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Sinclair controversy makes brief stop in Buffalo, but is less relevant here

Until Tuesday, Western New York viewers were spared being involved in the media controversy surrounding Sinclair Broadcasting.

But on Tuesday, the website of WUTV, one of the two local Sinclair stations here, carried a defense of Sinclair having its anchors across the country read an editorial that criticized some elements of the media.

Viewers who haven't followed the controversy and saw the Sinclair defense on the website probably were asking: "What is that all about?"

The defense was no longer on WUTV's website Wednesday.

The controversy came to light a few weeks ago when Deadspin showed scores of Sinclair anchors across the nation simultaneously reading the same script that criticized "fake news" and "biased reporting."

Sinclair owns about 200 stations nationally and stands to own more by buying Tribune Media stations in a $3.9 billion deal.

Critics such as Brian Stelter of CNN's excellent media show, "Reliable Sources," viewed the script as supporting President Trump's attacks on the media that label legitimate news as fake news.

The controversy didn't have much impact locally because the two Sinclair stations in Western New York, WUTV (Channel 29), the Fox affiliate, and WNYO-TV, don't produce their own newscasts.

WGRZ-TV (Channel 2) produces the 10 p.m. newscast on WUTV.

"We control the content," said Channel 2 General Manager Jim Toellner. "We have editorial control."

WUTV General Manager Nick Magnini confirmed his station sells the advertising time inside the newscasts and pays Channel 2 a flat fee for carrying its newscast, but he wouldn't comment beyond that.

Toellner said Channel 2 has not been asked to run the Sinclair editorial. What would he do if Sinclair asked?

"I'd say, 'Look at the contract,'" Toellner said.

"We're all about balance," he added. "Where we put on opinion, we try to put an opposing opinion."

Toellner declined to say what he thought of the Sinclair editorial, saying he doesn't comment on the decisions of other groups.

He said he has received a half-dozen comments from viewers about the Sinclair controversy. Some have said they're upset and don't want to watch the station that Channel 2's news is carried on.

Of course, Sinclair could run the editorial on WUTV or WNYO with out-of-town anchors during promotional or commercial time. It hasn't run here.

"We have a very good relationship with Nick," Toellner explained. "I can't imagine they'd do that without letting us know. We trust them."

The original Sinclair script read by anchors included this line: “Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think." It added this is "an extremely dangerous threat to a democracy."

The line "some members of the media" is pretty vague. I've been critical of local TV and national broadcast news at times, but I've never suggested they make things up. It doesn't happen.

When members of the local media go work in public relations for politicians or are asked to run for office, it is just as likely that they are asked to run as Republicans or work for Republicans as Democrats.

Stefan Mychajliw, the former Channel 7 and Channel 2 reporter, is the Republican Erie County comptroller.

Erie Country legislator Kevin Hardwick, who for years had a Sunday show on WBEN-AM, is a Republican.

WIVB-TV anchor Don Postles was once asked to run for Congress as a Republican, but declined.

Erie County legislator Lynne Dixon, a former Channel 2 reporter, won re-election in 2017 as an Independence candidate, but usually votes with Republicans.

Ellen Maxwell, a former Channel 4 reporter, worked for Republican Congressman Chris Collins when he was Erie County executive after she left television.

On the other hand, former Channel 2 sports anchor Mike DeGeorge is director of communications for Buffalo's Democratic mayor Byron Brown, and former Channel 7 anchor Joanna Pasceri was the public information officer for two Democratic Erie County district attorneys after she left television.

Channel 2's Pete Gallivan worked a public relations job with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration.

Scott Brown, the late Channel 2 reporter, was a spokesman for two Democrats, former Erie County Executive Dennis T. Gorski and former State Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer.

WBEN and now WECK newsman Steve Cichon ran for county clerk as a Democrat after Channel 2 weatherman Kevin O'Connell was approached about running for the same office and quickly declined.

I am sure I am missing some other media members who worked for politicians or were approached to run for office.

But any suggestion that the media here make things up or speak with one biased voice in the same way as the Sinclair anchors did nationwide in the controversial editorial is just "fake news."

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