Sinclair’s Synchronized Fake News Broadcast Goes Viral

The broadcasting giant’s efforts to coordinate the messages coming from local stations has landed it in the national spotlight, but Sinclair’s efforts to affect local education policy in Baltimore may be more nefarious and ultimately more dangerous to democracy

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Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR: A chilling video has been grabbing attention and raising concern nationwide.

NEWS ANCHOR: This responsibility is to serve our Northeast Wisconsin communities.

NEWS ANCHOR: And we’re extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that ABC6 News produces.

JAISAL NOOR: Anchors and stations controlled by the right-wing Sinclair Broadcasting reciting must-reads on air, inundating local news viewers across the nation’s largest TV distributor with Trump’s war on fake news. Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday to fire back. “So funny to watch fake news networks among the most dishonest group of people I’ve ever dealt with criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased.”.

At least one affiliate has been widely praised for openly defying Sinclair. We reached out to Scott Livingston, Sinclair senior vice president of news, but did not receive a response in time for this story. Sinclair reportedly reached a deal with Jared Kushner during the 2016 election for favorable coverage of the Trump campaign.

Injecting partisan politics into news coverage is nothing new for the Baltimore-based Sinclair Broadcasting, whose owners the Smith brothers have long forced local stations to air their right-wing views.

PBS: The names and the faces of the fallen tell their own story. In 2004 when ABC News Nightline devoted an entire show to reading the names of U.S. service members who had died in Iraq Kindl waters Bay Sarel shoulders Sinclair, which owned seven ABC affiliates at the time, barred those stations from showing the broadcast.

JAISAL NOOR: But what’s gotten far less attention is how Sinclair’s Baltimore County-based headquarters are promoting a far-right agenda into its local Baltimore affiliate’s education reporting.

FOX45: How to fix Baltimore City’s struggling school system has been a divisive issue in our state for years.

To Project Baltimore’s recent investigations into allegations of grade trading.

JAISAL NOOR: Sinclair Broadcasting’s Project Baltimore features guests who dismiss empirical evidence to promote extreme ideas like these.

CHRIS SUMMERS: Regardless of how much money we throw at the system it’s not moving the needle with regards to test scores.

JAISAL NOOR: What Sinclair doesn’t tell you is that these speakers are almost exclusively funded by right-wing billionaires like the Koch Brothers and the Walton family who want to dismantle public education so they can make a profit, like what happened with Betsy DeVos in Michigan.

LESLIE STAHL: The argument that if you take funds away that the schools will get better is not working in Michigan. You had a huge impact and influence over the direction of the school system here.

JAISAL NOOR: Or what pop rapper Pitbull wants to bring to Baltimore.

PITBULL: Baltimore is one of the cities that needs Slam the most. It’s obviously you see that they’re going through a lot and have been through a lot.

JAISAL NOOR: Sinclair’s glowing profile of Pitbull failed to mention the Miami Herald exposed how the group that runs Pitbull’s charters Academica makes millions of dollars of profit every year by charging taxpayers to rent their tax-exempt real estate. Sinclair’s education reporting in Baltimore is just a test run of what they aim to achieve with its increasing reach nationwide. The FCC changed ownership rules last year, paving the way for Sinclair to buy Tribune Media for 3.9 billion dollars. When that deal goes through Sinclair will have access to 72 percent of households nationwide.

So when you hear this, eventually it has to be like this.

NEWS ANCHOR: Baltimore City Schools spend about sixteen thousand dollars per student every year, the fourth highest in the nation.

JAISAL NOOR: Which are repeated by Governor Hogan.

LARRY HOGAN: Baltimore City Schools funding is the fourth highest per pupil funding of all of the 13500 systems in America.

JAISAL NOOR: Than Hogan’s comments are picked up by Project Baltimore, aired on Sinclair affiliate Fox45.

FOX45: The governor went on to say the problem is not with funding. He says there’s enough funding. He says there’s not enough accountability.

JAISAL NOOR: And sometimes even cited by the public.

DONALD RHEUBOTTOM: We get more money per student than almost anybody in the country.

JAISAL NOOR: The website Politifact fact checked an almost identical claim made on Fox News in 2015. They found it only half true and missing important context. Baltimore is the 2600th highest funded school district in the country. It’s only fourth-highest among the biggest 100 school systems. But the narrative put forth by Hogan in Project Baltimore dismissed the state’s own studies that have found Baltimore schools need hundreds of millions of dollars a year in additional funding to reach adequacy.

For the Real News, this is Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.