On the morning of April 8, NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute joined the growing list of schools signing a letter of protest addressed to Sinclair Broadcasting Group.
The letter, addressed to Sinclair Executive Chairman David D. Smith, was in response to a script that Sinclair required local anchors to read on air without disclosing that it came directly from the corporation.
“While news organizations have historically had and used the prerogative to publish and broadcast editorials clearly identified as opinion, we believe that line was crossed at Sinclair stations when anchors were required to read scripts making claims about ‘the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country,’” the letter reads.
Associate Professor of NYU Journalism Jay Rosen announced the news via his Twitter feed, where, along with his blog, Rosen has been actively speaking out against Sinclair since long before the letter was sent.
I am pleased to report that NYU Journalism will be joining this letter to Sinclair from the heads of J-schools. “In making the leap to disparage news media generally — without specifics — Sinclair has diminished trust in the news media overall.” https://t.co/qsCuiF3D2C pic.twitter.com/jooIUc741R
— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) April 8, 2018
The exact script Sinclair gave to anchors, published by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, warned against the dangers of “fake news.”
“Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think,’” the script said. “This is extremely dangerous to a democracy.”
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) March 31, 2018
Sinclair Broadcasting group is the largest owner of television stations in the United States, owning and operating 165 stations across the country. This is not the first time that Sinclair has been criticized for content on their channels, as it is common practice for them to send “must-run,” videos and scripts to anchors. These videos include daily terrorism updates and other politically motivated content.
According to Ted Conover, the department chair of NYU Journalism, it was an easy decision to make.
“If journalists, and schools of journalism, don’t push back against this, it’s hard to know what we stand for,” Conover said in an email to WSN. “Practically all of our faculty have told me they support my signing the letter; none have come out against it.”
Conover emphasized the dangers of letting Sinclair’s influence go unchecked.
“‘Fake news,’ as we define it, is purposely deceptive information, invented reports that aim to deceive,” Conover said. “For Sinclair to embrace the president’s use of the term ‘fake news,’ meaning anything in the media he doesn’t like, and lump mainstream journalism with partisan provocations from the web, undermines everything we stand for.”
Initially, the letter only had the signatures of eight colleges and departments, but it has gained more in the past few days. Despite the support, Journalism Professor Robert Boynton doubts any strong results will come from the letter.
“I doubt they will [change anything],” Boynton said in an email to WSN. “They didn’t think they would be caught. Or, worse, their ethical compass is so skewed that they didn’t know what they were doing was wrong. “
In an email to the Baltimore Sun on Monday, Sinclair’s Senior Vice President of News Scott Livingston responded to the outrage by stating that the message’s aim was to demonstrate Sinclair’s commitment to “fact-based reporting.”
“We aren’t sure of the motivation for the criticism,” Livingston said. “But [we] find it curious that we would be attacked for asking our news people to remind their audiences that unsubstantiated stories exist on social media which result in an ill-informed public with potentially dangerous consequences.”
Moving forward, Conover said that students and news outlets can both help fight biased information by taking more time to consider where information is coming from.
“The other thing students can do is to pause every time they hear the phrase ‘fake news,’” Conover said. “They need to look at the thing being criticized and ask, ‘Is it well-reported journalism that somebody simply disagrees with? Or is it partisan invention and provocation?’ We in schools of journalism are here to say: there is a difference.”
Among the growing list are journalism schools at Morgan State University, George Washington University, University of Illinois, University of California Berkeley, University of Southern California, University of Arizona, Ohio University, Temple University, University of Mississippi, University of Georgia, Louisiana State University, Syracuse University, University of Oregon and the University of Maryland College Park.
Email Kristina Hayhurst at [email protected]