Trump defends Sinclair Broadcasting as ‘news script’ media scandal shakes America

President Donald Trump has again defended Sinclair Broadcasting after a video showing over 100 American news stations owned by the company reading from the same script went viral, with some even calling it Orwellian.

“The Fake News Networks, those that knowingly have a sick and biased AGENDA, are worried about the competition and quality of Sinclair Broadcast. The “Fakers” at CNN, NBC, ABC & CBS have done so much dishonest reporting that they should only be allowed to get awards for fiction!” read a tweet from the president on Tuesday morning. 

Since last month, news anchors at Sinclair stations have been delivering a promo message at the request of management. The message laments “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country,” and is delivered with almost no variation from network to network.

“Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think… This is extremely dangerous to a democracy,”the script continues, concluding with a line urging the public to hold the station accountable, followed by a promise: “We work very hard to seek the truth and strive to be fair, balanced and factual… We consider it our honor, our privilege to responsibly deliver the news every day.”

Sinclair Broadcast Group owns some 173 television networks in the US, and the message segments were repeated as frequently as possible, giving the management almost blanket coverage in parts of America.

Rival mainstream media outlets were quick to slate Sinclair. CNN described the messages as “a promotional campaign that sounds like pro-Trump propaganda.”

MSNBC's Joe Scarborough said: “This looks like something we would mock the Russians for doing during the days of Pravda.” Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather described the script, apparently foisted on news anchors from management above, as “Orwellian.”

Sinclair issued a statement on Monday, defending its decision to air the script.

“It is ironic that we would be attacked for messages promoting our journalistic initiative for fair and objective reporting, and for specifically asking the public to hold our newsrooms accountable. Our local stations keep our audiences’ trust by staying focused on fact-based reporting and clearly identifying commentary,” the statement from Sinclair SVP Scott Livingston read.

While Sinclair’s management is well understood to lean right-wing, and while media centralization and consolidation is a justified concern in the United States, Sinclair’s rival broadcasters are not exactly in a position to throw stones.

Dan Rather himself drew flak for his cheerleading of the US’ illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. In an interview given just one week after 9/11, Rather made his case for the invasion of Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria and Libya, and expressed his unwavering loyalty to the president. “George Bush is the president,” said Rather. “He makes the decisions and as just one American wherever he wants me to line up just tell me where and he’ll make the call.”

Indeed, on almost every mainstream media network, viewers were treated to non-stop pro-war views. A 2003 study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) found that of the over 1,600 sources cited on American news stations in the run-up to the war, 71 percent expressed pro-war views. Only 10 percent of sources expressed any dissent. Likewise, media outlets peddled the lie that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. The New York Times apologized for its false coverage of Saddam’s weapons program in 2004.

Flashing forward to today, bias is still evident on every mainstream network, and Trump’s hammering of CNN and others is not without merit. Before the 2016 election, CNN gave debate questions in advance to Hillary Clinton’s team, and claimed that “only the media” are allowed to view Wikileaks emails. After the election, CNN continued to obsessively publish false stories linking the Trump administration with Russian interests.

Meanwhile, Project Veritas, an American conservative media watchdog, launched an investigation last year into media bias. In the American Pravda video series, senior figures at CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post admit to undercover reporters that the “Russia narrative” is false, that they pursue a biased agenda, and that they chase ratings over the truth.