America’s Very Own Pravda

By now, most readers of this blog have probably read about Sinclair Media’s latest excursion into disinformation: the company required the local anchors of its stations to deliver an identical “editorial” warning viewers to be aware of “biased news.”

On local news stations across the United States last month, dozens of anchors gave the same speech to their combined millions of viewers.

It included a warning about fake news, a promise to report fairly and accurately and a request that viewers go to the station’s website and comment “if you believe our coverage is unfair.

Seemingly innocuous. But the video director at Deadspin had read a report from CNN that quoted local station anchors uncomfortable with the speech. (I initially wondered none of them objected or refused–then Doug Masson posted a provision from the standard, punitive Sinclair employment contract…)

Deadspin stitched together the broadcasts, creating a tapestry of anchors reciting the same lines in unison: it was eery.

Most Americans had never previously heard of Sinclair. Unlike Fox, which is well-known to be a propaganda arm for the GOP and Donald Trump, Sinclair has flown beneath the radar. As the Guardian put it,

Most Americans don’t know it exists. Primetime US news refers to it as an “under-the-radar company”. Unlike Fox News and Rupert Murdoch, virtually no one outside of business circles could name its CEO. And yet, Sinclair Media Group is the owner of the largest number of TV stations in America.

“Sinclair’s probably the most dangerous company most people have never heard of,” said Michael Copps, the George W Bush-appointed former chairman of Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the top US broadcast regulator….

More recently, Sinclair has added a website, Circa, to its portfolio. But not any old website. Circa has been described as “the new Breitbart” and a favorite among White House aides who wish to platform news to a friendly source (a process otherwise known as “leaking”). As the US news site the Root put it: “What if Breitbart and Fox News had a couple of babies? What if they grew up to be a cool, slicker version of their parents and started becoming more powerful? Meet Sinclair and Circa –Donald Trump’s new besties.”

Sinclair is a major media presence, and it is trying to become even more influential by acquiring another 42 stations from Tribune Media. If the FCC approves that 3.9 billion dollar purchase, Sinclair will reach nearly three-quarters of Americans. The current head of the FCC, the former Verizon executive who led the repeal of Net Neutrality, is an obedient Trump henchman, seen as likely to bend the rules that would otherwise disallow the sale.

Sinclair makes no bones about its political agenda. It forces its local stations to run pro-Trump “news” segments. Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump campaign spokesman, is Sinclair’s chief political analyst., and the “must-run” political commentary segments echo Trump.

The news and analysis website Slate, referring to Epshteyn’s contributions, said: “As far as propaganda goes, this is pure, industrial-strength stuff.”

In a recent column for the New York Times, Michelle Goldberg compared Trump’s unremitting attacks on the mainstream press and his characterizations of uncongenial reporting as “fake news”  to similar behaviors by autocrats in Turkey and Russia.

Meanwhile, Trump uses his platform to praise obsequious outlets like Sinclair Broadcast Group, which ordered news anchors on its nearly 200 local television stations to record Trump-style warnings about fake news: “Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think.’” After Deadspin produced a creepy viral video of Sinclair anchors reading their script in totalitarian unison, Trump came to the company’s defense, tweeting, “Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.”

Sinclair’s regime-friendly propaganda, which seems meant to erode trust in competing sources of information, is also familiar from other nations that have slid into authoritarianism.

Those of us who live in Indiana still remember Mike Pence’s effort to establish an “official” state news bureau–an effort that collapsed after critics dubbed it “Pravda on the Prairie.”

Propaganda and efforts to control the news are at the very core of the rot that infects this administration. Outlets like Fox and Sinclair are the willing tools through which they disseminate their Newspeak.

 

37 thoughts on “America’s Very Own Pravda

  1. A bit of advice. We better find a venue to out talk Fox News and Sinclair Media Group. Continuing to complain, in the long run or even in the short run, isn’t worth a dime or even a nickel.

  2. Nearly 85% of all media outlets are propaganda spreaders. The 85% are all owned by 5 entertainment companies. The purpose is NOT to inform us, but tell us what they want us to hear…control the message.

    This quote is interesting…”White House aides who wish to platform news to a friendly source…”

    Who doesn’t do this?

    Remember, Obama was the hardest of all previous POTUS’s on prosecuting truth tellers or whistleblowers. If you leak the truth, you’re a “whistleblower” which is portrayed as a treasonous act which must be punishable by spending time in prison.

    However, “if you leak info to a friendly news source”, well, that’s okay because it’s supportive of the U.S. propaganda mission.

    Truth is bad. Lies are good.

