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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

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October 19, 2004

"Call it Commentary, Call it Editorial, Call it Programming, but Don't Call it News." Sinclair Fires Jonathan Leiberman

By interfering from above ("you will interrupt your schedule, you will run this program, you will call it news..."), and by coloring the news to match the Right's view of the world, Sinclair hopes to flush out employees who cannot get with its agenda. "All liberals leave" is the message. Leiberman is now Sinclair's poster boy for it; and any publicity his firing gets is good.

(UPDATE: Sinclair backs down—some—and announces a one-hour program that will examine the “issue” of documentaries in the election battle. FURTHER UPDATE: New PressThink (Oct. 21): Sinclair Goes to Air Friday Night: Notes and Comment on “A POW Story”. Original post follows.)

I am going to stay with the Sinclair Broadcasting mess because there are interesting developments.

The most important is the courageous action of the (former) Washington bureau chief for Sinclair Broadcast Group, Jon Leiberman, who in Monday’s Baltimore Sun spoke out. He denounced the company’s intention to show on 60 of its stations all or part of the film Stolen Honor. (At least that’s the plan unless John Kerry agrees to discuss on the air the charges in the film— a course of action I have recommended, and for which time is running out.)

“It’s biased political propaganda, with clear intentions to sway this election,” Leiberman told the Sun. “For me, it’s not about right or left — it’s about what’s right or wrong in news coverage this close to an election.”

Leiberman (bio), who is 29 and a Northwestern grad, was hired last year to lead a four-person Washington bureau. He spoke to the Sun’s David Folkenflik after a mandatory staff meeting for Sinclair’s corporate news division at company headquarters in Hunt Valley, MD, outside Baltimore. At the meeting staffers were told the special program would be defined as news, not opinion, on orders from above.

“I have nothing to gain here — and really, I have a lot to lose,” Leiberman said in taking his complaint public. “At the end of the day, though, all you really have is your credibility.”

At the end of the day, he was unemployed and explaining to Paula Zahn on CNN what happened. Sinclair fired Leiberman and had him escorted from the building. The official reason: he broke company policy by talking about the staff meeting to the Sun. Leiberman agreed that he had violated the firm’s gag order, but for reasons of professsional conscience. “I felt we were violating the public trust,” he told Zahn. And as Howard Kurtz put it, Sinclair “found itself explaining why it dismissed a top journalist for speaking to the media.” (A “disgruntled employee,” it said.)

So if Judith Miller of the New York Times should be applauded for standing up to Federal prosecutors and refusing to cooperate with their reckless leak probe—and I do praise her for that defiance—then Jon Leiberman should be cheered for his public defiance of Sinclair, which he knew would cost him his job. (Northwestern’s Medill School should be proud that one of its graduates is a professional to the core.)

Leiberman—who said he’s a registered Democrat and voted for Bush in 2000—agreed that Sinclair “under the First Amendment, has the right to air part or all of this documentary, but my argument has been, call it commentary, call it editorial, call it programming, but don’t call it news.”

Even if Stolen Honor were judged fairly to be news—even if we bend over backwards to give Sinclair the benefit of the doubt—it still wouldn’t explain what the company is doing by pre-empting regular programming to run the special in prime time. (It’s scheduled to be broadcast at 8 p.m. Friday on WBFF, Sinclair’s flagship station in Baltimore, the Sun reported today.)

Observe that Sinclair already has several more appropriate venues to report that some POW’s are hostile to Kerry because they think he prolonged their ordeal— if indeed that is campaign news. First, the company has News Central, which is seen on all of its stations. News Central produces a national report embedded in local broadcasts. Whatever real news is contained in Stolen Honor could easily have been reported there. Or Vice President for Corporate Relations Mark Hyman, who has a daily commentary slot on all Sinclair stations (The Point it is called), could have devoted one of his rants to it.

The first option might have caused some minor grumbling inside the company; the second would have caused none. But Sinclair chose the hour-long special. “We haven’t done an hour-long special on anything else, not the war on Iraq, not the war in Afghanistan, not the election, not the debates,” Leiberman said yesterday on CNN. “And all of a sudden, two weeks before the election, now we’re doing an hour-long special based on this anti-Kerry documentary.”

Commenting on all this, liberal blogger Josh Marshall said he hopes Leiberman is offered a new job. (I think he will be before the week is out.) “But my strongest impression is simply the outlandish, manic quality of this drama,” Marshall wrote, “It’s like we’re a banana republic suddenly.”

Elsewhere in the mania: Advertisers are feeling the pressure and reacting. “I’ve decided I don’t want to advertise on them,” said Adam Lee, owner of 10 auto dealerships in Portland Me (and active in Democratic politics.) He took all his advertising off the CBS affiliate, WGME. “It’s a public trust. It seems they’re abusing it.”

The most interesting—and amusing—advertiser story involved the Hannaford supermarket chain in Portland, Maine, which was trying to stay out of politics, but having a really hard time. Last week the company pulled its ads from WGME because the station was getting too involved in politics by airing Stolen Honor. The next day Hannaford restored the ads because it felt the supermarket was getting too involved in politics— by pulling the ads! As reported by the Portland Press-Herald:

On Friday, Epstein said the company was reversing its decision, again to try to remain out of the political storm.

“We recognize that WGME has been placed in an untenable position,” said Epstein, in a written statement. “It was never our intention to politicize this issue even more by our action, or to punish WGME. Hannaford is in the supermarket business, not the political business. We make our media buying decisions based on our customer demographic.”

After reading the statement, Epstein said she would not comment further.

I’m not surprised she didn’t want to comment any more. Political analysis is not a strong suit in the supermarket biz (should it be?) so Hannaford officials were unable to see how it’s in the nature of Sinclair’s action—causing an immediate reaction—to eliminate the neutral ground on which a big retailer desperately wants to stand. Hannaford’s dilemma—how do we stay out of this mess?—perfectly illustrates why most broadcasters don’t do what Sinclair has done. From today’s USA Today account:

Shares closed Monday at $6.49, down 55 cents since Friday — and down 12% since Oct. 11, the first day of trading after the Los Angeles Times disclosed Sinclair’s plans.

Lehman Bros. cut its 12-month price target to $9 from $10 as analyst William Meyers noted in a report that airing the documentary “has no upside and only multi-dimensional downside” for the company — for example by alienating advertisers and regulators.

No upside? Well, that would be true for most broadcasters. But most broadcasters are commercial operations, first and last. I have argued (go here) that this is not the right way to understand Sinclair. People on Wall Street are supposed to be savvy; Meyers sounds naive to me.

The biggest operator of television stations in the country is not so much a commercial broadcaster with a political agenda as a political broadcaster with an expanding commercial base. With Stolen Honor, Sinclair is not trying to minimize public controversy, but to create one. It is not trying to stay out of politics so that its advertisers can do the same; it wants a public role in the election endgame and it fully intends to politicize its environment— within the company and without.

Just how risky and unusual this is can be heard in Bill Carter’s account from Monday’s New York Times. Listen to this part:

A report issued by the [investment banking] firm Legg Mason last week cited the controversy over the film and asked the question, “Is this good for investors in terms of increasing the odds for favorable deregulation?” The conclusion: “We think not.”

Blair Levin, the managing director of Legg Mason and a former F.C.C. official, added in a telephone interview, “Deregulation usually happens when you do it quietly.”

Sinclair needs further de-regulation to get bigger and to begin buying newspapers in cities where it has television stations. That’s one part of its long term strategy. (See this.) In the normal way of operating a big company, you make your campaign contributions and then quietly seek favors from government. Deregulation typically turns on complex details in law and public policy that are too boring to make headlines, which almost guarantees that big changes can be won without much scrutiny. That’s why Levin says do it quietly and you will get what you want.

