Local Broadcasters Forget Journalism Ethics, Air Amazon PR Fluff Instead

Wed, Mar 23rd 2022 01:43pm - Karl Bode

Generally, when you talk about disinformation or propaganda, “big tech” companies like Facebook, or media giants like Fox News get the lion’s share of the attention. But as we’ve long noted, local news outlets in the U.S. were hollowed out years ago and replaced with something that looks like news, but is generally just gibberish and propaganda.

At the heart of this movement sits Sinclair Broadcasting, as the old version of Deadspin made clear in this video from a few years back:

Last Friday, a Sinclair reporter at Sinclair’s KOMO station in Seattle decided to cover a gathering of the Proud Boys in Washington State’s capital of Olympia. In a since deleted tweet, the reporter portrays the gathering of the violent white supremacist group as something akin to a local job fair or a cub scouts rally:

The widely-ridiculed and now deleted tweet and video even featured a song widely regarded as a rallying cry for neo-nazis. You know, just your ordinary afternoon coffee and donut mingle with some white supremacists bent on the wholesale murder and destruction of minorities.

Local Broadcasters Forget Journalism Ethics, Air Amazon PR Fluff Instead

While the tweet has since been deleted, this isn’t too far outside the norm for this sort of pseudo local news, which generally involves amplifying right-wing disinformation at every possible opportunity. In Seattle, one of the more progressive U.S. cities, the company’s take over of local broadcaster KOMO is still a point of contention years later, well documented in this article from a few years back.

As with most propaganda, there’s just enough actual news peppered in between “must run” segments and far right editorials to keep up the veneer of respectability. But the goal is always the same: to distort reality through a specific filter (see the tendency to pour lemon juice in the wound of the Seattle homeless problem) for political benefit.

While the savvy Twitter pundit take is often that this kind of propaganda doesn’t matter or is somehow overstated, when you actually talk to academics who study it for a living, they’ll be quick to tell you the replacement of genuine local news with this kind of disingenuous dreck not only matters, it can increase partisan extremism, make people measurably less informed, and even shift elections.

Again, as the newspaper industry was disrupted, many things changed for the better. The death of meaningful, quality local reporting wasn’t among them. Not only was quality local news killed off in the United States due to low profitability, into the vacuum has surged all manner of dangerous garbage, including pseudo-news propaganda mills (aka “pink slime“).

The broader discourse has no answers for any of this. First Amendment experts (correctly) argue there’s little regulators can do under the Constitution and the law (though they won’t offer much in the way of solutions). Outside of the occasional boycott and whining on Twitter, the United States generally has few creative answers for its propaganda problem, and doesn’t seem in any rush to find any.

Meanwhile, “big tech” and Facebook continue to get the lion’s share of attention for the country’s disinformation problem, despite only being one subset of a much larger picture.

Filed Under: competition, journalism, local news, proud boysCompanies: sinclair broadcasting