As you probably know by now, Sinclair Broadcasting owns 62 local television stations across the country. They include local affiliates of each of the six major broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, UPN and WB. Earlier this year, Sinclair raised controversy by ordering its local affiliates not to air an edition of Nightline that named all the American soldiers who had thus far been killed in Iraq.
A statement from Sinclair justified the action by claiming that "Mr. Koppel and Nightline are hiding behind this so-called tribute in an effort to highlight only one aspect of the war effort and in doing so to influence public opinion against the military action in Iraq."
But Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., disagreed. He called the decision "unpatriotic" and told Sinclair President David Smith that "your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war's terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking detail, is a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces."
Earlier this month, Sinclair was at it again. The broadcasting group announced that it would order all 62 stations to pre-empt prime-time broadcasts to air an anti-Kerry documentary titled Stolen Honor, which attacks Kerry's time as a war protester in the early 1970s.
Most people who've heard about the Sinclair stunt realize that this amounts to a massive in-kind contribution to the Bush-Cheney campaign by Sinclair. It's like an hour-long, unpaid Swift boat ad plunked right down in the middle of prime time on stations in swing states around the country.
But look a little closer.
It isn't like a Swift boat ad. It actually is a Swift boat ad.
Though it has gone little noticed in the press reaction to the Sinclair stunt, the "documentary" is being sponsored by the same organization putting out the Swift boat commercials. Take a quick peek at the press-release section of the Stolen Honor Web site (www.stolenhonor.com) and you'll find a press release dated Sept. 29.
The press release announces that POWs for Truth, the group that originally funded the production of the "documentary," was merging with Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, purveyor of the notorious Swift boat ads.
They now form a new consolidated entity, "Swift Vets and POWs for Truth."
That's who's behind this hit piece: the Swift Boat folks.
Now, aside from the sponsors of the "documentary," whom did they hire to put the thing together?
The producer is a fellow named Carlton Sherwood. Sherwood did win a few journalism awards a couple decades ago. But his more recent rsum is more telling.
In 1991, he published Inquisition, an expos of the U.S. government's alleged "persecution" of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, head of the Unification Church and self-proclaimed messiah."
And it's not too hard to find out why Sherwood ended up giving Moon such a squeaky-clean review. According to a Frontline investigation, the Moon organization promised to buy 100,000 copies of Sherwood's book from Regnery, the book's publisher. And just so they'd know what they were buying, Sherwood allowed Moon representatives to pre-screen and make changes to the manuscript of the book before he sent it to the publishers.
Not long after that, Sherwood went to work as a media maven for then-Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge. After Ridge became the first secretary of Homeland Security, he tapped Sherwood to create something called firstresponder.gov, a national Web site to connect up and provide information for the country's more than 8 million police, fire, EMS and emergency-response personnel, a worthy-sounding project that seems never to have seen the light of day, though press reports had it scheduled to go live in late 2003 or early 2004.
Democrats are obviously in an uproar over this latest stunt. But it's not a free-speech issue or even a fairness issue. It's a massive instance of election and campaign-finance fraud done right out in the plain light of day.
Sinclair is shamelessly doing its part to corrupt and pervert the political process in this country. And they (and the puppeteers behind the scenes) should be held to account.
Joshua Micah Marshall writes for The Hill in Washington, where this originally appeared. This week, after its shares dropped 16 percent, Sinclair announced it would air only "parts" of Stolen Honor on 40 of its stations.