But we have to adjust our sense of what Sinclair wants and how it works. It isn’t a normal company seeking goodies from the Federal government— forget all that. It’s a political empire seeking to expand its influence and win a reputation for applying muscle where needed. That’s the upside of the Stolen Honor furor. Think Machiavelli, not Adam Smith.

For how long has the political right wanted a housecleaning in the nation’s newsrooms, which—according to political legend—are over-stocked with liberals? Since at least 1969. Sinclair doesn’t gripe about it; Sinclair acts. It has a strategy of killing independent newsrooms, reducing their number as it buys more and more media properties. Claiming economies of scale, it gains two stations in the same market, and combines their news operations into one.

Poof— there goes a newsroom. By openly practicing interference from above (“you will interrupt your schedule, you will run this program, you will call it news, and you will talk to no one about this meeting, understand?”), and by changing the ideological color of the news to match the Right’s view of the world, Sinclair hopes to flush out employees who cannot get with its agenda.

“All liberals leave” is the message. Leiberman is now the company’s poster boy for it; and any publicity he gets is good for the re-education scheme Sinclair has undertaken with its news workers. It expects conflicts. It expects to fire people or to find that they have quit. This is a sign of progress, not turmoil. Or rather, it’s progress through turmoil: a Right-wing version of the “long march through the institutions.”

The next step in this campaign is to begin buying up local newspapers where Sinclair has television stations. Then, using the economies of scale argument to shut up Wall Street, it will bring the newspaper’s editorial staff to heel under the centralized Sinclair system.

Let’s use Charleston, West Virgina as an example. (And here I am speculating.) Sinclair already has in hand WCHS, the ABC affiliate, and WVAH, the Fox station. After the election, it wants to obtain the right to buy the Charleston Gazette, a morning newspaper owned by the Chilton family. From three competing newsrooms across three media properties, Charleston will be down to one news operation distributed three times, and heavily influenced by decisions at corporate headquarters in Maryland.

Mark Hyman’s televised commentaries, which now run on all Sinclair stations, will be expanded to op-ed length so they can be published in company newspapers. Sinclair gains as a power broker in West Virgina, a swing state. And what Congressman is going to defy it, especially after Sinclair demonstrated its willingness to intervene in a bitterly contested national election?

The step after that: buy a third television station in Charleston, say the NBC affiliate, which means another opportunity to fire the liberal media, consolidate news operations and spread the influence of News Central, the real GOP-TV. You tell me: on what basis is anyone in Washington going to object?

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

Today’s big announcement, Sinclair Broadcast Group:

In order to minimize the interruption of normally scheduled programming in those markets where Sinclair owns and/or programs more than one television station, the news special will be broadcast on only one of those stations….

The news special will focus in part on the use of documentaries and other media to influence voting, which emerged during the 2004 political campaigns, as well as on the content of certain of these documentaries. The program will also examine the role of the media in filtering the information contained in these documentaries, allegations of media bias by media organizations that ignore or filter legitimate news and the attempts by candidates and other organizations to influence media coverage.

PressThink on Oct. 16: “How much clearer can it get? Sinclair has made no commitment to run the film.”

Sinclair on Oct. 19: “Contrary to numerous inaccurate political and press accounts, the Sinclair stations will not be airing the documentary Stolen Honor in its entirety.”

Plausible deniability: This listing of published air times for Stolen Honor, collected by Net users, shows that Sinclair forgot to tell affiliates it might later switch stories and claim that it never had plans to show the documentary. Clearly, it did have such plans.

Professor Bainbridge: “As a Bush supporter, I’m okay with Sinclair’s decision (although more than a little worried it will backfire). Having said that, however, I must admit that I would be pretty annoyed at Sinclair if I were a shareholder. We have here a classic agency cost problem - managers using their control of the corporation to advance their personal interests and preferences at the expense of the shareholders.” Also, see this from the AP.

Prophetic: “A significant effect of the John Kerry-led 1971 protests was it strengthened the resolve of the North Vietnamese to continue to hold American POWs.” Who wrote that? Sinclair’s Vice President for Corporate Affairs, Mark Hyman, did. It’s his commentary from on Sep. 22, 2004.

Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post: “Leiberman said he objected to the fact that the idea for the special originated with the commentary department and what he called ‘a very right-wing’ Hyman, an on-air editorialist who has called Kerry a liar. Hyman told The Washington Post last week that he wants to put on ‘a balanced and honest program’ and did not back off a charge that the other networks ‘are acting like Holocaust deniers’ in ignoring the former POWs.”

Paul Schelzer, AlterNet: “This top-down model reflects the authoritarian, hierarchical structure at Sinclair described by Leiberman: ‘Everything is dictated. Ideas are funneled down from the highest levels.” He says CEO David Smith would often appear “in the newsroom and toss out ideas that ended up in the evening broadcasts.’

John Nichols in The Nation’s Online Beat:

When Sinclair buys a station in some long-suffering community, it fires the local staffers and begins feeding the locals a steady diet of disembodied and disengaged “content” spewed out of the company’s media mill near Baltimore.

Sinclair has even experimented with the so-called “distance-casting” of weather reports. Sinclair’s stormbots read local forecasts for communities around the country while standing in front of ever-changing weather maps at the firm’s suburban Baltimore bunker.

Terry Heaton, former television news executive:

This move by Sinclair is so transparent that even a blind man can see through it. But it comes on top of RatherGate, Fox News and countless other recent public embarrassments. It screams for all the world to hear that fairness isn’t a part of the media anymore (was it ever?), much less objectivity. The train of self destruction that’s roaring through town keeps picking up passengers, regardless of whether they choose to get onboard or not.

And that means the decline and fall of the mainstream press in America is inevitable. It is so, because the whole thing is sleight-of-hand anyway, and the people aren’t as stupid as we once thought. If you cannot see this happening, you are in denial

Philadelphia Inquirer. “Yesterday, Kenneth J. Campbell, a University of Delaware professor who is one of the veterans depicted in the 41-minute film, sued the producer for libel, saying the film falsely portrayed him as a fraud and a liar. The civil lawsuit was filed in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court.”

Chicago Tribune, Oct. 16:

Television viewers receive on-camera reports from “News Central” that appear to be coming from local stations. Sinclair spokesman Mark Hyman delivers conservative commentary that must be carried on local news reports.

“Their whole business model is about cutting operating costs,” said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president and CEO of the Media Access Project, a legal watchdog group. “They fake the localism by presenting the hometown station feel but without any of the presence and journalism that local communities deserve.”

Shareholder action against Sinclair. Update on it from Josh Marshall. The Professor scoffs. The Comptroller of New York State, steward over 256,000 shares, is curious about a few things. Meanwhile, the advertiser pullouts move along.

Previously at PressThink: Commentary on the Sinclair Challenge

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

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

John Kerry Should Accept Sinclair Broadcasting’s Offer. “A final confrontation with the Right. Isn’t that what the Right wants too? A chance, indeed, to clear the air about Vietnam, and a lot of other things. Will America watch? America will watch. And if he can’t win that broadcast, he does not deserve to win the prize.” (PressThink, Oct. 9)

Posted by Jay Rosen at October 19, 2004 1:11 PM   Print


So, what is the solution to the Sinclair mess?

Jay is on record as opposing content controls by either the FCC or FEC.

Jay suggests more stringent media ownership controls (Sinclair built its empire under the existing regime).

What should these controls be and how will they prevent future Sinclairs? What, precisely, is the reasoning behind such controls?