    Turn off your TV…this medium is for advertisers who want to sell stuff…including nation states who sell patriotism. 😉

  3. You can just imagine Fox and Sinclair have animators working on a new cartoon series to alter a hero narrative. Tweetle Oranjo and the Adventures of Trumpy Bear. Every time Tweetle looks in the mirror to sing “How Great Thou Are’t” … Trumpy Bear dances in an incoherent frenzy, yanks a fake fur American flag out of his rear and just snuggles with Tweetle like friends forever. Takes narcicisstic alter egos to a whole new level of selling fake Wheaties …. the breakfast of …. wouldn’t you know it … rerun of that commercial: “ Look what Mikees’ eating!”

  4. Reagan’s Veto Kills Fairness Doctrine Bill
    June 21, 1987, PENNY PAGANO Times Staff Writer

    WASHINGTON — President Reagan, intensifying the debate over whether the nation’s broadcasters must present opposing views of controversial issues, has vetoed legislation to turn into law the 38-year-old “fairness doctrine,” the White House announced Saturday.

    The doctrine, instituted by the Federal Communications Commission as public policy in 1949, requires the nation’s radio and television stations to “afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views on issues of public importance.”

    “This type of content-based regulation by the federal government is, in my judgment, antagonistic to the freedom of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment,” Reagan said in his veto message. “In any other medium besides broadcasting, such federal policing of the editorial judgment of journalists would be unthinkable.”

    The legislation had been staunchly opposed not only by the Administration, but also by the nation’s broadcasters, who maintain that the FCC policy is an unconstitutional intrusion that has a chilling effect on their operations.

    _______________________________________________________________________________
    I wish that we still had a way to place a “chilling effect” on the operations of Sinclair and Fox. But we don’t.

    Back in the early 70, when I was the General Counsel for the McLendon Corporation and its group of radio stations, one my responsibilities was submitting documentation to the FCC ever year that we were meeting the requirements of the “fairness doctrine.” Under the direction of Gordon McLendon, we were probably the most extreme “right wing” group of stations in the U.S. with the premier station located in ultra-conservative Dallas. The “fairness doctrine” definitely made a difference in keeping the right-wing extremist, Gordon McLendon, under control.

    Unfortunately, President Ronald Regan killed the “fairness doctrine” in 1987.

  5. No, Todd, Obama was NOT the hardest on whistleblowers. He was hard on those who wished to do harm to the country. Big difference.

    Sinclair is yet another example of fascism on the march in the United States. The abuse of the First Amendment continues un-abated. The compliant SCOTUS, since it became a repository for Republicanism, is the culprit, Todd. If we survive until the time we can shift the court back to center, we may have a chance to preserve democracy. Otherwise……

  6. Marv,

    It wasn’t just Reagan who opposed the fairness doctrine. One of the issues during Obama’s first campaign was re-establishing the doctrine. When elected, with Congress in the hands of Democrats, NOTHING happened. I wrote to Senator Durbin (I was then living in Illinois) about this and got a reply of dancing around the issue and in effect telling me NO.

    It isn’t just the right wing of the Republican Party at fault here, proving that it takes both parties to lead the country into ruin.

  7. You didn’t mention that if the Sinclair purchase of Tribune goes through, they will own 2 outlets in the Indy market, channels 4 and 59.

  8. “Since Barack Obama entered the White House in 2009, his government has waged a war against whistleblowers and official leakers. On his watch, there have been eight prosecutions under the 1917 Espionage Act – more than double those under all previous presidents combined.

    And yet other apparent leaks have gone entirely unpunished or have been treated, as in the case of General David Petraeus, as misdemeanors. As Abbe Lowell, lawyer for one of the Espionage Act eight, Stephen Kim, has argued in a letter to the Department of Justice, low-level officials who lack the political connections to fight back have had the book thrown at them, while high-level figures have been allowed to leak with “virtual impunity”.”

    The above is copied and pasted from a March 16, 2015 article from The Guardian.

    From a May 23, 2011 article from the New Yorker; former NSA senior executive Thomas Drake was charged with taking security documents home with the intention of providing them to a reporter. All charges against Drake were dropped.

    Snowden fled the country after dumping thousands of E-mails indiscriminately; no apparent goal in mind…he appeared to simply have the ability to do this. Just as Trump has the ability to Tweet whatever flits between his ears at any hour of the day or night.

    Chuck Todd, reporting from the White House, made the huge mistake of responding to reporters that “it wasn’t his job to relay the truth to them”. If not him…WHO? Evidently the White House had the same question for Todd.

