“The critics are now upset about our well-researched journalistic initiative focused on fair and objective reporting,” Sinclair’s senior vice president of news, Scott Livingston (pictured above), wrote to Sinclair employees, according to a copy of the memo published by CNN. “For the record, the stories we are referencing in this campaign are the unsubstantiated ones (i.e. fake/false) like ‘Pope Endorses Trump’ which move quickly across social media and result in an ill-informed public.”
In fact, the must-run script specifically differentiated between the spread of fake news on social media and fake reporting coming from professional news outlets. The script condemned them both.
“The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media,” the script, recited by hundreds of local news anchors nationwide, read. “More alarming, national media outlets are publishing these same fake stories without checking facts first.”
However, Livingston’s memo largely ignored the primary critique of the script: that it was labeled “must-run” in the first place, and therefore that it exploited viewers’ trust in their local news anchors in order to spread a corporate message.
News anchors looking into camera and reading a script handed down by a corporate overlord, words meant to obscure the truth not elucidate it, isn't journalism. It's propaganda. It's Orwellian. A slippery slope to how despots wrest power, silence dissent, and oppress the masses.
— Dan Rather (@DanRather) April 2, 2018
Anchors for Sinclair-owned local stations nationwide read the script amid what CNN’s Brian Stelter reported was an atmosphere of embarrassment and frustration.
The script mirrored a note that Livingston himself read on air a year ago, Stelter noted when he broke the story last month. Weeks after that early March report, and after several days of local stations running the segment, the story gained national attention thanks to a compilation video from Deadspin’s Timothy Burke late Friday night.
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) March 31, 2018
Sinclair is known to have a conservative slant, and at least two former Trump advisers — Sebastian Gorka and Boris Epshteyn — have had their commentaries labeled “must-run” for Sinclair’s local stations.
In fact, Livingston mentioned Epshteyn in his memo to staff.
“One thing the critics DO seem obsessed with is the roughly 8 minutes a week of clearly labelled commentary that Boris Epshteyn offers in our newscasts each week,” his memo read, according to CNN. “The critics continue to say that his former affiliation with Republicans makes him a propagandist. But they never offer any perspective on Boris’ appearances.”
“They never mention that ABC News Anchor George Stephanopoulos ran Bill Clinton’s Presidential campaign and served as a Senior Advisor to President Clinton for 4 years,” he continued. “Stephanopoulos now hosts an ABC political talk shows and co-anchors 10 hours of news a week for ABC. That is 10 hours of ‘must run’ content that all ABC affiliates must carry each week hosted by a former advisor to President Clinton. We have no problem with Mr. Stephanopoulos anchoring these newscasts, but think it is odd that Sinclair critics seem to express zero outrage over this. Critics never talk about Chris Matthews, who worked for prominent Washington Democrats, including President Carter, before becoming an NBC show host.”