Posted by: Ernest Miller at October 19, 2004 1:30 PM | Permalink

From my blog this morning:

Sinclair decision should come as no surprise
I've resisted commenting on Sinclair Broadcasting's attempt to influence the Presidential election by airing a pro-Bush documentary on its 62 stations Friday night, because I wanted the whole thing to play out more. Besides, it's a no-brainer when it comes to judging the rightness or wrongness of the decision, and I think it's really irrelevant anyway. Yes, they are a corporation with a strong desire to have the President re-elected. Yes, they're using their muscle to influence the election (but that's really old news, because that's been happening in "the media" since day one). Yes, the move is bully-like. Yes, they've demonstrated lack of tact (and class) in firing an employee who spoke out against it. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Evil, thy name is Sinclair.

But the real story here is what happens after the election and how this decision further taints ALL mainstream media (MSM) and widens the gap between MSMers and the everyday people they're supposed to serve. This move by Sinclair is so transparent that even a blind man can see through it. But it comes on top of RatherGate, Fox News and countless other recent public embarrassments. It screams for all the world to hear that fairness isn't a part of the media anymore (was it ever?), much less objectivity. The train of self destruction that's roaring through town keeps picking up passengers, regardless of whether they choose to get onboard or not.

And that means the decline and fall of the mainstream press in America is inevitable. It is so, because the whole thing is sleight-of-hand anyway, and the people aren't as stupid as we once thought. If you cannot see this happening, you are in denial. The very people complaining about Sinclair now are those who've participated in the same thing on many different levels and in many different ways. The system is corrupt, not Sinclair. Hell, they're just players, and anybody who thinks otherwise simply hasn't read history.

The press doesn't have the right to judge journalism anymore. That's been transferred to the citizens, who are now armed with their own printing presses and television towers and have taken back "the public trust." The idea that the institution of the press is self-policing has been exposed as a self-serving illusion. Those who ask if it's too late for the media to clean up its act are missing the point. The professional media "act" has never been clean. From the famous William Randolph Hearst "Puff Graham" note that launched the career of Billy Graham to Cronkhite's proclamation of "That's the way it is," the press has always been agenda-driven. That it has become glaringly obvious now should come as a surprise to no one.

Posted by: Terry Heaton at October 19, 2004 1:40 PM | Permalink

The solution is the political defeat of Sinclair, including its campaign to own more, more, more.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 19, 2004 1:40 PM | Permalink

Great essay, Jay!! It's the perfect flavor with just the right amount of sprinkles!

I couldn't be more appreciative or satisfied.


Posted by: Tim at October 19, 2004 1:42 PM | Permalink

From the John Nichol's article:

"Without serious reforms--which would restore limits on the number of stations any one company can own could own, set standards for local content and, perhaps, even restore the Fairness Doctrine--the Sinclair model could well become the norm."

and he has this to say about FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who has been leading the crusade against indecency:

"Step one is to change the make-up of the Federal Communications Commission that has not merely allowed but encouraged those abuses. Kerry could start by replacing FCC chair Michael Powell, the best friend big media has ever had in so critical a regulatory role, with the one commissioner who has consistently defended the public interest, Michael Copps."

Yes, by all means, give more content regulatory power to Michael Copps.

Doesn't anybody ever consider changing television's basic regulatory structure, rather than try to preserve television gatekeeping function?

Posted by: Ernest Miller at October 19, 2004 1:46 PM | Permalink

Great essay!

Link estblishing the premise of Stolen Honor is false and thus does not meet a journalistic standard of evidence:

Nick Turse, Swift Boat Swill:

Posted by: Ben Franklin at October 19, 2004 1:47 PM | Permalink


What does "the political defeat of Sinclair" mean?

What is wrong with owning more, more, more? Should there be a limit on the number of servers Google owns? Should there be a limit on the bandwidth the NY Times website is permitted?

I would like someone to explain to me why the solution to the problem is ownership controls, rather than changing the nature of what is owned.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at October 19, 2004 1:51 PM | Permalink

Terry Heaton's comments reveal an increasingly common double standard:

Sinclair has to do what it's doing because of the evil liberal bias in the media. Yet we can't blame Sinclair for not following the journalistic standards of evidence we force the rest of the mainstream media to follow because they are part of the same mainstream media credibility problem.

Conclusion: Lowering standards of evidence for Republican media increases freedom of speech and the credibility of the news media!

Republican in Wonderland alert.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at October 19, 2004 1:53 PM | Permalink

The first step is recognizing that cartels are anti-competitive and undermine the distribution of intelligence neo-liberalism claims to seek. Increased ownership of one news source across media platforms in one location is a cartelization of the market. It is the private sector version of the central control neo-liberalism despises. It destroys the neoliberal goal of a marketplace of competing ideas.

Hayek calls social development blind and indifferent to justice: "Evolution cannot be just." The Fatal Conceit, p.74.

By his own definition, this undermines his claim that the market is inherently democratic and liberating. Market cartels are central planning in the private sector. They are bound to fail as news due to centralization, lack of competition, and failure to decentralize intelligence. But absent state regulation that forces competition and challenges cartelization, they are NOT bound to fail economically. Current trends toward deregulation ENCOURAGE cartelization and UNDERMINE neo-liberal competition.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at October 19, 2004 2:09 PM | Permalink

Jay, please explain soon what you mean by "the political defeat of Sinclair". It is open to several inpertpretations, some of which I think you may not mean.

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

Hayek's advice on reigning in the tyranny of cartels flys in the face of Bush's call for tort reform and the current administrations's anti-competitive understanding of corporate law that encourages cartels. Nevertheless, Hayek finds it nearly impossible to imagine the dangers of central planning are just as characteristic of cartelized corporate bureaucracies as of central planning by government bureaucracies:

"The only part of these coercive functions of government which we can further consider in this outline are those which are concerned with the preservation of a functioning market order. They concern primarily the conditions which must be provided by law to secure the degree of competition required to steer the market efficiently...

With regard to enterprise the first point which needs underlining is that it is more important that government refrain from assisting monopolies than that it combat monopoly. If today the market order is confined only to a part of the economic activities of men, this is largely the result of deliberate government restrictions of competition. It is indeed doubtful whether, if government consistently refrained from creating monopolies and from assisting them through protective tariffs adn the character of the law of patents for inventions and the law of corporations, there would remain an element of monopoly significant enough to require special measures...

Where the conditions for perfect competition do not exist, what competition still can and ought to be made to achieve is nevertheless very remarkable and important, namely the conditions described above. It was pointed out then that this state will tend to be approached if nobody can be prevented by government or others to enter any trade or occupation he desired.
This condition would, I believe, be approached as closely as it is possible to secure this if, firstly, all agreements to restrain trade were without exception (not prohibited, but merely) made void and unenforceable, and secondly, all discrminatory or other aimed actions towards an actual or potential competitor intended to make him observe certain rules of market conduct were to make liable for multiple damages. It seems to me that such a modest aim would produce a much more effective law than actual prohibitions under penalties, because no exceptions need to be made from such a declaration as invalid or unenforceable of all contracts in restraint of trade, while, as experience has shown, the more ambitious attempts are bound to be qualified by so many exceptions as to make them much less effective."

"Principles of a Liberal Social Order," in The Essence of Hayek, (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1984), p.379-380

Posted by: Ben Franklin at October 19, 2004 2:32 PM | Permalink

recognizing that cartels are anti-competitive and undermine the distribution of intelligence neo-liberalism claims to seek

Ooh! I think the left side of my brain just began to cramp.

