Local TV news viewers in western North Carolina may have recently noticed two anchors reciting a script handed down by Sinclair Broadcast Group warning viewers of the perils of biased and false news pervasive on social media. Those same anchors — from Asheville-based ABC affiliate WLOS, which also serves the western Charlotte metro market — likely also vowed to report fairly and accurately, and asked you to comment on their website if you thought reporting crossed ethical lines.
Sound familiar? Well, you’re not alone.
A new analysis from media watchdog group Media Matters for America found that dozens of news stations — at least 66 across 29 states and Washington, D.C. — recited some version of the same script to their combined millions of viewers. And they’re all required to do so by Sinclair.
You can watch anchors from WLOS in Asheville read the lines below:
The watchdog says the "hostage video"-like segments — which the group likened to propaganda — echo President Donald Trump’s attacks on the press. The ads began airing on March 23 and have run in states including California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.
Timothy Burke, video director at Deadspin, tracked down the local affiliates and found out when the scripts had been force-read, as he called it. He then spliced the numerous broadcasts into one, giant video, each uttering a familiar phrase:
"The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.""Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think.""This is extremely dangerous to our democracy."
Last month, CNN first reported that Sinclair, which owns or operates nearly 200 TV stations in America and is trying to buy Tribune Media, would require its anchors to record a promotional video about "the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country."
Peter Chernin, a media investor and longtime president of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., called the Deadspin video "insidious," The New York Times reported. Democratic Rep. David Price of North Carolina on Monday called the video "alarming," "disturbing" and "pro-Trump propaganda."
On Monday, CNN obtained a memo in which senior vice president of news Scott Livingston defended the promos, calling them a "well-researched journalistic initiative focused on fair and objective reporting."
Livingston disputed reports that local anchors were embarrassed that they had to recite the scripts and blasted what he called "misleading, often defamatory stories" about the company, CNN reported.
"For the record, the stories we are referencing in this campaign are the unsubstantiated ones (i.e. fake/false) like ‘Pope Endorses Trump’ which move quickly across social media and result in an ill-informed public," Livingston wrote. "Some other false stories, like the false ‘Pizzagate’ story, can result in dangerous consequences. We are focused on fact-based reporting. That’s our commitment to our communities."
Trump also, unsurprisingly, weighed-in on the matter Monday morning.
"So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased," he said in a tweet. "Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke."
Patch reporter Dan Hampton contributed to this report.
Send local news tips, photos, and press releases to firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign up for our free daily newsletters and Breaking News Alerts for the Charlotte Patch. Access Patch on the go with our iPhone app or our brand new app for Android phone users.
Photo credit: William Thomas Cain/Getty Images