ALL Mass Media Corporations Are “Extremely Dangerous to our Democracy”

KB
7 min readApr 5, 2018

Earlier this week, a video made by Deadspin made the rounds of social media depicting local newscasters reciting clearly scripted lines warning of the dissemination of fake news on social media.

The irony was almost too much to stomach as the screen was filled with newscasters announcing in chilling unison : “This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.” The original post by Deadspin on Facebook was captioned with an eerie but nonpartisan warning: “Here’s what happens when one corporation owns all the TV stations.” Sinclair broadcasting company has since been under fire as details of the script and commands to air the promo were exposed.

A number of mainstream media outlets have jumped on the bandwagon with utter condemnation of the company, citing Sinclair as an example of how the Trump administration’s relationship with the corporation has resulted in this nightmare scenario. The story goes that Trump’s cronies in conservative media are now ordering “must air” segments accusing mainstream media of being “fake news” just as he has accused them many times.

The not-so-subtle implication is that Sinclair has crossed a line that no other media outlet dare cross and that by denouncing Sinclair they indicate that the problem lies primarily within the company. The long-running tropes of Trump as Putin-puppet, despot, and demagogue only reinforce this idea that an Orwellian world has manifested via Trump’s administration.

But the assertion that the use of propaganda to sway public opinion is a tactic solely of Trump’s administration, as many mainstream media outlets seem to suggest, is dubious at best. History shows us that propaganda is a well-used tool of any nation and Trump is only one of many elites who might have a stake in brainwashing Americans for his own agenda.

Luckily, Conan O’Brien has been cracking jokes about scripted newscasters for some time, leaving us with a slew of videos demonstrating that the Sinclair newscasters are hardly the first to be caught red-handed. In a Valentine’s Day compilation using footage from 2014 and earlier, the local news stations have been identified as belonging to a myriad of bigger media companies. Only 2 of the 8 were found to be owned by Sinclair when the segments were aired.

Below is the list of stations and the companies who owned them in 2014. We’ve included the current owners as well:

  • KHGI (ABC)/Nebraska — Pappas Telecasting Companies, later acquired by Sinclair Broadcast Group May 2016
  • KSNW (NBC)/Kansas — LIN TV Corporation, LIN TV Corp. later merged with Media General Dec 2014, Media General later acquired by Nexstar Media Group Jan 2017
  • WDSU (NBC)/Louisiana — Hearst Television (parent company: Hearst Communications)
  • KTRK (ABC)/Houston — Disney-ABC Television Group (parent company: The Walt Disney Company)
  • KBTV (FOX)/SE Texas — Sinclair Broadcast Group
  • KTHV (CBS)/Arkansas — Tegna, Inc.
  • KHQA (CBS/ABC)/Tri-state Missouri, Illinois, Iowa — Sinclair Broadcast Group
  • KTTC (NBC)/SE Minnesota, NE Iowa — Quincy Media

Another compilation gifted by O’Brien in December of 2013 focuses on Christmas with the same disturbing recitation of lines by various newscasters in several different states. Again, only 3 of 9 stations we looked at were operating under Sinclair when the segments aired.

  • KBOI (CBS)/Idaho — Sinclair Broadcast Group
  • KCEN (NBC)/Central TX — London Broadcasting Company (owned by Global), later acquired by Tegna, Inc. Jul 2014
  • WFFT (FOX)/Indiana — Nexstar Media Group, later acquired by Heartland Media Jan 2017
  • WDHN (ABC)/SE Alabama — Nexstar Media Group
  • WWAY(ABC/CBS/CW)/North Carolina — Morris Multimedia
  • KATV (ABC)/Arkansas — Sinclair Broadcast Group
  • KBSI (FOX)/SE Missouri, W Kentucky, S Illinois — Sinclair Broadcast Group
  • WMBF (NBC)/South Carolina — Raycom Media
  • WAVE (NBC)/Kentucky — Raycom Media

Neither of these compilations contain a promo nearly as Big Brother-esque as the one in the Sinclair video released by Deadspin, but they indicate a similar process taking place for trivial topics like Christmas and Valentine’s Day. The most important take-home point here when looking at the number of companies heading these stations is that this is a practice that extends well beyond Sinclair.

