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« April 2018 »

Memo to Sinclair Media: WELCOME TO VIRALVILLE.

Sinclair Broadcasting has been a problem for a long time, but this weekend, the traditional right-wing inability to recognize irony made that problem metastasize over the weekend. And it couldn’t have happened to a nicer state-sympathizing propaganda machine.

There’s a lot to pay attention to these days, but you probably know Sinclair Broadcasting as the right-wing media conglomerate that’s been buying up local TV stations for decades, and lobbying to loosen regulation of media ownership so they can own more and more local TV stations.

One of the reasons those regulations were in place, of course, is so that one big company couldn’t buy up a bunch of local news stations and override their editorial content to, say, deliver hundreds of simultaneous messages to local communities about how you can’t believe other media but you can totally trust your local, independent, unbiased newscaster who just happens to think Donald Trump is great.

I admit, a few of those specifics may not have been on the minds of the people who wrote those rules way back then, but the principle is the same. These rules were set up to stop precisely the kind of thing Sinclair started doing as soon as the rules were weakened enough to let them do it. Specifically, ordering the newsreaders on its hundreds of local news channels to deliver identical editorial content masquerading as news to promote a specific agenda, with viewers ostensibly unaware that the same message was being directed from Sinclair’s evil overlords.

This isn’t the first time they’ve done this, but it’s the first time they did it with a message so blatantly at odds with the method they used to deliver it. Which allowed Deadspin to assemble a devastating video showing the scheme in the kind of bright light you need to get people’s attention these days, at least for a little while. Of course, this video went viral on the Internet, and the Venn diagram between “people who do things on the Internet” and “people who still tune in to local news” looks even less like the Mastercard logo than the Venn diagram of “people who do things on the Internet” and “people who remember what the Mastercard logo looks like”.

Oh, and one other reason they can get away with this? Sinclair stations are non-union, which means they can sign their talent to ridiculously punitive contracts, so even if the people reading their corporate-issued pro-Trump propaganda object to the message, or even the methodology of the message, there’s little they can do about it without suffering serious financial and professional harm. For decades, centrist Democrats treated unions like they treated abortion - defending it in the weakest, most minimal way possible because their opponents had demonized them so effectively.

Well, congratulations. We now have hundreds of programmed Westworld extras with bad hair and worse outfits all reciting, en masse, how biased media is “extremely dangerous to our democracy”.

Sinclair is, of course, pushing back on the bad PR, claiming that “The critics are now upset about our well-researched journalistic initiative focused on fair and objective reporting.” As plausible deniability defenses go, this is roughly equivalent to “I was just swinging my leg near my little brother and he’s getting all upset because I kicked him. None of this is my fault.” Definitely the kind of upstanding corporate actor I’d want to trust with providing me information for half an hour after whatever the fuck people without backlogged DVRs and streaming queues watch at the end of network prime time.