As the fallout surrounding media giant Sinclair Broadcasting and it's force-scripted news continues to radiate, one Sinclair anchor is offering the public some advice on how to take on the company.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the anchor spoke to The Huffington Post about what it's like working for Sinclair.
We spoke to a Sinclair anchor this week about the script, the blowback and what people have gotten right and wrong… https://t.co/rvNJ1QJnQr— HuffPost (@HuffPost) 1522879206.0
The anchor first addressed a Deadspin video that has been circulating over the last week, which shows Sinclair anchors all reading from the same, pre-written on-air script. He explains that reading the script was mandatory, and although most employees didn't agree with it, they did it to keep their jobs.
"We were asked to do this, and I was actually the person who recorded it. I didn't think that it was my job to say any of this, but I was very much made to feel like doing this was not a choice and that my job was on the line if I didn't.¹ The CNN article just came out a month ago, and I just knew this was going to be on everybody's radar.² But here's an important thing: That thing ran twice a day every day last week, and we got not one complaint about it. It wasn't until Deadspin put this video together that everyone freaked out about it. It's been brutal. We got about 60 emails ― hateful emails ― yesterday, dozens of phone calls, people yelling profanity at us. I have people yelling at me, saying I'm a zombie, that I'm soulless, that I've sold my integrity, which is not nice to hear. So yeah, it sucks. The video is very weird. It makes it seem crazy. It totally does. Did I think that we should have to do this? No, it's not my job. All anybody in any of these stations wants to do is come to work and cover the news. That's all we want to do."
Sounding a clarion call, Sinclair anchor implores Americans that @WeAreSinclair's deal w/ Tribune must be stopped:… https://t.co/g2w4UeT5bx— Bill Madden (@Bill Madden) 1522887209.0
The anchor also said that no one complained about Sinclair before the Deadspin video was released, and that the behavior of the news giant wasn't so bad. He explains that while anchors are required to read an intro script, they aren't forced to cover any particular story.
"But at the same time, if you really just listen to what we're saying, it's not that egregious. Everybody has to do things that they don't necessarily agree with, but there's a range on the scale of what is truly egregious, and I don't think this is that bad. That nobody complained about it until this montage came out is evidence of that. I would say that most of the people who are commenting on this have never even watched our local newscast. They see this thing on Deadspin. They see that we're a Sinclair station. They assume what they want to assume about it. But we produce good news here. Sinclair does not tell us what to cover, who to talk to, or what to say in terms of local coverage. Our local news, it doesn't have bias. If people are looking for it, they won't find it."
The anonymous anchor continues to say that he isn't a "zombie," and while reading from a script shouldn't be the "role" of newscasters, Sinclair doesn't push any specific narrative.
"So don't call me a zombie. I do damn good work on a daily basis and anybody in my community would tell you that. We're all over the place here. The problem is not the message of this promo. The problem is asking your local newscasters to do this in the first place. That's not our role. I've worked for Sinclair since [year redacted] and in that time, the only new thing that has started is the Boris Epshteyn thing.³ Other than that, we were never told, "Oh, you have to cover only Donald Trump," or "You can only cover Hillary." We were never told that. Nobody has ever said that to us."
"We produce good news here ... So don’t call me a zombie. ... The problem is not the message of this promo. The pro… https://t.co/aX2waS9QQy— Jonathan Cohn (@Jonathan Cohn) 1522929988.0
He also explains that Boris Epsheyn, a former White House official hired by Sinclair in 2017, often feeds them "crazy" commentary. But most of the news, he claims, is neutral, coming from their Washington Bureau. He also said that "I would quit" was not really an option, due to contractual obligations. If he broke his contract, he would be unemployable. As is the case with many people in journalism, employment is offered on a contract basis.
"It's just the "must-runs" that they send us. And really, the only egregious "must-runs" they send us are Boris Epshteyn ― and we have these other ones that are by this guy named Mark Hyman.⁴ The Boris Epshteyn pieces, I mean, yeah, they're crazy. They're very clearly labeled as commentary. The other pieces that they send us are from the Washington bureau. Those pieces are basically covering the news of the day that happens in Washington. Those are not biased in any way. All those people who are like, "I would quit," that's really easy for you to say. CNN put something out calling all the news anchors complicit or zombies or whatever yesterday, and I just think that portion of this is unfair. These jobs ― they're very hard to come by. And if I quit, I owe the company 40 percent of my salary, plus a percentage of the [redacted] years remaining on my contract, plus any bonuses that they've paid to me and any reimbursements that they've paid to me.⁵ And they're going to take me to court for it. And in the time that I'm in court, I'm not employable. Would I prefer to work with no contract? Of course I would. Would it be great if they would outlaw contracts in the state of [redacted]? Absolutely. Outlaw contracts in the country? Sure. Will that ever happen? No. It's the cost of doing business in this industry."
If I quit, I owe the company 40 percent of my salary, plus a percentage of the [redacted] years remaining on my con… https://t.co/oOXeX64e79— Alicia Norman (@Alicia Norman) 1522877868.0
"Talk to your lawmaker about it. That is what will actually make a difference. Hate-tweeting me? That doesn’t make… https://t.co/WOClQy1L1c— Muckmaker (@Muckmaker) 1522883158.0
The anchor admitted that had Sinclair forced him to cover a particular story, in addition to reading a script, he would have challenged it. But according to the source, he never felt compelled to do so. He then offered some advice to people who want Sinclair to play fairly. He admits that Sinclair is too big, and that petitioning lawmakers to prevent future acquisitions of news stations is the best way to check Sinclair's power. Specifically, viewers should call their representatives to prevent a merger of Sinclair and Tribune, because "healthy competition is a good thing."
"This promo, did I want to do it? No, because I don't think it's my job to say anything for anybody else. It's my job to tell you the news. That's it. But you know, it's one thing if they were like, "Listen, I want you to do a promo that says Donald Trump is the greatest person that ever walked the face of the earth and everybody should vote for him." That's crazy. I would never do that. And at that point, I would say, "Listen, take me to court." But saying these words, saying that I think balanced journalism is important ― I don't think that's worth quitting my job over. If you want to stop watching us, I don't care. If you want to boycott our advertisers, go for it. I greatly encourage people to do all of those things. But those things don't hurt Sinclair. If you want to make a difference, lobby your lawmakers to have them stop the Tribune deal from going through, because that is what is dangerous about this.⁶ It's dangerous for any company to own as many stations as Sinclair does. Healthy competition is a good thing. Talk to your lawmaker about it. That is what will actually make a difference. Hate-tweeting me? That doesn't make a difference."
This is a very sobering read. If you’re okay with living in a country encouraging state run propaganda news, do not… https://t.co/l0VVT01hUl— The Rogue Republican (@The Rogue Republican) 1522944741.0