The group owner says the show, criticized by some as having an anti-Obama bias, was “hard-hitting, but it was fair.”
Sinclair Broadcast Group’s top news executive is defending half-hour election eve specials that aired in six markets and were criticized as having an anti-Obama bias.
“No doubt it was hard-hitting, but it was fair,” said VP of News Scott Livingston, who oversees the local news operations of 42 Sinclair stations. “No one is disputing the facts of the stories that aired in the special.”
The specials were actually one special with common segments customized for each market by the use of local anchors. The six markets where the program aired were all in battleground states: Columbus and Dayton, both Ohio; Cedar Rapids-Waterloo-Dubuque, Iowa; Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C.-Ashville, N.C.; and West Palm Beach-Ft. Pierce and Pensacola, both Florida. (See the video of WPEC West Palm Beach’s special here.)
In Columbus (DMA 32), the ABC affiliate WSYX aired the program twice, once in World News with Diane Sawyer’s 6:30 p.m. timeslot and at 11:30 p.m., when Nightline usually airs. It was up to each station to decide when to air the show, Livingston said.
According the Livingston, the special focused on major issues such as the economy, healthcare reform and foreign policy “including the attacks in Libya” as part of Sinclair’s “continuation of the engagement of the audience and the process of educating them about the topics.”
But the day after it ran — Election Day — the special was being panned, particularly by the political journalism website Talking Points Memo, for its conservative bias.
“Rather than a side-by-side comparison of the two major party candidates …, the special featured some of the most partisan criticisms of President Barack Obama, and spent relatively little time examining Republican nominee Mitt Romney,” TPM’s Eric Lach wrote.
When the special turned to healthcare reform, WSYX Columbus anchor Bob Kendrick said: “The cost of Obamacare is making many Americans sick to their stomach.”
“[A]t times, it sounded more like Fox News than local news,” Lach said.
Livingston said no partisan agenda was at play in producing the show — nor in choosing the markets in which it was played.
Livingston said Sinclair chose the six markets in which the specials aired because “there is a higher news value there — and we always make decisions based on the news value. These are the markets where those issues resonate.”
He also said the election specials were in keeping with Sinclair stations’ election season coverage, which included 13 town hall meetings on issues “that impacted the race.”
Some Sinclair stations produced their own specials. WBFF, the Fox affiliate in Baltimore, for example, produced a one-hour special on three controversial local ballot initiatives, he said.
Sinclair is well known for its conservative political views. During the 2004 presidential election, the group came under fire for its plan to air a controversial documentary that asserted that anti-war activity by John Kerry during the Vietnam war contributed to the mistreatment of American POWs.