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Radio News: Sinclair employees react to hullabaloo over 'fake news' script

Apr 08, 2018 10:50 pm

Deadspin has another story about the Sinclair Broadcast Group, about how employees around the United States at Sinclair affiliates have reacted to its viral story last week that included a collage of dozens of Sinclair station anchors being forced to read the same script about vague, alleged "fake news." The story about the scripts has been out for a month, but when Deadspin overlayed video of the anchors parroting the same lines, it became a much larger issue. Now, some of the employees of those Sinclair stations around the country are telling their side of the story to Deadspin, a sports website, and others. Employees complain that their stations local newscasts are now shorter, because the mandated videos and scripts from Sinclair cut into news time. For years, local television news has been full of commentaries during well-labeled owners' editorials. The Sinclair scripts and commentaries from former Donald Trump aide Boris Epshteyn aren't always clearly labeled. In Albany New York, at least one Democrat running for Congress vowed not to run ads on the local Sinclair stations, WRGB and WCWN. That could prove costly during election season, if more Democrats boycott Sinclair stations. So some stations, and employees are doing what they can to resist eroding their journalistic reputations, though most are trying not to be fired. One station, WMSN, or FOX47, in Madison, Wisconsin tweeted after the Deadspin viral video came out that they, "did not air the Sinclair promotional announcement during our 9 p.m. news this weekend. Rather, we stayed true to our commitment to provide our Madison area viewers local news, weather, and sports of interest to them." Other Sinclair stations told Deadspin they were only airing the longer anchor-announced script during local news time, and refusing to cut a second, shorter "promotional" ad during commercial time. A local news anchor, Delaine Mathieu at WOAI in San Antonio, Texas, wrote on Facebook that she was just trying to keep her job, "Trust me, this was awful.... We had several closed-door meetings and even had to re-record our version because we looked so mortified in the first cut. But we gathered our composure and did our job knowing this would happen.... It sucks. It just does. You will make your judgment and I can’t change that." Another anonymous local anchor told Deadspin, "I’m the person making sure Boris has ‘commentary’ on it in big, big font.... So if I left, they would bring someone in maybe with less experience, who maybe isn’t [making sure of that].” One news producer at Sinclair's KHGI in Nebraska quit on March 26, before the viral video. “This is almost forcing local news anchors to lie to their viewers,” Justin Simmons told CNN, adding that there were “several segments that have made me uncomfortable.” But Simmons could quit because he wasn’t under contract. Bloomberg reports, "According to copies of two employment contracts reviewed by Bloomberg, some Sinclair employees were subject to a liquidated damages clause for leaving before the term of their agreement was up: one that requires they pay as much as 40 percent of their annual compensation to the company." Though this story is new, Sinclair has been at this sort of thing before. In 2004 they wanted all their local stations to air a biased anti-John Kerry documentary during the presidential election, but backed down at the last moment. Before that, during the Iraq War, Nightline had a full episode reading aloud the names of U.S. soldiers killed during that conflict and Sinclair pre-empted the broadcast on the ABC affiliates it owned. Now, local reporters at local television stations just want to air the local news. “People are upset that the editorial control has been taken out of our newsroom. We feel like we should decide what news is of interest to our viewers,” one local news station worker told Deadspin.
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