Free Press

Newspapers Care Much More About Bashing Sinclair Than Criticizing an Unconstitutional Attack on Free Speech

5 editorials call for the federal government to thwart Sinclair's expansion efforts in wake of creepy promo video; meanwhile you can count the number of anti-FOSTA eds on one finger


Eyes kept firmly on prize. ||| YouTube

If Jesus was right about how ye shall know them by their fruits, then we might have a good test case for gleaning what the journalism establishment (such as a thing exists) considers an important threat to a free press.

In one corner we have a must-run cookie-cutter anti-"fake news" promotional video ordered up by the conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group to its most-in-the-nation 193 local-TV-news outlets, at a time when the company's controversial merger with Tribune Co. is being held up by anti-trust regulators at the Justice Department. In the other we have a Sex Trafficking Act passed overwhelmingly by Congress (388-25 in the House, 97-2 in the Senate) despite being vociferously opposed on free speech grounds by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and reliable civil libertarians such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), the latter of whom warned that "Civic organizations protecting their right to free speech could be [ruined] by their more powerful political opponents" and that subsequently there could be "an enormous chilling effect on speech in America."

So: The act of an individual company possibly flattering its regulator while mandating politically tinged content, versus the act of the federal government knowingly limiting speech in such a way the Justice Department has warned might be unconstitutional, and that has already prompted some prominent websites to self-censor. The choice seems clear to me.

As a stand-in for what the journalism class prioritizes, I'll use newspaper editorials. Searching both Nexis and Google News on "editorial" and "sex trafficking act" and "Sinclair," here is what I found over the past couple of months:

* Sex Trafficking Act: 3 4* newspaper editorials, 2 of them in favor.

* Sinclair Broadcast: 15 newspaper editorials, 14 of them critical of Sinclair, 5 supporting federal government intervention, and exactly 1 criticizing Sinclair while telling the feds to back off.

Let's reward the good behavior first. Here is an Orange County Register editorial concluding that the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) is "well-meaning" but "wrong." Sample:

FOSTA's penalties not only use the precautionary principle to justify a sweeping suppression of consensual communication, they also force private online companies like Craigslist to unwillingly shoehorn the precautionary principle into their business model.

On top of these flaws, FOSTA commits one more sin. Now that websites face a one-strike-you're-out law on precautionary grounds, the door is open to more laws doing the same. In a free society, that's impermissible. FOSTA is a big mistake.

That's it! There's your one American newspaper* editorial criticizing a probably unconstitutional clampdown on free speech. By contrast, this Kansas City Star mastheader does not even mention that a free-speech objection exists, instead exulting in the "bipartisan win" and how "this fight was worth it":

Ever since the wildly lucrative world of sex trafficking moved from the streets to the internet, market leaders in commercial sex advertising like Backpage have hidden behind an antiquated section of the Communications Decency Act. The act provided Backpage with what [Sen. Claire] McCaskill called "complete and total immunity from being held accountable for their bad behavior."

As for the Sinclair dogpile, I previously pointed out the Boston Globe's remarkably shortsighted conclusion that political slant itself is one good reason for the federal government to block the company's expansion. But don't sleep on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "In reality, the eerily Orwellian video, which quickly went viral, makes the case against the Sinclair-Tribune deal," the paper wrote. "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." Talk about non-hyperlinked assertions!

Sinclair is already "too big" (The Riverdale Press), its proposed merger is "chilling to contemplate" (Chicago Daily Herald) and downright "dangerous" (Modesto Bee), "not just because it's anti-competitive but because it represents a danger to ethical broadcast journalism."

Demonstrating an apparently rare ability to separate journalistic revulsion from a will to government power was the Richmond Times Dispatch, in an editorial headlined "The Sinclair story just got worse, thanks to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin." Excerpt:

Sinclair's mistake was to turn a platitude into creepy Orwellian propaganda.

But some things are worse than creepy Orwellian propaganda. Actual Orwellian behavior by government officials, for instance.

The other day Sen. Dick Durbin sent a letter to Sinclair. "I'm calling on Sinclair to explain itself," Durbin tweeted. Durbin is upset that Sinclair told Durbin's staff it doesn't dictate local content. In other words, Sinclair lied. (Members of Congress would never do such a thing themselves, right?) Durbin instructs Sinclair to "clarify" its policies concerning both content and personnel.

Stop right there….

We're no fans of Sinclair's message or its methods. But principles of press freedom matter more than petty spats. So we hope Sinclair will tell Durbin to go jump in a lake. We'd be glad to give him directions.

That wasn't so hard, was it?

