Sinclair Broadcast Group has once again mobilized its local television stations to criticize media competitors, accusing CNN on Tuesday of “dishonesty and hypocrisy.”
Sinclair, which owns 193 television stations and often broadcasts “must-run” conservative commentary, has been in the news since a video compilation went viral showing Sinclair news anchors reading a corporate script condemning “one-sided news stories” and “bias” — echoing President Trump’s attacks on journalists.
In the backlash, CNN media reporter Brian Stelter came down hard on the network for the mandated messaging. Many Sinclair journalists weren’t happy with their corporate leaders either.
Sinclair Chief Executive Chris Ripley tried to reassure employees in an internal memo Tuesday, writing that local journalists had borne the brunt of the “politically motivated” backlash.
“It is important that we do not let extremists on any side of the political fence bully us because they do not like what they hear or see,” he added.
Then later in the day, banners went up atop the homepages of Sinclair’s television news stations. That space is usually reserved for news. This time, it was for another corporate message.
“CNN’s hypocritical attack on Sinclair,” it said. A link led to a YouTube video, created by Sinclair, accusing Stelter of “dishonesty and hypocrisy.”
The video, which did not run on Sinclair’s television broadcasts, showed clips of Stelter warning audiences of the dangers of “fake news.”
“Does CNN really think a warning about ‘fake news’ is Trump’s rhetoric?” the narrator in the Sinclair video asks.
“For CNN to politicize Sinclair’s journalistic commitment promos is hypocritical and shameful,” Ronn Torossian, the president of 5W Public Relations, an outside firm hired by Sinclair Broadcasting, said in a statement. “The video we produced which highlights this dishonestly is on all of our websites.”
Stelter fired back on Twitter: “There’s a huge difference between my coverage and Sinclair’s mandatory promos. No one tells me what to say. But these anchors were told exactly what to say.”
“These promos became a story because Sinclair staffers spoke up and said they were uncomfortable,” he wrote. “They said they’d never seen anything like this before.”
Several Sinclair journalists interviewed by The Times on Tuesday — speaking on the condition of anonymity, for fear of being fired or sued by the company — were dismayed by the company’s use of local TV news sites as a corporate attack platform.
“Never have they done something like this,” a producer said in a text message. “I’m mortified. Like on the verge of tears.”
“Oh my god. This is ridiculous. It’s so duplicitous,” a reporter wrote in a direct message on Twitter.
He accused the company of not being forthright about its intentions to criticize other media outlets. “It’s like, ‘Oh, that ad? No, that ad was about fake news on Facebook.’ But then we’re STILL using our local news sites to attack CNN. People aren’t stupid. People know what’s going on here.”
“They’re using their local stations as attack pawns,” a Sinclair anchor said in a direct message on Twitter. “They’re stealing the credibility our news organization has built up in this community over the years.”
Matt Pearce is a national reporter for The Times. Follow him on Twitter at @mattdpearce.