My urge: Follow your conscience, despite the cost

Listen to this.

Ever heard anything so absurd? It’s not “Follow the Leader” because there is no leader. There are local TV news anchors. I don’t think one of them wants to be on the air reciting the crap their corporate bosses ordered them to do. Not even their managers on the job site.

But these local TV news anchors around the country, along with many others, are now reading those nonsense marketing scripts the rulers of Sinclair Broadcast Group demanded, and I’ve written about here and here. Of course, there are plenty more references to Sinclair on this blog, since they’re so awful and there’s so much to reveal.

According to yesterday’s Bloomberg, the statement takes “aim at the integrity of other U.S. media outlets.”

That left many – myself included – wondering why some of the company’s journalists with credibility didn’t just quit.

sinclair numbersSinclair owns or operates an astounding 193 TV stations around the country, in 89 cities, covering about 38 percent of the American population. It has been trying, unsuccessfully so far, to buy a smaller giant, Tribune Media. Let’s hope it stays that way until they fail.

And it seems most of the Sinclair anchors, among the highest paid employees at their stations – which isn’t saying much, depending on location – are angry over the whole thing. They don’t want to do it.

So why are they doing what they’re told, despite the fact they hate everything about it, personally and professionally? Wouldn’t you have more respect for someone who uses their conscience and just says no, regardless of the consequences?

Bloomberg reports,

“The short answer is the cost may be too steep. According to copies of two employment contracts reviewed by Bloomberg, some Sinclair employees were subject to a liquidated damages clause for leaving before the term of their agreement was up: one that requires they pay as much as 40 percent of their annual compensation to the company.”

Can you imagine?

And that right to enforce the liquidated damages clause isn’t just a scare tactic.gavel judge

Bloomberg says last Oct. 13, it sued former reporter James Beaton of WPEC-West Palm Beach, Fla., for breach of contract, asking for $5,700 in damages as well as other related costs, according to a copy of the complaint filed in state court.

He “quit in 2015 to start a public-relations firm, leaving the news industry entirely,” after being “ordered to do ‘man on the street’ interviews that he felt were politically biased.”

The company’s bias is well-known. Add breach of contract penalties and that says to me, don’t work for Sinclair!

Bloomberg followed up.

“He said Sinclair offered to settle its lawsuit three months ago for $1,700 but demanded he sign a gag order promising not to talk to the press about Sinclair. ‘I told them to go jump in a lake,’ he said.”

Good for him!

As for the damage clauses, Bloomberg cited several employment lawyers as saying they’re rare for regular employees but

“more common in the broadcast industry, specifically when dealing with on-air talent. The clause serves to protect companies from costs associated with replacing an anchor who suddenly leaves, for example. Yet at Sinclair, at least some employees who never appeared on television were still required to sign such contracts, the former employees said.”

money dollars centsOn top of “the potential financial penalty,” there are forced non-compete clauses in contracts that mean employees must sit out and cannot go to the competition. In other words, they will have to move to a whole new city if they want to collect a paycheck. Luckily, states like California, Montana, North Dakota and Oklahoma ban them for the most part. I believe Missouri did a few years back, and Utah took action over the past few weeks.

Furthermore, there is forced arbitration which means no sympathetic jury for the employee.

Typical Sinclair! No reasonable person can feel anything but resentment if they know how the company operates.

But there’s no shortage of information.

Journalists, as natural storytellers, have put Sinclair under major scrutiny by having them share the same scripted, anti-media talking points around the country.

Mediaite reports in Portland, Ore., the general manager issued an internal memo instructing his staff not to answer questions from anyone contacting them! FTVLive’s Scott Jones has a copy of the memo, which says most callers “likely haven’t actually watched and don’t have full context on (sic) due to social media, etc. I will also remind you that giving statements to the media or sharing negative information about the company can have huge implications.” Click here to see it.

So much for communications! If a Sinclair reporter wants to talk to you, then don’t talk to them. If there is negative information about the company, shouldn’t it come clean? Not in this business!

