October 15, 2004

SINclair - Repug Bullshit

Sinclair's sin (by David Shuster)

Imagine if the CBS television network pre-empted "60 Minutes" this Sunday and broadcast Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11." Many of you might be thrilled. But many of you would be disgusted and outraged, calling it a deliberate, misleading, and unfair ploy to impact the presidential election at the very end.

The Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. isn't CBS. But Sinclair does own 62 television stations, including 35 affiliated with the major broadcast networks. (20 Fox stations, 8 ABC, 4 NBC, and 3 CBS.) And Sinclair is ordering all of its stations to pre-empt regular programming and run, as early as this weekend, a partisan documentary about John Kerry titled "Stolen Honor."

The film attacks Kerry for his anti-war activism after he returned home from Vietnam more than 35 years ago. Mark Hyman, a spokesman for Sinclair, says "the documentary is just part of a special news event that we're putting together." Actually, it's not a news event. The film was released, (and picked apart) at a press conference five weeks ago.

Some of my colleagues have made an issue out of Sinclair's partisan history. 97 percent of their political contributions have gone to Republicans, they sent a team to Iraq to find the "good news" the rest of the media wasn't reporting, and etc.

But my issue with Sinclair is in regards to this film... and Sinclair's intention to run the film "as is." Without a major overhaul, this film should be rejected... and it has to do with journalism's requirement that you "get the facts right."

"Stolen Honor" has several prominent factual errors: First, former America POWs are quoted on camera as saying "we stayed two more years because of the demonstrators like Fonda and Kerry... I figure they owe us two years." I have no doubt that some POW's feel that way. But the fact is, the war stopped in 1973 when the Nixon administration negotiated an end. History shows it was the lack of a settlement before then, not the protests, that kept the North Vietnamese fighting.

Secondly, part of John Kerry's testimony as depicted in the film starts in mid-sentence. "They cut off ears, limbs, heads..." This editing makes it seem that John Kerry was making the allegations, when the sentence actually begins with Kerry saying, "They said they..." The difference is crucial. In reality, as opposed to this film, John Kerry always attributed those dramatic allegations to the testimony of other US soldiers.

Thirdly, the film only features POWs who say John Kerry's name was invoked by north Vietnamese prison guards. But we've spoken to dozens of POWs who spent years in Vietnamese prison camps and say they never heard John Kerry's name mentioned once.

Balance requires these opposing voices be included in a "journalistic film." But, alas, this isn't journalism that Sinclair is practicing.

Some of you might be thinking, "Well, wait a second, Michael Moore splashed his anti-Bush film in movie theaters across the country." That's true. But there is a huge difference between forcing voters to buy a ticket to watch a partisan film... and showing something partisan over the free television airwaves. If Sinclair wants to sponsor "Stolen Honor" in movie theaters across the country, more power to them. But television stations are a different matter regardless of your political leanings. Because remember, if it is Sinclair and "Stolen Honor" this Sunday, would you be comfortable with CBS and "Fahrenheit 9/11" next Sunday?


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