Sinclair Broadcast Group has issued threats and punishments, but some angry staffers have had enough.
Some besieged journalists at Sinclair Broadcast Group are speaking out — and walking out.
Workers at the Trump-friendly local television giant are fuming after the company was denounced for airing Orwellian attacks on “fake news.” It’s likely more disgruntled employees want to bolt the propaganda-happy company, but now we know that Sinclair makes it extremely painful to leave by hitting workers with sizeable financial fines if they quit.
Long known for its cost-cutting ways and being a miserable place to work, Sinclair has added to the stress level of its employees in recent years by forcing stations across the country to run pro-Trump commentaries.
Then came the scripted announcements, and with them a huge backlash against the company.
That’s why Justin Simmons recently quit his job as morning show producer at Sinclair’s KHGI outlet in Nebraska.
“This is almost forcing local news anchors to lie to their viewers,” Simmons told CNN. “I didn’t go into news to give people biased information. Resigning seemed like the least I could do,” he added. “I wish there was more.”
Addressing viewers with an unvetted post on Facebook, Sinclair anchor Norma Holland, from WHAM in Rochester, New York, essentially apologized for the company’s actions.
“The Sinclair message you saw me and my colleagues in has damaged the trust you place in us — a trust that’s taken, me in particular, 22 years to build. That hurts,” she wrote.
“I could have chosen to quit, but who among us has an alternate career in their back pocket ready to go?” she continued. “I have a family to support. That’s not an excuse — that’s reality.”
And even if embarrassed anchors like Holland want to quit, they might end up owing Sinclair 40 percent of their salary. The company uses a highly unusual and oppressive contract measure that curbs employees, in which the employee has to pay the employer. (Simmons in Nebraska was not under contract with Sinclair when he quit, so he didn’t face any financial penalty.)
Meanwhile, one Sinclair station general manager this week warned workers there would be “huge implications” for them if they were caught “sharing negative information” about the secretive company.
All of this rings true to Aaron Weiss, who worked as a news director at a Sinclair station in 2013 before resigning in disgust. The heavy handed, pro-GOP taped commentaries that every Sinclair station was forced to air, especially offended him.
“More than one script came down that, had it come from one of my fresh-out-of-college reporters, I would have sent back for a complete rewrite,” Weiss wrote at Huff Post. “But Sinclair executives made it clear that the must-run scripts were not to be touched by producers or anchors.”
Note that unlike staffers who sign up for partisan warfare when they go to work for Fox News or Breitbart or other openly, pro-GOP outlets, lots of Sinclair employees only end up working for the company after the rapidly expanding broadcast giant purchases the stations where those employees work.
And now they’re stuck working for repressive Trump TV.
Last year, Bloomberg Businessweek interviewed nearly two dozen current and former Sinclair employees who detailed the different ways Sinclair bosses interfered with the newsgathering process.
But in terms of local news, Sinclair dominates, which limits the options for workers. “On journalismjobs.com, the main job board for the industry, 64 percent of the 1,300 open jobs listed as of Monday were for Sinclair,” the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports.
Sinclair’s massive reach is only expected to grow.
After Trump’s FCC removed ownership limits last year, Sinclair last year made a $3.9 billion bid to acquire the Tribune Company. If allowed by regulators, the deal would put the company in control of 223 TV stations, a previously unheard of number of outlets for a single television broadcast company to own.
Combined, the stations would give Sinclair access to more than 70 percent of American households, including major market stations in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.