Sinclair will air "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal" and label it "news programming" in the coming weeks on its 62 stations. Afterwards, there'll be a panel discussion in which Sen. John Kerry will be asked to participate - thus satisfying FCC fairness regulations.
Is this a good business idea?
The documentary is paid for buy a bunch of Pennsylvania Vietnam Veterans and produced by a former Washington Times reporter. How can this be news programming? Even though reported by a journalist - and seemingly a conservative Republican reporter - the documentary is clearly funded by a single special interest. That's not journalism.
Questions not asked in recent press accounts about Sinclair are these: What are the advertising consequences? Are the Vietnam veterans buying time - like an infomercial - to get the show on the air?
If the veterans group is paying to put the show on, it needs to be labeled as such. But it shouldn't be labeled as "news programming." That is misleading to viewers and to any local advertisers who buy time in the show.
Sinclair seemingly has a Republican agenda. In April, when Ted Koppel of ABC's "Nightline" read a roll call of the military dead in Iraq, Sinclair didn't air the show on seven of its stations.
Sinclair's defenders might argue this is no different than CBS News' recent editorial mistake concerning a story about President George W. Bush's National Guard stint - for which TV anchor Dan Rather and TV producer Mary Mapes have found themselves in trouble. Conservatives claim CBS News is running anti-Bush news reports.
But the two could not be more different. Rather is a long-time journalist who apparently was duped by his source. An erroneous story ran, and Rather apologized for it. The difference here is that Sinclair is openly taking a pro-Bush film funded by a bunch of non-journalists and calling it news.
Sinclair should be held to the same standards as any news organization. Did Sinclair vet this documentary? What if some facts are wrong? Who is responsible? Can advertisers trust Sinclair's outside news source?
For advertisers on local TV stations, this may be an issue too hot to handle.
Advertisers have such things as "hit lists," lists of programs and stations they will not buy for content related or even personal reasons. Sometimes one show has an effect on a whole bunch of other programming.
Sinclair's programming move may be so hot, its stations could have long-term advertising revenue burns as a result.