As discussed in detail over this semester, one of the key pillars of a democratic system of government is freedom of the press. Perhaps one of the key symptoms of an eroding democratic system is the absence of a free, unbiased, or equally biased press. America has long been proud of their open media, but as of recent years, this freedom of press seems to be coming to a halt and this was most noticeable during the recent Sinclair Broadcasting scandal.
In March, dozens of news anchors across the country were given the same script to read. This script was meant to ensure the unbiased nature of their local station and warn about the erosion of democracy were the press to become more biased. Each anchor had to say the exact, same, thing. Understandably, many of the anchors involved expressed their disgust and discomfort with being forced to read a biased script lauding the necessity of an unbiased press. Perhaps the most unnerving part of all was a video released shortly thereafter, stitching together the news anchors separately saying the same lines in unison. The voices were all robotic, mimicking each other as if a puppet master was in charge of their every word and thought.
This puppet master was revealed to be the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the largest television station operator in the US, in charge of 193 stations, covering 40% of American households. Sinclair has often been criticized for having a conservative slant and for practicing unscrupulous business behavior. Currently they are trying to tighten their monopoly over American television stations by incorporating more stations under their umbrella. And now, the direct influence that this organization has over the news is apparent, and understandably, is a cause for alarm. The public relies on the media for nuanced, relevant journalism. Scripts written at corporate headquarters, mass distributed across the country is not journalism. As nonpartisan media commentator Dan Rather claims this is a form of propaganda designed to “silence dissent, and oppress the masses”.
It comes as no surprise that one of the most ardent supporters of Sinclair is President Trump. His response to this outrage was one of support for Sinclair while simultaneously dismissing the cries for help from the “fake news” stations. This poses an alarming threat for American democracy. Propaganda has always been a tool used to oppress the masses, Communist Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and many other fascist regimes were only able to thrive by pulling the wool over their citizens’ eyes through the use of well crafted propaganda. This past seems eerily similar to America’s present.
America has always had biased news sources, conservatives tend to watch certain news programs and liberals watch others, but overall there have always been avenues for attaining relatively unbiased journalistic reporting. This newest scandal puts that in jeopardy. Sinclair Broadcast Group has, on many occasions, been accused of assisting Trump’s administration in disseminating false information which helps Trump’s agenda. Prior to this scandal, this did not seem to be as big of a threat, but now it appears as if even trusted news sources might be put in a situation where they are or have been forced to recite these lies because the people paying the local news’ bills demands it of them.
This presents a very Orwellian, dystopian reality we are currently living in. As Sinclair attempts to consolidate its monopoly on more American news stations, it leaves the people living in fear of the apparent loss of their First Amendment rights and the apparent ability Big Brother has for dictating reality as they see fit. President Trump’s presidency has caused an unprecedented number of scandals, but Trump’s continued attack on the free press poses the biggest threat of all. Already he has instilled a sense of distrust in previously trusted news sources such as CNN and has encouraged support for incredibly biased sources such as Fox News. This reality begs the question of how will this end?
One positive outcome of the ever growing suppression of the free press is that it provides a basis of mutual bipartisan cooperation. Democrats are outraged by the lies being spread from the White House which undermine their views and ideas, while Republicans are growing to be outraged by the omnipotent control of big organizations and the government and the suppression of Civil Rights as guaranteed by the First Amendment. Although politics in America have never been so partisan, the encroachments on civil liberties might prove to be enough to bring the country together again. Although it seems clear that preserving democracy is not on the agenda of this current administration, it is on the agenda of American citizens. As Trump’s administration appears to fall through time and time again on its campaign promises to its voters, many are becoming disillusioned and are being forced to look at the shortcomings of the President who was supposed to “Make America Great Again”. This is dangerous for Trump’s America because as more of his supporters start to notice the encroachments on their civil liberties, the harder it will be for Trump to maintain his power and basis of support.
So, perhaps, this egregious affront on American democracy as demonstrated by the Sinclair Broadcast Group might serve in reunifying the public in support of protecting our democracy. However, if this result is not achieved, it will only serve in shifting the United States further away from the democratic nation we claim to be and more towards an authoritarian country where the government controls all aspects of society.
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