On March 7, CNN’s Brian Stelter reported that Sinclair Broadcast Group, owner and/or operator of 193 television stations in the country, would be forcing its anchors to record a promotional message about “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country.” Selter and Deadspin both see the message as support for President Donald Trump’s ongoing attack on “fake news.”
In what seems like a Saturday Night Live parody, Timothy Burke of Deadspin pieced together the footage of various broadcasts from Seattle to Washington D.C.—all Sinclair affiliates—of news anchors reciting the same copy.
“The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media. More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories,” the anchors say in unison. “This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”
The video spread quickly on social media over the weekend, leading to heavy criticism of Sinclair. Democrat Rep. Tony Cárdenas of California resurfaced a letter, signed by 38 lawmakers and dated March 22, that called for the rejection of the Tribune merger that would dramatically expand Sinclair’s reach to 72 percent of American households.
President Trump responded to the scrutiny of the media company by defending them in a tweet.
“So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased,” he wrote. “Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.”
Scott Livingston, senior vice president of the Hunt Valley-based media company, said the purpose of the message was to echo Sinclair’s mission and “commitment to reporting facts.”
“The stories we are referencing in this promo 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,” he told The Sun in an email statement. “We are focused on fact-based reporting. We consider it our honor and privilege to deliver the news each night. We seek the truth and strive to be fair.”
Although it is the country’s largest broadcaster, Sinclair is not a household name and viewers may be unaware of who owns their local news station. Critics have accused the company of using its stations to advance a mostly right-leaning agenda. The company often sends what are called “must-runs” to its affiliates that include content like commentators speaking in support of President Trump, terrorism news updates, or speeches from company executives.
This is not the first time that Sinclair has been accused of being biased in its reporting. The company has also been accused of using connections in the Trump administration—by way of Sinclair’s chairman David D. Smith’s meeting with future FCC commissioner Ajit Pai the day before Trump’s inauguration—to ease regulations on media consolidation. Sinclair is currently seeking approval from the Justice Department and the FCC for a $3.9 billion deal to buy Tribune Media.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated that the Tribune merger would result in the company acquiring The Baltimore Sun. However, Tribune Media is the TV side of the former Tribune Co., which spun off Tribune Publishing (now known as tronc). Baltimore regrets the error.