Sinclair's News Central provides steady diet of pro-Bush, anti-progressive news items
Research ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER
As part of the news package it supplies to the 62 TV stations it owns or operates, Sinclair Broadcast Group provides a segment called "Get This." "Get This" gives viewers a steady stream of pro-Bush and anti-progressive news items, as well as reports that make light of such topics as the Ku Klux Klan and the recent major assault on Fallujah, Iraq.
"Get This" is created by News Central, Sinclair's Maryland-based nerve center that provides national and international news coverage, as well as commentary, to its stations. Presented each weeknight by Sinclair News Central anchors Jennifer Gladstone or Morris Jones, "Get This" purports to cover "the news items that deserve public attention that you probably won't see anywhere else. They either won't make time for them, or maybe the issues are too 'sensitive' for their audience."
According to News Central's website, "Get This" claims to "play no favorites." But while the segment features many humorous or lighthearted stories, the overall issue selection conveys a conservative agenda, focusing on topics such as Democrats' alleged inability to deal with electoral defeat; liberal college professors; author and documentarian Michael Moore's comments; and even President George W. Bush's pets.
Media Matters for America examined all "Get This" segments that have aired since the November 2 presidential election and found that many of the news items either explicitly promoted Republicans or ridiculed and demeaned Democrats and progressives. Other "Get This" segments made light of serious issues facing the United States.
Many "Get This" segments demeaned the Democrats' defeat in the November 2 election. For example, the day after the election, "Get This" ridiculed some Democrats' purported desire to move to Canada because of the election result, pointing out the difficulties of emigrating to that country: "Oh Canada! Flu shots yes, but disgruntled American Democrats, no. Get this: you've got a better chance of slipping over the border to get a hard-to-find flu shot than moving to Canada to escape four more years of Bush." On November 11, "Get This" poked fun at a Kerry-supporting actor as an example of progressives distraught with the election results: "The election may have pushed one Hollywood-type right over the edge. Ever since Bush won re-election, Vincent D'Onofrio, star of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, has been getting into fights and reportedly passed out on the set this week. D'Onofrio was a big Kerry supporter and was described as devastated by his loss. Crew members say he's pretty much lost all grip with reality since election night and is slowing the show's shooting schedule with his outbursts."
On November 3, "Get This" followed other conservatives in the media in dismissing the youth vote in the presidential election: "Meantime, whatever happened to the youth vote? P. Diddy and others who were pushing to get out the MTV crowd must be disappointed. Fewer than 1 in 10 voters in the presidential election were [aged] 18 to 24. That's about the same proportion as four years ago." But as Media Matters for America has noted, although the proportion of the youth vote remained similar to that in the 2000 presidential election, according to a November 9 report by the nonpartisan Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement [CIRCLE], "[a]pproximately 10.5 million 18-24 year olds voted [in 2004], an increase of 1.8 million from 2000, raising their estimated turnout from 36% to 42%."
"Get This" also took a dig at Senator John Kerry on November 4, blaming him for inconveniencing his hometown with his presidential campaign: "Much of Boston was crushed by Senator Kerry's loss this week, but there are a few people who are happy to see the Secret Service and the press go! Some of John Kerry's neighbors in the very classy Beacon Hill area didn't like all the commotion that comes along with a presidential candidate. ... Some of the neighbors are even more upset with the fact that Kerry never apologized for all the inconvenience." These comments are reminiscent of Kerry-basher and Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr's lies about the Democratic National Convention's impact on Boston's pregnant women and cancer patients, which MMFA documented in July.
Kerry was just one of the Democrats and progressives that "Get This" has attacked in the last week. The program reported on November 10 that, "according to some," former President Bill Clinton is to blame for the poor treatment of homeless people in his hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas: "Apparently Little Rock officials want to close down more than two dozen [homeless] camps around the city that cater to the down and out. But, here's the real reason according to some: They say Little Rock is trying to clean itself up before the opening of the Bill Clinton Presidential Library."
On November 11, "Get This" joined the chorus of conservatives criticizing author and documentarian Michael Moore (see here, here, and here for some other examples): "Michael Moore repeatedly said he didn't make Fahrenheit 9/11 to sway the election, but that's not what it sounded like when he spoke with Variety Magazine. Get this quote: Moore said 'fifty-one percent of the American people lacked information in this election and we want to educate and enlighten them.'" On November 9, "Get This" compared singer Madonna's vocal opposition to the Iraq war to the words of Rodney King, a black man infamously assaulted by four members of the Los Angeles Police Department who were later acquitted, sparking riots: "Meantime, Madonna, as in the singer, not the Virgin Mary, is talking about peace and love. Speaking on BBC [British Broadcasting Company] radio, she wants American troops out of Iraq and says global terror is everywhere, even down the street and around the corner. Sounding more like Rodney King, Madonna also said this about Iraq: Can't we all just get out?"
