Screengrab courtesy Deadspin
In what we were all hoping was an April Fool’s Day joke, a March 31 video posted by Deadspin, a popular sports blog, went viral, showing dozens of news anchors reciting an identical anti-media message to millions of viewers. For Americans who rely on local news for information and understanding, this was no laughing matter. The video is a result of Sinclair Broadcast Group requiring its stations to disseminate propaganda to retain funding and employment.
Sinclair is the largest owner of television stations in the United States. It owns or operates a whopping 173 stations from coast to coast, according to its website. The corporation has a reach of millions, and before the video went viral, it is doubtful that any of those viewers were aware of the extent of Sinclair’s control over the news shown on their stations.
Watching this video of dozens of anchors reciting an identical and clearly biased message in unison is nothing short of horrifying—especially to someone who works at a newspaper committed to high ethical standards and unbiased coverage where facts, sources and quotes are checked tirelessly.
In our society, the dollar speaks. Nothing scares a person like the fear of losing their livelihood or the ability to do what they need to survive. This is exactly what Sinclair threatens: Reporters and stations know they must compromise their core values as journalists—a commitment to facts and accuracy—in order to keep their jobs. This is a clear and present ethical dilemma, and one that needs to be resisted wholeheartedly by Columbia students, not simply as up-and-coming media creators but as consumers striving to be responsible and educated in our media consumption.
Seattle Times Reporter Mike Rosenberg calculated the percentage of jobs posted on JournalismJobs.com, the largest online hub for jobs in journalism, and found that 64 percent of current postings were at stations owned by Sinclair. Also, Sinclair is awaiting approval to acquire the Tribune Media group, which would greatly increase its already massive sphere of influence. This means, unless something changes, it is likely that plenty of Columbia students and young content creators will be working for Sinclair in the coming years. We have a responsibility not to submit to its subversion of news outlets into propaganda mills.
We must demand this state of affairs does not continue, both by seeking transparency and advocating against corporations like Sinclair that find massive loopholes in monopoly and duopoly laws.
If we are not aware of who or what funds the media we consume, we cannot truly know the covert bias being fed to us that we then internalize. If we do not actively say this kind of media monopoly is wrong, then we choose bias and, to use a Trump-ism, “fake news” over truth and education.