As a journalist and graduate from University of Georgia, I am proud that UGA’s journalism dean, along with 12 others, signed a letter in protest to Sinclair Broadcasting. Sinclair, owner of more than 200 TV news stations in America, is continuing to create controversy. Or, better said, Sinclair Executive Chairman David. D. Smith, needs to attend a journalism ethics class and should consider resigning. Who thought it would get worse after Mr. Smith denounced ALL print news outlets as ‘meaningless’ last month?
On April 3, New York Magazine published statements by Smith saying, the print media “serves no real purpose.” The story included this quote:
“The print media is so left wing as to be meaningless dribble which accounts for why the industry is and will fade away. Just no credibility.”
(My guess? He’d rather we all read tweets from President Trump and ignore scientific evidence showing global warming, or photos of white hats pulling chemically burned bodies out of rubble in Syria, or FBI proof that our last election was tampered with.)
Sigh. I usually stay away from controversial, non-positive topics on this blog. But guess what? Our freedom of speech and the public’s right to be informed are at risk. Forcing TV news anchors to read a letter that says other news outlets are publishing “fake news” is out of control. News anchors have reached out to friends (including one of mine) upset and saying she had no choice, but to read the letter given to her on the air or she’d be fired.
“Fake News” threats are just a bully’s means to hoist control and not be held accountable for truth. That’s all. It is similar to President Trump’s ‘fake news’ claims, which are clearly his means to cause confusion and fear in Americans—trying to plant a seed of doubt so we won’t believe what we read or see on television news. Shame on Mr. Smith for forcing his broadcasters to read a letter verbatim on air accusing other journalists, without any proof, of not doing an accurate job. I’m proud so many journalism deans and department heads took a stand.
To read more about what Sinclair did, and how the company also recently withdrew a $25,000 contribution to the National Press Photographers Association’s legal fund, go to Poytner Institute’s thorough article: 13 J-school deans and chairs issue letter of concern to Sinclair.
I’ll close with this thought to Mr. Smith:
Your beliefs, your politics and your business agenda, have NO place in the newsroom. Journalists are trained to report news as thoroughly as possible by garnering multiple sides to every story, outlining multiple viewpoints and finding original sources. The journalism industry won’t die, because our society is now flooded with bloggers who don’t use multiple sources when reporting, and a President who likes to tweet personal reactions not based on facts. Our society needs journalists now, more than ever. If this makes you uncomfortable, then perhaps the news business is not for you. Your letter, that was forced to be read verbatim by professional journalists—without letting them tell viewers that they did not write it, or that it was commentary, not facts—vomited on American journalist standards and ethics. In the coming weeks, I hope more academics and journalists take a stand.