Staff Editorial

News consumers can help fight fake news

Sinclair Broadcast Group's headquarters. Sinclair Broadcast Group plans to sell Chicago's WGN-TV and stations in New York and nine smaller markets to win federal approval of its proposed $3.9 billion takeover of Tribune Media. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun/TNS)
Sinclair Broadcast Group's headquarters. Sinclair Broadcast Group plans to sell Chicago's WGN-TV and stations in New York and nine smaller markets to win federal approval of its proposed $3.9 billion takeover of Tribune Media. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun/TNS)

Many Americans have heard a thing or two about media conglomeration. We are aware a relatively small number of companies control a sizable portion of the media landscape, including local news publications and broadcasters.

Yet even if we understand the issue intellectually, it still is unsettling to see conglomeration in action, playing out on our own home television screens. That’s what happened last week when bloggers pieced together clips from local TV anchors across the country reading the same script.

The anchors all work at stations owned by Sinclair, one of the nation’s most influential media corporations with nearly 200 television stations, including several in Iowa, like KFXA and KGAN in Cedar Rapids. Anchors read a coordinated message decrying “biased and false news,” which some observers found eerily similar to President Donald Trump’s verbal attacks against the media.

To be clear, it is not unique for media companies to distribute preplanned promotional messages throughout their various networks. Still, the subject matter and the presentation of Sinclair’s recent promos is cause for concern.

“Some media outlets publish these same fake stories, stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first,” some of the anchors can be heard saying in video clips compiled by the sports media blog Deadspin.

The Sinclair anchors are right about the existence of fake news, but their new monologues didn’t give any specific examples, breaking an elementary journalistic practice.

Dozens of journalists who Americans are supposed to trust came on TV and promised they “work very hard to seek the truth,” but failed to disclose the fact their script was written by someone else, likely in a different state.

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In contrast, most newspapers are in the habit of explicitly distinguishing opinions from news, local content from syndicated content, and advertising from editorial content. Sinclair’s new promos leave viewers wondering.

This is not the first time Sinclair has been accused of peddling right-wing bias through its local stations. Critics say Sinclair-owned stations have been pressured to broadcast the company’s political commentaries, or put forth pro-Republican or anti-Democrat stories of their own.

The Gazette, as a locally managed and employee-owned company, is well-positioned to deliver local news, but we also understand the value of competition in the media environment.

The best ways to protect against false information are to consume many different sources and to understand where your news is coming from. You have the power to fight fake news.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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