Sinclair executive defends company from ‘biased’ media in internal memo

An executive at local broadcast TV giant Sinclair defended the company and lashed out against what he called "biased" news organizations that have "an agenda to destroy our reputation" in an internal memo obtained by POLITICO.

The memo, written by Sinclair’s Vice President of News Scott Livingston and sent to Sinclair station news directors, said he wants to “dispel some of the myths” being reported about the organization.

In the memo, Livingston lists out several storylines that have emerged around the Maryland-based television company and provides what he said are facts proving them false. They range from reports about their “must run” segments to morale at their Washington station WJLA.

HBO late night host John Oliver also made Sinclair and its "must run" segments the focus of a 19 minute segment earlier this month.

“[M]uch of the reporting about Sinclair in recent months has been irresponsible and much of it is just plain false,” Livingston wrote in the memo. The memo was sent to news directors who were asked to discuss the outlined issues with staffers.

Sinclair has come under fire over the past year as it has drastically increased its national footprint while pushing a more right-leaning point of view through segments it requires all of its stations to air. Those segments include commentary from former Trump White House official Boris Epshteyn as well as a "terrorism alert desk." Sinclair is also in the process of getting even bigger, as it pursues an acquisition of the local TV stations owned by Tribune Media. The family which owns the network, the Smiths, have long been supporters of Republican candidates.

Livingston argues in the memo that while it’s true Sinclair issues “must run” content, media reports which say they are of “poor quality” and “politically tilted” are not true, and that “must runs” amount to less than one hour per week, on average, of Sinclair stations coverage, compared to more than 35 hours of local news. Plus, he argued that such commentary provides a different viewpoint not usually found in the national media.

"While it is true that Sinclair offers commentary segments from Mark Hyman and Boris Epshtyen, this content is clearly identified as commentary and constitutes a tiny percentage of the station’s weekly broadcast content,” Livingston wrote. "Mark and Boris’ commentaries provide a viewpoint that often gets lost in the typical national broadcast media dialogue. Boris Epshtyen worked in the Trump White House, a fact that Sinclair makes no effort to hide, and provides a unique insight that viewers can’t find anywhere else. The presence of former administrative personnel serving as news commentators is a well accepted practice in journalism."

Livingston also specifically called out The Washington Post for reporting on falling morale at the WJLA station in Washington, writing that the Post “largely ignor[ed]” information about investments, awards and ratings growth at the station while assembling “fear-mongering reports.” WJLA was sold to Sinclair in 2014 by the Allbritton family, which owns POLITICO.

"It’s important to remember that the Post is a Sinclair media competitor,” Livingston wrote. "As such, any discerning reader of their newspaper should view the Post’s reports about our company with a healthy sense of skepticism.”

A Washington Post spokesperson declined to comment.

Livingston goes on to defend reporters from the Sinclair-owned website Circa from being called “conservative commentators” after appearing on Fox News, questioning why reporters from The Washington Post and New York Times aren’t labeled as commentators on MSNBC.

In the closing paragraphs, Livingston alleges that reporters from major media outlets are biased, and calls on them to “openly disclose their political tendencies,” adding that doing so would help consumers "understand the agenda of the reporters and editors providing the content."

"What we find most troubling in the reporting about our company, by major media outlets (like the New York Times and Washington Post), is the omission of key facts in their stories,” Livingston wrote. "Such omissions suggest the existence of either journalistic incompetency or editorial bias. We do not believe these journalists are incompetent, so we are left to conclude that they are biased.

"We are proud to offer a range of perspectives, both conservative and liberal — to our consumers—on our Sinclair broadcast stations each day. It is unfortunate that so many of our competitors do not provide the same marketplace of ideas,” he continued. "Our commitment is to tracking the truth, providing context and perspective in our reporting and serving our communities with valuable and, at times, life-saving information. We value our viewers and our journalists who work hard each day to serve the communities in which they live—all across this great country. It’s concerning and troubling that so many once trusted news organizations continue to push false narratives with an agenda to destroy our reputation and discredit the great journalism across our company.”

A Sinclair spokesperson declined to comment further.

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