“Contrary to the public interest”

It is extremely difficult for me to understand this, which comes via Atrios.

NewsBlues.com is reporting [no free link] that Sinclair Broadcast Group has ordered its ABC-affiliated stations not to carry tomorrow’s “Nightline,” which will air the names and photos of soldiers who have been killed in combat in Iraq.

Sinclair General Counsel Barry Faber tells the site: “We find it to be contrary to the public interest.”

The boycott will affect eight ABC-affiliated Sinclair stations.



The ABC Television network announced on Tuesday that the Friday, April 30th edition of “Nightline” will consist entirely of Ted Koppel reading aloud the names of U.S. servicemen and women killed in action in Iraq. Despite the denials by a spokeswoman for the show the action appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq.

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.

We understand that our decision in this matter may be questioned by some. 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.

I’ve printed the ABC News response to Sinclair beneath the More link.

About a mile from my house, just in front of the Height post office, is a World War II memorial. It sits on the esplanade of Heights Boulevard, the historic main drag through my neighborhood, and commemorates the young men from the Heights who served and died in that war. (I really need to take some pictures of it – it’s a very well-done memorial. Maybe tomorrow.) The Vietnam memorial in Washington is of course a huge wall with the names of all of the dead etched into it. Is there anyone who would suggest there was anything remotely improper about the public display of those names?

If hearing those names and seeing those faces makes you angry, well, it should. If it makes you question why we’re there and how we got there in the first place, again, it should. That doesn’t mean that your anger has to be directed in any one specific place, nor does it mean that you have to answer those questions in any one specific way. But there’s nothing noble about ducking the questions, or hiding from the names and faces. This is the price we’ve paid. I believe we’re all grown up enough to decide on our own whether or not it has been worth it, but apparently Sinclair doesn’t, and its viewers are the lesser for it. (Atrios has a list of those stations, and their contact info, by the way.)

As for the comment about reading the names being a political statement in and of itself, well, as Taegen Goddard points out, Sinclair has a definite political interest here as well.


We respectfully disagree with Sinclair’s decision to pre-empt “Nightline’s” tribute to America’s fallen soldiers which will air this Friday, April 30. The Nightline broadcast is an expression of respect which simply seeks to honor those who have laid down their lives for this country. ABC News is dedicated to thoughtful and balanced coverage and reports on the events shaping our world with neither fear nor favor — as our audience expects, deserves, and rightly demands. Contrary to the statement issued by Sinclair, which takes issue with our level of coverage of the effects of terrorism on our citizens, ABC News and all of our broadcasts, including “Nightline,” have reported hundreds of stories on 9-11. Indeed, on the first anniversary of 9-11, ABC News broadcast the names of the victims of that horrific attack.

In sum, we are particularly proud of the journalism and award winning coverage ABC News has produced since September 11, 2001. ABC News will continue to report on all facets of the war in Iraq and the War on Terrorism in a manner consistent with the standards which ABC News has set for decades.

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7 Responses to “Contrary to the public interest”

  1. Steve Bates says:

    Is an antiwar stance intrinsically, automatically, a political stance? Hardly, whatever the current administration would have us believe: opposition to the Iraq war spans the political spectrum.

    Censorship, on the other hand, is rarely nonpolitical. And it is clearly political in this case.

    I am old enough to have been present at readings of the names of America’s Vietnam war dead. The experience was moving indeed, as was my visit to the Wall many years later. I suspect the likelihood of a similar experience, multiplied many times, explains Sinclair Broadcast Group’s reluctance to air similar readings. People will hear the names, and they will understand the true cost of war.

    Refusing to allow acknowledgement of our servicemembers killed in a war, a war started by an administration to which Sinclair contributed campaign money, is a manifestly political act. It is also another tear in the fabric of a once independent news media, a media essential to anything America might meaningfully call democracy.

  2. Jaye says:

    Censorship involves government action, and Sinclair is private.

    Good journalism usually upsets the powers that be and that really is a good measure of doing the right thing.

    I wonder if other stations will follow. It certainly would reveal that the station owners don’t believe in working in the public interest.

  3. Even the Dead In Iraq Are Political Fodder

    This is exactly the same thing as last week’s hollow outrage over the flag drapped coffin photos. It is pure hypocrisy. If saying the names of people over the air helped W. in the polls, he would have Donald Evans or Tommy Thompson appear on th…

  4. Curious says:

    The question has to be asked:

    Why does Sinclair hate dead American soldiers so much?

  5. abelard says:

    does anyone really seriously question the assertion that the reading of the names of the dead by Ted Koppel is intended at least partially as a political attack on the Bush administration? I don’t doubt that Koppel and others behind this program concept are sincere in their strong disapproval of the war in Iraq and that they are sincere in seeing the death toll as the deplorable outcome of a misguided policy. that oh-so-sincere view in no way reduces the political freight and intent of the program.

    sinclair is entitled to its view that this kind of program is a very bad idea. many people would share that view. all hail the market, which thrives on a wild variety of points of view, and the freedom to say or do whatever foolish thing one wants to.

  6. Tim says:

    sinclair is entitled to its view that this kind of program is a very bad idea. many people would share that view. all hail the market, which thrives on a wild variety of points of view, and the freedom to say or do whatever foolish thing one wants to.

    Yes, they are entitled to their views. No question.

    My problem with it is this: Sinclair buys ABC affiliates. To me, that brings an implied duty to carry all national ABC network programming (with the exception of planned local events and breaking local news). If you don’t like what ABC is doing, then divest yourselves from it and sell the ABC stations to another group.

    Keep in mind that most viewers have *no* say in who runs their local ABC affiliate. Those in affected areas who want to see it don’t have a choice, and the vast majority can’t just tune to another ABC station to see it. The viewership is being held hostage by Sinclair. The airwaves were granted to this station in exchange for (presumably) some amount of responsibility to the viewing public, and I believe Sinclair is shirking that.

    Frankly, under *one* condition I can accept this kind of decision. Right now, the Satellite Home Viewing Act (SHVA), the one that covers DirecTV, Dish Network and the likes of them, can legally beam distant network feeds to viewers outside the areas where an over the air antenna can pick up a decent signal from the closest network affiliate.

    I would submit that if a local station opts to not show what the network wants to show nationwide, then the SHVA should be amended to allow ANY viewer in that affiliate’s local viewing area to receive the national feed, regardless of ability to receive the signal. That way, if I don’t like Sinclair’s unilateral decision as to which ABC programming I receive, I can get a feed from the New York or Los Angeles affiliate and see it. If they want the protection of their local markets, then they should be obligated (in the general case) to show what the network wants to broadcast.

  7. Mathwiz says:

    In response to Jaye’s comment:

    Censorship doesn’t *have* to involve government action. The involvement of the government merely means the First Amendment comes into play, so the allegation of censorship can be challenged in court.

    Private corporations such as Sinclair have every legal right to engage in censorship (at least if you accept that corporations should have First Amendment rights). But, to repeat an old saw, just because Sinclair has the right to censor Nightline doesn’t mean it’s right for them to do so. And it doesn’t mean it’s not censorship.

    Tim’s comment is well taken, but I think ABC has granted its affiliates general discretion to pre-empt network programming on occasion. Otherwise, I’d think ABC would have threatened to sue Sinclair over this.

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