VIRAL VIDEOS are often frivolous and sometimes poisonous. But occasionally, they can be clarifying. Witness a montage released by the website Deadspin over the weekend, and viewed more than 7 million times as of Monday evening.
It shows dozens of local television news anchors from all over the country, each employed by media giant Sinclair Broadcast Group, making the same exact speech to their millions of viewers — warning about “false news” and journalists “who use their platforms to push their own personal bias.”
The announcement has the feel of state-run television, unmistakably echoing President Trump’s harangues against the media. Little surprise that he tweeted a defense of Sinclair, and an attack on “Fake News Networks,” on Monday morning as outrage spread.
Already the largest owner of local television stations in the country, Sinclair is proposing a $3.9 billion purchase of Tribune Media’s 42 stations. Here in New England, that would mean the broadcaster, which already owns stations in Rhode Island and Maine, would have a presence in Connecticut — subjecting even more of the region’s viewers to the dubious “must-run” segments Sinclair regularly foists on its affiliates.
That’s not just speeches by anchors. There are also centrally produced stories, like one that ran suggesting voters shouldn’t back Hillary Clinton because of the Democratic Party’s proslavery history.
The broadcaster’s political bias may not even be the most compelling reason to restrain its growth. Sinclair has a worrisome history of slashing staff and reducing local news coverage. And greater market power could mean bigger retransmission fees for cable companies — costs that would ultimately be passed on to the consumer.
To their credit, Justice Department antitrust officials appear to be taking these issues seriously. But if the merger is to be blocked, the public will have to stay engaged — even if it’s through viral videos.