Posted by: sbw at October 19, 2004 2:32 PM | Permalink

Jay is right: Sinclair must be, ahem, swiftly and brutally crushed. Otherwise, the Right will be, um, emboldened by their victory, and the problem will only get worse.

Posted by: praktike at October 19, 2004 3:06 PM | Permalink

I see no difference between Sinclair firing Leiberman and CBS firing Bernard Goldberg after he criticized Dan Rather's CBS News.

It's quite common for a business to remove an employee who disrespects the company out in public.

The only reason you're upset is because it's a right wing group firing a lefty. You'd applaud if it were a left wing Big Media firing a right wing critic.

If you want to be ethical and fair then apply your standards equally to both sides.

Posted by: David at October 19, 2004 3:20 PM | Permalink

Jim Bridger: sbw is confused because he supports Sinclair

Jim Bridger must have missed my earlier posts or he wouldn't have said this untruth. Then, again, he have said it anyway, just to make noise.

Posted by: sbw at October 19, 2004 3:22 PM | Permalink

You've still yet to mention a critical issue here-the maker of this documentary is a former employee of the Dept. of Homeland Security and a longtime associate of Tom Ridge. So, this isn't a speech issue or one about the politics of a certain broadcaster-this is about a piece of propaganda with fairly direct connections to a sitting president being forced onto the airwaves. Josh Marshall is entirely correct-a "banana Republic" indeed.

Posted by: eb at October 19, 2004 3:25 PM | Permalink

Sinclair is within bounds to fire Leiberman for challenging a corporate decision publicly the way that Leiberman did. The exposing internal meeting information is a technicality.

It would have been more appropriate for Leiberman to advise management that if it did not change it's position, he would be obliged to resign. Once he was no longer an employee, he could criticize publicly. The problem with that is that Leiberman would get no unemployment benefits -- which is impractical. If Sinclair fires Leiberman, Lieberman gets benefits. So Leiberman's approach is entirely understandable.

Recapping: Sinclair is foolish. Kerry shouldn't accept. And the media should get on with penetrating the tissue of untenable campaign positions.

Posted by: sbw at October 19, 2004 3:34 PM | Permalink

Too bad no one at CBS had the cojones to stand up to Dan Rather. What does that say about the corruption of MSM?

Posted by: paladin at October 19, 2004 3:42 PM | Permalink

The sideshow continues...

By interfering from above ("you will interrupt your schedule, you will run this program, you will call it news..."), and by coloring the news to match the Right's view of the world, Sinclair hopes to flush out employees who cannot get with its agenda. "All liberals leave" is the message. Leiberman is now Sinclair's poster boy for it; and any publicity his firing gets is good.

I find it weird that there is more uproar over Sinclair scheduling a program, rather than suppressing one (Nightline).

Posted by: Brian at October 19, 2004 4:48 PM | Permalink

What I love about comment like this...

The only reason you're upset is because it's a right wing group firing a lefty. You'd applaud if it were a left wing Big Media firing a right wing critic.

If you want to be ethical and fair then apply your standards equally to both sides.

... is that a computer program could have written it. Let's see, what would be a good name for such software: Partisan Express? Robo-Thought? Fatuousque?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 19, 2004 5:16 PM | Permalink

In light of the fact Sinclair is now softening their approach to this episode, claiming they aren't going to show the documentary in its entirity and I suppose give it some context around it.

I'm wondering, if you were an investor or a member of the board of directors, what would you advise as a course of action to save your company and its interests? Pulling out of the documentary isn't going to be enough to restore Sinclair's good name. It will be remembered for a while as the right-wing-lion-that-roared. If they want to gain back the public trust they will have to take some drastic steps.

The question is...does the board of directors want that badly enough?

Posted by: catrina at October 19, 2004 5:48 PM | Permalink

Sinclair is not 'airing' the movie. I expect it will do what 60 Minutes did with Fahrenheit 911, that is, use excerpted material and discuss with the preoducers/directors what they intend their film to say.

Or, as 60 Minutes did with various books critical of Bush, they may merely interview the authors and expand on specific peoples' view of matters in dispute.

Or, maybe three days of interviews, as with Kitty Kelley, to get to the 'real' dirt.

Or, perhaps like Frontline, they'll interview Vietnamese in the presence of their government 'minders' to get the 'real' story.

I recall the furor THOSE events caused...heh, KIDDING!

Posted by: Thomas Hazlewood at October 19, 2004 6:04 PM | Permalink

Wonder if the furor had anything to do with their decision... possible?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 19, 2004 6:07 PM | Permalink

Ernest: By a political defeat I mean a great big public relations black eye (already happened and being forced to back down (a development now in train) and earning a reputation as a hyper-politicized company with extreme views in charge among those at the top (mostly accomplished) and upsetting advertisers who get mad and let the company know (done) and becoming a place no one with talent or integrity wants to work at (happening) and arousing local populations on the issue of phony localism (not yet) and making politicians wary of giving undue favors to Sinclair or taking contributions from its principals (not yet) and a collpase in the stock price (underway) plus a dozen other things, including deterrence. A total political defeat (well underway). But none of that involves getting the government to clamp down on Sinclair.

What kind of ownership controls do I recommend? I frankly don't know. I am not an expert in telecommunications law or policy. I don't pretend to have some bold solution to the First Amendment and public policy puzzles here. I'm not sure how we make controls and licensing work.

I do believe that if the broadcast spectrum, a public resource, is going to be treated as the property right of station owners--which seems to be what you recommend, although I'm not certain--then they should buy their piece of the spectrum, and not be given it for free.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 19, 2004 6:29 PM | Permalink

With Sinclair in apparent free-fall - both in terms of its share price and investor confidence, and in terms of its credibility as a news organization - Kerry would be foolish to appear on the sho at this point. He should let a forceful surrogate represent him if the show's format permits that, or press for equal time to use otherwise.

Sinclair's only real hope at this point is that Bush manages to get re-elected and continues to shove media consolidation down our throats. This could make the company even more reckless and dangerous. But another mis-step between will cost Sinclair whatever remains of its shredded integrity and reputation, and any pro-Bush message that it delivers is likely to reverberate only in the empty heads of most extreme anti-Kerry elements among Bush's already-committed base.

Posted by: Doug Millison at October 19, 2004 7:19 PM | Permalink


Thanks for clarifying what a political defeat is. However, note that the defeat might not be as effective if Kerry accepts Sinclair's offer ... it would legitimize what Sinclair is doing.

PR Black eye, PR smackeye, whatever, as long as they spell Sinclair right. In many corners, Sinclair is seen as "evil," in other corners, they are seen as "providing proper balance to the leftist tilt of mainstream media." Me, I don't like what they're doing, but that doesn't mean I think they are going to have lost permanent face.

Being known as hyper-politicized hasn't hurt enough careers and reputations, as far as I'm concerned. Ann Coulter gets treated with respect on television, as does Michael Moore. I'm not sure that corporations should be seen any differently.

As for no one of talent or integrity working at Sinclair? I wish it were that big a deal. But, you know, people do advertising for tobacco companies and lawyers take paying clients.

Some advertisers are upset, perhaps this will stop Sinclair, perhaps not.

Local populations don't really care about phony localism. And I'm not sure why they should. When I want to check the weather, I check with ... a national operation. Is this bad? Does this hurt anything? Does having innumerable local weather jesters make for a better, more well-informed citizenry?

If the point of ownership controls is to increase localism, is that really the best way to do it? Why not just have direct government subsidies? And, if it is good for broadcast, why not print? Why not break up the national and regional newspaper chains?

As for politicians turning down donations, you have to be the KKK or something before politicians will return your money.

