It Takes Bad Timing

If Sinclair Broadcast Group's goal in circulating its stations-wide, must-read warning about fake news was to differentiate its local news from the un-moderated social media echo chamber, it was clearly a miscalculation both in a branding sense and a political one. 

If it was, instead, a wink and nod to President Trump that the broadcaster felt his "fake news" pain, as critics assert, it was also a curiously timed spur to critics of its Tribune merger aspirations.

First off, Sinclair should have had its corporate news exec deliver the statement on all the outlets, identified as a message from the owners of the stations, rather than hand out the same script to all those anchors, which was a gilt-edged invite to the critics who have been hammering it over potential centralization and homogenization of local news.

The timing of the statement could not have been worse in terms of the political fodder it handed to opponents of the Tribune deal, which Sinclair is still trying to get through the Justice Department and the FCC. Of course, it did generate the tweeted support from the President, support which can't be discounted when across town his Justice Department is opposing the merger of AT&T with CNN owner Time Warner.

The press releases were flying Tuesday following that tweet, with anti-Sinclair petitions to sign and links to a half dozen newspaper editorials, from Boston to Charlotte, St. Louis to Sacramento, excoriating the broadcaster as everything from an Orwellian panderer to a corporate propagandist.

If the Justice Department eventually OKs the Sinclair deal, as folks are still expecting after more spin-offs to please antitrust regulators, or perhaps a different approach to the spinoffs of WGN and WPIX, there will be a nagging suspicion, as there was with DOJ's suit to block AT&T/Time Warner, that there was a thumb on the scale reaching all the way over from Pennsylvania Ave.

Not saying there was, but as with journalism, the appearance of impropriety is almost as bad as the real thing if credibility is the casualty.

Sinclair's statement, for the most part, sounded like a news promotion along the lines of Fox's "fair and balanced" slogan. Which means puffery. Unprovable but a claim they are entitled to make that viewers are free to evaluate for themselves, then take or leave

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.