    If Sinclair Broadcasting completes the projected purchase locally of Fox59 and WTTV 4 (the latter is now the local CBS affiliate); coupled with Gannett, Inc., ownership of the Indianapolis Star and USA Today, our primary local news sources will become far right-wing, evangelical media in this bright Red Republican State.

    Regarding Trump’s foolish and imminently dangerous verbal rants and Tweets, “It’s his agenda,” Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “He’s the one who won the election. He gets to decide the policy and when he’s going to say it.” Did Pravda have this much freedom? Or was it controlled by the Russian government as to content and timing of release of news and/or propaganda? We have obviously surpassed Russia regarding the level of propaganda blatantly released to the nation and the world; this must please Putin greatly.

    “Those of us who live in Indiana still remember Mike Pence’s effort to establish an “official” state news bureau–an effort that collapsed after critics dubbed it “Pravda on the Prairie.”

    Now, thanks to the current Republican party, gerrymandering and the Electoral College; Pence is in a position to establish and impose a “Pravda on the Nation”. We will probably learn of its inception via a Trump Tweet while we are being distracted by his ordering the National Guard troops to our southern border and the destructive upgrade of tariffs on China.

    We need Carl Bernstein and Robert Woodward (or “Woodstein” as Ed Bradlee called them) to reunite and take on this Trump administration as they did the Nixon gang. There appears to be no shortage of leaks and leakers to willingly come forward.

  9. Yesterday’s NY Times had a section of an interview with the head of Sinclair. All he said was that every other media outlet does it, so why are you picking on us? Sounds like something Trump would say.

  10. Actually, the FCC had already bent the rules that limited a company reaching in excess of the 39 percent of the national broadcast audience as required under federal law. It was a sleight of hand called the “UHF discount.” Now the FCC Chairman is asking the Commission to ignore it altogether.

    I still think we over emphasize Russian meddling in our election. It may be a clearer path to getting rid of Trump but it distracts from far more sinister developments in the media e.g. end of Net Neutrality, Cambridge Analytica, and now this.

  11. Theresa,

    “It wasn’t just Reagan who opposed the fairness doctrine.”

    You’re 100% right. Recently, I volunteered to help register voters at the large homeless center here in Jacksonville. I’m trying to stay out of partisan politics [except for Donald Trump; I call that “personal”]. Is that possible? Ronald Reagan is old news. The last thing the Democratic Party needs is for me to join in on the “bashing.”

  12. I wish to respectfully dissent on the discussion here about the fairness doctrine. It never worked worth a crap. More importantly, it was a major intrusion into the freedom of the press by a federal agency. It was the first in a long line of FCC initiatives that got us where we are.

    Point being, limiting and breaking up wealth and concentration of power in media and politics is far more effective and democratic than dictating what should or should not be said.

  13. Who’s carrying whose water? Faux News harps on one of their pet peeves and 30 minutes later the harping becomes a Presidential tweet and a new policy for the White House. It seems “Fox and Friends” and Tucker Carlson are running the country.

    Always be skeptical!

  14. Ah, if only people had picked up on John Oliver’s reporting on Sinclair a year ago. Better late than never I suppose.

  15. sinclaire old clear channel? when mike powell was the strong man for the fcc., many citizens were already questioning the mass buy up and coming to a conclusion about generic,news..
    we see how close we were, and not suprised about sinclaire wanting more,after all, hitler wanted more,and got it…like propaganda,more is good, in the eyes of those who cant be trusted with the truth,or have underlying ideas to subvert a company,or goverment. if the working class has any idea, its usually what they can be,conveniently told…or be shaken into a frenzy about. reading takes time,comprehension,is totally a different need. both together,some thought, and checking the story source,and other stories of the same topic,am i getting tooooo deeep?
    anyway, please dont be lazy about our democracy… propaganda exists,because we allow it to exist.. boycott the advatisers,drop the share price, and,,,blame it on trump, and his henchmen..er people… after all, laura,well she could use some ethics classes too.
    bumper sticker

    fox news, stuck on the spin cycle
    with sinclaire..
    also, check out chris hedges latest on the billionaires class of need..

  16. John,

    “I wish to respectfully dissent on the discussion here about the fairness doctrine. It never worked worth a crap.”

    It worked a little. I know that for a fact. But, basically, it only drove the propagandists in another direction, to go underground and use massive CODED right-wing messages by a SIGNIFICANT number of ministers in the evangelical churches. So we end up with massive hatred, one way or the other.

  17. I heard an excellent discussion recently on NPR between academics and high school teachers about the inclusion of pornography teaching in sex ed classes. One of the points it wrestled with is “what is porn?” which may be obvious to adults but confusing to those trying to figure out the more basic “what is sex?”