As for the stock price, that may or may not create sufficient pressure on Sinclair, and it may be a short term movement. After all, if they are a political organization, stock is a secondary issue.

Now, perhaps all this hullabaloo will mean that Sinclair has been properly disciplined. However, I don't imagine that they will back completely down, it would be too much of a loss of face. Moreover, I think they will just become smarter about what they are doing. They overreached this time, but next time they will go just far enough not to get into so much trouble ... and then a little farther after that.

Ultimately, taking advantage of the political muscle Sinclair has by reason of being a major broadcaster makes too much sense to completely ignore.

I'm not arguing for turning broadcast spectrum into a straight up property right. There are many ways to restructure things, but I always come back to two: Common Carrier and/or Internet. In Common Carrier, the wireless companies may "own" the cellular telephone spectrum, but they don't have the right to control who uses the spectrum and for what content (simplified version). So, you have ownership, but no content controls. You also don't have to worry about Verizon suddenly deciding to send everyone voice mails about what a great president Sen. Kerry would make. As for the internet model, everything about the internet is owned by someone. The phone company owns the last mile wire, your ISP owns the servers you use, etc. etc. Yet, as long as no one is interfering with what your surfing, we don't really worry about who owns what.

As far as charging for use of the spectrum, rather than give it to corporations for free, I'm all for it.

Ultimately, however, our current structure is going to lead to more Sinclairs not fewer. Even if we had ownership controls, there would be more Sinclairs.

We have to change the whole ball of wax.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at October 19, 2004 7:20 PM | Permalink

Ernest / Jay,

Why do you say the spectrum is given away for free? Are you saying the auction does not bring in market value or enough?

Posted by: Tim at October 19, 2004 7:35 PM | Permalink

Television and radio broadcast spectrum are not auctioned. They are, essentially, free.

Auctions are one possible solution to raise funds, however, they have to properly designed. Poorly-designed auctions only wind up as litigation nightmares.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at October 19, 2004 8:04 PM | Permalink


Are you sure? Aren't those the frequencies auctioned under the closed band plan (pdf)?

Posted by: Tim at October 19, 2004 8:32 PM | Permalink


That only applies for initial licenses. If you already have a license, you're not going to have to pay for it. Indeed, if you were a television licensee, the government gave you free digital frequencies to replace your analog ones, instead of auctioning off the new digital frequencies.

Posted by: at October 19, 2004 8:57 PM | Permalink


Thanks for the kind words.

The feelings are mutual.


Posted by: David at October 19, 2004 10:00 PM | Permalink

Here are some more kind words, David. How would you spin this one? Zelnick's the real thing: conservative who complains a lot about liberal bias. Former ABC reporter.

Bob Zelnick, chairman of the Department of Journalism at Boston University, a self-described conservative who says he intends to vote for President Bush, calls Sinclair's decision "an unfortunate precedent" that runs counter to "good journalism" and "is not what network news ought to be about." A former Pentagon correspondent for ABC News, Zelnick says, "Whether you're liberal or conservative, if you have roots in the journalism profession, there are core values that transcend and need to survive election to election. You avoid airing, very close to election, highly charged, partisan material that takes the guise of a documentary."

Link to Salon or try this one.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 19, 2004 10:24 PM | Permalink

Thanks, Doug. I don't think you have to worry too much about Kerry taking my advice; looks like he won't. Practically no one agrees with me, anyway.

I believe that absent something dramatic he will probably lose. This would be the something dramatic, a chance to "control our own destiny," as baseball players say when there are only a few games left.

We've gotten too used to over-controlled, overly-cautious, mico-managed, poll-programmed candidates and campaigns. To me, that's sad. I agree with Ernest, though, that Sinclair is not on the run yet. They will just become a little subtler.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 19, 2004 10:41 PM | Permalink

They way you are thinking about Sinclair's ownership is so... so... Yesterday.

Break out of the box. Broadcast spectrum is allocated the way it has been -- as a scarce resource -- for historical, technical reasons that really don't matter much any more. If we take that spectrum and switch to cellular transmission and packets, Sinclair is left selling buggy whips, Howard Stern will be able to shock all he wants, and there is even room for wardrobe malfunctions that don't cost 500K a pop.

Sometimes the fruitful thing to do is to bypass yesterday's problems altogether.

Posted by: sbw at October 19, 2004 11:01 PM | Permalink

Uh, that would be fine if elections weren't fought and to some degree won with TV ads that run on these antiquated stations. Big part of politics, Stephen. Was in 2000, 2004, probably will be in 2008, even with all these massive shifts we feel around us going down. It's not whether the broadcast environment will change; it will. But if a candidate suddenly discovers that his opponent is up on Pittsburgh TV with negative attacks and he can't get on Pittsburgh TV because the same attacks are coming from the Tv station he would have to advertise on, which refuses his advertising, claiming it has falsehoods in it... well, maybe you get the idea. Maybe you don't.

Paranoid, implausible, overheated? Maybe. Sinclair is half way to that vision now. With a Bush win a lot closer.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at October 19, 2004 11:46 PM | Permalink

I have an antibody theory about Kerry and Bush scandals--Just about any rumor, from a wireless transmitter on Bush's back to something about missing a physical during his National Guard years, gets widespread play in the MSM. For Republican presidents it seems it has always been thus since Nixon. And so the public doesn't listen much: the litany of accusations is unending, often bizarre, and so any new item is of little importance.

The Dems, however, generally get a pass. Now, Clinton didn't in the end but if you remember after awhile he was so hit with various weird scandals that they seemed to lose power.

Kerry has no such immunity and so the Swift Boat vets make his poll figures severely ill and "Stolen Honor" becomes a potential force in the election. Meanwhile, in Bush land, a severe attack of Michael Moore and Dan Rather cause him barely to sneeze.

One has built up immunity and the other has not. In a sense the Halperin style of dual standards has innoculated Bush and made Kerry vulnerable.

Posted by: Lee Kane at October 20, 2004 12:27 AM | Permalink

A very intriguing thread. A few points from the biz side:

Until and unless cable/broadband is universal (and free), over-the-air stations are it for 100% mass in the ~225 DMAs we call the USA.

The current (or predecessor) licensees got the analog spectrum for free, mainly U's as late as the '80's, and are getting digital spectrum for free in a trade - although some folk I know say that the analog spectrum will never go back and the current rentiers will wind up with both for nada.

Sinclair is (I'm beginning to sound like a broken record with this info) a classic over-leveraged multi-station group, with a very high debt ratio (over 7:1), debt servicing tied to (rising) LIBOR, a great many lousy stations, and barely rising sales - after the boycott, maybe not even rising.

Considering what's been happening, I'm surprised that neither Moody's nor S&P has put them on watch or done a downgrade - this fight has got to be having a material effect on their ability to service their debt, what with their margins being razor thin and their stock having gone down ~80% from its peak.

Whoever made it, good point about them being the 600 lb gorilla and not being afraid to say it - ballsy, but then only to be expected from a CEO who's known for consorting with prostitutes while driving. (And does anybody know if he was convicted?)

They are at a major inflection point - if they can't get more LMA's, cross-ownership waivers, and duopoly permissions, their "control costs by consolidation" routine won't work, and, absent a major liftoff in ad spending next year (unlikely), rising interest rates will make their loan payments so high that they will be under water by the end of 2005.

They have already announced (prior to the current contretemps) that their ad revenues are not growing as they should; the boycott should make them miss even revised targets.  Believe me, the Street does not appreciate seeing them destroy the bondholders' investment (nobody really cares about the stockholders).  Do not be surprised to see the first legal action come from bondholders, long before FCC or SEC or FEC.