Don’t forget Sinclair is conservative not impartial like newscasts are supposed to be. President Trump appointed Ajit Pai Federal Communications Commission chairman, and he’s under investigation for improperly pushing for rule changes to benefit Sinclair Broadcasting in its attempt to acquire Tribune Media.

jared kushner hillary clinton

And, a month after the presidential election, President Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner said Sinclair executives worked with the campaign to spread pro-Trump messages in Sinclair newscasts. Sinclair vehemently denied that and claimed it offered equal amounts of airtime for in-depth interviews to Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton, and she declined the invitation.

Yesterday, The Huffington Post reported,

“Such efforts include promoting favorable coverage of Trump’s 2016 campaign and requiring affiliates to air conservative commentaries by Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump adviser.”

Back in January, I wrote:

“In 2004, Sinclair barred the ABC affiliates it owned from airing the episode of Nightline that profiled American soldiers killed overseas. (It owns stations affiliated with all of the networks.) The same year, it tried to get its stations to carry a pre-election film that bashed presidential candidate John Kerry. (Some might even say the First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech is only for station owners, not employees nor the public.)”

So you decide on Sinclair’s push to conservatism, based on what you’ve seen here, or if you live in a market where there’s a Sinclair station. By the way, that’s a whole lot of the country!

sinclair before tribune
Sinclair territory, before it buys Tribune

It also fits nicely with what President Trump tweeted about the networks yesterday:

This is what he tweeted Monday:

But KOMO-Seattle anchor Mary Nam, at a Sinclair station, took issue with the president and had the guts to call him out for calling watching “Fake News Networks” funny.

More props to another Sinclair station, WMSN in Madison, Wisc. They were dealing with record snowfall (even for them!) and an important state Supreme Court election. Sounds a lot more local, important and even life-saving than the bullshit Sinclair demanded.

And thanks again to FTV Live’s Scott Jones who found this gem from WGN-TV executive producer Jeff Hoover, whose Tribune station is technically not supposed to be bought by Sinclair, but instead by the chairman of Baltimore-based Atlantic Capital Group who’s a business partner of Sinclair executive chairman David Smith.

Oh, the price? A mere $60 million, rather than hundreds of millions for a highly-rated station in a big city like Chicago!

Who do you think will pull the strings? Same story in so many other cities where shell corporations, some almost entirely owned by the Smith family, hold the licenses that let Sinclair operate more stations than the rules allow.

Ethics? I think not. Overly controlling from the home office? Absolutely!

Yesterday afternoon, The Huffington Post reported,

“Some employees have spoken out about their frustration at having to parrot the conservative politics of their employer,” but also, “Others say they’d like to do more, but they’re wary due to what they say is Sinclair’s policy and practice of closely monitoring its employees.”

Click here for more and to read the entire Sinclair employee handbook.

The publication says,

“Labor lawyers tell HuffPost such language is common in workplace handbooks and contracts. But Sinclair employees say the company’s culture and behavior have made them particularly mindful of such policies.”

Also, “There’s a lot held over us,” a journalist at a Sinclair affiliate told HuffPost on the condition of anonymity. “They pay attention to what websites we’re on.”

Plus,

“Sinclair employees say their parent company often pays especially close attention to its affiliates’ editorial activities, meddling in how they present their stories and graphics, and sometimes going so far as to delete offensive comments on an affiliate’s online articles before that station’s own web editors have a chance to do so.”

And so many of the anchors who have to read the propaganda say they feel awful.

In Rochester, Norma Holland of WHAM-13’s Good Day Rochester wrote about her dilemma on Facebook:

“The Sinclair message you saw me and my colleagues in has damaged the trust you place in us — a trust that’s taken, me in particular, 22 years to build. That hurts. … I could have chosen to quit, but who among us has an alternate career in their back pocket ready to go? …I have a family to support. That’s not an excuse — that’s reality.”

(Full disclosure: Her boss wanted to hire me in Detroit in 2000 or 2001. Nice guy. This isn’t his fault.)

