30/04/04 ACTION ALERT: What Sinclair Doesn't Want You to See on Nightline

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
Media analysis, critiques and activism

April 30, 2004

This evening, ABC's Nightline broadcast will be devoted to reading a list of U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq. But some viewers won't be able to see the program: The Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns several ABC affiliates, has announced that it will not air Nightline on its stations tonight.

A statement on Sinclair's website explains: “While the Sinclair Broadcast Group honors the memory of the brave members of the military who have sacrificed their lives in the service of our country, we do not believe such political statements should be disguised as news content. As a result, we have decided to preempt the broadcast of Nightline this Friday on each of our stations which air ABC programming.”

Sinclair's rationale for the censorship of Nightline is explicitly political: “Before you judge our decision, however, we would ask that you first question Mr. Koppel as to why he chose to read the names of the 523 troops killed in combat in Iraq, rather than the names of the thousands of private citizens killed in terrorists attacks since and including the events of September 11, 2001. In his answer, you will find the real motivation behind his action scheduled for this Friday.” A response statement from ABC said that the network did broadcast a list of the victims of the September 11 attacks on the one-year anniversary.

This is not the first time that Sinclair's conservative political leanings — 98 percent of its 2004 political contributions have gone to Republicans (, 4/29/04)— have led the company into journalistic controversy. In February, a Sinclair news crew was sent to Iraq to cover the “good news” that was allegedly going unreported in the rest of the media (Baltimore Sun, 2/18/04). And shortly after the September 11 attacks, Sinclair executives required stations to air editorial statements in support of the Bush administration (Extra!, 11-12/01).

Sinclair controls about 60 TV stations, including eight ABC affiliates, some in substantial population centers:

WSYX— Columbus, Ohio
KDNL— St. Louis, Mo.
WXLV— Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point, N.C. WEAR— Mobile, AL & Pensacola, Fla.
WLOS— Asheville, N.C.
WCHS— Charleston & Huntington, W.V.
WGGB— Springfield, Mass.
WTXL— Tallahassee, Fla.

It's possible that some Nightline viewers, faced with how many American lives have been lost in Iraq, may become opposed to the war. It's also possible that others will see the show as an argument for fighting and winning in Iraq, so that these deaths will not have been in vain. Journalists, however, should not decide whether to report the reality of a war depending on what they assume the political reaction might be. The American people need full reporting on the situation in Iraq— including the toll in U.S. and Iraqi lives— so that they can make an informed judgment on whether the war's goals are worth the costs.

Sinclair may claim that it honors the memory of the dead members of the military. It evidently prefers, however, that they should be remembered without being mentioned— a dishonorable position for a media outlet in a democratic country.

ACTION: Contact the Sinclair Broadcast Group and share your thoughts about the company's decision to censor the April 30 Nightline broadcast for political reasons.

Sinclair Broadcast Group
Phone: 410-568-1500

Sinclair-owned TV station WLOS has announced that it will pass along email messages to Sinclair— send your comments to:


As always, please remember that your comments are taken more seriously if you maintain a polite tone. Please cc with your correspondence.

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