Posted by: fatbear at October 20, 2004 3:05 AM | Permalink

I continue to be amazed at how news folks are upset by this.

The company is simply doing what it wants with some of the airtime. There is precedent - you WILL carry this or that beauty pageant.

I'd say a political documentary or propagentary can drop into that model very easily.

{erhaps eople are somehow confusing this propaganda with journalism, and then being upset at how it is being used. This is not journalism. It is a political advocy. It does give information, and that information may or may not be correct. Unlike Rather et. al., this advocacy is not being hidden with the news, which makes it a lot better in my book.

I have heard one issue thrown around and (easily discredited). I don't know exactly how it ties into this because I haven't seen the documentary, but people discuss it as an example of the inaccuracy of the show.

The issue is whether Kerry caused them to be tortured: there are two answers - no and just maybe.

No, they were not directly tortured for this. They make a more subtle point: they are angry that they withstood torture(as we were trained to do) to avoid making propaganda statements, and then Kerry gave even more valuable statements for his own reasons. As you can see - Kerry didn't cause the torture, but you can see why they would be ticked.

Spend 5 years refusing to say you had participated in war crimes, and being almost continually tortured specifically to get you to say you were a war criminal, and then this turncoat says that it was American policy to do war crimes all the time by everyone.

Yes, just faintly. One could argue forever as to how different events alered th length of the war. We know that press and protester action prevented a communist surrender in 1968 (from one of Giap's biographies). But did Kerry's actions in 70-72 affect the outcome? I'd say that only in a collective sense with many forces). So he might have microscopic liability for the torture - he might also have reduced it by ending the war more quickly. Who knows?. Also, I believe the worst torture had ended by then.

So if they say John Kerry caused them to be tortured, it's not true. But if they suffered torture "for" Kerry, in a sense that is correct.

Back to Sinclair. Someone has bought hour long advertisements on their chain. That someone is the owner of the chain. Of course, others might have trouble doing this because they don't own the outlets, but that's one of many side effects of the worst attack ever on first Amendment - McCain/Feingold. It demonstrates again that certain media outlets are very powerful, which is why conservatives complain so much about MSM bias. Because it hurts us, whether you see it or not, and that isn't a robotic response but a daily event. By the way, if you are in Florida, Jersey or parts of Penny, enjoy our (Vietnam Vets for the Truth) billboards. They're black - easy to see. A way around some media barriers.

How many journalists have raised hell about Michael Moore's efforts? That passes as journalism and certainly fools lots of people, and it is extremely misleading and clearly propaganda in the pejorative sense. I suspect that POWs giving their view on Kerry is a lot more truthful and relebvant than Michael Moore's polemical products.

So yes, this conservative-bot is indeed doing the obvious: bringing up comparisons to show inconsistencies in liberal positions.

Will Sinclair's action affect the future? First of all, is it new? Has nobody every done it before? As I have said, Bill Moyers does it in about the same time slot, and he's an honored journalist (who just happens to be unsually biased).

As far as multiple ownership and all that. I don't have a problem with someone owning a bunch of stations. I do get concerned if they are allowed to acquire greater than a certain total share of a local area. Yes, this conserative does not believe in letting outfits using the public's airways total free reign.

I was hoping that ClearChannel would give me more radio music choices. How many stations running the same format does a company need in a market. Oh well. At least they are a good customer.

This ancient medium of TV is going to last a long time. It is not just a technological shortage like it used to be, but a matter of consumer behavior. When most people have access to hundreds of channels by cable or satellite technology, you would think that more local choices would spring up tht are not broadcast over the TV channels. I haven't seen much movement in that direction.

Stations become, I think, a stopping point - a way station - or a portal, as the internet folks talked about as the blew billions making useless portals. They are a brand.

If Sinclair creates a network brand, as opposed to being just the oprator of stations using programming from others, it could provide another choice. Maybe this is an attempt to do that. After all, there are a whole lot of conservatives, representing a decent market, and many of us despise network news and never watch it (of course, I watch Fox).

On the other hand, people with power sometimes use it as they feel. As others have mentioned, there may be an issue for stockholders and the board, but there may not be. Ross Perot wanted to fix Wall Street around 1970, and spent a pile to do it. It failed, he lost that money. He wanted to find MIA's after Vietnam, and used a lot of money for that. The decision makers at Sinclair may be anywhere from conservatives wanting to put out this information to marketers looking for attention to someone who just wants to tick people off.

As far as the guy getting fired, he wasn't fired for being a liberal, and it does not say the knife is or is not out for liberals at Sinclair. He was a disloyal employee - he was of course fired.

What I don't understand, as I have said before, is why this broadcast is a big deal on this blog? What is it about this action that even relates to journalism (except the way Michael Moore does)? What the heck has got everybodies knckers in a twist.

And by the way, Jay, your argument about robotic responses, while being a bit dismissive, should cause a little thought: yes, people talk about bias of the MSM in the context of this story. They talk about hypocrisy and inconsistency of the argument in that context. Is that predictable? Yes. And it is no different from the predictable responses of journalists on journalism issues. It doesn't make any viewpoint right.

When one see the MSM as fundamentally biased and hostile, that becomes THE context for most issues related to political coverage. Ignoring it or disdaining that argument is to stifle the discussion.

Tiresome? Yes, and when discussing over a long time contentious issues, with many people popping in and out, it gets tiresome for the regulars. I don't know if you were ever on Usenet in the good old pre-public internet days, but the same phenomenon was there.

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at October 20, 2004 4:19 AM | Permalink

"So if Judith Miller of the New York Times should be applauded for standing up to Federal prosecutors and refusing to cooperate with their reckless leak probe--and I do praise her for that defiance--then Jon Leiberman should be cheered for his public defiance of Sinclair, which he knew would cost him his job. (Northwestern's Medill School should be proud that one of its graduates is a professional to the core.)"

Are you familiar with Miller's record on the search for WMDs during the war? Here's an account from Slate, Reassessing Miller:

If the government must re-examine whether data may have been "manipulated" to support the war, surely the New York Times should conduct a similar postwar inventory of its primary WMD reporter, Judith Miller. In the months running up to the war, Miller painted as grave a picture of Iraq's WMD potential as any U.S. intelligence agency, a take that often directly mirrored the Bush administration's view.

Now, thanks to the reporting of the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, we understand why Miller and the administration might have seen eye-to-eye on Iraq's WMD. On the same day as the Times editorial appeared, Kurtz reproduced an internal Times e-mail in which Miller described Ahmad Chalabi, the controversial Iraq leader, former exile, and Bush administration fave, as one of her main sources on WMD.

Posted by: anona at October 20, 2004 4:27 AM | Permalink

Point by Point Refutations of SBVT and "Stolen Honor" Disinformation
"Swift Vets and POWS for 'Truth' vs. the Truth"

My Commentary:
It is very hard to choose which of the outrageous distortions and lies is more stunning. I've heard from numerous sites that it was Roy Hoffmann's portrayal in Douglas Brinkley's Tour of Duty that so angered him he began putting together SBVT. How charming that the war criminal flavor of the material on Hoffmann in the book actually comes from another SBVT stooge, Larry Thurlow.

But is that more outrageous than the claim that Kerry's picture hangs in a Vietnamese museum as an appeaser when they actually have a picture of him hanging in recognition of his diplomatic work settling the POW/MIA issues? Hard to say. It is difficult to find a word more appropriate to describe these tactics than fascist.

