A morning show producer at a TV station in Nebraska owned by Sinclair Broadcasting quit his job after becoming fed up with being forced to put on “biased information” mandated as “must-runs” by the politically-conservative parent company.
The final straw for Justin Simmons after four years at KHGI, an ABC affiliate in the central part of the state, and nearly two years producing the station’s morning show, was the order from the corporate office in Baltimore to have anchors and reporters read controversial promos that warn views about “fake” news.
Those promos in the past week have gone viral after Deadspin ran a compilation of dozens of on-air personalities reading them verbatim, leading to an angry reaction from many viewers and critical comments comparing them to the kind of propaganda TV anchors have to read in totalitarian countries.
A Sinclair TV producer at KHGI in Nebraska, Justin Simmons, resigned March 26 in protest of what he calls the company's "obvious bias" (@brianstelter / CNNMoney)https://t.co/x6KL6L2tcvhttps://t.co/DFooUKXmmb
— Mediagazer (@mediagazer) April 4, 2018
In his March 26 resignation letter, Simmons said he had become increasingly uncomfortable with what the station was forced to air, and that the “news bashing promo our local anchors have been required to read” was the final straw.
“This is almost forcing local news anchors to lie to their viewers,” Simmons told CNN Money in an interview.
“Making the local anchors do this was a big concern for me,” he said. “I didn’t go into news to give people biased information.”
As an example of the kind of “must-run” segments Sinclair mandates, Simmons cited a feature called ” the “Terrorism Alert Desk,” about security threats.
Critics call the segments alarmist and full of fear-mongering,” reports CNN Money.
Simmons also cited commentaries by Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump campaign advisor, that relentlessly praise and promote the president no matter what he does.
Simmons asserted that there isn’t a hunger for what CNN called Epshteyn’s “boosterish videos.”
The controversy surrounding Sinclair is amplified because it has become the largest owner of TV stations in the U.S., thanks to the Trump administration bending and changing FCC rules to allow their reach to grow to never before reached proportions, which is currently being investigated by the agency’s Inspector General.
Sinclair is also in the spotlight because it is close to closing a deal to acquire the blue-chip Tribune stations – which unlike Sinclair’s mostly middle America and rural station footprint – are in the biggest U.S. cities and media capitals including New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
With Tribune, Sinclair will reach about 79 percent of all U.S. TV homes, blowing past the old rules which limited any one group to a reach of no more than 39 percent.
Simmons was able to quit because he was not under contract like many of those who are the top talent at the Sinclair stations.
And Sinclair contracts are written in a way that makes it both difficult and legally threatening to quit or even to talk about why a person quit.
Another person who got out is Aaron Weiss, who worked for Sinclair in 2013.
"My heart broke for the anchors who were forced to do that … It's the equivalent of a proof-of-life hostage video": Former Sinclair news director Aaron Weiss responds to scripted media-bashing promos run on local stations https://t.co/jEatUknxJU pic.twitter.com/JtNkuVG3Ro
— New Day (@NewDay) April 4, 2018
Wisss described the big concern about what Sinclair is doing today on CNN’s “New Day.”
“The problem with what Sinclair does is, they co-opt the credibility that local anchors have built up in their communities over years and decades,” said Weiss, “and use that credibility to promote a political agenda. And that, to me, is what it so ethically inappropriate about what Sinclair does.”
“Resigning seemed like the least I could do,” said Simmons. “I wish there was more.”
If this was any other administration in American history, the FCC would never have twisted and perverted its rules to help this one company, and the president would not be praising Sinclair with his tweets.
Instead, Trump would be ordering the cancellation of the Sinclair acquisition of Tribune as he is going with the acquisition of Time Warner by AT&T, which is the subject of a current courtroom battle.
Instead, Sinclair – which promoted Trump during the 2016 campaign – is likely to get the government’s blessing to expand so that it can spread even more pro-Trump and pro-right wing propaganda while denying that is what it is doing.
Simmons had the courage to walk away in protest but TV jobs are tough to get, and contracts are hard to break, so Sinclair will continue to get away with being Trump’s Big Brother-style propagandist as long as the unethical, outrageous real estate developer continues to run amuck in the White House.
So every time you hear about another Sinclair outrage, think of it as a clarion call to vote in November and in every election after that to elect fair-minded politicians who will restore America to a place where fairness in media is no longer a dirty word.