Another video montage of the Clinton Campaign’s talking point that Clinton intended to “power through” her health problems starts to echo the Orwellian feel of the Sinclair video. This one is different in that it combines CNN and NBC correspondents, spokespeople for the Clinton campaign, and fellow Democrats. But the most unnerving part is how difficult is to tell the difference between correspondent, politician, and spokesperson. The context of the message to “power through” may be lost with the length of each clip, but it’s safe to conclude that they are parroting a critical Clinton campaign talking point to the public rather than reporting from an objective, third-party perspective in their own words. Below are the individuals we were able to identify in the video:

  • 1s — Robby Mook (Campaign Manager for Hillary 2016)
  • 16s — Kristina Schake (Deputy Comm. Director, Hillary for America)
  • 24s — unknown
  • 28s — Joe Johns — CNN American Senior Washington Correspondent
  • 32s — Dan Merica — CNN Politics Producer
  • 39s — Jennifer Granholm — former MI governor (D)
  • 40s — Kristen Welker — NBC Whitehouse Correspondent
  • 45s — Sanjay Gupta — CNN Chief Medical Correspondent
  • 53s — Joe Johns (again) — CNN
  • 58s — Rep. Carolyn Maloney — NY Congresswoman
  • 1:04 — Brian Stelter, CNN Senior Media Correspondent, host of CNN’s Reliable Sources
  • 1:07 — Tim Kaine — Dem VP Candidate 2016

So far we have 3 other videos, and there’s likely many more out there, that show that this is a widespread practice among local news stations, and there’s even some indication that this happens with mainstream media outlets like CNN and NBC.

This is the problem: when mainstream media denounce only Sinclair without further investigation, we’re lead to believe that only one media group is engaging in scripted news and propaganda, essentially implying all other companies are innocent. And by quickly jumping on the bandwagon of criticism and fueling hysteria, they distract us from that necessary investigation. It keeps us from asking provocative questions: Is Sinclair the only guilty company when so many other media sources are ultimately owned by powerful elites, such as Bezos? How are TV stations owned by Nexstar Media, Hearst Television, Walt Disney, Tegna, Quincy Media, LIN TV, and Sinclair Broadcast Group all reading from the same script? What is happening here? How are they connected? This should really disturb us.

And yet despite the condemnation of Sinclair by MSM, the argument that “fake news is a problem across social media” has been made on both sides.

Politicians, local newscasters, CNN, and The Washington Post, just to name a few, have been squealing about “fake news” influencing the election for some time. Regardless of the direction conservatives and liberals are pointing, it’s worthwhile to step back and notice this larger pattern happening here as they all squabble over the validity of their authority. According to Gallup, only 32% of Americans still trust mainstream media and who can blame them? Across the political spectrum, our media continues to fail the American public and collude in the significant damage done to the rest of the world by supporting endless wars, ignoring growing economic disparity, and distracting us from corporate consolidation of wealth and power. More than any “fake news” they claim to stand against, this has thoroughly eroded our democracy.

This is not about determining whose cherished news source can claim a monopoly on truth. This is not an effort to excuse Sinclair because “everybody’s doing it.” This is not about letting Trump off the hook as just another figurehead spewing propaganda in the long history of warring nations. This is about putting down our political identities to honestly assess our situation so we can pull ourselves out from under the boot of plutocracy so firmly pressed against our necks. The United States government is preparing for a hot war with Russia amidst continual escalations, the class war leaves us increasingly desperate for access to healthcare, the climate increasingly destabilizes, and schools and communities of color beg for an end to the gun violence. For these reasons and so many more, it has never been more important for us to be unflinching in our self-honesty.

That self-honesty means realizing that blindly trusting cultural and political narratives risks and often destroys so much beautiful, innocent life. It requires us to see when clinging to fabricated political identities obscures our perception and prevents us from taking appropriate action. It means courageously facing uncomfortable truths for the sake of building a peaceful, thriving world for all of us.

We have the capacity to build that world as much as Orwell’s.

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Need an after-dinner mint or two? Check out this classic by Noam Chomsky, narrated by Amy Goodman:

Or this awesome reporting and commentary about what led to the Sinclair debacle by Jimmy Dore:

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KB

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free your very existence is an act of rebellion.” — Camus