Big Beef About Sinclair’s Anti-Kerry Plans


Burger King says: Hold everything!

This just in from the presidential election’s front lines:

Sinclair’s Swift boat, its specially outfitted video cannon bristling as it steams toward the battleground state of Ohio, has been heavily damaged by anti-flak weapons and is changing course.

According to media reports, Sinclair is in such a pickle that it may be unable to fire the special anti-Kerry weapon. As usual with 21st century warfare reporting, those reports are highly misleading.

One of New York City’s major burghers, state comptroller Alan Hevesi, who controls a bundle of Sinclair shares, attacked the company—the nation’s largest TV-station conglomerate—for launching the attack because the move was imperiling its stock market value.

But it was a bigger burger—Burger King, in fact—that lobbed the biggest grenade at Sinclair. The fast-food giant announced that it was withdrawing all its ads from all Sinclair stations all day on the date the weapon is broadcast—now scheduled for Friday, October 22.

“Burger King wants to maintain neutrality during this election,” spokesman Eric Anderson told Bill Carter of The New York Times.

This is believed to be the first time the fast-food giant has come out publicly against whoppers.

Hevesi, who by himself controls the huge New York State Common Retirement Fund, which owns more than 250,000 shares of Sinclair, wrote a nasty letter to company CEO David D. Smith, the Times and the Associated Press reported. His letter, according to the AP, included this riff:

Given the stock’s already poor performance, it would seem that any bad news would risk reducing investor interest and, thus, risk a lower stock price.

Hevesi also questioned the independence of Sinclair’s directors, according to stock market rules. Yeah, well, I did the same thing yesterday, in this Bush Beat item.

Sinclair’s stock took another hit on Wall Street yesterday.

But the real impetus for this firestorm was the courageous stand of Sinclair’s Washington bureau chief, Jon Leiberman, who went all medieval Beale on his bosses. Leiberman got fired for speaking out. Thing is, the rest of the media just don’t seem to get it.

They’re reporting this morning that Sinclair has “backed off” because it won’t air the entire pseudo-doc Stolen Honor, as it originally planned to. (The Times‘ headline early this morning: “Broadcaster Plans to Show Only Parts of Film.”) But Leiberman finally became enraged because he knew that such a plan, which already had been announced, doesn’t mean Sinclair has “backed off.” The chain is still going ahead with a show, but the pseudo-doc’s anti-Kerry rants will be camouflaged by a thin coating of “coverage” and other material that Sinclair ordered its news department to put together. That’s what got Leiberman the most upset, and rightly so.

It’s still a powerful weapon—maybe even more powerful than if Sinclair had simply aired the pseudo-doc’s rant that Kerry “betrayed” his fellow Vietnam War vets three decades ago by coming out against the war and detailing atrocities committed by fellow soldiers.

Couched as “coverage,” Sinclair’s latest plan for the anti-Kerry attack gives too much play to a non-issue, moving it out of the realm of commentary and into “news.”

Sinclair is of course defiant. Its news veep, Joe DeFeo, said, according to AP, “We have not ceded, and will not in the future cede, control of our news reporting to any outside organization or political group.”

Does this avowal of journalistic integrity also mean that Sinclair’s owners and executives will stop pouring money and propaganda into George W. Bush‘s campaign?

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 20, 2004

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