Sinclair Airs Show on Kerry

Times Staff Writer

Sinclair Broadcast Group’s one-hour “A POW Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media” on Friday night gave a large platform to charges surrounding Democratic nominee Sen. John F. Kerry’s anti-Vietnam War activity. But it also turned the spotlight on Sinclair itself.

The broadcaster became the main player in a drama that was kicked off two weeks ago when Sinclair announced plans to air “Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal,” an anti-Kerry documentary, days before the Nov. 2 presidential election.

After complaints from Democrats, threats of an advertiser boycott and shareholder questions, Sinclair said it would air only parts of the 42-minute film.

In the end, the program incorporated about five minutes from “Stolen Honor,” mostly POWs talking about how Kerry’s actions had prolonged their ordeal, and included an interview with filmmaker Carlton Sherwood. But it also included footage from a recent film much more sympathetic to Kerry’s Vietnam experience, called “Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry.” That film’s director, George Butler, was also given his say.

Airing in 40 cities across the country, from Michigan to Las Vegas to the politically key swing states of Florida and Ohio, on Sinclair stations reaching about one-fourth of U.S. homes with TV , the program was framed as a debate over freedom of the press. It noted at the beginning that “some people are trying to stop the airing of this program,” and closed with a plea that viewers who found it balanced let the Federal Communications Commission know.


Other topics included the questions surrounding President Bush’s military service in the 1970s and a debate over the free speech issues that Sinclair’s original plans spawned.

On a telephone news conference after the broadcast, a handful of public interest lobbying groups that had been among the most vocal critics of Sinclair in recent weeks said they found the broadcast largely balanced.

“The broadcast looked to us very different than it otherwise might have been,” said David Brock, president and chief executive of Media Matters for America, citing the pressure from advertisers, shareholders and the public.

“One can quibble on the margins, one can quibble with some of the details,” said Gene Kimmelman, director of the Washington office of Consumers Union, but “in general, it appears that Sinclair listened to the American people.” The Kerry campaign was less approving.

“People will see this for what it was: one of George W. Bush’s big corporate cronies trying to distract voters from his record of failure,” said Kerry campaign spokesman, Chad Clanton.