    They recommended the definition of sex related acting performed for money.

    It turns out that that definition in my mind anyway works for fake news too. It’s news related acting performed for money.

    Apparently many enjoy that form of fantasy too without realizing the danger of confusing reality and fantasy.

  18. For the take over the Media, we can than Bill Clinton. In 1996, Clinton passed the Telecommunications Act, the first major overhaul of the country’s telecommunications legislation in over 60 years. Twenty-two years later, that deregulation threatens to upend our democracy.

    “The Telecommunications Act of 1996 did not just permit consolidation in TV,” noted Guardian reporter Kevin Carty last November. “It paved the way for radio monopolization as well. Before the law, it was illegal for one company to own more than 40 radio stations. Today, the company formerly known as Clear Channel—iHeartMedia—owns 858 stations.”

    Per Howard Zinn:
    The Telecommunications Act of 1996…enabled the handful of corporations dominating the airwaves to expand their power further. Mergers enabled tighter control of information…The Latin American writer Eduardo Galeano commented…”Never have so many been held incommunicado by so few.

    “A diverse, de-concentrated, and competitive media system protects free speech in the United States,” Carty continued. “It guarantees that public discourse cannot be monopolized by concentrated power, whether in form of populist demagogues or corporate plutocrats, as it is in so many less fortunate nations.”

    Sinclair Media is taking ownership to it’s next level, which is controlling content. Control of content is vital.

    For instance thousands of Oklahoma teachers are on strike and hundreds of thousands of students are not in school. The teachers strikes in West Virginia and Oklahoma is real resistance. Where is the coverage by the McMega-Media on this strike??? CNN, MSDNC and FOX have all ignored these stories on the strikes.

  19. Whatever the policy choices of agencies and presidents now or before, we are clearly in the age of Goebbelspeak, so we have to deal with the problem of news monopolies just as we would deal with John D. Rockefeller’s oil monopoly in the late 19th century if that were a problem today. We need competition in the marketplace of news as well as oil. Since news corporations have decided (with Trump’s approval) to become propaganda organs it seems to me that (until sanity returns, if ever) that we need liberal news outlets designed to offset right wing propaganda, perhaps as a subsidiary of a joint venture of CNN and MSNBC. This is not my preferred means of handling the problem, but given the political atmosphere of today and until we flesh out the meaning of the First Amendment in this connection by the Supreme Court, it seems to me to be the only alternative in balancing a rapidly developing news monopoly. (See Fox, Sinclair and other Keepers of the Status Quo.)

    Right wing propaganda, of course, is a voter suppression technique employed by a desperate Republican Party which understands the demographics and their coming demise into Whigdom, from which their party arose in 1854. I have blogged many times on the coming of age of millennials as well as disenchanted centralists and angry women as voters, and I think we are going to see those predictions borne out this November, in 2020, and for the foreseeable future.

    Finally, and if my predictions are correct or nearly so, I think the news after November will not be the Republican Party’s prospects for the 2020 election but rather whether the party will survive as a relevant political entity until then, which I in other writing have described as “the descent into Whigdom.” Bad things happen when you are on the wrong side of history, as that party is shortly destined to discover.

  20. The subject matter of the quoted below from SPLC “Intelligence Report” magazine, spring 2018 issue, probably fits more with the blog “The Oldest Bigotry” except for the fact that the media keeps the issue covered in the article “Holy Hate: The Far Right’s Radicalization of Religion” in the news.

    “Many academic studies, government reports and news articles have analyzed the roll of religion (or the misinterpretation of religious concepts and scripture) in radicalizing Muslims and mobilizing them to wage “Holy War” against their enemies around the globe. Few have discussed how right-wing extremism exploits Christianity and the Bible to radicalize and mobilize its violent adherents toward criminality and terrorism.”

    “White Supremacists, sovereign citizens, militia extremists and violent anti-abortion adherents use religious concepts and scripture to justify threats, criminal activity and violence.”

    When the lead propagandist in the country is the president who watches Fox News for news and bases his decisions on their content; we can expect nothing but “deconstruction” of our government and total loss of democracy due to propaganda rather than information and facts. With Pence as the religious leader who lets his “little light shine” and evangelism the (im)moral leaders this country today with Fox News, Sinclair Broadcasting outlets, Gannett, Inc. press, as the source of governmental news makes our situation worse than under Russia’s Pravda.

