Sinclair Broadcast, as you may have heard, is planning to air an anti-Kerry movie on prime time just before the election, passing it off as "news". However, a boycott campaign -- boycottsbg.com -- has been put together and publicized online by bloggers and indy news sites over the past ten days; most significantly, the Kerry campaign has learned some lessons from Dean and leveraged their blog to push the boycott. As of today, boycottsbg.com claims that eighty companies have pulled their ad money from Sinclair; also, as AlterNet reports, Sinclair stock "dropped 10 percent over the past week, closing on Friday at an all-time low of $7.04 a $60 million loss in value." A vivid example of how the net is changing politics--when was the last time you saw a boycott that strong happen in ten days?
Nice, very nice.
Baltimore Sun reports today that Sinclair has fired its Wshngton Bureau chief for speaking out against the airing of the duck oops documentary:
[ Sinclair Broadcast Group fired its Washington bureau chief yesterday after the reporter criticized plans for an hourlong program on 60 stations that will include incendiary charges against Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.
"I just think it's a shame that a journalist gets fired for telling the truth," said Jon Leiberman, who had been the Maryland-based media firm's chief political correspondent for more than a year.
In his initial remarks, published yesterday by The Sun, Leiberman called the Sinclair show "biased political propaganda, with clear intentions to sway this election." ]
you heard it here... and Salon reports:
[ Stock in the Sinclair Broadcasting Group continues to drop like a rock. Since the company announced its unprecedented move to air a one-side hit piece on its 62 stations nationwide the eve of a presidential election (i.e. "Stolen Honor," the anti-Kerry documentary), Sinclair shares have plummeted from nearly $8 to $6.50, losing nearly 20 percent of their value in just six trading days. The current value not only marks a 52-week low for the company's stock, but it's the lowest level since Feb, 2001, and comes dangerously close to surpassing the stock's five-year low. Sinclair's Republican stunt proves once again that mass communications and partisan politics don't always mix, especially with irate Democrats voicing their outrage over Sinclair's move and urging advertiser boycotts. As one Sinclair employee told Salon last week, "They have no idea what they've unleashed."
The picture for Sinclair shareholders is even more grim if they step back and look at what the stock was valued at just six months ago; $13. That was the last time Sinclair decided to use the public airwaves for blatantly political purposes, refusing its ABC affiliates from airing special "Nightline" during which the names of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq were read off. Since then, the stock has lost nearly half its value. Of course if longtime Sinclair shareholders really want to gnash their teeth over the company's inept management, they can just think back to the glory days of 1995 when their $6.50 Sinclair stock was worth $45.
-- Eric Boehlert ]
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( '? ( '? ducks in a row ( '? ( '? ( '? ( '? ( '? ( '?
CAN'T STOP BITCHING ABOUT TOMORROW
( '? ducks do their duty
Sinclair changes plan for broadcast
Md.-based network to air special on documentaries and their political impact
By Andrea K. Walker
October 20, 2004
As criticism mounted over its plans to air an anti-John Kerry documentary as news shortly before the presidential election, Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. retreated slightly yesterday, saying that it will air a broader newscast about the political impact of documentaries and cut by one-third the number of its stations that will show it.
The Hunt Valley-based company has begun to feel financial impact from the controversy over whether Sinclair, whose executives have donated heavily to Republican causes, was breaching equal-time regulations and using its network of 62 television stations to influence the outcome of the election.
Sinclair shares dropped 23 cents yesterday, or 3.5 percent, to close at $6.26 - the stock's lowest price in more than three years. More than 1.1 million shares traded each of the past two days, nearly triple the normal activity, as investors reacted nervously to threats from Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill to interfere with license renewals for Sinclair stations.
Sinclair's stock has fallen 16.5 percent since Oct. 8, the day before the Los Angeles Times reported that the company had instructed its stations to pre-empt regular programming to air Stolen Honor: Wounds that Never Heal. The documentary was created by Carlton Sherwood, a prize-winning journalist with ties to the Bush administration. It included allegations by former prisoners of war that Kerry's anti-war testimony before Congress in 1971 caused further torture to American soldiers held captive in Vietnam.
New York State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi, the sole trustee of the $115 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund, wrote a letter to the company yesterday questioning whether the publicity was hurting the fund, which holds 256,600 shares of Sinclair stock.
Hevesi is "very concerned about what this has been doing to the stock," said John Chartier, a spokesman. "The shares have dropped substantially in the last couple of days. The comptroller has some serious questions that he has asked [Sinclair Chief Executive Officer David Smith]."
Sinclair said in a statement yesterday that the special will air on 40 of its stations, rather than the 60 originally scheduled. In Baltimore, it will air at 8 p.m. Friday on WBFF, Sinclair's flagship station.
Sinclair has maintained that coverage about its broadcast was premature because the show was still taking shape. Yesterday evening, the company said it will air an hour-long news special entitled, A POW Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media, that will broadly examine the use of documentaries and other media to influence voting in the 2004 election.
While the show will include questions raised by former POWs in Stolen Honor, the company said, it remained unclear last night whether Sinclair will air parts of the documentary. Sinclair said it will use concerns discussed in the documentary to examine the broader issue of media bias and how candidates and other organizations influence news coverage.
Critics have contended Sinclair is using the public airwaves to espouse its political beliefs. The Smith family, which owns controlling interest in the company, has donated heavily to the Republican Party. Sinclair owns or controls 62 television stations in 39 markets, reaching nearly one-quarter of the nation's population.
"The experience of preparing to air this news special has been trying for many of those involved," David Smith said in the statement the company released. "The company and many of its executives have endured personal attacks of the vilest nature, as well as calls on our advertisers and our viewers to boycott our stations and on our shareholders to sell their stock.
