Local anchors at KVAL-TV in Eugene, Oregon, refused to read from a script complaining about “biased and false news” on social media, circulated by telecommunications conglomerate and KVAL owner Sinclair Broadcast Group. Their protest came four days after Deadspin distributed a video showing anchors at multiple news stations reciting the same script on the air, with only the name of the local station changed.
Lauren Lapka and Cameron Walker are the morning news co-anchors at KVAL-TV in Eugene, home of the University of Oregon. Lapka was relatively new to the station at the time of the incident, having previously worked as a local news anchor in Missouri. She issued a statement regarding the incident, but Walker declined to comment. Two other anchors read the script after Lapka and Walker declined to do so..
Sinclair Broadcast Group (SBG) is an American telecommunications company that owns or operates the largest number of local television stations in the country. The group came under national scrutiny in April 2018 when a video of dozens of local news anchors, all reciting the same script, was circulated online. It was revealed that these anchors all worked for stations owned by SBG, and that SBG had written and circulated the script.
SBG disseminated its script to local stations across the United States in early March 2018, directing them to use it to record promotional videos. Controversy broke out on March 31, 2018, when website Deadspin released a video of dozens of local news anchors in various cities reciting an identical script — the one provided by SBG. CNN had previously reported on March 7 that many local news anchors said they were uncomfortable reading the content of the script, but that many were unwilling to speak up publicly for fear of losing their jobs. The staffers who gave the script to CNN said it amounted to “yet another corporate infringement on local journalism.”
When asked for comment, an SBG spokesperson said that “promo messages…are very common in [the] industry.” The spokesperson went on to say that the “promo addresses the troubling trend of false stories on social media” and is meant to promote SBG-owned stations as news outlets that do not entertain “fake news” stories.
The full script, in the version used at SBG-owned KOMO in Seattle, first obtained by CNN and later published in full by Seattle PI, reads:
“Hi, I’m(A) ____________, and I’m (B) _________________…
(B) Our greatest responsibility is to serve our Northwest communities. We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that KOMO News produces.
(A) But we’re concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.
(B) More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories… stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first.
(A) Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’…This is extremely dangerous to a democracy.
(B) At KOMO it’s our responsibility to pursue and report the truth. We understand Truth is neither politically ‘left nor right.’ Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever.
(A) But we are human and sometimes our reporting might fall short. If you believe our coverage is unfair please reach out to us by going to KOMOnews.com and clicking on CONTENT CONCERNS. We value your comments. We will respond back to you.
(B) We work very hard to seek the truth and strive to be fair, balanced and factual… We consider it our honor, our privilege to responsibly deliver the news every day.
(A) Thank you for watching and we appreciate your feedback”
Along with the script, SBG sent instructions explaining that local stations would not directly receive the comments the script solicited. “Corporate will monitor the comments and send replies to your audience on your behalf,” the instructions read. They also gave directions on how anchors should dress when they record the promotional segments, reported CNN. “Talent should dress in jewel tones — however they should not look political in their dress or attire. Avoid total red, blue and purple dresses and suits. Avoid totally red, blue and purple ties, the goal is to look apolitical, neutral, nonpartisan yet professional. Black or charcoal suits for men…females should wear yellow, gold, magenta, cyan, but avoid red, blue or purple.”
Like many of the local news anchors affected, according to CNN, Lapka and Walker were uncomfortable with SBG’s script. Lapka said the two anchors had been told in early March — before the Deadspin video and subsequent controversy broke — that they would be recording a promotional video for KVAL-TV, but they were not shown the script until after CNN released it on March 7, 2018.
Lapka publicly commented that she had refused to read the script in part because she does not “believe in harming other journalists.” “If we are talking about trusting journalists,” she said, “my advice would be to get to know your local journalists as best as you can and make the decision for yourself.” On her professional Facebook account, Lapka affirmed her commitment to following “all aspects of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.” Walker declined to comment on his decision.
After Lapka and Walker refused to participate in the video, KVAL-TV filmed two other employees reading the script for the video instead.
Anchors face no repercussions, SBG plans to expand
Neither Lapka nor Walker faced threats to their job security. Lapka said her superiors never told her she could be fired for refusing to read Sinclair’s script. “They never threatened my job,” she said.
The Register-Guard in Eugene reported that at least one Sinclair-owned TV station chose not to air the promotional segment at all. In a statement on Twitter, the Wisconsin station WMSN/FOX47 Madison said that rather than air the segment, “we stayed true to our commitment to provide our Madison area viewers local news, weather and sports of interest to them.”
SBG remains the largest owner of local television stations in the US, with plans to acquire additional stations by purchasing Tribune Media, another media conglomerate.
Prepared by Emma Vahey ‘20
Uploaded June 4, 2018