By now the world has learned Fox News operates as an extension and propaganda arm of the conservative movement. But all the groveling Fox does will pale in comparison the what will happen when the Sinclair Broadcast Group becomes a larger force in broadcast news. Sinclair–which owns stations in Missoula, Butte, and Bozeman–is poised to take over more stations as it weaves through the Trump-stacked Federal Communications Commission and antitrust laws the Department of Justice is unlikely to pursue. If Sinclair wins it can become the propaganda arm of our authoritarian state, which is the ultimate desire for any dictator. The initial indications of what Sinclair will do as a media giant are becoming more evident and frightening.
First, there is what Sinclair chooses to cover and how it does so. The company demands all of its stations now air a spot warning people watch it and not pay attention to alleged “fake news” or social media. In the ironically Orwellian-titled “Anchor Delivered Journalistic Responsibility Message” the owners require stations to air this 60-minute promotion “frequently” to remind viewers of the dangers of information outside of Sinclair’s coverage. The language from the order echoes the wording and attitude of our nation’s Dear Leader, Donald Trump.
This is in addition to the regularly required spots like having former Trump advisor Boris Epshsteyn deliver comments on every Sinclair broadcast, even if it has no connection to local coverage. News stations also must run a “Terrorism Alert Desk” update whenever it comes in. These “alerts” are more about inflaming xenophobia and instilling fear than they are about calling attention to any actual concerns. Sinclair has shown all the characteristics of a state-run television channel.
Then there is what Sinclair chooses not to cover. Locally, this was the Greg Gianforte “body slamming” of a reporter last summer. Sinclair’s recently purchased station in Missoula, KECI, opted not to cover the incident at all and was the only station in Montana that did so. It was one of the few stations in the world that did so as the story became a national phenomena. Further, its stations focus on the ridiculous claims of a “deep state” plot against the president but does not give equal coverage to the continual onslaught of news about Trump’s ties to the Kremlin that helped him get elected. But then that is probably because, as Trump’s son-in-law claimed, the Trump family has given special access to Sinclair.
So combine its “fake news” reminder with things happening in the real world. Imagine what happens when neighbors and friends note Gianforte assaulted a reporter. Sinclair viewers would consider that “fake news” since they did not see it on TV and ignore it. To them, there would have been no such incident. Sinclair will filter information to distort reality and turn people against each other. As Orwell wrote in the increasingly prescient “1984”: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” All information simply slips in to the convenient “memory holes” created by Sinclair and the regime.
For now, Sinclair broadcast to four Montana cities but it has only just begun to expand its media empire. The company seeks to purchase another massive media company that would make it one of the largest broadcasters in the nation and already reaches about 70 percent of the country. The more it grows, the more information it can control. Montana is already losing out local newspaper coverage to the increasingly shallow reporting of Lee Newspapers, a national media entity with a sketchy slant of its own right. When we lose our television coverage as well then it will become nearly impossible to understand what is actually happening in our nation and voice any opinion outside of the narrative conservative’s construct. This is the true fake news.