Then there’s Sinclair executive chairman David Smith, telling New York magazine yesterday,

“He dislikes and fundamentally distrusts the print media, which he believes ‘serves no real purpose.’ In emails to New York, Smith said that print — as in newspapers and magazines — is a reality-distorting tool of leftists. Print media, he said, has “no credibility” and no relevance.”

Yeah, so his company’s newscasts are where Americans should get their information about current events? Not newspapers with bigger staffs and specialists? Not TV or radio networks with people with decades of experience, some whom even covered Martin Luther King’s assassination 50 years ago tonight?

No, he forces his TV stations to go off on everyone else. What a bastard, who inherited the company from his daddy!

His earlier experience was as a partner at Ciné Processors, a bootleg porn manufacturer owned by his father Julian Sinclair Smith’s company, the Commercial Radio Institute, according to a 2005 story in Rolling Stone. Like father, like son.

David Smith even goes beyond Trump when it comes to not wanting publicity.

New York communicated with Smith in mid-November, after requesting an interview.”

“Appreciate the interest in your wanting to do a story but we don’t talk to the print media as a general principal as we find them to be so devoid of reality and serving no real purpose. Have a great holiday,” Smith said in response. Later, he added, “Again my experience has consistently been that even with an interview it’s of no consequence in terms of spin, facts or distortion, political bent etc. The print media is so left wing as to be meaningless dribble which accounts for why the industry is and will fade away. Just no credibility. see ya.”

Then, “When New York asked Smith if he’d be open to meeting off the record at least, he replied, ‘I have also learned that there is no such thing as off the record. Bye.’”

FTV Live’s Scott Jones points out it was print media that reported on Smith’s arrest for committing a perverted sex act in a company-owned Mercedes a dozen years ago.

I wrote, less than a month ago:

The Baltimore Sun reported David Smith was arrested “and charged with committing a perverted sex act in a company-owned Mercedes” in August, 1996. It happened “in an undercover sting at Read and St. Paul streets, a downtown corner frequented by prostitutes.” Smith and Mary DiPaulo “were charged with committing unnatural and perverted sex act.” Police said “they witnessed the two engage in oral sex while Smith drove north” on Baltimore’s Jones Falls Expressway. Neither Sinclair nor its local flagship station WBFF-45 would comment.

People in the media have lost jobs over less. It looks like Smith used his power and influence to keep most of the media quiet. How do you think Sinclair would have handled another company’s executive in a similar situation?

Jones concluded sarcastically, “But I’m sure that has nothing to do with his thoughts on how print does their job.”

Personally, I’d call his role in programming over the public airwaves into question.

Last year, you saw Last Week Tonight With John Oliver go off on the problems with Sinclair and how it shouldn’t be allowed to buy Tribune. You can watch it again here.

Now, HBO’s Oliver is at it again. (Parental warning about language!)

So Sinclair Senior Vice President of News Scott Livingston sent a memo to staff:

“There is a lot of noise out there about our company right now, and what is lacking in that analysis is something we constantly preach; context and perspective. The critics are now upset about our well-researched journalistic initiative focused on fair and objective reporting. … We are focused on fact-based reporting. That’s our commitment to our communities. That’s the goal of these announcements: to reiterate our commitment to reporting facts in a pursuit of truth. A new Monmouth University Poll out today says Americans are concerned, in fact, 77 percent of the respondents believe “fake news” is reported at least occasionally in mainstream media. https://www.monmouth.edu/polling-institute/reports/monmouthpoll_us_040218/. This is a concern that is shared by Democrats, Republicans and Independents. This poll underscores the importance of our journalistic responsibility effort. We hold ourselves to the highest standards of accuracy and fact checking.”

FTV’s Scott Jones has the rest of Livingston’s dribble here. I will say Livingston has a point about former Democratic political operative and advisor George Stephanopoulos anchoring on ABC, and NBC’s Chris Matthews’ past serving on the staffs of four Democratic members of Congress, as a presidential speechwriter during the Carter administration, and spending six years as Chief of Staff to longtime House Speaker Tip O’Neill (although he has said, “I’m more conservative than people think I am. … I voted for George W. in 2000.”).