As ever, I don't expect my former colleagues at newspaper editorial boards to share my idiosyncratic policy ideas. But to the extent that they hold themselves up to be passionate and alert defenders of free speech—and they really, really do—it would be considerably more convincing if they could muster interest in, let alone objection to, a piece of legislation that such reliable First Amendment warriors as the Electronic Frontier Foundation characterize as "an unprecedented push towards Internet censorship," rather than erupt in predictable spasms against a conservative media company acting political.

* Update: I'm both happy and not surprised to learn that my former colleagues at the L.A. Times gave an editorial warning about the sex trafficking bills last month.

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66 responses to “Newspapers Care Much More About Bashing Sinclair Than Criticizing an Unconstitutional Attack on Free Speech

  1. Huh. John Oliver seems to be turning into Bob Saget.

    1. Every time I see that little worm I want to curb check his skull while he whines and begs for his life. Just a smug, talentless pile of off with a meager little sack of intellect.

      1. I thought he was alright before he started doing political comedy all the time. I liked him in Community.

        But I hate how every TV comedy show has to be political, and invariably left-wing, now. It's just lazy and lame.

        1. He's a poor man's, heavily-scripted Jon Stewart.

          1. He isn't really funny, and his attempts at humor are just weak TDS pandering. The only reason he has a platform is because of his accent. British accents create an illusion of intelligence where at times there is none.

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            2. John Oliver was successful when Donald Trump was just another flabby, cheating, aging trust funder with dopey kids, lousy hair, and a string of bankruptcies.

              I would not expect disaffected, fringe-dwelling, bigoted right-wingers to appreciate Mr. Oliver's successful comedy.

              1. No comedy is to be had. You're not capable of understanding that.

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        2. To a leftist, politics is everything. Therefore the comedy has to be political too. Only Colbert had any talent at all in the whole Daily Show extended universe, but that talent was still wasted on a one trick pony schtick.

          Here's a typical Oliver/Stewart joke:

          "Republican did something bad"

          [howls of canned laughter]

          1. Offensive humor that is not political enough should be banned altogether from the airwaves, the press, and above all from the Internet. Surely no one here would dare to defend the "First Amendment dissent" of a single, isolated judge in America's leading criminal "satire" case? See the documentation at:


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        3. Well the late nite comedy can't get any laughs on their non-political routines so they have to turn to politics to get a laugh. The vast majority of late nite watchers are the very liberal and progressive and they approve of these comedians(?) so called.

      2. This is not the first time you have expressed violent tendencies on here, Elias. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

        1. I already checked, and I'm right. These progtards deserve to suffer. If you want to buddy up to them and sel their approval, that's your business, but what they need are regular beatings to show them their pace. Just like every dirty piece of hippie trash.

          1. To be fair, a beating does have a humbling effect. They may be in order.

          2. The liberal-libertarian alliance has been calling the shots in America throughout your lifetime, goober, and seems destined to continue to do so, against the efforts and wishes of you and your authoritarian, bigoted, right-wing pals.

            The "progtards," as you call them, are your betters -- more effective, better character -- and you seem to dislike that.

            Enjoy the remainder of your bitter clinger life, and know that you will be replaced in America's electorate by a younger, more tolerant, more progressive, better person when you take that stale thinking to the grave.

      3. Haha *keeps reading* What the.... *backs away slowly*

    2. Why do we keep importing smug sneering Brits to our media? Didn't we fight a war to get away from those people?

      1. Yes, but Britain has a *queen*. Obviously they've got the "Right People" in charge.

        Seriously, Progs hate independence, how is it a shock that they like condescending Britons?

    3. Funny that John Oliver wants to stay in America rather than go back to his beloved Britain for some reason.

      Maybe its the better pay and less burdensome government taxation.

  2. Are there any real journalists left? What we have are entertainers (at best) and mouthpieces (at worst). Maybe Orange County Register is our last bastion. Where have you gone, Eddie Murrow? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

    1. Sheryl Atkisson is a real investigative journalist. With enough integrity that she was cashed from CBS for not backing off on stories about prominent progtards.

      1. Oh, she thought Obama was hacking her computer. Who would even think such a ludicrous thing could even happen?

        1. Of course not. Obama would never have his people do anything untoward.

    2. Many years ago Paul Harvey reported on a student at a school of journalism who complained that the school expected him to be able to write. I think that was the beginning of the end.

    3. 🙂

  3. I would argue in fact what they fear is another counter to their dominance in pushing their ideological narrative. Look how they attempt to dismiss Fox News as "propaganda" and claim CNN and MSNBC are objective journalism. The last thing progressive want is more stations presenting both sides of an issue because they know when that happens, they lose, every time.

