More Sinclair Mandates Means Less Local News On Local 12

Apr 3, 2018

It was hard to miss the corporate-mandated complaint about "the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-side news stories plaguing our country" last week on Local 12, and Sinclair Broadcast Group's 172 other TV stations nationwide.

Rob Braun and Cammy Dierking read the Sinclair-ordered script in the first 10 minutes of every newscast (which I clocked at 80 seconds), cutting into news time.

The statement ran without any "commentary," "opinion" or "editorial" label during newscasts.

Some parts sounded like a TV news organization trying to do the right thing:

"Our greatest responsibility is to serve our Tri-State communities. We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that Local 12 produces…. If you believe our coverage is unfair, please reach out to our website Local12.com."

Some parts read like it was written by or for President Trump:

"The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media. More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fabricated stories without checking facts first. 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 our democracy."

And all of it cut into local news time on Local 12, the station that's "proud to be your local station."

I saw the Sinclair promo read by Dierking last week on Local 12's newscast at 10 p.m. on sister station WSTR-TV (Channel 64). The half-hour newscast also included two other Sinclair "must runs," a one-minute "Terrorism Alert Desk" international news report, and a one-minute promo for the "DailyMailTV" syndicated show following at 10:30 p.m. That's three minutes and 20 seconds of Local 12's newscast which wasn't local news.

The Sinclair promo doesn't mention the news outlets which are pushing a personal bias or agenda. Is it CNN? Fox News? MSNBC? The Washington Post? New York Times?

What about Sinclair?

The Baltimore-based media giant has "a long history of favoring conservative causes and candidates on its stations’ newscasts," according to a Washington Post story last June.

Sinclair has "used its 173 television stations to advance a mostly right-leaning agenda since the presidency of George W. Bush," the New York Times reported last May.

Sinclair also struck a deal with Trump during the 2016 campaign to get special access to him in exchange for Sinclair agreeing to broadcast the Trump interviews without commentary, Jared Kushner told Manhattan business leaders in December 2016, according to Politico.

Brian Stelter, CNN's excellent media critic, says that "Sinclair's political bent has been a factor in its pending acquisition of Tribune Media. Sinclair is already the biggest owner of local television stations in the country -- with 173 it either owns or operates -- and Tribune will give it dozens more…. Sinclair critics -- Democratic lawmakers and some of the company's Republican rivals -- have alleged that the FCC has given Sinclair preferential treatment. With all that in mind, these mandated promos show how the company wants to position itself in local markets from coast to coast."

The Post also notes that "all of Sinclair's four nationally syndicated commentators offer conservative views (former Trump press aide Boris Epshteyn; commentator Mark Hyman; "Full Measure" host Sharyl Attkisson; and former Ben Carson campaign manager Armstrong Williams).

Deadspin mashed together dozens of Sinclair anchors reading the identical script into one video, including Braun and Dierking, as if they were mindless corporate robots. The headline was: "How America's Leading Local TV Owner Turned Its News Anchors Into Soldiers In Trump's War On The Media."

Braun was one of 15 anchors shown saying, "This is extremely dangerous to our democracy."  That was after 36 anchor teams filled Deadspin's screen to say that same exact phrase together on our public airwaves across the nation.

Watching Local 12, I've seen other "must runs" which weren't local – the Circa pop news recap on Sunday night, stories either promoting Attkisson's "Full Measure" Sunday mornings, or stories  excerpted from "Full Measure" after the show airs.

I'm guessing that viewers aren't fooled, particularly long-time Local 12 viewers. If they're looking for local news, they're increasingly seeing less of it in favor of corporate "must runs" since Sinclair took over five years ago.  

For at least 15 years, Channel 12 has won the ratings for all the weekday newscasts. But its lead has dwindled in recent years at 11 p.m., which could have been caused by a variety of factors other than Sinclair's ownership. (Are there fewer news viewers at 11 p.m.? Are some Channel 12 viewers watching the shorter 10 p.m. Local 12 newscast on Channel 64? )

In the January household ratings for Cincinnati's 11 p.m. news, only 1.3 ratings points separates first-place WKRC-TV (6.3) and third-place WLW-TV (5.0), with second-place WCPO-TV (5.9) really closing the gap. With one ratings point representing 8,720 TV homes here, WKRC-TV's 11 p.m. lead in the household ratings is 3,488 TV homes.

At 6-7 a.m., only 1.2 ratings points separated WKRC-TV (4.2), WLWT-TV (3.3), WXIX-TV (3.0) and WCPO-TV (2.8) in the household ratings.

Dangerous to our democracy? That's one way to describe having Rob Braun, Cammy Dierking and respected local TV news anchors across the nation becoming corporate puppets, risking their credibility and jeopardizing their relationship with viewers by being forced to promote their owner's political agenda.

Here's the deal: If you no longer trust the anchors or a station's motives, change the channel.  If you think you're getting less local news on Local 12 – or any other TV station – change the channel.

Here's the script as read by Rob Braun and Cammy Dierking last week:

DIERKING: Our greatest responsibility is to serve our Tristate communities. We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that Local 12 produces.

BRAUN: But we are concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-side news stories plaguing our country.

DIERKING: The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media. More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fabricated stories without checking facts first.

BRAUN: 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 our democracy.

DIERKING: At Local 12, it's our responsibility to report and pursue the truth. We understand that truth is neither politically left or right. 

BRAUN: Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever. But we are human, and sometimes our reporting might fall short.

DIERKING: If you believe our coverage is unfair, please reach out to our website, Local12.com, by clicking on Content Concerns.

We value your comments. We will respond.

BRAUN: We work very hard to seek the truth, and strive to be fair, balanced and factual.  We consider it an honor and privilege to responsibly deliver the news every day. Thank you for watching. And we appreciate your feedback.

DIERKING:  If you believe our coverage is unfair, please reach out to our website, Local12.com, by clicking on Content Concerns.