While "Get This" presented the aforementioned stories that attacked or ridiculed progressives, News Central also presented puff pieces seeking to portray President George W. Bush as a likeable character. On November 4, one segment focused on presidential pets and simultaneously plugged the White House website: "There's a lot of great information on the White House website. You can learn about the Cabinet, the economy, Homeland Security, and get this: Barney. The nation's first dog has his own webpage!" On November 11, "Get This" issued a second report on the presidential pets: "On a lighter political note, we told you last week that the first family is getting a new member, Miss Beazley. The president's new puppy will move in around Christmas and will look a lot like current first pup Barney."
Another explicitly pro-Bush story involved the November 3 suggestion that international opinion on the president's reelection is irrelevant: "Yeah, whatever. Top foreign leaders across Europe are either accepting or welcoming President Bush's second term."
Besides the pro-Bush stories, "Get This" also featured stories that were in line with the broader conservative movement. For example, on November 12, "Get This" reported that most professors at U.S. colleges and universities are liberal: "Maybe it wasn't the Clinton gang [that was responsible for Kerry's defeat], maybe the liberal-leaning colleges didn't pull their weight. Disagree with that characterization of our nation's institutions of higher learning? Well, a new study found that 9 out of 10 of the country's humanities and social science professors are registered Democrats or Green Party supporters." In reporting these numbers, "Get This" anchor Gladstone appeared to mistakenly refer to a 2002 study as a "new study" because it was noted in a commentary in The Chronicle of Higher Education on the day Gladstone mentioned it. That study was conducted by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, with some assistance from FrontPageMag.com editor-in chief David Horowitz's right-wing Center for the Study of Popular Culture. The American Prospect has noted flaws in the study, pointing out that the academic disciplines the study examined were selectively chosen, focusing disproportionately on women's studies and excluding departments such as engineering, business, law, or medicine, where professors may be more likely to be conservative.
On November 16, "Get This" also described the Defense Department's announcement that it will warn military bases not to sponsor Boy Scout troops -- a warning required in partial settlement of a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed in 1999 -- as "outrageous." The ACLU has claimed that military sponsorship of Boy Scout troops violates the First Amendment prohibition on state establishment of religion because members are required to recite an oath to God. News Central reported: "[T]he Pentagon is warning military bases worldwide that they should not directly sponsor Boy Scout troops. The reason is because of accusations that the government has improperly supported a group that requires members to believe in God. The settlement stems from a lawsuit filed by the ACLU. If you think that's outrageous, then Get This ..." As MMFA has noted, the Pentagon's settlement over the Boy Scouts lawsuit has prompted many conservatives in the media to launch verbal attacks on the ACLU.
Finally, many "Get This" segments made light of serious issues. For example, on November 3, News Central reported on a student dressing up as a member of the Ku Klux Klan: "And looking back at Halloween, it's probably not sensitive to dress up as a member of the KKK. Playing it safe, like these kids, might be a better idea, but a Michigan high school student won first prize for his scary Klansman outfit. He also got a five-day suspension from school." On November 8, a story on the U.S. military offensive in Fallujah reported that "Middle East experts say radical Muslims see the battle of Fallujah as their Super Bowl; a must-win event minus the cute TV commercials and halftime show." Of the death of Dutch filmmaker and activist Theo Van Gogh, who was killed after making a film criticizing the treatment of women under Islam, "Get This" reported on November 3: "And more on how radical Islamists react when criticized: they kill you."
Sinclair Broadcast Group is the largest single owner/operator of television stations in the United States. MMFA has previously noted many of Sinclair's other pro-Republican ties. For example, Sinclair vice president Frederick G. Smith has donated more than $200,000 to Republican candidates and organizations during the 2000, 2002, and 2004 election cycles. And prior to the November 2 presidential election, Sinclair vice president of corporate relations Mark Hyman repeatedly attacked Senator John Kerry in "The Point," a series of televised conservative commentaries broadcast on Sinclair's local news programs.
Sinclair has demonstrated its conservative political leanings in its programming decisions. In October, Sinclair intended to air the distortion-filled anti-Kerry film Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal. Sinclair ultimately caved to a massive grassroots advertiser boycott effort, threatened shareholder litigation, and numerous other actions (including some led by MMFA), instead presenting an hour-long program on 40 of its stations, titled A POW Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media. The program consisted of more than 30 minutes focused on Kerry's Vietnam War record but included only approximately five minutes of Stolen Honor. In April, Sinclair forbade its ABC affiliate stations to air a broadcast of ABC's Nightline that showed the names and photographs of the 700 American soldiers who had died in Iraq up to that point. In a statement explaining its decision, Sinclair declared: "We do not believe political statements should be disguised as news content.