When News Becomes Something Else

Usually, when you think of local news stations, you probably think if thirty minutes at 5:30 or in the early morning filled with bad jokes, weather and traffic, a consumer help segment, and waterskiing squirrels. That isn’t always the whole story though.

Around the country, Sinclair Broadcast Group owns and operates more local stations than anyone else. The produce more local news content than anyone too. They have stations in nearly every corner of the country and in between; Seattle (KOMO), West Palm Beach (WPEC), Portland, ME (WGME and WPFO) and Bakersfield, CA (KBAK and KBFX) all have Sinclair stations, as do St. Louis (KDNL), Oklahoma City (KOKH and KOBC), and Washington, D.C. (WJLA). Sinclair also owns a number of radio stations and a small professional wrestling organization.

Professional wrestling might actually be the best possible metaphor for what Sinclair does. You see, Sinclair doesn’t simply produce news content. They produce a significant amount of opinion content in their Baltimore offices and then ship it out to owned stations. They, for example, came under significant fire for attempting to force stations to run a “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” movie during the 2004 election, running patently biased “election specials” the night before the 2012 midterms, and refusing to air a Nightline special which included the names of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Oh, and their ownership donates significant amounts of money to conservative candidates.

As much as we’d love to continue talking about Sinclair’s general problems, that’s not what we are here to do. What we are here to do is discuss a series of forums and town halls Sinclair has been filming around the country since at least 2014. These specials, all running under the “Guns in America” title, are simply a mess. It isn’t necessarily that Sinclair totally bows to the gun lobby and ignores gun violence prevention groups in composing panels. The problem is that Sinclair frames the discussions in gun lobby terms, attempts to frame the discussion in a way which is friendliest to the gun lobby, and uses a moderator with a history of biased commentary and offensive remarks. If you are interested in watching a few, two are available here and here. That moderator, Mark Hyman, hasn’t always been a problem for Sinclair just in these specials though.

Hyman used to provide one-minute commentaries for the end of Sinclair’s news broadcasts. The commentaries, which the Baltimore Sun described as “fiery conservative commentaries,” ended after a number of controversies around Hyman. Of most note is Hyman discussion of the French as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.”

He doesn’t do those commentaries anymore (and who can really blame him), but he has been far more than just that for Sinclair. Hyman was the company’s long-time spokesman and, for a number of years, Sinclair’s D.C. lobbyist. As a lobbyist, Hyman spent a significant amount of his asking Congress to loosen regulations of media ownership that prevented Sinclair from buying up even more local stations.

Now Sinclair is planning another of these circus-show forums, inevitably couched in favor of the gun lobby and generally messy. We don’t have a whole lot of details on the timing other than that it will happen early next week. But rest assured, we will be calling them out as they tape and live-stream the even and will provide all the information you’ll need to do the same.

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