All Writings
May 2, 2004

Sinclair Has Forfeited Its Rights

The decision by ABC to permit its veteran anchorman Ted Koppel to broadcast in a somber and respectful way the names and the photos of our fallen soldiers in Iraq was a wise and most timely decision for which ABC should be commended. The decision, however, by Sinclair Broadcast Group to bar its ABC affiliate stations from airing the program, is most troubling and raises serious questions about the dangers that arise when the media becomes a tool in the hands of a few executives with a specific political agenda.

In defending its decision to bar its affiliates from broadcasting the tribute, Sinclair said: "The Nightline segment appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq." How so, one might ask? Barring television viewers in 62 locations from seeing and hearing the truth in an election year is motivated by nothing else but political calculations. What is the role of the media, then, if not to report truthfully, educate the public about issues of concern, and to do so objectively and impartially? Government policy does not automatically form public opinion. In a free society, the media interpret and convey information, which then shapes public opinion. Otherwise, we will not be in any way different from Iraq–which we went into to liberate–where the media played to the tune of a ruthless leader. If showing the faces of our fallen soldiers "highlights only one aspect of the war efforts, and in doing so to influence public opinion against the military action in Iraq,"as Sinclair insists, then there must be something drastically wrong, not only with the logic of the Sinclair executives, but with how the war is being conducted. Sinclair's efforts to make a connection between a tribute to our fallen soldiers and the so-called "Nightline omission of the names of thousands of citizens killed in terrorist attacks since 9/11," is wanting as it is absurd.

Since September 11, 2001, hundreds of reports about that horrific event were filed, and the names and photos of the victims have been cited and displayed on scores of occasions and in many public places. ABC, other TV networks, and the print media have recalled the names of the victims, a memorial is being erected in their memory, and a Congressional committee is currently investigating the events that led to that tragedy. But our fallen men and women have returned home in coffins clandestinely, preventing the media from broadcasting burial ceremonies, the president deliberately has been conspicuously absent from such events, and the public left in the dark precisely because the administration wants to hide the ugly and sad aspects of the war from the public eye. It is obvious where the loyalties of Sinclair lie. The Center for American Progress, a Washington-based think tank, cited campaign contributions of more than $130 thousand donated by Sinclair to President Bush and his political allies since the year 2000 and less than $2 thousand to the Democrats.

Sinclair General Council Barry Faber said about the broadcast:" We find it to be contrary to the public interest." Who, one might ask again, appointed Mr. Faber as a public arbiter to determine what is or is not in the public interest? If the executives of Sinclair can dictate what 25 percent of the viewing public can or cannot see on television, how are we to prevent in the future a handful of media owners who may control 90 percent of public viewing from promoting their own narrow political agendas without any regard to the needs of the public? Indeed, it is Sinclair that is serving its own political interests by trying to blindfold the American public and prevent it from appreciating the high price of a war whose wisdom is being increasingly questioned by Americans.

Since the war in Iraq began, this administration has attempted to portray it in a rosy light, and regardless of the repeated mishaps and miscalculations, not once has a single official admitted to a mistake. One wonders if no mistake has ever occurred in our planning and execution of the war, why are we in such a mess? If the war is justified, as every member of this administration and its media stooges like Sinclair insist, why then hide the faces of those young men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for a just war? Senator John McCain (R) of Arizona, must have been incredulous, and correctly so, when he wrote to Sinclair executives about their decision to pull Nightline from their ABC affiliate stations: "Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of the war's terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking details, is a gross disservice to the public . . . it is, in short, sir, unpatriotic." Millions of Americans echoed Senator McCain's sentiment with the exception of very few voices raised in defense of Sinclair. One of them, Brent Bozell, President of the Media Research Center, called the program, "partisan in nature,"adding that it sought " to turn public opinion against the war." Perhaps Mr. Bozell should reflect on the names and faces of our dead soldiers and ask the public that he is supposed to serve with journalistic integrity, why are we fighting in Iraq? Tell the public the whole truth, and let them decide about the fortunes or misfortunes of this war.

After the names were read, Ted Koppel, one of the most celebrated journalists of our time, closed by saying: "Our goal tonight was to elevate the fallen above the politics and the daily journalism." The reading of the names," he added, "was neither intended to provoke opposition to the war, nor was it meant as an endorsement." I believe him, because he will not compromise his journalistic integrity for political favor.

Every single soldier who died in this war has a face and a name, not just a serial number. The American public must first be aware of the real cost in lives and resources of liberating Iraq, and only then determine the degree of their support or opposition to the war. But to do so intelligently, the public must know the whole truth. To bring this information to the attention of the public is, to a large extent, the task of the media. But when the media shirks its responsibility, it forfeits its right to serve the public. Sinclair has forfeited that right.