If you form an opinion, it’s yours. If I make you repeat my opinion, it’s not.
That is the crux of the Sinclair Broadcast Group controversy, where the nation’s single biggest owner of TV stations recently instructed all of its 193 stations to deliver the same message, word for word.
Does it matter? Nothing less than the future of our country lies within this issue. If you think I’m crazy, please read on.
Oh, I know a journalist writing about journalism is often poorly received. We listen to doctors about medicine. We listen to financial experts about money. But somehow, when journalists worry about their field, it’s considered too alarmist, or, worst of all, whining.
But railing against what Sinclair did is not whining. When a media organization sends out an “editorial” and demands its anchors read it as if it’s independent thought, that shoots way past whining and lands squarely on dangerous.
Because there’s a word for that. Propaganda.
Good journalism is unfiltered
Now before you scurry to your political corner, understand it doesn’t matter what the message is. Forget the fact that the missive sent by Sinclair was decrying “fake news,” a phrase that has been embraced by the Trump administration to diminish anyone who criticizes it.
Let’s flip things over. Let’s say the message was this: “The Second Amendment should be repealed. Guns have no place in American life.”
Let’s say 193 TV stations in this country all ended their local new broadcasts with an editorial about that. And you, living in Flint, called your cousins in Boise, who called their kids in Tallahassee, and you all said, “You won’t believe what my TV anchor said about doing away with guns!”
And they said, “Mine, too! Word for word!”
Do you see something wrong with that? If you don’t, I worry even more. The essence of journalism, good journalism — which, admittedly, is not practiced in many places today — is that nobody forces a story on a reporter or anchor. Nobody tells you what to write or say.
Sure you might have an editor who suggests a story. And yes, there is a bias simply in determining what’s newsworthy.
But that is a far cry from putting words in people’s mouths across the country — and not telling viewers where they came from. That’s using news people as puppets. Like Russia did with Pravda. Like China does by distributing free TV sets to poor regions so the government’s message can be spread through “news” broadcasts.
Is this who we want to be?
Hypocrisy? This is the definition of it
The actual “script” sent to Sinclair broadcasters was published by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. It reads like a commercial, complete with who says what. Here is some of it:
“Hi, I’m (A)______ and I’m (B)______”…
(A)…we’re concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.
(B) More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories… stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first.
(A) Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’…This is extremely dangerous to a democracy.
Stop right there. Here is a company whose stations already reach 40 percent of the country, and is using a friendly Trump administration to potentially reach 70 percent of the country, criticizing “bias” and “agenda” by putting the words IN THE MOUTHS OF ANCHORS!
This is like someone yelling, “Watch out for that guy, he’s dangerous!” while stabbing you with a knife.
Look. I know many of you feel journalism has strayed. Often times, it’s not the New York Times’ credo “All the News That’s Fit to Print” but more “All the News That Fits Our Point Of View.”
But a recent study by the American Press Institute showed 82 percent of Americans trust their local news more than networks. So if you are bothered by a slant on Fox or MSNBC, you should be horrified by Sinclair. So tone-deaf is this company, that last week it actually defended itself by gathering old clips of CNN anchors talking about the dangers of “fake news.” It then said, in essence, how can CNN talk about fake news then criticize us? It actually used the word “hypocrisy.”
No. Hypocrisy is when you put your words in other people’s mouths and call it news — or worse, independent thought. Again, it’s not the message. It’s not the subject. It’s the demand that you say what we tell you to say.
Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” Our forefathers so worried about this, they protected it in the Constitution.
We should be worried, too. In fact, when we start hearing the same words coming out of different journalists’ mouths across the country, we should be more than worried. We should be scared.
Contact Mitch Albom: email@example.com. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Friday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.