, were charged with committing an unnatural and perverted sex act. Smith was held overnight at the Central Booking and Intake Center and released on personal recognizance at 2 p.m. yesterday. DiPaulo's bail status was not available.

Officials at WBFF-TV (Fox 45) and Sinclair, one of the fastest-growing broadcasting companies in the nation with 28 television and 34 radio stations, would not comment yesterday. The company had $126 million in sales in the first half of this year.

Police said undercover Officer Gary Bowman, on a prostitution detail, was talking to DiPaulo about 9: 15 p.m. in a car at St. Paul and Read streets. She left the undercover car after telling Bowman that ``she had just seen her regular date driving in the area,'' according to court documents.

Police said DiPaulo ran across the street to a 1992 Mercedes, registered to Sinclair, and got in on the passenger side. Police followed the car onto the Jones Falls Expressway, where they said they witnessed the two engage in oral sex while Smith drove north.

Police said they followed the car back to Read and St. Paul streets, where they arrested Smith and DiPaulo, who lives in the 700 block of Washington Blvd.

Posted by: Bob Merkin at October 20, 2004 8:10 PM | Permalink


What’s most newsworthy about Sinclair Broadcasting’s anti-Kerry film is not the content; it’s the process. Big Media and the Bush Republicans are merging in an unprecedented way in order to manipulate our presidential election. That’s not spin, that’s an observable political intervention by a corporate media interest. When a corporation uses its media control to promote the election of the political party that supports its bottom line; that is corruption masquerading as free speech. Corporate influence peddling poses a threat of Orwellian proportion, when the corporation that is buying influence is the information industry central to the health of our democracy. As Big Media aligns itself with the dominant political party we are moving into Big Brother territory. Whoever controls the media has the potential to control the people. President Bush, Tom DeLay and the Republican members of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), support raising the national media ownership cap from 35 to 45 percent. Senator John McCain, many member of Congress, the Democratic members of the FCC and many consumers and consumer advocacy groups oppose further media consolidation.

Throughout history we have relied on a diverse media to serve as watchdogs of industry and government. When there are more media voices the likelihood that they could all be compromised or corrupted is diminished. On June 2, 2003 the (FCC) voted to allow media outlets to increase profits through media consolidation. Corporate media coverage of this extremely newsworthy event was conspicuously absent. The fact that the major networks put self-interest above the good of the public in this vitally important matter is cause for alarm. The only television coverage I saw on this issue came from public broadcasting. If the FCC has become our Ministry of Information then the people had best be monitoring its decisions very carefully. Special safeguards are needed at the FCC to protect the interest of the general public from the well-funded, and now politically emboldened Media giants.

I can only hope that Sinclair Broadcasting’s outrageous attempt at political manipulation will draw the necessary public scrutiny and passion to the cause of defending democracy from the insidious dangers of media conglomerates. If we select our next president based on spin and media manipulation then Big Brother could be one media conglomerate merger away.

Posted by: Teresa Blakely at October 20, 2004 10:52 PM | Permalink

I would like to hear the people that has things to say about sen. Kerry. The news media just tells what they want. News media should tell the news and keep there comments and throught to themselfs. It seems to me the Dem. is trying to stop freedoom of speech in this election.
When Sen. Kerry said that gov. was not going to run his health plain," Then who would, and they wouldn't for free!"

Posted by: Eddie Hawthorne at October 21, 2004 9:43 AM | Permalink

I was looking for the TV stations in my area that are Sinclar operated, so that I can stop watching their(new?). Where can I find this information. Please let me know
K. Buckley

Posted by: K. Buckley at October 22, 2004 5:52 PM | Permalink

live in eastern north carolina - want to see this
program - when and what channels will carry this

Posted by: neva howard at October 22, 2004 7:41 PM | Permalink

My wife and I were totally dissapointed in your program Stolen Honor Friday night. We expected much more. We saw only some clips of what we have seen many many times before. Then,why you felt it necessary to bring in George Bush' National Guard service we will never ever understand. I supposed this was going to be something that might shed more light on the behavior, and treasonous actions of that lying phoney wannabe president.
You fell flat on your butts in the content,and presentation of what material you presented. You accomplished very little other than causing people
to maybe decide, Oh well, Kerry isn't really all that bad. With friends like you meddling in the election hopes of our great president George Bush, who needs enemies? Ive got to wonder who, or what happened to scare you away from a real aggresive program to show everyone what kind of phoney this clown is. For what he did after coming home from the war, He should have spent time in prison for his treasonous talk, and association with the the enemy in France. For all those who don't think so, please read the articles of war article III. in reference to what constitutes treason. GOD FORBID he ever becomes our president!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Robert L. Walker at October 23, 2004 3:25 PM | Permalink


Posted by: JOHANNA HURLEY at October 24, 2004 4:18 PM | Permalink

PlLAY the best
debt consolidation only.

Posted by: blackjack game at October 28, 2004 1:21 AM | Permalink

6711 .Way to poker online.

Posted by: online poker at October 28, 2004 3:09 AM | Permalink

4868 slots click here to play
online slots

Posted by: at October 30, 2004 10:02 PM | Permalink

2234 slots click here to play
online slots

Posted by: slots at October 31, 2004 4:43 AM | Permalink

I'm curious ... what has happened to Berlusconi's media empire since he got elected? Or is it too soon to tell?
I have come across many people who suggest that the remedy to media consolidation could be found over the Internet; that by virtue of the diversity of reporters one can find, the average person can sample the spectrum of perspective (or bias, if you prefer) and decide for him/herself what to believe. But this assumption overlooks the situation of most bloggers getting their information FROM established media outlets. Subsequent pontification can go many layers deep (for example as witnessed in comments above, where commenters comment on their comments and articles elsewhere), but if you track the facts to their sources, they lead to broadcast reports, newspaper articles, talk shows, etc.
So, leaving aside the debate on whether or not a media oligarchy already exists in favor of traipsing into the hypothical realm of when one will exist in America, how can the Internet reliable create its own content? Upon first glance, I can only see local reportage gaining a boost; I see oversight on any macro level, such as for corporations or congress, taking a nosedive, or even becoming impossible.
Surely I'm not the only one who's noticed that web news is predigested at least twice?

Posted by: annatorious at November 2, 2004 4:27 PM | Permalink

8694 Ttry playing online pokeronline.

Posted by: online poker at November 4, 2004 2:33 AM | Permalink

online poker

Posted by: online poker at November 4, 2004 11:26 PM | Permalink

From the Intro