See Project for the Old American Century,
Wake Up and Smell the Fascism,
for 14 points characteristic of fascist societies according to the political scientist Lawrence Britt and links in support of the case for this administration's achievements in this direction.

Website Excerpt:
Swift Vets and POWs for "Truth" v. The Truth

7. [via Daily Howler]: SBV claims that Kerry was "sickened" by SBV member Roy Hoffmann's conduct during the war (based on the book "Tour of Duty"). Nowhere in "Tour of Duty" does Kerry say he was "sickened" by Hoffmann's conduct. Indeed, the person who does criticize Hoffmann in Tour of Duty is fellow SBV member Larry Thurlow! Details in the Other Lies or B.S. section.

5. [via Daily Howler and Unspun]: SBV claims Kerry was in cahoots with Communist Vietnam based on a photo of his that hangs in a Vietnam War Remnants Museum. This egregious lie is based on the hope that people will ignore these facts:
(a) Kerry's picture in Vietnam relates to his 1993 meetings with Vietnamese leaders on the POW/MIA issue which Congress was pursuing (including Sen. John McCain) - and SBV even acknowledge that meeting to have been "reasonable"! He had no control over what pictures the Vietnamese chose to put in their own museum and how *they* chose to label it!
(b) Not only that, SBV conveniently ignored the pictures of other Americans (at that time) that are in that same museum - such as the assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and leaders of various Veterans groups.
As ace journalist Robert Parry has documented, this line of attack - calling Kerry a traitor - is a well known Bush family tactic against their opponents. Details in the Kerry - Other War Related page.


Posted by: Ben Franklin at October 20, 2004 5:30 AM | Permalink

antibody theory about Kerry and Bush scandals

Presidential campaigns attach antibodies to their opponent and dodge opponents' attempts attach them to themselves.

The press, are like macrophages, the reconnaisance unit of the blood stream, alerting the entire immune system if there is a problem. They attack invaders and are more easily drawn to objects that have antibodies attached.

Both sides attempt to toss antibodies in the hope they will stick to their opponent and draw press/macrophages to them.

Antibodies are memes like "Bush is an idiot." "No WMD." "National Guard." "Karl Rove did it." "Tax break for the rich." "Took his eye off Osama." And the latest in the Salem Witch Hunt, "Bush is irrationally possessed with a messianic faith."

They don't have to be true, they just have to stick.

On the Kerry side, antibodies include "Swift Boat". "Flip-flop." "Liberal." "Tax and spend." "Oil-for-Food gamed the UN."

The other half of the coin is that the campaigns try to confuse the macrophages so they won't attach to a sticking antibody.

It appears that the Kerry campaign is doing a better job. For instance,
references to oil-for-food making Kerry's UN plan unworkable have not been ventilated by the press. Even on the oil-for-food name is misdirected to a dead end. [See the hoakum on to get an idea of the selective lifting of quotes and other misdirection designed to confuse a macrophaging press. It could be fisked, but trolling zealots wouldn't believe that anyway.]

You are right, Jay. I don't get paranoid about Sinclair and Pittsburgh TV. "Sinclair" can be used by the Kerry campaign as another antibody to throw at Bush. There are enough avenues of communication open to him. No doubt whomever is the Democratic Karl Rove delights in the press/macrophages hunting elsewhere.

Posted by: sbw at October 20, 2004 8:50 AM | Permalink

Free Air: "The broadcasters, thanks in large part to their monopolies, have enormous lobbying resources, and their control of the airwaves has made local television—and, in particular, local television news—a powerful weapon to wield against politicians who cross them. Politics drives the business, and the business shapes the politics. As for the public interest—does “Desperate Housewives” count?"

Posted by: Tim at October 20, 2004 8:52 AM | Permalink


Yes, broadcast television is a powerful force in this election and will certainly be one in 2008. However, we do need to consider what the long term solutions to the problem of broadcast gatekeeping are.

By all means, aim for Sinclair's political defeat this year. But we should also consider what a long term solution to the Sinclair problem should be. I agree with sbw, we need to turn Sinclair into a buggy whip seller as soon as possible.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at October 20, 2004 9:51 AM | Permalink

Jay, just chalk me up as another fan of your consistently incisive work on this and other media-related topics. This is the first place I turn to for help understanding my own business.

Posted by: David Crisp at October 20, 2004 10:11 AM | Permalink

Sinclair to Air 'A POW Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media'

The news special will focus in part on the use of documentaries and other media to influence voting, which emerged during the 2004 political campaigns, as well as on the content of certain of these documentaries. The program will also examine the role of the media in filtering the information contained in these documentaries, allegations of media bias by media organizations that ignore or filter legitimate news and the attempts by candidates and other organizations to influence media coverage.

Some Kerry Spots Never Make the Air

Posted by: Tim at October 20, 2004 10:26 AM | Permalink

Oops, missed the graph about Sinclair's announcement in the After ...

Feel free to delete this post and previous Jay.

Posted by: Tim at October 20, 2004 10:33 AM | Permalink


The "Free Air" article only scratches the surface of the problems with our current broadcast regulation scheme.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at October 20, 2004 10:48 AM | Permalink


Let me say up front that I'm an advocate for using wireless spectrum as transport rather than content broadcast. Content broadcast is an obsolete analog paradigm.

Let me also say that the hurdles to moving to a more efficient digital, spread spectrum, intelligent broadband networking paradigm is not only regulatory but commercial. Or perhaps, the commercial interests not only keep regulatory hurdles in place, but have created new and higher ones in the last ... well rapidly since 1996 but 1999 really made a difference. The radio and TV renewel period, now to 2007, seems to be a good time to use public pressure to beat the FCC over the head. So far, not happening. Happen in a second Bush term? Not likely. First Kerry term with Copps leading FCC? Watch Kerry fire Copps.

Kerry Campaign Statement on Sinclair Decision
Accusations and Flaws, All Serious (NYT reg. req.): "Mr. Kerry made clear in his testimony and on "Meet the Press" that year that he was not blaming the veterans but rather the leadership that had come up with "free fire'' zones, encouraged body counts and authorized areas for airstrikes."
Swift Boat Veterans Anti-Kerry Ad: "He Betrayed Us" With 1971 Anti-War Testimony (

Accusing Veterans? Or US War Policy?

As an example, Kerry aides point to a portion of Kerry's testimony in which he places the blame for the 1968 My Lai massacre not on the troops, but on their superiors: "I think clearly the responsibility for what has happened there lies elsewhere. I think it lies with the men who designed free fire zones. I think it lies with the men who encourage body counts." But that statement came only in response to a direct question, long after Kerry volunteered his description of rapes and mutilations.

Earlier in 1971, during an NBC "Meet the Press" interview, Kerry explicitly spoke of "the men who designed the free-fire zone, the men who ordered us, the men who signed off the air raid strike areas" and said he considered them "war criminals." But he did not draw such a sharp distinction between leaders and followers during the"atrocity" portion of his Senate testimony.
Anti-Kerry Film Withdrawn From Abington Movie Theater
Video Excerpt: Windows Media Player (Broadband, Dial Up), RealPlayer

ABC News or ABC spin: "Everything about the Nightline program reeked of contrived "ambush journalism," to ambush John O'Neill with the words of Vietnamese villagers who were put on the program before him, and thereby exonerate John Kerry from O'Neill's charges."
Communist Vietnamese honor John Kerry (Part I, Part II)
The International War Crimes Conference, Oslo, June, 1971: Kenneth J. Campbell
National Veterans Inquiry on U.S. War Crimes in Vietnam: Kenneth Campbell

Posted by: Tim at October 20, 2004 11:38 AM | Permalink

Here's something that those mired in the political thinking of the moment might consider when debating the heat generated by the Kerry candidacy and his divided band of brothers in the forms of Swift Boat veterans and POWs for/against "Truth" and Kerry.

