Saturday, May 1, 2004

Insincere Sinclair


I read the news today, oh boy.  It reported that Sinclair Broadcast Group censored the April 30th  Nightline on ABC affiliated TV stations it owns. On that night Ted Koppel read the names of all the Americans who had been killed to date in Iraq. Sinclair didn’t like that on the grounds that Koppel, in the opinion of Sinclair management, was pushing an anti-war agenda.


So much for freedom of the press.


In a statement on the front page of their website, Sinclair justified its action by saying:
Mr. Koppel and "Nightline" are hiding behind this so-called tribute in an effort to highlight only one aspect of the war effort and in doing so to influence public opinion against the military action in Iraq.


“We understand that our decision in this matter may be questioned by some. Before you judge our decision, however, we would ask that you first question Mr. Koppel as to why he chose to read the names of 523 troops killed in combat in Iraq, rather than the names of the thousands of private citizens killed in terrorist attacks since and including the events of September 11, 2001.”


I have no desire to question Ted Koppel. His motivations are not my concern. Rather I am disturbed that Sinclair thinks it knows what its customers should or shouldn’t watch.


Sinclair argues that Nighline was only presenting part of the story and therefore was misleading people. This argument only holds up if you assume that Nightline was a one-time program, not a nightly news report that covers Iraq routinely, and that no other information on Iraq is available. Ironically, Sinclair engaged in the same sort of behavior they accuse Nightline of: withhlding information. Clearly, Sinclair thinks the Nightline audience is easily manipulated, or just too stupid to make up their own minds.


Koppel was simply presenting a raw truth, without further comment, to make the public aware of the human cost of the Iraq war. It is then up to the public, not Sinclair, to decide if the war is worth the cost. Evidently Sinclair doesn’t trust the public’s judgment. Best to keep the public ignorant because actual facts might change ignorant people’s minds, as truth often does.


Sinclair also asks why Koppel didn’t read the names of Americans killed in terrorist attacks, “since and including” September 11, 2001. There are two  reasons. First, that has already been done. On the first anniversary of 9/11 the names of the victims were read at a public ceremony which was carried live on national television. Second, and let’s be clear on this, Koppel’s, report was about Iraq. Iraq was not involved in any terrorist attacks on Americans. (Saddam was helping to fund Palestinian terrorists in Israel, which certainly justified his removal, but that's a topic for another day.)


In an even more disingenuous argument, Sinclair said:

“Based on published reports, we are aware of the spouse of one soldier who died in Iraq who opposes the reading of her husband's name to oppose our military action. We suspect she is not alone in this viewpoint.”


One soldier’s widow does not constitute a consensus, though they would have us so believe. They read a couple of second-hand reports indicating that one widow didn’t like Nightline’s idea. Sinclair then extrapolated that into several widows, and then out of some false gesture of sensitivity, decided Nightline was too much for the public to handle.


Just how much lower can their opinion of the public go?


Sinclair was engaging in censorship, pure and simple. The only motivation for censorship is to squelch ideas that are contrary to opinions held by those who have power. So they pull the plug, but in the process they show their own weakness. By censoring Nightline they are admitting that their own views are not strong enough to stand up to a few challenges.

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