by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Last month, news anchors at Sinclair Broadcast Group’s TV stations were required to read a script critical of “fake stories” and general bias in the major news networks. Because some of the phrasing mirrored President Donald Trump’s overcooked critique of liberal media outlets, the story triggered widespread and overwrought warnings about authoritarianism and the rise of state-run media.
It’s true that Sinclair, the largest owner of U.S. TV stations, would have been better off following the lead of the big outlets: hiring and working with people who subscribe to the same worldview and then simply letting them do their thing. But as long as we have a media market and inhibit government meddling in speech—thank you, Citizens United and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai—the idea that we are powerless to turning away from “propaganda” is nothing but alarmism. Every Sinclair market has an alternative local news station for viewers, not to mention other sources of information consumers can read and listen to if they desire.
Then again, having read the panicky coverage before watching the Sinclair videos, I was surprised by the innocuousness of the spots. The anchors were plainly reading a scripted public service announcement that claimed there is a “troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories” at major news outlets and then offering themselves as an alternative. They then cautioned viewers to avoid the “sharing of biased and false news” on social media, which is, I am often told, a plague on democracy. “But we are human and sometimes our reporting might fall short,” the script goes on to say. “If you believe our coverage is unfair please reach out to us.” …
… It’s clear that the oversized reaction to the Sinclair script is occurring because it flaunted the wrong bias. And considering the often sycophantic treatment the previous administration received from major news outlets, it’s difficult to take those acting appalled very seriously. In fact, those who act most disturbed are in part responsible for the rise of openly partisan journalism. That’s because in many ways, politically motivated news is as much a market reaction as an ideological one.