    1. On the other hand, at least two studies now have found that people who get their news from Fox know less about current affairs than people who watch no news at all. There's even a phenomenon called the "Fox News Effect," in which watching Fix News makes people dumber.

      I don't know of anyone who claims that CNN and MSNBC are "objective journalism" -- journalism has never been free of biases -- but progressives have a lot of evidence that CNN and MSNBC are more accurate in their reporting than Fox.

  4. No journalist is going to lose a job over FOSTA.

  5. I think it's probably time to stop pretending like newspapers will ever defend free speech rights. They are, for the most part, a monolithic industry that loves government censorship if it preserves their profit margins.

  6. This Sinclair thing is nothing new. I have noticed for years that news stations follow a script from some place above. Except now it's an actual story because the owners are conservative.

    1. No need to follow a script when the entire journalism industry is 98% Democrat. Just issue the talking points in the morning and the evening news will dutifully regurgitate it.

    2. Nearly the entire media industry is run by leftists.

      1. As are our nation's best universities (which are superior in every way to the fourth-tier, censorship-shackled goober factories that conservatives arrange whenever they have control of a campus).

        And our best artists -- those who produce the nation's leading books, movies, television shows, concerts, and just about everything other than 'rasslin matches, country music concerts, rattlesnake-juggling contests, and televangelism presentations.

        And the leaders of our modern, successful communities (while conservatives are our Kings of the Goobers, lording over the can't-keep-up backwaters and half-educated hamlets in America).

        It sounds like the left operates the best of America, while the right controls the dregs.

        Why could explain this?

        Other than reason, tolerance, progress, education, modernity, and science vs. ignorance, backwardness, intolerance, and superstition, I mean.

        1. You progs will ultimately swept aside like the trash you are.

  7. Can we get some FBI agents up Dick Durbin's ass real quick and find the whowhatwhenwhereandwhy he is trying to collapse American Democracy and Extreme Exceptionalism? Has he ever talked to a Russian? Don't make me call for a special prosecutor, because I will.

  8. Talk about non-hyperlinked assertions!

    If there is one stance that the Reason editorial stands by, it is hyperlink, hyperlink, hyperlink.

    1. Knew Welch wrote it as soon as I saw that. Man likes his links.

  9. Newspaper editorials? Who reads those any more? As in, reads for enlightenment, not to mock.

  10. * Update: I'm both happy and not surprised to learn that my former colleagues at the L.A. Times gave an editorial warning about the sex trafficking bills last month.

    Fat lot of good it did us. Print is dead. Regardless, it looks like someone owes newspapers an apology.

    1. * Update: I'm both happy and not surprised to learn that my former colleagues at the L.A. Times gave an editorial warning about the sex trafficking bills last month.

      That they didn't go far enough?

  11. John Oliver's tv show isn't really a newspaper editorial.

  12. When government stops using force to grant Sinclair exclusive rights to a medium, then we can pretend it's a free speech issue. Funny how the New York Times doesn't ask government to make it illegal for competing news agencies to use the medium of paper.

    Bottom line: spectrum scarcity doesn't have to be a thing anymore. It's only a thing because government wants it to be one. So, as long as they are going to pretend that there's a good reason for strict restrictions on broadcasters (and consequently, oncontent), it's not unreasonable for us to be critical when certain content makes its way through.

    1. To wit... From an IEEE technical paper from 2004:

      "To understand the impact new radio technologies are having on spectrum availability, it is helpful first to address a common misconception: that spectrum is a concrete and finite resource. Not so. Radio waves do not pass through some ethereal medium called "spectrum"; they are the medium. What's licensed by governments is not a piece of a finite pie but simply the right to deploy transmitters and receivers that operate in particular ways."

      "Many regulations intended to promote harmony of the airwaves have instead, by putting artificial limits on technology, created massive inefficiency in spectrum utilization."

      1. You and that author should stick to biology. Spectrum is most definitely a limited resource; it's called the Shannon Limit. And if you want to try to get cute and claim that infinitely high frequencies, and therefore bandwidth, are possible, then you are ignoring huge physical limitations like propagationn differences at different frequencies, e.g. AM bands bounce off the ionosphere while FM propagate right through, interference from all sort of industrial sources, effective transmitters, receivers, and antennae, and so on.

        1. The IEEE author wasn't a biologist. He's an engineer who specializes in this area, and so were the peer reviewers who accepted this paper. You don't understand the point he was making, so I'd suggest you read it yourself.

