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Pennsylvania's Sinclair News Stations Decline To Comment On 'False News' TV Promo

Screengrab via video posted on Twitter
Rob Tornoe/Philly.com
3 Pennsylvania news stations have aired 4 versions of Sinclair's promo. The newscasters are (clockwise, from left to right) WOLF's Ryan Cummins and Jamie Innis, WJAC's Jen Johnson, WHP's Robb Hanrahan and Jasmine Brooks, & WHP's Jessica Guay.

Representatives from four Pennsylvania stations owned by media conglomerate Sinclair Broadcast Group are declining to comment on a controversial promo issued by the company's television news stations across the country, including three in the state.

The sports news site Deadspin published a compilation video over the weekend that showed dozens of television news anchors reciting the same script that warned against "irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country," or "false news."

Sinclair Broadcasting Group owns nearly 200 television news stations nationwide, according to the company website, and is in talks to acquire more through a deal with Tribune Media.

Four of those stations are located in Pennsylvania: WOLF in Scranton, WHP in Harrisburg, WJAC in Johnstown and WPGH in Pittsburgh. Of those four, three-- WOLF, WHP, and WJAC-- aired the promo. WHP aired two different versions. 

General manager Jim Lapiana at WPGH Fox 53 News in Pittsburgh confirmed that his station did not air the promo because, although the station is owned by Sinclair, WPXI (a Cox Media Group station) produces its news content. He declined to comment further.

For WJAC 6 News in Johnstown, general manager Jim Doty declined to comment and referred questions to Sinclair's corporate office.

News director Dawn Miller at WOLF Fox 56 News in Scranton said that she is not allowed to speak at all and should refer everyone to corporate. 

Bryan Queen, news director for WHP Local 21 News in Harrisburg, said "I'm not allowed to do media inquiries," and also directed queries to Sinclair's corporate press release.

The press release issued on Monday is titled "Sinclair Responds to Unfounded Media Criticism." It identified a Monmouth University poll on the public's media trust as the impetus for the promo, and said that the promo "served no political agenda, and represented nothing more than an effort to differentiate our award-winning news programming from other, less reliable sources of information."

“It is ironic that we would be attacked for messages promoting our journalistic initiative for fair and objective reporting, and for specifically asking the public to hold our newsrooms accountable," said Sinclair senior vice president for news Scott Livingston, according to the press release.

Deadspin's compilation video has been retweeted nearly 70,000 times with social media users and media critics alike analyzing the promo's intent. 

NPR reports that Sinclair has typically been conservative-leaning and pro-Trump, requiring local stations to "run right-wing commentary segments, including segments by former Trump advisers."

CNN's Brian Stelter broke the news that the promos had been announced to stations early last month, reporting that local news anchors were uncomfortable with the scripts, which they said echoed "President Trump's inflammatory rhetoric about 'fake news.'"

Trump tweeted his support for Sinclair after the release of the Deadspin compilation video. "The Fake News Networks, those that knowingly have a sick and biased AGENDA, are worried about the competition and quality of Sinclair Broadcast. The 'Fakers' at CNN, NBC, ABC & CBS have done so much dishonest reporting that they should only be allowed to get awards for fiction!" he wrote Tuesday.

Philly.com writer Rob Tornoe captured video from the three Pennsylvania news stations that aired Sinclair's promo. Watch below.




Adelina Lancianese is the assistant producer for the NPR Story Lab, a creative studio that fosters newsroom experimentation and incubates new podcasts. At the Story Lab, Lancianese works primarily on investigative, long-form projects, and also helps organize the annual Story Lab Workshop for the development of new independent and Member station podcasts.