Friday, October 15, 2004

The Sinclair threat

Jay Rosen has posted an important piece on the significance of the recent dustup over Sinclair Broadcasting's decision to air an anti-Kerry film on its TV stations on the eve of the election:
In a commercial empire it makes no sense to invite a storm like that. But what if a company were built for that sort of storm? A lot depends on how we define Sinclair Broadcast Group: as a media company with a political agenda, or a political actor that's gotten hold of a media company and is re-shaping it for bigger battles ahead.

There are plenty of signs that Sinclair is a different animal. Supporters and critics of showing Stolen Honor should both understand that.

Joe Flint of the Wall Street Journal said it yesterday: Sinclair Broadcasting "quietly has become an empire of 62 television stations." Remarkably little has been said about the nature of this empire-- its tendencies, or plans, and what it's organized to accomplish.

A political force in broadcasting is something intrinsically different. It seeks dynastic ends, goodies greater than ownership: power, influence, reputation, a booming voice, or even a political destiny, merging with national destiny, as with Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. (More on him later.)

We've had media barons with political ambitions before, plenty of them. But they did not own 62 local television stations (a record) that reach a quarter of all American homes. The Sinclair situation is new.

Go read it all. I disagree with Rosen at times, but in this case he's on the money.

It's worth noting that, as Atrios has detailed, Sinclair doesn't seem even fazed by threats to its economic well-being -- certainly its shareholders have not been well served to date. It's more than a little remniscent of Edison Schools -- the people who, as I've pointed out previously, are now contemplating resurrecting child labor as part of their business model -- another political operation (to promote school privatization) working under the guise of a business. Edison's fiscal performance is even more dismal, and yet somehow it stays alive.

My suspicion is that Sinclair, like Enron before it, is politically connected, and is leveraging those connections into the basis for its business model. It likely has backers, like Edison's, who are willing to endure losses in the pursuit of their political agenda.

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