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Sinclair fires D.C. chief who spoke out

Political correspondent criticized network's plan to air anti-Kerry program

The Media

Election 2004

October 19, 2004|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF

"Our sources didn't trust us anymore, even though we didn't make that decision," Modarelli said. "They didn't want to work with us anymore because whatever we did, the story would turn out biased."

She added, "For me, it's just about ethical journalism."

Leiberman said the company had largely treated him well - until yesterday.

"I am not a disgruntled employee. I have worked hard for Sinclair for more than four years," he said. "I love what I do, but I love doing news. ... And I just felt like nobody was listening."

Leiberman, a Baltimore native, has been promoted several times during his tenure at Sinclair. He returned to Baltimore in 2000 to become an investigative reporter at Sinclair's WBFF-TV after stints at local stations in Topeka, Kan., and Albuquerque, N.M. His duties at WBFF were expanded to include some supervisory duties for the station's investigative unit in 2002. Last year, he was promoted again, to head up the four-person Washington newsroom. He was sent by Sinclair to file stories from Iraq and Cuba, and also covered the two major political conventions this summer.

He said he has been upset by the role that Hyman, who is also the company's conservative editorialist, plays in making news judgments. Hyman pushed for Sinclair to create the program based on Sherwood's anti-Kerry documentary.

"This is nothing personal," Leiberman said yesterday afternoon. "This company has been good to me. Simply as a journalist, I think it's wrong for a commentator to have his hand in news - and other nonjournalists to have their hands in news."

Although he said he is passing along some ideas for the show, Hyman said his involvement in the Sinclair special has ebbed.

"This is a definite news event," Hyman said yesterday. "This has received significant media scrutiny as well as from outside groups."

The plans for the Sinclair program stirred a national firestorm earlier this month, with Democrats filing formal complaints with the Federal Election Commission, the Federal Communications Commission and Sinclair itself.

The chairman of the FCC, Michael K. Powell, has dismissed calls that the panel investigate the program before it airs. The FEC is not expected to take action before the election on the contention of the Democratic Party that the show constitutes an illegal "in-kind" corporate campaign donation.

Sinclair has invited Kerry, a Massachusetts senator, to appear on the show to respond to the allegations raised by the prisoners of war, but his campaign aides have rejected the offer as disingenuous.

Some liberal groups said they intend to challenge future efforts by Sinclair to renew broadcast licenses at its stations. Sinclair has benefited in recent years from deregulation, in which restrictions on the acquisition of stations by large media companies have diminished.

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