Sinclair's so-called 'authoritarian' promos overwhelmingly match public sentiment

Sinclair's so-called 'authoritarian' promos overwhelmingly match public sentiment
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Propaganda." "Authoritarian." "A brainwashed cult." 

This is how some in the media have described Sinclair's recent promotional warning against "fake news."


They couldn't be more wrong — if not outright dishonest — in the way the Sinclair promo is being portrayed. 

If these were read during a newscast, that would be one thing. But these were promos and were not presented as news. And the promos are not unlike MSNBC's "This is who we are" ads, or Fox News Channel's "Real News. Real Honest Opinion" promos or CNN's "Facts First" campaign. 

If you're just a regular person who reads the news periodically, you likely viewed the Sinclair promo video expertly spliced together by and thought what HBO's John Oliver was thinking.

"Nothing says ‘we value independent media’ like dozens of reporters forced to repeat the same message over and over again like members of a brainwashed cult," Oliver said on Sunday's "Last Week Tonight" in a clip that, like so many others from his show, went viral.

If you haven't seen it, the video shows Sinclair anchors across the country reciting the same script. MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski called them "robots." Actress and activist Amy Schumer canceled an interview with a Sinclair station over it. 

Watch the video without any key context and it's hard not to draw the same conclusions.

Sinclair's promo talks about all the dangers we've been hearing about over and over since the 2016 election ended: the perils of fake news, inaccurate information, and the search for truth through it all. 

You know, the boilerplate language every news organization proclaims it stands against and for, respectively.

“This is extremely dangerous to our democracy,” Sinclair anchors warned across the country, reading from a script. "It’s our responsibility to pursue and report the truth. We understand truth is neither politically ‘left nor right.’ Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever.”

The company owns 173 stations in total, so editing the video in the way Deadspin did made the repetitive brainwashed-cult portrayal quite easy with so many clips available. 

Sinclair does lean to the right, there's no doubt about that. Perhaps that's why Sinclair became a target here. 

But here's the thing: These stations are only seen by those at home in their respective markets. Sinclair's thinking on this one was simple: Why create up to 173 different scripts when each station can read the same one and change out a few variables to match the call letters and station? 

"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. Some other false stories, like the false 'Pizzagate' story, can result in dangerous consequences," explained Scott Livingston, senior vice president of news, in an internal memo first obtained by CNN. 

"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," Livingston added Monday

Dan Rather weighed in on social media. Rather, meanwhile, still maintains his 2004 report on George W. Bush's National Guard service that abruptly ended his long career at CBS was solid, despite basing the story on "fake, but accurate" documents.

"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," Rather tweeted to his 388,000 followers. 

"It's propaganda. It's Orwellian. A slippery slope to how despots wrest power, silence dissent, and oppress the masses," he added. 

But hearing the script Rather is referring to, "with words meant to obscure the truth," it's difficult to find where the obscurity of truth lies.

Again, how does that script differ from the declarations from news organizations in promos in the past and present? And, do the American people agree with the sentiment? 

Recent surveys provide an answer. 

A Monmouth University poll released Monday shows more than three in four Americans, an astounding 77 percent, believe that traditional television and print outlets engage in reporting fake news at least on an occasional basis. That's up from 63 percent who felt the same way the year before. 

The Sinclair script highlights this perspective: "More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories … stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first."

In January, a Gallup study showed only 32 percent of Americans say the media is “careful to separate fact from opinion,” while 58 percent believed that in 1984. 

Again, go back to the script: "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." 

That isn't just Sinclair's sentiment — it's the sentiment of more than two-thirds of people surveyed. 

According to Gallup, a majority of Americans “cannot name a source that reports news objectively."  

Sinclair called it their “responsibility” to report objectively, “to pursue and report the truth. We understand truth is neither politically ‘left nor right.’ Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility."  

It’s worth noting Pew Research found President TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE received a total of 5 percent positive coverage in his first year in office, or more than eight times less than what was afforded to his predecessor.  

Add it all up, and either Sinclair's anchors — who were just doing their job performing station promos — are all part of a brainwashed cult here to spin authoritarian views ... or they're simply reading a script based on the predominant view of the media today. 

Joe Concha is a media reporter for The Hill. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeConchaTV.