The video was created by the website Deadspin, and the script included these statements: "The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media. More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories… stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first. 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."
This was a chilling reminder of what happens to local news sources when a large media group has a stranglehold on power and a political agenda. Sinclair Broadcast Group, founded in 1971 as the Chesapeake Television Corporation by Chairman David Smith’s father Julian Sinclair Smith, owns 193 local news outlets in 89 markets, making it the largest owner of local TV stations in the U.S.
Its chairman, Smith, is also know for his extreme conservative ideals, particularly regarding the media.
Case in point, yesterday New York magazine’s Daily Intelligencer posted a new story outlining a series of emails the outlet had exchanged with Smith regarding his feelings about print media—namely newspapers and magazines.
Smith stated print outlets have “no credibility,” noting, “I must tell that in all the 45 plus years I have been in the media business I have never seen a single article about us that is reflective of reality especially in today’s world with the shameful political environment and generally complete lack of integrity. Facts and truth have been lost for a long time and likely to never return.
“The print media is so left wing as to be meaningless dribble which accounts for why the industry is and will fade away. Just no credibility.”
As New York magazine notes, to see someone in control of such a large swath of television media make a political distinction about the credibility of types of media (particularly in a way that echoes attacks from the current president) sounds the alarm bells.
Older Americans are the most likely to get their news from local television, leaving that group more vulnerable to agenda-driven news cycles. But the latest controversy involving Smith and his statements also call to mind the autonomy that has been slowly wrung from local newspapers, as well.
Last week, GateHouse Media purchased The Palm Beach Post and Palm Beach Daily News. As a result, the group now owns 10% of newspapers nationwide.
While GateHouse hasn’t been called out directly for political controversy, the company was under fire just a few years ago when it sold the largest daily paper in Nevada, The Las Vegas Review-Journal, to casino magnate and conservative billionaire Sheldon Adelson, leaving many at the company to question the motives behind the sale. (The sale led Politico to publish a story called “The new breed of newspaper mogul? On Adelson's purchase of the Review-Journal.”)
Ultimately, how can a press remain free and objective when those who are put in control of it are most interested in profit and advancing a political agenda? Smith’s statements and the public realizations that followed the release of the viral video brought into clear focus a steady, seedy contagion that has been spreading quietly.
But will that realization result in any change? That is the question.