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Friday, April 30, 2004

Nightline 

There's a big brouhaha going on over the fact that Nightline tonight is going to read off the names of all the soldiers killed so far in Iraq. Ted Koppel talks about his decision to do so here. Sinclair, a corporation that owns several ABC affiliates, has instructed their stations not to air the program. This was their statement:
STATEMENT OF THE SINCLAIR BROADCAST GROUP

The ABC Television network announced on Tuesday that the Friday, April 30th edition of "Nightline" will consist entirely of Ted Koppel reading aloud the names of U.S. servicemen and women killed in action in Iraq. Despite the denials by a spokeswoman for the show the action appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq.

While the Sinclair Broadcast Group honors the memory of the brave members of the military who have sacrificed their lives in the service of our country, we do not believe such political statements should be disguised as news content. As a result, we have decided to preempt the broadcast of "Nightline" this Friday on each of our stations which air ABC programming.

We understand that our decision in this matter may be questioned by some. Before you judge our decision, however, we would ask that you first question Mr. Koppel as to why he chose to read the names of the 523 troops killed in combat in Iraq, rather than the names of the thousands of private citizens killed in terrorists attacks since and including the events of September 11, 2001. In his answer, you will find the real motivation behind his action scheduled for this Friday.
John McCain replied, here.

The Center for American Progress did some top-notch research on Sinclair:
Tonight, ABC's "Nightline" will pay tribute to U.S. troops killed in Iraq by airing a 40 minute special – the names of the fallen will be read by anchor Ted Koppel as their photographs appear on screen. But Sinclair Broadcast Group--the country's largest owner of TV stations--will not allow its ABC affiliates to air the show. In a statement, Sinclair claims the special "appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq." While Sinclair claims it is pre-empting Nightline because it is an attempt to "influence public opinion," the record shows that Sinclair media has repeatedly leveraged its control over the airwaves to manipulate public opinion in favor of President Bush's right-wing agenda.

SINCLAIR REQUIRES JOURNALISTS TO READ PRO-BUSH STATEMENTS: In September 2001, Sinclair Broadcasting required its affiliates to air messages "conveying full support" for the Bush administration. At a Baltimore affiliate, WBFF "officials required news and sports anchors, even a weather forecaster, to read the messages, "which included statements such as "[the station] wants you to know that we stand 100% behind our President." Several WBFF staffers objected on the grounds that reading the statements would "erode their reputations as objective journalists" because it made them appear to be "endorsing specific government actions."

SINCLAIR REFUSES TO AIR AD HIGHLIGHTING 2003 BUSH ERROR: In July 2003, Sinclair Broadcasting refused to allow WMSN TV--its FOX affiliate in Madison, WI--to air a DNC advertisement that featured a clip of President Bush making the false claim "Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" in his 2003 State of the Union Address. Three other Madison stations, including ABC, NBC and CBS, readily agreed to air the ad. The Madison CBS affiliate, WISC, said the advertisement was "no worse than any other political ad."

SINCLAIR PRODUCES CENTRALIZED RIGHT-WING CONTENT FOR 'LOCAL STATIONS': In a controversial business practice, Sinclair Broadcasting has fired much of the staff for the local affiliates it owns, instead producing content for its local stations from a central facility outside Baltimore which it then airs on "local" news broadcasts. The centralized content features nightly commentary by Sinclair corporate communications chief Mark Hyman. Hyman regularly refers to the French as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys," the so-called liberal media as the "hate-America crowd," and progressives as "the lonely left" On one recent commentary, Hyman called members of Congress who voted against a recent resolution affirming the righteousness of the Iraq war "unpatriotic politicians who hate our military." You can see all of Hyman's commentaries this month HERE. (Read more from American Progress about the problems of media consolidation.)

SINCLAIR AIRS FAKE NEWS BROADCASTS PRODUCED BY BUSH ADMINISTRATION: In March, it was discovered that the Bush Administration was producing "television news stories, written and paid for by the government, which have the appearance of legitimate news segments delivered by independent reporters," and distributing them to local newscasts as a way of promoting administration policies--including its ill-conceived Medicare prescription drug law. On the broadcasts, a public relations professional named Karen Ryan pretended to be a reporter. Among the stations which aired the administration propaganda as news: WPGH in Pittsburgh "the Sinclair Broadcasting station that fired much of its news staff in favor of feeds from a centralized newsroom in Baltimore."

SINCLAIR EXECUTIVES MAJOR BUSH CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTORS: Sinclair executives have contributed more than $16,500 to President Bush since 2000. This year, Sinclair CEO David Smith gave President Bush the maximum $2000 contribution. Before soft money contributions became illegal, Sinclair Broadcasting gave more than $130,000 to the president's political allies but no money to his opponents.

WOLFOWITZ NEEDS TO WATCH NIGHTLINE TONIGHT: One person who should be sure to tune into Nightline: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Appearing yesterday before a congressional committee, Wolfowitz was asked how many soldiers had died in Iraq. Revealing a shocking insensitivity about the extent of the casualties in Iraq in the highest reaches of the Pentagon, Wolfowitz replied "It's approximately 500, of which - I can get the exact numbers - approximately 350 are combat deaths." In fact, 722 American troops have died during operations in Iraq – 521 from combat.
The Washington Post also attacked Koppel by calling this a ratings stunt. My own view is that this is anything but a ratings stunt--because, well, listening to 45 minutes of Ted Koppel speak is always boring rattle off names just won't be very interesting after the first minute or two to everybody but those who are waiting to hear the name of a friend or a love one. Also, it strikes me as telling that many war supporters have so little faitendeavorir endevour that this type of broadcast is viewed as such a threat. Anyway, I want to thank the good people at ABC News and Nightline who refuse to cow to such pressure (I'm looking at you, CBS, with your "Reagans" and your hagiographic "DC 9/11")

UPDATE: Steve Gilliard:
If reading all the names is an anti-war statement, then it's an anti-war statement. If it isn't, it isn't. What it is to me is an acknowledgement of their sacrifice.

But the naked fear of Sinclair's bosses and their conservative allies is quite telling. They were just saying a month ago that casualities didn't matter. That it was less than those that died on Omaha Beach, or living in California. That Americans would take casualities to support the war on terror.

But when called on their bullshit, and faced with the real names of real people, most of who weren't even old enough to drink, they turn tail and cry politics. When their families were crying for their loss, they minimized it and used macho talk to excuse their callousness. Now, when faced with reality, all 724 people are really dead, they ran like the cowards they are.

If reading the names of the war dead is bad for Bush, so be it. It shouldn't be an excuse for the cowardice of Sinclair Broadcasting Group's naked and disrepectful politics.
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