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Just What We Need: Another Controversial Documentary!

The latest political controversy this election year involves a media conglomerate determined to have its stations air an anti-Kerry documentary this Friday. There are many issues worth discussing here. But first, let me go back to the basics for a moment.

The media conglomerate in question is the Sinclair Broadcast Group, owner of 62 television stations, which make up approximately 24% coverage of American television households. This is an important fact, because the country is divided into geographic coverage areas called “markets.” You live in a television market, whether you realize it or not. Normally, the closest major city to you (which is normally where your local stations are headquartered) is likely the home city for your market.

There are 210 television markets in the country. The largest market is New York City, which consists, according to Nielsen Media, the company that tabulates television ratings, of 7,355,710 television households, or roughly 6.7% of the total television households in America. The second largest market is Los Angeles, with 5.4 million TV households (4.9%). Chicago is the third largest market. Some markets are “hyphenated,” which means that they consist of several major cities close enough together that they all fall into the same coverage area. The nation’s fifth largest market is a hyphenated market: San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose. (Just for fun, because I know you’re dying to know, the nation’s smallest market is in Glendive, Montana, with just 5,150 television households.)

Sinclair’s stations are located mostly in midsize markets and are mostly WB and Fox affiliates, thus the earlier statistic that even with 62 stations, they still manage to reach less than one quarter of all American households.

Earlier this year, Sinclair came under fire after “forbidding” its 8 ABC affiliates from airing a “Nightline” broadcast during which the names of every soldier killed in the War in Iraq were read. The company, according to industry insider Newsblues, also forces its affiliates to air a daily “commentary” by corporate spokesman Mark Hyman who has called the French “cheese eating surrender monkeys” and antiwar Congressmen “unpatriotic politicians who hate our military.”

Now, Sinclair wants its stations to air “Stolen Honor,” a 42-minute documentary that focuses on John Kerry’s denunciation of the Vietnam War three decades ago. Democratic party leaders have filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, claiming the documentary is basically an illegal corporate campaign contribution to President Bush.

I have worked for three media corporations in my career thus far. Sinclair has not been one of them. But one of the three I’ve worked for is one of those “major media conglomerates” that everyone loves to hate. But I can happily say that I have never worked for a company that made its corporate political beliefs well-known to its customers or employees. I didn’t know how my corporate superiors voted, and I was pleased not to know. I would certainly be concerned if a company I worked for dictated that my station air such a broadcast.

But having said that, I think it’s worth noting that there is once again a double standard in operation here with regard to the concept of political documentaries.

When Michael Moore came out with “Fahrenheit 9/11,” Bush supporters were outraged. Kerry supporters were amused at their frustration, and came forward with several important points that they seem to have forgotten lately.

First, they said that Moore’s movie was good for America because it contributed to the public discourse. If there were exaggerations or inaccuracies, they would not stand up to scrutiny. Anyway, they said, the American people are smart enough to judge for themselves and make up their own mind. I heard quite a few of Kerry’s supporters say that all Americans should see Moore’s film.

They apparently seem to feel that this film for some reason doesn’t contribute to the public discourse. Despite the fact that they back a candidate who challenged everyone to judge him by his record, the same American people must be in election overload if they’re no longer smart enough to judge for themselves what is and isn’t reasonable.

They criticized those Republicans who tried to discredit Michael Moore and those who resorted to personal attacks against him.

But as you might expect, Democratic partyofficials, including Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the DNC, were only too happy to refer to the producer of “Stolen Honor” as a “discredited journalist who held no standing in the profession.” Carlton Sherwood, the producer of the film, is a former Marine who served in Vietnam and earned three Purple Hearts of his own. Apparently, Kerry supporters do not feel that all Purple Heart recipients are created equal.

Then they told us to forget that Moore has an agenda (and that he has made no bones about having one); his film is a “documentary,” with real footage of what happened. It must be true.

This film, which apparently contains footage of Kerry’s actions after the war, for some reason can’t be true. As for Sherwood’s agenda, the Miami Herald reported that the film was made with $220,000 in donations from Pennsylvania veterans angered by Kerry’s post-war remarks which they feel hurt veterans and their families. It also mentions that Sherwood is a “friend” of Tom Ridge, but that Ridge had no involvement in the movie.

Those who were fans of Moore’s film were furious that anyone would criticize the film without first seeing it. I’m sure that those who are speaking out against “Stolen Honor” haven’t seen it, either.

But my favorite comment comes from Democratic party spokesman David K. Chai, who claimed that the movie is an attempt by Bush supporters to change the topic away from the War in Iraq.

If the topic of the day ever drifted to the War in Iraq for more than about twenty minutes at any time over the last year, it seems that the Kerry camp was quick to focus attention back where they felt it belonged: Kerry’s prestigious military service record. What he did in Vietnam, and what he said about what he’d done when he got back from doing it isn’t nearly as important as the War in Iraq. But how many times have we listened to the talk of his three Purple Hearts? And do keep in mind that Kerry’s side was the one that made military service such an issue to begin with; since Bush had no war service record, it’s not hard to figure out that the Bush camp wasn’t the one to make a big deal over who served overseas!

I realize that there is a difference between this film and Moore’s movie: “Stolen Honor” is to be broadcast over the airwaves and won’t require its audience to go to a theater and pay admission. But considering that “Stolen Honor” is only reaching only 24% of the country (if all stations involved air it), while Moore’s movie reached from coast to coast, I seriously doubt much damage will be done to Kerry.

Do I believe it’s right to air the program this close to the election? No.

But I have to wonder how many of the Kerry supporters now complaining about Sinclair’s decision to air this program would complain as loudly if a different media conglomerate ordered its stations to broadcast “Fahrenheit 9/11” this Friday night. Somehow, I doubt that there would be many who would.

There’s something wrong with that, too.

Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.