Sinclair Broadcasting Group, the nation’s largest owner of TV stations, is facing the dual threats of an employee walkout and advertiser boycott over a recent video showing dozens of its news anchors robotically reading a company-mandated script bashing the media and echoing Trump talking points.
Outrage over the video has intensified as the company is trying to acquire 42 top market TV stations across the country.
The hashtag #SinclairStrike, calling for a one-day walkout on May 15, has garnered almost 2 million impressions with a reach of 1.2 million in less than 24 hours, according to social media tracker Tweetreach.
Another hashtag, #BoycottSinclair, is also gaining traction, with more than 4 million impressions and a reach of 2.5 million, according to Tweetreach.
It’s too early to tell whether either hashtag represents a movement that could could dent Sinclair’s bottom line. But one politician has already joined the boycott.
On Monday, Congressional candidate Amy McGrath, a Democrat from Kentucky, announced she was pulling her ads from the Lexington FOX affiliate WDKY, a Sinclair-owned station.
“Sinclair’s corporate-mandated ‘must-read’ right-wing script on its nearly 200 television stations about ‘fake news’ is itself an extreme danger to our Democracy and eerily mimics the propaganda efforts that authoritarian regimes often use to control the media in their own country,” McGrath said in a statement.
JournalismJobs.com, a media jobs listing site, told TheWrap it’s considering severing ties with Sinclair following the uproar.
Sinclair also faces troubles from within.
On Wednesday, CNN reported that a producer of a morning show at a Sinclair-owned station in Nebraska resigned in protest of the network’s “obvious bias.”
And on Tuesday, Sinclair’s station in Madison, Wisconsin, defied its parent company, refusing to air a “must-run” segment.
“WMSN/FOX47 Madison did not air the Sinclair promotional announcement during our 9pm news this weekend,” a rep for Fox 47 Madison told Think Progress. “Rather, we stayed true to our commitment to provide our Madison area viewers local news, weather and sports of interest to them.”
The Sinclair backlash began Saturday when Deadspin posted a video depicting dozens of Sinclair TV news anchors reciting the same scripted message warning against “fake stories.”
The company, which owns nearly 200 local stations across the country, had ordered its anchors to read the promotional script warning viewers about “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing the country.”
The 98-second video, which used familiar Trump talking points like “fake news,” has already been viewed by millions of people and even inspired a presidential tweet Monday supporting the corporation.
The Fake News Networks, those that knowingly have a sick and biased AGENDA, are worried about the competition and quality of Sinclair Broadcast. The “Fakers” at CNN, NBC, ABC & CBS have done so much dishonest reporting that they should only be allowed to get awards for fiction!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 3, 2018
Sinclair told TheWrap in a statement that the company was surprised by the public’s response.
“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,” said Scott Livingston, Sinclair’s senior vice president of news. “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.”
JournalismJobs.com founder Dan Rohn said the site will keep “a close eye” on Sinclair over the next few days before making its decision.
“We don’t want to promote job listings that we don’t consider journalism jobs,” founder Dan Rohn said. “They’ve crossed the line politically.”
“We’ve been around for 20 years and we’ve always stayed in the middle,” added Rohn, a former copy editor and business writer for the Washington Post.
If JournalismJobs.com decides to ditch Sinclair, that could make it harder for the company to fill job openings. Some Sinclair reporters already say they’re worried about their association with the company.
“I think what Sinclair is doing is abhorrent,” a former Sinclair reporter, who asked not to be named, told TheWrap. “I will never work for a Sinclair station again.”
The reporter, who worked at a mid-size Sinclair station for several years, said she was offered two different jobs in Sinclair stations recently, but turned them down: “I have too much respect for myself and our profession.”
Another former reporter, who also asked not to be named, said she, too, has crossed Sinclair off her list of prospective employers.
“They play dirty,” she told TheWrap, adding that Sinclair is a “very conservatively run broadcasting group and a danger to journalism that can’t be overstated.”
A spokesman for SAG-AFTRA , the union representing thousands of journalists, told TheWrap in a statement Wednesday that it “has been in contact with Sinclair to express our concerns with this campaign, and we stand with our members and journalists everywhere in challenging corporate directives that call into question the journalistic integrity of the news presented to the public. SAG-AFTRA opposes such directives in the interest of defending the professionalism of journalists and preserving the basic rights of a free and independent press.”
All this comes as the embattled company is looking to acquire Tribune Media’s 42 local TV stations in a $3.9 billion deal, which was announced in May 2017 but still needs approval from the Department of Justice and Federal Communications Commission.
While analysts say the deal is still on track, a growing backlash could have an effect.
“It’s not going to get blocked on regulatory grounds,” said Lloyd Greif, founder and CEO of Greif & Co., an investment banking firm that specializes in mergers and acquisitions involving media and entertainment companies. “What could derail the transaction is an increased likelihood that the revenues of each company will be detrimentally impacted by a consumer boycott, which could be everything from turning off your TV set to not advertising.”
“That certainly could have an impact if either party thinks this snowball is beginning to look like an avalanche,” he added.
Whether or not the situation escalates remains to be seen.
“There’s no question that this could conflagrate,” crisis manager Richard Levick told TheWrap. “But it’s clear that from their perception, Sinclair is playing with smoke, not fire.”
Levick said the presidential tweet could be seen as a “green light” for the upcoming merger.
“You will know Sinclair is in crisis when they start to pull back,” he said.