The video — which misleadingly rehashes Stelter's use of the term "fake news" before it was appropriated by President Donald Trump and his followers — is currently linked at the top of every Sinclair local TV website.
The right-leading media giant came under fire earlier this month after a compilation video showing dozens of local reporters across the country repeat the exact same script went viral. The ad, which ran on every Sinclair channel, decried "fake news" and "biased reporting" — in a way that's very similar to Trump's anti-media stance.
Though the ad was shocking, it wasn't exactly a surprise: Sinclair — which owns or operates more than 170 television stations, reaching about 40% of U.S. households — has deep ties to the Trump administration. President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner reportedly told executives in December 2016 that the campaign "struck a deal" with Sinclair to "try and secure better media coverage" during the past presidential election. Mother Jones has also reported on the Sinclair brothers' close relationship with the Trump White House.
On the four-minutes-long promo released Monday, Sinclair said CNN is dishonest for criticizing the controversial promo when it also warned of "fake news" in 2016. It uses old clips of Stelter saying that misinformation is "bad for democracy" and consumers should be more careful when sharing news stories from dubious sources.
"As outlined in the video produced today, CNN was warning its own news consumers about the dangers and impact of 'fake news' – back in 2016 and 2017. CNN used some of the same language that Sinclair used in its journalistic responsibility promos in 2018," Ronn Torossian, spokesperson for Sinclair Broadcasting, said in a statement provided to Refinery29. "Fake News is a real problem. A poll out this week from Monmouth University shows that the majority of Republican, Democratic and Independent Americans believe it’s a problem. The video we produced which highlights this dishonestly [sic] is on all of our websites."
The problem, which the Sinclair promo doesn't address, is that since the term "fake news" came around in 2016 it has been weaponized by the Trump administration to discard any type of reporting that they deem unflattering. The spot also mentions how "members of the media use to push their own personal bias and control exactly what people think."
But Sinclair might be guilty of what they are accusing the rest of the media landscape of.
Over the summer, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver dedicated a show to explain how Sinclair has gotten away with injecting right-leaning political views into local news, under the guise of unbiased reporting. Oliver called it "Fox-worthy content into the mouths of your local news anchors."
The Sinclair promo that spread like wildfire and CNN's 2016 take on "fake news" is also very different: The former included a script written by the corporation and not an editorial team, while the second is the product of Stelter and other journalists' reporting.
Refinery29 reached out to Stelter and he referred us to his tweets reacting to the video. He posted: "There's a huge difference between my coverage and Sinclair's mandatory promos. No one tells me what to say. But these anchors were told exactly what to say."
He continued, "Here's the thing: These promos became a story because Sinclair staffers spoke up and said they were uncomfortable. They said they'd never seen anything like this before."
Stelter first reported on the viral ad in early March, way before it made waves on social media. Sinclair anchors were the ones to reach out to him, saying that they found the promo "inappropriate" since the script wasn't written by them but directly by Sinclair.
"Trust me, this was awful," Mathieu posted on Facebook in response to criticism of the spots. "We had several closed-door meetings and even had to re-record our version because we looked so mortified in the first cut. But we gathered our composure and did our job knowing this would happen. It sucks. It just does. You will make your judgment and I can’t change that."
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