If you're of a particular political persuasion, there are presumably reasons to cheer last week's news that Sinclair BroadcastGroup
From a journalist's perspective, however, there are some reasons to take pause at the news -- if not be downright fearful.
A defiant Sinclair insisted on Wednesday that it has "not ceded ... control of [its] news reporting to any outside organization or political group." It's difficult, however, to believe a Sinclair bigwig didn't decide that the highly publicized pressure from viewers, investors, and advertisers made "Stolen Honor" too expensive to air. That Sinclair's market value fell during the controversy is at the least some circumstantial evidence against the company.
If it's possible, I'd like to avoid the specific politics of this situation and the actual content and journalistic rigor of "Stolen Honor," which I (and, likely, most of us) haven't seen. (Contacting me about those issues, as my colleague Bill Mann said last week on the matter, would be a poor use of your time.) Let's assume the piece was journalistically airtight. Given what's happened with Sinclair, is it so difficult to believe this could happen again anytime, to any news organization, over any kind of story on any topic, if the right levers are pulled?
A Tuesday Reuters headline said: "Sinclair Says Won't Show Entire Anti-Kerry Film." But I shudder when contemplating the news agency's next missive. Will another broadcaster be browbeaten into canning an in-the-works expose that stands to damage a large corporation's market value? Or will a magazine cancel plans to run a politically damaging government whistleblower piece after some well-heeled threats? And so on, and so forth.
"That's not what this is about," you might say, and I'd hope you were right. But I nevertheless fear that powerful interests were alerted to their ability to control the flow of news programming -- and are now licking their chops. Cynics probably believe they have been long aware of that power: Either way, I find the prospect chilling and hope a short-term political victory won't turn out to be a long-term disaster.
For related Fool analysis, see:
Fool contributor Dave Marino-Nachison doesn't own shares of Sinclair.