Ted Koppel Is the New Dixie Chick — Censorship or Power Play?

Media concentration strikes again! This time it’s Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Clear Channel of TV stations, which is pulling tonight’s edition of Nightline from its ABC affiliates because the entire program will be dedicated to a tribute to fallen U.S. troops in Iraq, wherein anchor Ted Koppel will be reading aloud the names of hundreds of dead American servicemen and women as their photographs are shown.

Now Koppel gets to know what it’s like to be a Dixie Chick, as Sinclair pulls a page from the Cumulus book — that’s the company that pulled all Dixie Chicks music from its stations last year after singer Natalie Maines criticized Bush on stage in London.

Although Sinclair’s action will deprive seven cities of the program, the censorship, per se, is not the real point.

Just like the Dixie Chicks probably didn’t lose any significant sales when their records were banned by radio stations, more people will be aware of this Nightline program and possibly tune in due to all the publicity, than who would otherwise.

Sinclair’s — and the Bush administration’s — objective is not to silence critics directly so much as to send the message that there will be swift retribution for crossing them. It may be that this is a test fire from Sinclair to see what kind of reaction comes against them for pulling Nightline, so they can see how much they can get away with in the future.

It’s important to note in this tiff with ABC and Nighline that Sinclair will have 3 more ABC stations in 2005, when the company’s Springfield, IL, Champaign, IL and Dayton, OH NBC stations switch affiliations. I reckon that Sinclair is eager to see how much leverage they can exert with ABC as it becomes one of the network’s largest affiliate owners (if not the largest).

While Sinclair justifies its actions by claiming that Nightline’s motive is to galvanize viewers against the war, those of us who have been paying attention to Sinclair know that the company is possibly more closely aligned with the Bush administration than even Clear Channel.

As the Daily Kos notes, the company or its directors have given over $200,000 to the RNC and Republican Candidates, and absolutely nothing to Democrats. Even Cheap Channel spreads the love around to both parties.

On top of that Sinclair Vice-President and on-air commentator Mark Hyman is a captain with an intelligence role in the U.S. Naval Reserves, who apparently sees no conflict of interest between his role as “journalist” and being on the payroll of Naval Intelligence. Hyman delights in his crusade to lambaste anyone who questions the war in Iraq, such as calling congresspeople who voted against a recent resolution of support for the war “just unpatriotic politicians who hate our military.”

Sinclair’s HQ is right in the backyard of the Baltimore Sun, which reports:

“After the September 2001 attacks, officials at Sinclair stations were directed to read on-air statements supporting the Bush administration’s efforts against terrorism. The move prompted internal objections by journalists at WBFF-TV, Sinclair’s flagship station in Baltimore, after anchors there were told to read similar statements on the air. “

We’ll be talking about this extensively on this evening’s mediageek radio show (5:30 PM WEFT 90.1 FM, archived on this site thereafter).

Here’s a draft of a news piece in progress for this evening’s show:

On April 29 Sinclair Broadcast Group, the largest non-network owner of television stations in the country, announced that it would not allow its ABC-affiliated stations to air tonight’s edition of Nightline because the whole program will be dedicated to a tribute to US soldiers killed in Iraq. In the program, anchor Ted Koppel is scheduled to read aloud the names of hundreds of fallen American servicemen and women as their photographs are shown.

In a statement posted to the company’s website, Sinclair says the rationale for pulling the program is:
“Despite the denials by a spokeswoman for the show, the action appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq.”

ABC News issued its own statement defending the planned broadcast as “an expression of respect which simply seeks to honor those who have laid down their lives for this country.”

In an interview with the journalism website, Poynteronline, Koppel himself rejected the notion that he was out to make a political point. He told the interviewer, “I truly believe that people will take away from this program the reflection of what they bring to it.”

Locally, Sinclair owns the Champaign and Springfield NBC affiliates WICD-TV 15 and WICS TV-20. Therefore, local broadcast of Nightline on WAND- TV 17 is not set to be affected. However, WICD and WICS are scheduled to switch affiliation to ABC in 2005.

Republican Senator and VietNam veteran, John McCain weighed in on the controversy in a letter addressed to Sinclair CEO David Smith. McCain, who is chair of the powerful Senate Commerce Committee which oversees media regulation, wrote,
“Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war’s terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking detail, is a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces.”

He goes on to say, “It is, in short, sir, unpatriotic. I hope it meets with the public opprobrium it most certainly deserves.”

Sinclair quickly released a response from CEO David Smith, posted to the company’s website. He begins the response with the assurance, saying
“no organization more fully supports our military than Sinclair.” continuing on, Smith wrote, “our decision was based on a desire to stop the misuse of their sacrifice to support an anti-war position with which most, if not all, of these soldiers would not have agreed.”

Smith defends his company against the allegation that it wishes to hide the true costs of the war, writing:
“while I don’t disagree that Americans need to understand the costs of war and sacrifices of our military volunteers, I firmly believe that responsible journalism requires that a discussion of these costs must necessarily be accompanied by a description of the benefits of military action and the events that precipitated that action. To those who would accuse Sinclair of censorship, we ask that they consider the daily decisions of network shows like “Nightline” as to what issues to cover and how they are to be presented, decisions that necessarily involve ignoring other issues and points of view that the networks choose not to present to the American public.”

Sinclair owns ABC affiliates in seven markets which will not see tonight’s edition of Nightline. Those cities are: St. Louis, Missouri; Columbus, Ohio; Charleston, West Virginia; Pensacola, Florida; Springfield, Massachusetts and Asheville and Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, callers to St. Louis station KDNL on Thursday simply heard general manager Tom Tipton simply the first Sinclair statement on pulling Nightline.

The affected Sinclair stations have been inundated with callers from viewers protesting the Nightline decision and demanding explanations.

An assignment desk editor at WSYX in Columbus, OH told CNN, “I have not gotten one positive response.”

Many media watchers are not buying Sinclair’s proclamations that their decision to pull the Nightline episode is so they can fight media bias. Instead, it appears more likely that Sinclair is silencing Ted Koppel in order to preserve the state of its tight relationship with the Bush administration.

As the company which owns more individual TV stations than any other in the country, Sinclair is often called the Clear Channel of television. However, when it comes to political campaign contributions, Sinclair isn’t even as equal-opportunity as the radio giant.

According to open secrets.org Sinclair Broadcast Group or its directors have given over $200,000 to the Republican National Committee and Republican Candidates, and absolutely nothing to Democrats. While Clear Channel gives much more money to the Republican party and candidates, the company still makes strategic contributions to key Democrats.

And just this year, Sinclair CEO David Smith has given President Bush the maximum $2000 contribution.

Comments are closed.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes