Sinclair Broadcast Group (which includes FOX, WB, ABC, CBS, NBC, and UPN affiliates and reaches approximately 24% of all U.S. television households) — looking down the barrel of advertiser defections, a viewer boycott, a stock price heading south pronto, and strong opposition from Democrats — retreated from its plan to air Stolen Honor, a film that attacks the 1970s-era antiwar activities of Sen. John F. Kerry, and will instead run a special produced by its news division incorporating parts of the movie.
Their press release:
- Sinclair Broadcast Group announced today that on Friday, October 22, 2004 at 8:00 p.m. (7:00 p.m. central time) certain television stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. will air a special one-hour news program, entitled A POW Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media. In order to minimize the interruption of normally scheduled programming in those markets where Sinclair owns and/or programs more than one television station, the news special will be broadcast on only one of those stations. A complete list of stations which will be airing the program and the times of such broadcasts is attached.
The news special will focus in part on the use of documentaries and other media to influence voting, which emerged during the 2004 political campaigns, as well as on the content of certain of these documentaries. The program will also examine the role of the media in filtering the information contained in these documentaries, allegations of media bias by media organizations that ignore or filter legitimate news and the attempts by candidates and other organizations to influence media coverage.
Contrary to numerous inaccurate political and press accounts, the Sinclair stations will not be airing the documentary Stolen Honor in its entirety. At no time did Sinclair ever publicly announce that it intended to do so. In fact, since the controversy began, Sinclair’s website has prominently displayed the following statement: “The program has not been videotaped and the exact format of this unscripted event has not been finalized. Characterizations regarding the content are premature and are based on ill-informed sources.”
While the news special will discuss the allegations surrounding Senator John Kerry’s anti-Vietnam War activities in the early 1970s raised by a number of former POWs in “Stolen Honor,” it will do so in the context of the broader discussion outlined above.
…Joe DeFeo, Sinclair’s Vice President of News commented that, “As with all news programming produced by Sinclair’s News Central, A POW Story is being produced with the highest journalistic standards and integrity. We have not ceded, and will not in the future cede, control of our news reporting to any outside organization or political group. We are endeavoring, as we do with all of our news coverage, to present both sides of the issues covered in an equal and impartial manner.”
….David Smith noted that, “The experience of preparing to air this news special has been trying for many of those involved. The company and many of its executives have endured personal attacks of the vilest nature, as well as calls on our advertisers and our viewers to boycott our stations and on our shareholders to sell their stock. In addition, and more shockingly, we have received threats of retribution from a member of Senator John Kerry’s campaign and have seen attempts by leading members of Congress to influence the Federal Communications Commission to stop Sinclair from broadcasting this news special. Moreover, these coordinated attacks have occurred without regard to the facts since they predated the broadcast of our news special.”
Mr. Smith further stated, “We cannot in a free America yield to the misguided attempts by a small but vocal minority to influence behavior and trample on the First Amendment rights of those with whom they might not agree. [click over for station list, including three each in swing states of Ohio and Florida]
That’s one way of looking at it.
JIm Rutenberg and Katie Zernike discuss Stolen Honor in the NY Times:
- The accusations include that [Kerry] single-handedly prolonged the Vietnam War, worsened the torture of prisoners of war and ultimately caused countless, needless deaths with his antiwar activism 30 years ago.
The film is rife with out-of-context and incomplete quotations from Mr. Kerry and other antiwar veterans. Several historians said many accusations in it were not provable or stretched far beyond reality.
Throughout, the film shows wrenching images of torture as ex-prisoners of war recount the deep sense of betrayal they felt after hearing about Mr. Kerry’s Senate testimony in 1971 in which he recounted atrocities by American troops.
Mr. Kerry’s backers acknowledge many veterans’ frustration over Mr. Kerry’s antiwar statements then. The supporters have not actively challenged assertions from former prisoners of war who are anti-Kerry that their Vietcong captors referred to his testimony during torture.
Historians not connected to the Kerry campaign dispute the central assertion of the film, that Mr. Kerry was responsible for prolonging the war and the prisoners’ torture. In the film, several veterans estimate that the war dragged out for an extra two years because of Mr. Kerry’s statements in 1971.
….The film opens with the film’s producer, Carlton A. Sherwood, a former investigative reporter and a Vietnam veteran, saying although he has undertaken many journalistic endeavors, the history of Mr. Kerry’s antiwar activism is “a lot more personal.” He recalls listening to Mr. Kerry’s testimony in 1971, saying, “I felt an inner hurt no surgeon’s scalpel could remove.”
Other veterans appear, saying Mr. Kerry wrongly accused them of war crimes. The film says Mr. Kerry never saw the atrocities he reported. It has a snippet of his testimony on soldiers’ cutting off ears and raping women. The snippet is edited to a sentence where Mr. Kerry says he did not witness those scenes, that he was reporting testimony from the Winter Soldier hearings that the Vietnam Veterans Against the War used in 1971 to show that war crimes like the My Lai massacre were not isolated.
….Several historians said yesterday that Mr. Kerry’s testimony could be legitimately criticized for greatly exaggerating the frequency of atrocities but that atrocities did occur.
“They didn’t happen with the frequency with which John Kerry talks about them in the truncated comments we’ve all heard,” said Gary D. Solis, a former marine who is a law professor at West Point.
But, Professor Solis said, “All the things that Senator Kerry described did happen, no question.”
It seems inconceivable that Sinclair, whose top executives are heavy Republican donors, is not featuring the film — in prime time ten days before the election — in order to alter the results of that election.
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