Last May, we criticized the proposed sale of Tribune Media Co. to Sinclair Broadcasting, a deal that would give Sinclair control of at least 215 local TV stations around the country, including two network affiliates in St. Louis. We argued that “the marketplace of ideas needs more voices, not fewer.”

The deal still awaits federal approval. Over the weekend, the nation saw why it should be denied. A video produced by the online news site Deadspin.com showed 30 sets of TV anchors from Sinclair stations around the country reading the same script purporting to condemn “fake news” and attacking the integrity of others in the news media.

“This is extremely dangerous to our democracy,” the anchors all said, inadvertently showing how dangerous to democracy a media conglomerate that covers 72 percent of American households would be.

If the intent was to curry favor with President Donald Trump and federal regulators by parroting Trump’s “fake news” rants, it worked. On Monday, Trump tweeted, “So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased. Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.”

In reality, the eerily Orwellian video, which quickly went viral, makes the case against the Sinclair-Tribune deal. A mandate went out from Sinclair Vice President Scott Livingston. And the anchors, their jobs and their journalistic credibility at stake, went along with varying degrees of sincerity. Some looked like hostages reading a script for their captors.

“The stories we are referencing in this promo are the unsubstantiated ones (i.e. fake/false) like ‘Pope Endorses Trump’ which move quickly across social media and result in an ill-informed public,” Livingston told The Baltimore Sun. Sinclair’s headquarters is in Baltimore.

If Sinclair CEO David Smith and his family didn’t have a record of being ardent Trump supporters, you could almost swallow this. But Smith has dined at the White House and asked his news directors to contribute to Sinclair’s conservative political action committee. In 2016, White House adviser Jared Kushner, the president’s son in law, boasted that the Trump campaign had made a deal with Sinclair, trading access to the candidate for positive coverage.

By buying Tribune’s 42 stations, Sinclair would extend its reach into New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, the nation’s largest media markets. In St. Louis, it already owns KDNL (Channel 30); the Tribune deal would add KPLR (Channel 11) and KTVI (Channel 2). Sinclair says it would sell KPLR.

Legitimate news outlets make mistakes. When they do, they correct them and people can get fired. Trump told a verified average of 5.6 public lies per day in his first year in office. Yet Sinclair avoids questioning his veracity. Talk about dangerous for democracy.

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©2018 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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