  13. Newspapers and mainling broadcast media certainly are more interesting in bashing Sinclaire than reporting on violation of the 1st amendment as we have seen starting form the time Trump won the republican nomination for the office of president of the US. We have seen how many times Trump's supporters while supporting Trump at a political rally how the left (including ANTIFA) interrupted the rally and in all cases the newspapers and mainline broadcast media alway supported the left and condemned the Trump supporters. We also saw how at so many universities would host a leftists speaker and not allow a conservative speaker speak. The universitives would either not approve of or demand a very high fee to provide security for the speech even when it was not the conservatives was not the cause of the trouble. This was the policy of the universitives. They had approved speech language which was the leftists/liberal/progressive/ANTIFA language. Then even many of the professors supported not allowing the 1st amendment on campus. On the campuses that would allow a conservative to speak the place was when no body would be while the leftists/liberal/progressive/ANTIFA could use any public place where the students were or would gather.
    So yes for much of the news media is very much for limiting the freedom of speech until that limiting limits them.

  14. -> "But the market offers us a more immediate method of punishing Gawker for its hypocritical, bullying immaturity?one that people as different as Christina Hoff Sommers and Lena Dunham can get behind: stop reading the site." Now, that was good advice.

    1. Wronge article.

      1. That's ok; Dr. John feels your pain.

  15. Control of the media used to promote an agenda. I state the obvious. Is such really the "Bastion" of open and free speech, as we were told as children, our free press represents/ed. A Republican Democracy cannot survive a capital takeover of the machinery of expression, if allowed to purchase the machinery. I state the obvious. Great article, great read.

  16. Mr. McCaskill believes people having sex for money is "bad behavior".??? Some women charge by the hour, some women want your house when you're done. Mr. McCaskill wants people to be held accountable for having sex? Bad behavior? I am not aware of Mr. McCaskill; I'm sure he's a reasonable representative. And there are flowers in the world, and great beauty and joy. Most of them have to be purchased one way or another. Go after trafficking; enslaving women for sex is a mean crime. But, and there are many who do such willingly. Provide sex for money, that is. Please be careful in your righteous anger, Mr. McCaskill.

  17. John Oliver is a douche bag limey ass hat.

  18. Most people don't understand that freedom of the press when the Constitution was drafted meant that if you owned a press, you were free to print whatever you wanted. It didn't mean that you you were required to print everything your employees or people on the street wanted you to print.

    It also meant that if you didn't like what someone else was printing, you didn't have to buy it, and you could open up your own newspaper and print what you wanted to write. People who are so desperately unhappy with Sinclair should be pooling their money and buying stations away from me, if you offer them enough money, they'll sell.

    The same rule applies here. Sinclair owns the broadcasting stations. The studios, the towers, the desks, the computers, the internet streaming connections, etc. They get to broadcast what they want, within limits of decency and libel laws. The individual news readers at each station don't own the station, the broadcast towers, the internet connection, etc. They get to read what news the owners want them to read, or go home. The owners are constrained mostly by economics...if they broadcast a bunch of bull poop all day, supposedly large numbers of people will stop listening and the stations will go broke.

    1. Television station ownership was constrained mostly by federal regulation, not by economics (success).

      For years, Sinclair built its ownership with hidden ownership, sham transactions, and false or misleading regulatory filings. It did not develop a large audience through strong broadcasting performance or fair competition.

      If Sinclair wishes be the broadcaster of choice in second-, third-, and fourth-tier markets, I do not object. Residents of those communities should have the opportunity to watch what they want to watch, and seem destined to become decreasingly relevant in America.

      1. Arty, learn to obey.

  19. Okay, I give up. What exactly is "creepy" about the management at Sinclair making a general statement that they're dedicated to truthful news?

    1. Because progressives think that's a slap at them?

    2. The only reason it's gotten any real attention is because there was a John Oliver segment about a year ago. And it's about politics. The leaders of Sinclair have made pro-Trump statements. The message itself isn't even controversial, be mindful of information you receive, some of it may be false.

      People scream about monopoly and concentration of power, but are there any news outlets less impotent than local news stations? Sinclair might own one station in a region when there are 2 or 3 other local news stations affiliated with CBS, ABC, NBC or FOX. The people over-reacting to this are reacting to the idea that someone can have an opposing opinion to their own.

  20. I'm commenting on Hit & Run in order to buy sex.

    Anybody got a problem with that? I'm asking you, FOSTA/SESTA!

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  22. From the LA Times editorial:
    "If Congress simply cannot wait to see how those cases turn out, there is a middle ground ? it could give state attorneys general clearer authority to go after websites that violate federal sex trafficking laws."

    So I guess States like California DO want to help enforce Federal law. Sometimes.

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  24. The GOP scares me a bit. The Democrats scare me more. Much more. The progressive movement is inherently fascist. The whole attitude of..we know what is best of for you. Just comply is abusive at its core. You want to blame Trump? You created him, you fools.

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