The Sinclair Broadcast Group attacked CNN on Tuesday for what it considers hypocrisy about the chain's recent directive to local news anchors to read a message to viewers denouncing fake news.
The unusual squabble is an outgrowth of the attention given to Sinclair, owner of 193 local television stations across the country, and the extent to which the company orders its stations to air content reflecting a political point of view. For instance, the company distributes commentaries to its stations from Boris Epshteyn, a former aide to President Donald Trump.
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In recent weeks, CNN and others have reported that Sinclair stations with news operations were compelled to have those local news personalities read a statement of concern about "the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing the country," although it gives no specific examples. The directive raised questions about media consolidation and its effect on the independence of local news.
On Tuesday, a link to a four-minute video specifically attacking CNN was posted atop the web sites of Sinclair's stations. The video calls the network reprehensible for reporting on its directives, and said the "fake news" message was similar to warnings that CNN and its media reporter, Brian Stelter, have been giving for years. The video shows clips of Stelter's reports.
"Is it really news that fake news is a concern in 2018, or is this an attack on Sinclair?" the company said in Tuesday's video.
CNN referred reporters to a tweet from Stelter, who wrote that "there's a huge difference between my coverage and Sinclair's mandatory promos. No one tells me what to say. But their anchors are being told exactly what to say."
He wrote that the local news promotions became a story because Sinclair staffers had spoken up and said that they were uncomfortable with them.
The broad meaning of "fake news" in the current media environment also clouds the issue. Fake news has been used to refer to deliberately false stories posted online, particularly during the 2016 presidential election. The term has also been used by Trump and other politicians to describe news stories they are unhappy with.
Justin Simmons, a former news producer at the Sinclair-owned KHGI in Kearney, Nebraska, wrote in The Washington Post on Tuesday that he would occasionally skip some of the video commentaries that Sinclair had sent to the station because they were slanted, "and they sometimes went straight into blatant fearmongering."
Simmons wrote that he objected to the "fake news" message because it appeared to echo Trump's discussions about the topic. He said he asked his boss not to run it and his boss said it would put his job in jeopardy, so Simmons said he decided to resign.
"I wish Sinclair management would consider why journalistic organizations are concerned," he wrote.