Sinclair to show anti-Kerry program

Right-leaning owner of TV outlets to air show days before election

October 09, 2004|By Elizabeth Jensen | Elizabeth Jensen,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NEW YORK - The conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group, whose television outlets reach nearly a quarter of the nation's homes with TV, is ordering its stations to preempt regular programming just days before the Nov. 2 election to air a film that attacks Sen. John F. Kerry's activism against the Vietnam War, network and station executives familiar with the plan said yesterday.

Sinclair's programming plan, communicated to executives in recent days and coming in the thick of a close and intense presidential race, is highly unusual even in a political season marked by media controversies.

Sinclair, which is based in Hunt Valley, has told its stations - many of them in political swing states such as Ohio and Florida - to air Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal, sources said. The film, funded by Pennsylvania veterans and produced by a veteran and former Washington Times reporter, features former POWs accusing Kerry - a decorated Navy veteran turned war protester - of worsening their ordeal by prolonging the war. Sinclair will preempt regular prime-time programming from the networks to show the documentary, which may be classified as news programming, according to TV executives familiar who are with the plan.

Executives at Sinclair did not return calls seeking comment, but the Kerry campaign accused the company of pressuring its stations to influence the political process. "It's not the American way for powerful corporations to strong-arm local broadcasters to air lies promoting a political agenda," Kerry spokesman David Wade said.

Sinclair stations are spread throughout the United States, in major markets that include Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Las Vegas. Nine of the 62 stations the company either owns or programs are in the key political swing states of Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where the presidential election is being closely fought.

Station and network sources said they have been told the Sinclair stations - which include affiliates of Fox, ABC, CBS and NBC, as well as WB and UPN - will preempt regular programming for one hour between Oct. 21 and Oct. 24, depending on the city, for the documentary. It will be followed by a panel discussion, which Kerry will be asked to join, that could satisfy fairness regulations, the sources said.

Kerry campaign officials said they had been unaware of Sinclair's plans to air the documentary, and said Kerry had not received an invitation to appear.

No one familiar with the plan was willing to criticize it publicly, some because they said they don't know all the details of what Sinclair plans for the panel that follows the documentary. But a number of people privately expressed outrage at the seemingly overt nature of the political attack, which comes during a tight election and at a time when the media are under assault as never before.

Cable's Fox News Channel was attacked earlier in the summer by a coalition of liberal groups for what they said was its efforts to boost Republicans; in recent weeks, CBS' Dan Rather has been criticized by conservatives, as well as some nonpartisan journalists, for a 60 Minutes report that used now-discredited documents in a report claiming President Bush received favorable treatment when in the Texas Air National Guard in the 1970s.

The company made headlines in April when it ordered seven of its stations not to air Ted Koppel's Nightline roll call of military dead in Iraq, deeming it a political statement "disguised as news content."

Times staff writers Lynn Smith and Robert W. Welkos contributed to this report from Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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