By now you’ve probably seen the Deadspin video montage of television anchors from around the country reading from a script decrying “biased and false” reports, in a message with striking parallels to President Trump’s “fake news” mantra.
On Monday morning, Trump lavished praise on the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the owner of nearly 200 television stations that recently directed anchors to read the message during news broadcasts. Sinclair employs Boris Ephshteyn, a former Trump aide, as its chief political analyst.
One of Trump’s favorite targets, CNN, posted a story Monday quoting an unnamed Sinclair employee who said the on-air advisory “sickens me.”
It evidently heartens the president.
“So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased,” Trump tweeted Monday. “Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.”
Among the anchors who read the on-air message were Alison Bologna and Frank Coletta of WJAR-TV in Providence. The Deadspin video mashup, posted over the weekend, included brief clips of Coletta reading excerpts. WJAR, a major player in the Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts markets, declined to comment Monday morning.
A transcript of the on-air advisory posted to Deadspin read in part, “The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media. ... More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories… stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first.”
The script went on to accuse unnamed reporters of using “their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda” to control what people think.
On Monday morning, Brian Stelter of CNN posted an article quoting an investigative reporter at Sinclair who said, “It sickens me the way this company is encroaching upon trusted news brands in rural markets.” The reporter spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Stelter also obtained a memo from Sinclair news executive Scott Livingston directing television anchors to read the message. Stelter tweeted out a link to his story Monday beneath a message that read, “Sinclair’s media-bashing promos have gone viral. I’ve been talking with staffers at Sinclair-owned stations for several weeks -- here’s my brand new story about all this.”
Epshteyn quickly pounced, mocking Stelter in terms that likely won approval from his former boss, whose attacks on the media have become a signature brand of his presidency.
Livingston defended the promo in a statement later Monday.
“We aren’t sure of the motivation for the criticism, but find it curious that we would be attacked for asking our news people to remind their audiences that unsubstantiated stories exist on social media, which result in an ill-informed public with potentially dangerous consequences,” Livingston said. “It is ironic that we would be attacked for messages promoting our journalistic initiative for fair and objective reporting, and for specifically asking the public to hold our newsrooms accountable. Our local stations keep our audiences’ trust by staying focused on fact-based reporting and clearly identifying commentary.”