If Kerry is elected with this issue unresolved, it will be instantly forgotten the day after the November election, right? Sinclair will be viewed as a statistical casualty on that old and war worn battlefield and NOT a martyr, right?

Those passions, during the transition to a Kerry administration and Iraq's national election and turmoil, will just quietly fall into our collective memory hole.

Want a potential peek into our future? Watch the video accompanying this story.

We've come a long way since September 2001. Congrats to all of us!

Posted by: Tim at October 20, 2004 1:25 PM | Permalink


I agree that there are commercial as well as regulatory barriers to make a transition from a content to a transport mode of dealing with spectrum.

However, we should be discussing the best ways to move from the current model to the new one (and making the transition as quickly as possible). There are intermediate steps we can take.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at October 20, 2004 1:37 PM | Permalink

It doesn't matter a rat's ass which "side" I support if any, so long as I contribute a constructive insight into the operation of the press, which I did.

I included "antibodies" from both sides. Had you been less interested in pointless taunting, you might have constructively included others. You might have added instances where the media has been as conspicuously superficial as they have been in Oil-for-Food. In fact, please do -- being mindful of Jay's admonition that quality is more appropriate than quantity and that Swift boats and National Guard are obvious.

Posted by: sbw at October 20, 2004 3:39 PM | Permalink

What I love about comment like this...

Always boils down to: MSM is liberal and in the tank for Kerry; Kerry is a war liberal communist criminal and our guys are the greatest as testified in these right-wing-links-r-us. Yadda yadda yadda...yawn.
... is that a computer program could have written it. Let's see, what would be a good name for such software: Partisan Express? Robo-Thought? Fatuousque?

Actually, I know, but I've been asked not to.

Posted by: Tim at October 20, 2004 4:16 PM | Permalink

Gentlemen. Gentlemen. I am honestly interested in a reference to a significant instance where the press has failed to pursue George Bush on an issue as significant to his campaign pronouncements as the United Nations has been to John Kerry -- proposals that the Oil-For-Food scandal significantly undercut and that the press has peculiarly failed to insist Kerry clearly address.

Posted by: sbw at October 20, 2004 9:37 PM | Permalink

[Off-topic] So who do you suppose is making money on the Jon Stewart Stop... Hurting... America T-shirts.

Posted by: sbw at October 20, 2004 9:59 PM | Permalink

OK, here's a serious point that I haven't seen tackled much. Some commenters see Sinclair as irrelevant because the media world has changed. Some see reporters as irrelevant because they are incompetent/corrupt/pro-Kerry/lazy/etc. I think reporters always will be relevant because someone has to, well, report, and I suspect reporters will have to get paid if they are going to do it well over the long haul. Reporters are cheap but not free.

If reporters are relevant, then so is Sinclair because it sucks a lot of jobs for reporters out of the market. And if no self-respecting reporter will work for Sinclair, then that's 62 stations that no longer hire good people.

And where do the good people go? Gannett? CBS? News Corp.? Or do they all just go blogging and live off the tip jar?

Has anybody figured out this part of the puzzle?

Posted by: David Crisp at October 20, 2004 11:52 PM | Permalink

What is the meaning of them in totality? What exactly IS your point Sir?

Well, the Kerry campaign put out a press release today addressing Sinclair's recently announced plans, thought that might be useful for other commenters to know. That right-wing link was from

Next, today the NYT (well known right-wing link) had an article that characterized Kerry's testimony differently than (another right-wing link) had previously, so I provided the two relevant sections. I also thought others might want to read them.

A local PA NBC station had coverage of a theater's last minute decision not to show Stolen Honor to a sold out audience "citing possible civil disobedience and a threatened lawsuit". NBC is a rapid right-wing link, so despite it having little relevance to a thread about the turmoil over Sinclair and Stolen Honor, I just had to include it for more imbalance.

There's a ~4 minute clip from (I think) Stolen Honor which is linked to what I can only hope is right-wing (is there a membership card I can check for or something?).

Now I blew it with the next 3 links. I had thought that and Vietnam Vets for the Truth were right-wing, but obviously that could not be possible since this would account for the minority of ideological links from that point of view. So these are obviously from the Vast Left Wing Idiocy (VLWI). But they had the actual source photos and text for the whole Kerry picture in North Vietnam museum issue.

Finally, we know that any URL containing the words village and sixties is a fascist right-wing eeeeeviiiillll link (not that there's anything wrong with that). But you see, that's where I found Campbell's testimony and since he's the guy filing a lawsuit against Stolen Honor, Sinclair, movie theaters and pretty much anyone else, I thought - what the hey, more imbalance!!! Same with

The fact that a valid one is there does not vindicate the, shall we say, imbalance, of the presentation.


Posted by: Tim at October 20, 2004 11:56 PM | Permalink

I'm going to break a promise to myself and respond to BF about the Saigon Picture of Kerry.

Here is the provenance.

As a member of Vietnam Vets for the Truth (I think we had 4 at that time), I found out about the photo from another of our guys. It had purportedly been taken by a Swift Boat veteran (not a member of their organization as far as I know, just a guy wandering around Vietnam). My reaction was: this just shows the 1993 meeting, big deal. But the guy said it was in a room, the purpose of which was to honor foreigners who had helped the communists defeat the US.

So I asked for more photos - show me the context. Give me big and little photos, other walls, etc. Prove that it's in that room. A Vietnam War anti-war movement scholar also asked for the same thing.

We got them. They supported his allegation.

We also used another source to visually validate it.

At that point, we were no longer able to do any more validation. The museum area became saturated with secret police. The veteran had a guy following him everywhere (and if you know about secret police, you understand that if you see them following you, it is because they want you to). He was prohibited from leaving Vietnam. Our other source was also endangered by this development. After a month delay, the veteran was allowed to leave.

So the fact that the picture shows Kerry at a 1993 function does not in itself show why it was hanging there.

If we were a big media organization, we would have sent someone else in there also, for a triple check, but we aren't. We got the picture with the newspaper to prove the date in case the communists removed or moved the picture by the time anyone else got there.

So we haved fair evidence (two independent witnesses who don't even know of each other, and pictures) that the communists are honoring Kerry as a western helper of their efforts.

Is it proof? Not solid. Is it enough? Given Kerry's other behavior, it's enough to seriously argue that Kerry indeed was honored in that gallery. It certainly exceeds the Dan Rather and Boston Globe standards by a long ways!

Certainly the Vietnamese liked his words.

Too bad no other media outlet has been there to look. Maybe Sinclair went there :-)

Is it fascist to show this picture, as BF alleges. Is it fascist to show the truth or something you have strong reasons to believe is true?

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at October 21, 2004 3:42 AM | Permalink


If the purpose of our broadcast regulations is to subsidize the payment of reporters, are such regulations the best way to go about it? Why not simply direct reporter subsidies? Pehaps tax breaks or something?

Posted by: Ernest Miller at October 21, 2004 9:12 AM | Permalink

Ernest, maybe we're not that far away from a day when reporting is largely a subsidized activity. Not necessarily by government subsidy, but perhaps by quasi-public institutions, foundations, political activists, specialty publications from nonprofits, even tip jars. In the early days of broadcast, news essentially was subsidized as part of a broadcaster's public service obligation. As the corporate commitment to that obligation has declined, so, too, has broadcast news. Newspapers aren't far behind.

Posted by: David Crisp at October 21, 2004 1:53 PM | Permalink

From the Intro