SMPA director signs onto letter condemning broadcast group’s ‘fake news’ statement

The head of the School of Media and Public Affairs joined 12 journalism school leaders in condemning a broadcasting company that forced local anchors to read a statement alleging other news outlets contributed to the spread of “fake news,” Poynter reported Friday.

In the letter, deans and chairs – including SMPA Director Frank Sesno – said the forced statement from Sinclair Broadcast Group, which claimed some news outlets are motivated by political bias, made “the leap to disparage news media generally,” rather than condemning the spread of false information on social media.

“Ironically, Sinclair’s use of news personnel to deliver commentary – not identified as such – may further erode what has traditionally been one of the strongest allegiances in the news landscape, the trust that viewers put in their local television stations,” the letter states.

Local news anchors across the country, at Sinclair’s nearly 200 stations, read the same statement on air last month denouncing “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country.”

“Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think. This is extremely dangerous to our democracy,” the script read.

The sports blogging site Deadspin compiled a video of anchors at local stations from across the country reciting the uniform script at the end of last month. The video went viral, generating online outrage especially because the company is known to have connections to the Trump administration.

The letter, addressed to Sinclair Executive Chairman David Smith, was also signed by journalism schools at some of GW’s neighbors and peer institutions, like the University of Maryland, Syracuse University and the University of Southern California.

Sinclair initially said the video was just an attempt to warn viewers about the threats “fake news” poses to the general public, but critics – including the 13 journalism school deans and department chairs – said the move perpetuated the idea that mainstream media can’t be trusted.

In a statement to Poynter, Smith took a softer tone – saying the company recognizes “the promo prompted an emotional response, and we’ll learn from that in the future.”

“We value the connections our anchors have with their communities and trust that they will continue reporting local news for their viewers as only they know how to do,” he said.

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