Airing malicious TV commercials
attacking the opposing candidate is a familiar theme political
parties have employed in this election cycle. The Swift Vets and
POWs for Truth, however, have taken this strategy to the extreme,
spending over $10 million on its anti-Kerry campaign. In a final
attempt to sway voters, the group has effectively teamed up with
the Sinclair Broadcasting Group to air a multi-million dollar film
to discredit John Kerry’s role in the Vietnam War. This film
not only strays from the truth and journalistic principles, but it
also shows the powerful and devastating effects that media
conglomerates can have when they abandon basic journalistic
principles.

Sinclair is one of the largest media conglomerates in the United
States, owning 62 public television stations nationwide. Its
stations reach 24 percent of U.S. homes, including many homes in
swing states, such as Ohio, Iowa and Florida. As The Washington
Post reported, Sinclair is one of the few station-group owners that
actually puts corporate opinion on its local newscasts. The company
also compels its stations to broadcast editorials and commentaries
favorable to President Bush and his policies. Sinclair announced
last week that it has ordered all of its stations to air the film
“Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal” commercial-free
during prime-time hours this week.

The purpose of “Stolen Honor” is to show that Kerry
dishonored the country by accusing Vietnam veterans of war crimes
and atrocities in an antiwar message to Congress in 1971, thereby
creating the image that he cannot be trusted as commander in chief
today.

“Stolen Honor” goes above and beyond the typical
political smears; usually such attacks are 30-second or one-minute
commercials that highlight the opposing candidate’s prior
political decisions. Sinclair is essentially presenting the
45-minute film, which it is calling a “documentary,” as
news, yet it is based primarily on rumors and a couple of
interviews with Vietnam veterans who may or may not have personally
known the presidential candidate.

The Kerry campaign has referred to the film as an instance of
“another one of President Bush’s powerful corporate
friends trying to help him.” Sinclair is owned and operated
primarily by staunch Republicans, including executives who have
been strong financial supporters of Bush’s campaign.

This is not the first time in recent memory that Sinclair has
forced its affiliates to take action that is ethically dubious.
Earlier this year, the group forbade its eight ABC affiliates from
airing a “Nightline” special in which Ted Koppel read
off the names of the American soldiers who had died in the war with
Iraq. If broadcasters prevent viewers from hearing the names of the
men and women who died in battle, yet allow them to see a 45-minute
attack of Kerry, then their viewers’ perceptions of the
political candidates will be distorted. Sinclair and other media
conglomerates have tremendous influence over the American political
system, and Sinclair has not hesitated to use that influence to
help Bush. In response to Sinclair’s actions in the
“Stolen Honor” affair, the Democratic Party has filed
suit, rightfully claiming that Sinclair is dodging Federal
Communications Commissions regulations. The FCC requires that
public broadcasters give both parties’ candidates equal air
time. Although Sinclair offered Kerry a chance to appear on a
discussion program immediately following the broadcast in an
attempt to comply with the regulations, Sinclair’s actions
clearly favor Kerry’s opponents.

Unfortunately, Sinclair will most likely be able to air the
film, thus bombarding voters with a dubious presentation of the
Democratic presidential candidate two weeks before the election.
Sinclair is violating principles of good journalism by forcing its
affiliates to fill their broadcasts with slanted rumors and
innuendo that are often not consistent with the facts. Beyond that,
these recent actions by Sinclair show some of the potential dangers
of media conglomeration. When executives at Sinclair decide that
the film should be aired, nearly a quarter of American homes were
affected. Media organizations exist to inform the public and to
keep politicians in check, not to further executive ideologies.

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