The Sinclair Broadcast Group, which last year refused to air on its ABC affiliates a Nightline program listing Americans killed in Iraq, is applauding ABC's decision to show a similar program this Memorial Day.
Ted Koppel on Monday will pay tribute to the more than 900 U.S. service members who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past year in a special 11:35 p.m. broadcast. Photographs will accompany each of the dead soldiers as their names are read.
Last year, Koppel read the names of 721 Iraq war dead on April 30. Since 2004 was an election year, Sinclair, a Republican supporter, accused Nightline of sending an anti-war message - an assertion ABC denied.
In a statement released yesterday, the Hunt Valley-based company that owns 61 television stations in the United States, including WBFF and WNUV in Baltimore, said it "applauds" the decision to read the names on "a day set aside to honor our fallen heroes."
Joe DeFeo, Sinclair's vice president of news, said programming will air as scheduled on the company's eight ABC affiliates that day.
"Unlike Nightline's reading of the names last year, which coincided with the start of the May ratings sweeps, we feel that this year's Memorial Day selection is the appropriate setting to remember those who have sacrificed their lives to keep all Americans safe and free," the Sinclair statement said.
The lucrative May sweeps, which measures TV audiences, began last year on April 29.
Tom Bettag, Nightline executive producer, said the program "is our way of reminding viewers, regardless of their feelings about the war, that the men and women who have given their lives in our behalf are individuals with names and faces."
The former Washington bureau chief for Sinclair, Jon Leiberman, was fired after publicly criticizing Sinclair's plan to run an anti-John Kerry documentary days before last year's election. For his stand, Leiberman received the Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism earlier this month in Eugene, Ore.
David D. Smith, president and CEO of Sinclair, had sent a letter to the University of Oregon in April noting that Leiberman was denied unemployment benefits by Maryland's Department of Labor. The state found that Leiberman deliberately disregarded Sinclair's standards of behavior or violated employment rules by speaking out.
Tim Gleason, dean of Oregon's journalism school, responded to Sinclair in a letter that the labor department's finding "does not negate the fact that [Leiberman] acted in order to uphold values that are central to the practice of journalism in the public interest." Gleason also wrote that Leiberman's act was "a principled stand in the face of significant pressure."
Sinclair decided not to air Stolen Honor, featuring swift boat veterans' claims that Kerry's 1971 anti-war testimony worsened treatment of Vietnam prisoners of war. It featured outtakes in A POW Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media.