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Sinclair Can't (Sun)Dance

The ConWeb and Fox News Channel equate 62 TV stations' worth of anti-Kerry diatribe with a single pay-cable channel's liberal-friendly programming.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 10/15/2004
Updated 10/16/2004

You can't expect the ConWeb to be fair to liberals, so it's no surprise that it, as well as the Fox News Channel, is trying to divert attention from Sinclair Broadcast Group's plans to broadcast an inaccurate and biased anti-Kerry documentary, "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal," on its 62 TV stations nationwide by contrasting it with liberal-friendly programming on the Sundance Channel -- a subscription-only cable/satellite channel with a much smaller audience.

The Media Research Center pounced on the Sinclair controversy, but Brent Baker used an Oct. 11 CyberAlert to downplay Sinclair's impact. "Sinclair is mainly made up of little-watched WB and UPN affiliates, as well as some stations so small they don't even have any network affiliation, and their few affiliations with ABC and CBS are limited to a few small markets," Baker wrote.

"Despite the efforts of the ABC and CBS reporters to play up the power of Sinclair, its stations have a fraction of the audience of the ABC or CBS networks which reach every home and so a minute or two on CBS or ABC has more impact than a lengthier segment on stations 76 percent of Americans can't watch and most in the remaining 24 percent do not," he continued.

The very next day, Baker spent an entire CyberAlert item on the Sundance Channel -- a channel with even less "power" than Sinclair -- assailing it for being "an active promoter of liberal causes with programming praising John Kerry and belittling George W. Bush." Among the offending programming, according to Baker: a "live broadcast of a 'Vote for Change' concert, complete with a rant from Bruce Springsteen urging viewers to open their windows and scream 'Halliburton'"; "a new weekly Sundance series about an imaginary liberal Democrat ('Tanner on Tanner')"; and "an hour of Al Franken's Air America radio program."

At Accuracy in Media, Cliff Kincaid devotes an Oct. 12 column to contrasting the channel and the conglomerate.

Of Sundance's decision to air the Vote for Change concert, "I didn't hear a peep of protest about that," adding that "the Washington Post showed its priorities by running a story about Sinclair's decision (to run "Stolen Honor" on page one and a story about Sundance airing the anti-Bush concert back in the third section."

Kincaid also goes on to criticize HBO, another subscription-only channel, for running "Real Time with Bill Maher" because Maher "specializes in jokes about Bush, mocking him to the point of making the President into a target of hatred." He then claims conspiracy: "The one-sided and orchestrated attack on Sinclair, now joined by liberal Democratic Senators and the Democratic National Committee, demonstrates the reality of a fanatical liberal mentality that simply does not and will not tolerate opposing views."

Fox News Channel also got into the act of this little false equivalence. From the Oct. 13 edition of "Special Report with Brit Hume":

BRIT HUME: Democrats denounced Sinclair Broadcast Group's plans to run that anti-Kerry documentary on its stations as a, quote, "blatantly partisan attack." But Democrats have yet to even note the Sundance Cable Channel, which has devoted a significant portion of its airtime in coming weeks, to anti-Bush programming.

The Sundance Channel owned by CBS owner Viacom and actor Robert Redford, have already shown 10 1/2 hours about the anti-Bush Vote for Change concert tour and has already begun showing airing Al Franken's radio show each weekday. What's more, the channel plans to air anti-Bush and anti-Republican movies on the eve of the election.

And from the October 11 edition of "The Big Story with John Gibson":

JOHN GIBSON: Now, the Democratic -- I think the DNC has launched a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission saying that this amounts to political advertising. But what about the FCC? Are there any regulations as broadcasters that Sinclair has to tow the line on with this?

TERRY KEENAN (business correspondent): In terms of equal time -- and I think that's why they're filing with the Federal Elections Commission instead of the FCC -- but if it's decent programming, they own the stations, and they could air these documentaries the same way "Fahrenheit 9/11" might be aired. That would probably be a pay-per-view, it looks like, before Election Day.

But also, the Sundance Channel is going to run the Vote for Change Concert, featuring all sorts of anti-Bush entertainment.

Unmentioned anywhere in these reports are a couple simple facts:

  • As much as the Media Research Center downplays Sinclair for reaching only 24 percent of the country, that's still a maximum audience of about 70 million people. Sundance, meanwhile, has around 20 million subscribers -- a much smaller maximum audience who is specifically paying extra for the privilege.
  • As a broadcaster using the public airwaves, Sinclair stations are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission. Licenses are renewed periodically, and and various standards are required to be maintained for renewal, among which is service of "the public interest" through, in part, its political broadcasting. Pay cable/satellite channels such as Sundance do not have such restrictions on its programming. Nothing (except perhaps lack of a viable audience) has stopped anyone from creating a subscription-only Conservative Channel.

Update: An Oct. 14 follow-up column by Kincaid does acknowledge that final point, then declares it irrelevant because, according to him, "Stolen Honor" isn't explicitly partisan: "While I have accepted the belief that Stolen Honor is anti-Kerry, the fact is that it does not advocate the election or defeat of any candidate ... Stolen Honor is as much a documentary or news program as 60 Minutes on CBS, which also operates on the public airwaves. ... as newsworthy and factual as any CBS Evening News broadcast, only more so." Kincaid also blames the victim: "John Kerry is the one who made this a political issue, not Carlton Sherwood [the producer] or the courageous men in this film." Kincaid added quotes from the film's publicist that "It doesn't say anywhere, 'Vote against John Kerry'" (technically true) and "nobody has said there is one word in Stolen Honor that isn't true," which, of course, is wrong.

Sinclair vs. Sundance? More like apples vs. oranges.

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