I’m not a fan of anybody going from politics to impartial news anchoring (Stephanopoulos), although an analyst position is OK when the analysis is necessary to put the news into perspective.

Jones proves critics like him absolutely do “original journalism” (Livingston’s term) with a list of his own exclusives about the not-so-clean company here.

Considering Sinclair’s power and how much more it wants to buy, we’ll see how much longer local news organizations remain the most trusted source of information in Pew Research Center’s polling on trust in media.vince leonard 1958 bcast pioneers

I doubt legendary KYW-TV anchor Vince Leonard of Philadelphia, who recently died, would’ve put his reputation on the line, reading what Sinclair is telling its anchors to do. He left town in 1980, but I’ve heard wonderful things from people who worked with him and are still working there today.Nick Clooney wikipedia

The Cincinnati Enquirer asked Nick Clooney, who used to anchor at WKRC in the Queen City, and he said, “I have no idea what these folks are doing for a living, but it isn’t news.”

He added the concept of a scripted editorial not identified as scripted wouldn’t have happened in the 1970s or 1980s when he anchored at that station, now owned by Sinclair. He said sure, station owners would give editorials, but they’d give the editorials themselves, not tell anchors to read it for them.

How many of you have ever quit a decent-paying job over ethics? Care to share?

On a similar note are people at Philadelphia’s Fox TV station bragging about what a wonderful job they did, so high on themselves for working so hard covering snow, just like journalists were all over the region.

chris march 7 snow

But where were they when the bigger storm hit on March 21? Too scared to be live on-air like the competition? (I did comment to that above post, asking where they were during the bigger snowstorm, but that got taken down. How dare someone question their collective news judgment? I don’t know if the poster was asked to take it down, or did so on his own. I know it was up for at least a few days and nobody can deny the truth simply by deleting it.)

I don’t know about “the best content in Philly” since I wasn’t watching four TVs at once. In fact, I was working and hardly watched anything but I’m sure every station had its exclusive, great, memorable reporting moments.

However, if I had my choice, would I want to work at the station that does news “at likely half the staff & budget of competitors” or a station that wants to win, and pulls out all stops to do so?

The fact is, there are some very good people there who are smart, experienced and connected, and out-report others. Too bad they’re hardly seen – a “distant fourth” and repeat it again like the newspaper did, compared to stations 1, 2 and 3 – because the bosses only pay for “likely half the staff & budget of competitors.”

I’ve always striven to be the best and encourage others. How the people in charge can be happy with their competitive performance and keep their jobs while not doing the best for the people of the region is a shame – but as I’ve said time and time again, it’s profits before people. Oh, and an office twice the size it had been when I started there!

Meanwhile, I hope they have to strain tomorrow to cover both the Villanova championship parade and Phillies home opener. They better hope no other news happens with “likely half the staff.”

I think I’m going to use those insider lines regularly!

And since I like to end on a good note, The TV Answer Man,Phillip Swann, reports the newly-sold Weather Channel has expanded its live coverage by up to 10 minutes an hour! That means less recorded reality programming.

weather channel logo

The article says, “It’s unknown if the new owner influenced the change in programming strategy.”

“Many of you have told us that you want to see more of our trusted weather coverage and we’ve taken note,” viewers who subscribe to its newsletter read, Sunday. “Starting tomorrow (April 3), we will be extending our live coverage by up to 10 minutes per hour, giving you a chance to dig even deeper into the weather affecting you each day.”

That means collapsing “our Local On the 8s so that they run during our live segments. Where you use to see our traditional Local On the 8s segments, you will see the same weather information displayed on the right side and/or bottom of the screen.”

They had always run during breaks from the channel’s live coverage.

byron allen

The move comes just two weeks after comedian and entrepreneur Byron Allen acquired The Weather Channel from Comcast, Blackstone Group and Bain Capital for approximately $300 million, according to Bloomberg News.

Just hope none of the meteorologists visit your town for work-related purposes!

Philadelphia is expecting snow on Saturday.

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