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'Suddenly they are serving as mouthpieces': What's troubling about Sinclair's 'must-read' scripts

William Freivogel (left) and Shula Neuman (right) discuss the implications of Sinclair Broadcast Group's requirment for local stations to read their recent statment regarding "fake news."
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
William Freivogel (left) and Shula Neuman (right) discuss the implications of Sinclair Broadcast Group's requirement for local stations to read their recent statement regarding "fake news."

Sinclair Broadcast Group, the largest owner of local television stations in the country, recently required its news anchors to read a scripted statement that accused other media outlets of disseminating "fake news."

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh went behind the headlines to discuss the issues raised by the statement that had led to public outcry. The broadcast company faces backlash from media critics for the conservative slant of their stations' news reporting and other programming decisions.

Pending FCC approval, Sinclair will soon acquire two local television stations that are currently owned by Tribune Media – KTVI (Channel 2), a Fox affiliate, and KPLR (Channel 11), a CW affiliate. It already owns KDNL (Channel 30.)

Joining the discussion were St. Louis Public Radio executive news editor Shula Neuman and William Freivogel, attorney and journalism professor at Southern Illinois University.

Partial transcript of announcement:

  • (A) But we’re concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.
  • (B) More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories… stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first.
  • (A) 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 a democracy.

Neuman found the statement puts “words in the mouths of trusted living-room characters [anchors].” She said the implication that news organizations are putting out stories without fact-checking is incorrect.
“Point me to a legitimate news organization doing that,” Neuman said. “[The accusations] are very disturbing." She differentiated between newspaper editorials and statements required to be read.

She said newspaper editorials are in a specific section of the paper that make it clear what the new organization thinks about a particular issue, whereas news organizations “cross the line” when they require journalists to cover a story from a particular angle.

Freivogel said that oftentimes the “must-read” scripts are labeled as commentaries, whereas this controversial Sinclair statement was not.

He said Sinclair’s usage of the term “fake news” also adopts President Trump’s view on mainstream news organizations like CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times.

“The Sinclair news people who were reading this script were the anchors … who have spent their careers building reputations for credibility,” Freivogel said. “Suddenly, they are serving as the mouth pieces for this pro-Trump take on the media.”

While Freivogel criticized Sinclair’s actions, he noted that none of them are illegal.

“The First Amendment protects political lies,” he said.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Lara is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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