"We cannot in a free America yield to the misguided attempts by a small but vocal minority to influence behavior and trample on the First Amendment rights of those with whom they might not agree. I have been encouraged, however, by the thousands of e-mails and other messages I, and others, received supporting Sinclair's efforts to hold firm to its ideals in the face of a firestorm of controversy which, ironically, was actually based on misinformation."
One group of investors pulled back on threats to sue the broadcast company after details of the program were released yesterday. Washington-based Media Matters for America, a media advocacy group, had agreed to underwrite court action by a group of shareholders represented by Glickenhaus & Co. Glickenhaus, a Wall Street firm with 6,100 shares of Sinclair stock, wanted Sinclair to give equal time to an opposing view of its documentary. "We will hold off on the legal action until after we see the programming," Media Matters spokeswoman Naomi Seligman said.
On behalf of other shareholders, Victoria Shaev, a Sinclair shareholder living in New York, filed a lawsuit against the company in Baltimore City Circuit Court. The suit alleged that the company placed political and personal interests before the best interest of the stockholders.
The controversy that has enveloped the Hunt Valley broadcaster this week is the latest case of the media making its own headlines during this presidential election, ranging from Michael Moore's box-office hit documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 to CBS News' apology last month for reporting on documents it failed to verify that questioned President Bush's service in the National Guard. Sinclair also caused a stir last spring after it told its ABC-affiliated stations not to air a Nightline show in which the names of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq were read.
The company Monday fired its Washington bureau chief, Jon Leiberman, after he was quoted in The Sun as saying the show represented "biased political propaganda, with clear intentions to sway this election."
Democrats filed formal complaints with the Federal Election Commission and the Federal Communications Commission this month.
FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell said he will not investigate the program before it airs because it would violate the broadcaster's First Amendment protections. Meanwhile, the FEC does not plan to address before the Nov. 2 election the allegation that the show represents an illegal in-kind corporate campaign donation.
Analysts have predicted the controversy will have fallout in the continuing debate over how many media outlets one company should control. A report by a Legg Mason Wood Walker analyst Friday suggested the program could have "negative fallout" that could "spread beyond Sinclair to other broadcasters by fueling the general backlash against regulatory relaxation and media concentration."
In its statement yesterday, Sinclair said it has been in private communication with Kerry's campaign about the coming show. The company said that Kerry declined to participate in the special, but that it would leave open the invitation.
Sun staff writer Trisha Bishop contributed to this article.
Copyright © 2004, The Baltimore Sun
So much for freedoom of speech, eh, Vinay?
When the left boycotts it is high moral principal, when the right does the same it is McCarthy and Hoover...
Here is General Mills' response to an appeal to stop running commercials on Sinclair stations.
Subject: General Mills' Position Regarding Sinclair Broadcast Group
Thank you for contacting General Mills.
Many consumers have written to share their views on this issue. Some have urged General Mills to use its influence as an advertiser to ensure that the media reports the news in an unbiased manner. Some have urged General Mills to continue advertising, and have threatened to withdraw support for our products if we alter our advertising plans. Passions run deep on both sides, particularly this close to an election.
Whenever possible, General Mills does strive to preview the programs on which our advertising appears. We do so to assure that we do not advertise on programs inconsistent with the family-oriented nature of our products. This works well with entertainment programs produced and available for advance screening, but pre-screening of news broadcasts is usually not possible.
Our view in this area is clear. We believe one of the fundamental elements of our society is the freedom of the press. Companies such as ours, in our view, should not attempt to influence, control or pre-empt the content of news through the leverage of advertising sponsorship. To do so would undermine that fundamental freedom.
From time to time, any one of us as viewers may consider a particular news story to be inaccurate or imbalanced. News organizations do err. Judgment is not always well applied. One major news organization recently acknowledged that errors were made in stories relating to the current presidential election. When such errors occur, certainly a price is paid in terms of reputation. But errors and questionable judgment are an acceptable price to pay, in our view, to assure the presence of a free and independent media in our society.
As viewers, each of us is free to make a choice. We can choose to patronize or not patronize programs with our viewership. We can choose to patronize or not patronize particular television stations, or even entire networks. Similarly, advertisers may choose not to sponsor certain broadcasts, a particular network or specific publications because of their journalistic standards and judgment. But advertisers should not attempt to control or pre-empt news programming prior to broadcast or publication. That, in our view, would be inappropriate.
In this instance, as in the example cited earlier, passionate voices are calling on advertisers to insert themselves into the election by threatening to boycott those who remove or who do not remove their advertising.
We choose to stand with freedom of the press.
We welcome the views that you and others have shared with us. You may rest assured that we will remind the networks we sponsor that the integrity of their reporting reflects on the companies that advertise during their broadcasts.
Hopefully, you will understand our views and the importance we place on a free press.
Again, thank you for taking the time to contact us and share your views.
Sincerely, General Mills
Response to General Mills
Your position on the Sinclair Broadcasting issue is regrettable. You say you "stand with freedom of the press." Well, when political propaganda is served up to the American people as "news," and responsible citizens, whether they are individual and corporate, don't stand up and say "STOP," then our democracy is in serious trouble. You may be content to hide behind this disingenuous idealism; after all, you have boxes of cereal to sell. But I am not content with your decision, and I will vote not to buy those boxes of cereal or anything else that General Mills sells.
Who defines "political propaganda"?
If Mr. McCabe doesn't want to buy General Mills stuff, it's OK, that's his right. They've got a hell of a lot of other [more sensible and less fascistic] customers.