  21. Gerald,

    We’re not just dealing with the Republican Party. It is only the shell of a MOVEMENT that is control right now. The only way to change the status quo is with a COMPETITIVE counter-movement that has the ability to compete with SINCLAIR/FOX. Unfortunately, there is nothing presently operating within the Democratic Party shell that can accomplish that mission.

    Remember, not all your predictions have come to pass.

  22. Almost 50 years ago I had a high school teacher tell the class a story about a Russian that immigrated to America. The immigrant said it was much harder to watch the nightly news in America. In Russia he knew not to trust any of it. In America he could trust half of it but he didn’t know which half.

  23. Marv – You’re right. The Republican Party is only the shell of a movement that is in control right now and that the only way to change the status quo is with a competitive counter movement that can compete with Sinclair-Fox. You are also right in pointing out that all my predictions have not come to pass (Hillary’s election, for instance). However, the demographics of the millennial and other vote patterns and the dying off of white Republican voters tell me that my predictions of 2018, 2020 and thereafter are on the mark.

  24. Alfred,

    About thirty years ago, I had a conversation with a Russian who had recently immigrated to the U.S. and lived in a town in the northern tier of Dallas County. He shared with me the fact that the anti-Semitism he had encountered in that small town in Texas was greater than anything he had experienced while living in Russia.

  25. Gerald,

    “Marv,….. however, the demographics of the millennial and other vote patterns and the dying off of white Republican voters tell me that my predictions of 2018, 2020 and thereafter are on the mark.”

    I wouldn’t bet against you on those two predictions. I’m just not for waiting around to see if you’re correct. But, I’m on your side. That’s why I don’t want to engage in any form of partisan politics. I don’t want to hinder in any way the success of the Democratic Party. I’m about April, you’re about November. That’s our only difference. But it’s not a small one.

  26. Gerald,

    To tell you the truth, my main interest right now is the 25th Amendment in which you pointed out its importance so well, a week or so ago. I believe it fits in very well with the SUCCESS “The Alarm Report” had in the Court of Public Opinion in Dallas back in 1991.

    See http://www.TheAlarmReport.info.

  27. John Neal; thank you. Your reference to the FCC bending rules stuck a nerve with me; they not only bend rules they ignore FCC laws requiring closed captioning for the hearing impaired and deaf. Not even severe weather bulletin law regarding cc are followed and the quality of news reports, local and cable, comes and goes; apparently not monitored by anyone at the channel level or FCC. Following their requirements to report problems is lengthy, difficult and time consuming; it takes months for any response and I have yet to have them take action to improve the situation. I sometimes wonder if anyone else bothers to report the problem…situations such as the “accidental” nuclear attack warning in Hawaii must have been doubly terrifying for those who couldn’t hear the warning sirens or get comprehensive news reports to know what was happening. Fairness, like logic and common sense, have been removed from all levels of government and this is not a new situation to contend with.

  28. Sinclair Broadcasting wouldn’t be such a concern and a leveraging behemoth had it not been for the actions in 1996 of a Southern White-man who was our president.

  29. I guess we should thank all of those former Reagan Republicans for supporting Ronald Reagan when his administration abolished the Fairness Doctrine. If you voted for Bill Clinton and had voted for Reagan back in the day–YOU HELPED create the current milieu of consolidated and ultra propagandized media. It’s your fault. It’s coming back to bite you–and deservedly so.

  30. “William Falk – The Week – The Week – All you need to know …
    theweek.com/authors/william-falk
    Editor-in-chief, The Week Magazine William Falk is editor-in-chief of The Week, and has held that role since the magazine’s first issue in 2001. He has previously been a reporter, columnist, and editor at the Gannett Westchester Newspapers and at Newsday, where he was part of two reporting teams that won Pulitzer Prizes.”

    I received a free copy of The Week magazine in my mail today; Googed the magazine but found only descriptions of articles and that is published in the UK and in the US. No information regarding political leanings or sources for their articles. Decided to Google the Editor; seeing that he is a former editor at Gannett I won’t return the RSVP card to receive 6 more weeks free. I have learned it is safer to research sources of all news.

  31. I remember driving my antique car to Indy one weekday many years ago, and turning on my AM radio. I really wanted to hear music like the old days, but it was mostly talk with several stations playing Rush Limbaugh and several others playing clones. I thought the airwaves were supposed to be public, but instead they were dominated by a narrow range of viewpoints. What happened?

  32. Steve E.

    “I thought the airwaves were supposed to be public, but instead they were dominated by a narrow range of viewpoints. What happened?

    Answer: We lost the “fairness doctrine.” Rush Limbaugh et al couldn’t have existed if it was in place.

Comments are closed.