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SINCLAIR'S RETREAT <br> PRESSURE BY STOCKHOLDERS, ADVERTISERS FORCED BROADCASTING FIRM TO ALTER ITS PLANS

Well, well. It seems as though we have some new proof of the theory that if you give a fool enough rope, he will hang himself. Exhibit A is the corps of propagandists in the executive suites of Sinclair Broadcast, which on Friday aired a much different documentary about John Kerry's anti-war activities than it had originally planned.

It wasn't just that the right-leaning television outfit wanted to air an unfair and unflattering film in an obvious effort to influence the election, which was bad enough. But the company also wanted to tart the presentation up as news, a maneuver that so discomfitted the organization's Washington bureau chief that he blew the whistle and promptly got himself sacked.

In response to this debacle, advertisers asked for their commercials not to be shown with the film, the company's stock price plunged more than 16 percent and shareholders revolted. Alarmed but hardly chastened, Sinclair beat a hasty retreat, and aired only portions of the film in its documentary, "A POW Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media."

Sinclair, intimidated by advertisers and its stockholders, said it never intended to air in its entirety the blatantly anti-Kerry piece of propaganda just before the election. That sounded a lot like the congressmen who, after being videotaped accepting bribes, claimed they were conducting their own criminal investigations. Right. Sure they were.

This has been shameful episode from the start, and Sinclair deserves every drop of grief that has landed on its doorstep. As this page has already observed, the company's gambit demonstrates why the Federal Communications Commission was wrong to encourage media conglomeration. It gives ideologues, such as the Sinclair crowd, which reaches 24 percent of U.S. television households, the opportunity to misuse their power in service to a particular candidate or idea.

Sometimes, though, these maneuvers backfire, as Sinclair's did. If Kerry wins next week's election, it will be interesting to try to figure out how many votes Sinclair's blatant effort at voter manipulation ended up driving toward the Democrat.

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