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ABC affiliate WSYX in Columbus aired a half-hour "election special" twice on Monday night — first at 6:30 p.m. instead of World News with Diane Sawyer, and later at 11:30 p.m., during the slot normally held by Nightline. Rather than a side by side comparison of the two major party candidates, however, the special featured some of the most partisan criticisms of President Barack Obama, and spent relatively little time examining Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
"Much of the first two years of President Obama's term in office was spent developing and defending Obamacare — that's the Affordable Care Act, signed into law in March of 2010," anchor Bob Kendrick said, near the program's halfway point. "It supposedly guarantees health care for any U.S. resident who could not obtain good health care otherwise. The biggest parts of the law go into effect in 2014, with other pieces of it rolling out over the next decade. The cost of Obamacare is making many Americans sick to their stomach, though."
TPM has learned that WSYX and at least one other station operated by the Sinclair Broadcast Group in the crucial swing state last night aired election specials, which included content prepared by their corporate parent company. Some TPM readers may recall Sinclair has a history with this kind of thing. In the run up to the 2004 election, controversy erupted over the company's plan to air a movie attacking then-Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry's Vietnam record. Sinclair "owns and operates, programs or provides sales services to 74 television stations in 45 markets," according to the company's website.
The half-hour program that aired on WSYX, obtained by TPM, was billed on the station's website as "ABC 6 Election Speical - VOTE 2012." But at times, it sounded more like Fox News than local news.
"Chuck Weber examines how even the 7.9 percent unemployment rate may not really reflect the true picture of how many families continue to struggle," anchor Yolanda Harris said, introducing a segment looking at the job market.
To be sure, the program included some people speaking favorably of Obama. But on balance, Obama criticisms were elevated, while Mitt Romney seemed to escape the bulk of the attention. Here, for instance, is a graphic on the unemployment rate emphasizing how high it has been in the past, compared to the current figure:
Later in the program, a segment on the health care reform law ends, and the anchors transition to "foreign policy," which focuses on the September attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, and leans heavily on Republican allegations that the Obama administration has lied to the public about what it knew and when it knew it.
"Well now to foreign policy," Harris said. "Did the administration lie about terrorist attacks on a U.S. consulate in Libya on September 11th? Everyone from the State Department to the White House wanted you to believe it was a protest over an anti-Muslim movie. The U.S. ambassador and three others died in that attack. The administration alleges misinformation for blaming the deaths of four Americans on a movie. But the truth finally surfaced amid claims our government knew of the terrorist attack all along."
Monday night, TPM spoke with newsroom employees at WSYX and WRGT, a Fox affiliate in Dayton. Both employees said the stations aired the specials with content produced by Sinclair. Before transferring a TPM reporter to the voicemail of WSYX's General Manager Dan Mellon, a WSYX newsroom staff member who didn't give his name said Sinclair's corporate office in Baltimore "put it all together," referring to the special.
Cara Neace, a newsroom employee with WRGT, said an election special was scheduled to run at 10:30 p.m. on Monday. Neace said WRGT had received "packages" for the special from Sinclair, but that it was common for Sinclair affiliates to receive and share each other's content.
"This happens all the time when we get stuff from Baltimore or Columbus," Neace said.
TPM could not verify if the special that ran on WRGT used the same packages as those that aired on WSYX.
A call to Sinclair's corporate headquarters was not returned.
Update 5:22 p.m.: It turns out that CBS affiliate and Sinclair station WPEC in West Palm Beach, Fla. also ran an election special Monday night, featuring many of the same packages and scripts included in the WSYX broadcast. You can watch the whole thing here. (Click "Recap: CBS 12 Election Special.")
Thanks to reader MT for the tip.