Opinion: Sinclair Broadcast Group Gives a Platform to Ideas that Harm Trans People and Other Marginalized Groups

Local 12’s biases against transgender folk have not always been the most vocal, but they’re visible in how they choose to highlight their pieces.

Sep 12, 2023 at 9:57 am
click to enlarge Writer Mira Lazine writes that Sinclair Broadcast Group is giving a platform to ideas that are directly causing harm to so many marginalized people — including trans people. - Photo: Sharon McCutcheon
Photo: Sharon McCutcheon
Writer Mira Lazine writes that Sinclair Broadcast Group is giving a platform to ideas that are directly causing harm to so many marginalized people — including trans people.

In today’s world, few people are actively paying attention to where their news is coming from. Folks may be aware of the news stations they watch and how they relate to those favored by political opponents, but there isn’t much attention paid to the companies behind the scenes. As they often have significant control over what gets published, this can be a major problem — most prominently, perhaps, with the media titan Sinclair Broadcast Group.

Sinclair is a name known by many, yet unknown to so many more. Many around Cincinnati may think of Sinclair Community College. Sinclair Broadcast Group stands as its own beast, owning almost 200 local news stations across the United States, with one in nearly every single state across the country. Many of their local news stations — such as Washington D.C.’s WJLA-TV, Pittsburgh’s WPNT and Milwaukee’s WVTV — are based in major metropolitan areas, and often are among the dominant sources of local journalism for so many people.

The amount of people they reach is a cause for concern. According to Vox, Sinclair has one of the largest audiences across the entire United States, with millions of viewers across all of their different programs. These viewers each get fed an abundance of pro-Trump rhetoric that’s consistent with far-right programming such as Breitbart. The bias wasn’t just unique to the Trump campaign either, as it goes years into their history, such as when in the early 2000s, they selectively chose to air segments that favored a conservative angle to hot-button topics like the Iraq War. They even ran an ad that tried to compare former president Barack Obama to the Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers, mirroring the far-right rhetoric of the time.

As a trans woman, this type of rhetoric concerns me heavily. They’re giving a platform to ideas that are directly causing harm to so many marginalized people and putting us at risk, and by emboldening hateful figures like Donald Trump, they’re contributing to the rising extremism of the far right by funneling more and more average people down a dangerous pipeline.

This also concerns me as a journalist. With their coverage spreading misinformation, that goes against core tenets of journalistic ethics. There’s no regard for what should be considered truth, no regard for separating bias from important news coverage. It’s just works pushed out for the sake of an ideology that harms so many.

The problems with Sinclair go into more recent angles they’ve had with their journalism as well, such as their Crisis in the Classroom series, which often features anti-transgender themes, such as selectively choosing to focus on topics that portray transgender kids in school negatively or only interviewing parents who are hostile to their children’s transition. This can be seen in late August of 2023 with the featuring of a Texas mother who “shoots down” arguments that transphobic parents should be kept from knowing their children’s gender identities.

Turning a closer eye to our own local market, I found two Cincinnati-based news outlets are affiliated with Sinclair. WKRC-TV, also known as Local 12, is directly owned by Sinclair as of the early 2010s. WSTR-TV, while not directly owned by Sinclair, is affiliated through a contract where they share resources with one another.

These outlets have exhibited a subtle, but significant bias against transgender rights and curried favor for Donald Trump. WKRC-TV in particular is the more egregious example of the two, with their hosting of the aforementioned Crisis in the Classroom series being a prominent example. For instance, one story includes subjects arguing that Cincinnati school districts should report youth gender identities to their parents, even in cases of unsupportive ones, and that it shouldn’t be labeled as abuse to do so. The school districts and Child Protective Services were all criticized for policies that support trans youth, although they denied claims such as calling a lack of support as abuse.

Local 12’s biases against transgender folk have not always been the most vocal, but they’re visible in how they choose to highlight their pieces. For example, an early article of theirs refers to a conversion therapy-related suicide of a trans teen as being caused by “religious therapy,” neglecting to discuss the tangible ways in which conversion therapy causes real harm. Or take their hosting of an Associated Press news article that gives disproportionate weight to the voice of Republicans when discussing a Florida bill banning trans integration in sports.  They have even given a voice to people who equate being trans to acting like a cat and using a litter box.

While Local 12 may not exhibit anti-trans biases in every single story, as seen with one piece about a transgender girl elected homecoming princess, these works are in the minority and are overshadowed by their works on public policy that have clear leanings.

This is a major problem with Local 12 and how they affect news coverage. Their presentation as an unbiased source of news, while nonetheless exhibiting subtle unmistakable leanings, leads people to gradually adopt more and more right-wing ideas that can and will lead to more hate. Just taking a look at Florida with a Neo-Nazi rally shows us what happens if this type of rhetoric is led to spiral and grow, and who it truly empowers.

Both outlets have also featured the conservative Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson show on occasion replacing their standard coverage. Attkisson is an investigative journalist who has been criticized for, among other things, spreading Republican-fueled misinformation about healthcare costs and peddling a link between vaccines and autism. Full Measure has also featured pro-Trump messaging, as seen in an exclusive interview with him.

They were criticized several years ago by WVXU for platforming conspiracy theories related to election fraud spurred by Trump directly, and on a separate occasion for coverage on “fake news” being featured on Local 12 seemingly as ordered directly by Sinclair higher-ups. They shared from Sinclair’s National Desk an article about Biden being too old to run for President again, yet framing Trump and other Republican candidates as being the right age for voters.

While many corporations may be dominant in the news world, few have reached the level of ideological bias that Sinclair has. In 2018, CNN broke the story that Sinclair was responsible for sending out a wide array of messages to their army of local news stations that distinctly mirrored rhetoric seen during the initial Donald Trump campaign - claims that the news is biased towards the liberal media, that strong borders are needed, or that conservative candidates warrant your votes. The CEO of Sinclair even told Trump that Sinclair is “here to deliver your message.”

In a time where conservative rhetoric is dominating the news and public policy, this concerns me greatly. In Ohio especially there are an abundance of anti-trans bills being proposed and voted on in the state legislature. The type of rhetoric Sinclair publishes emboldens the people behind these bills, enabling more people to vote for them and damages marginalized people across the state. The impact their coverage has on the average person cannot be understated, and as their influence grows across the country, there is all the more reason to be concerned.

Sinclair, in response to a request for comment, said the following. “From covering breaking local and national news to providing a voice for the voiceless in the community, Sinclair’s television stations produce news content that reflects the local community which it serves, with trusted journalists delivering fact-based content without bias or influence.”

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