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Political Animal

These Honored Dead

By Brian Morton | Posted 5/5/2004

It's stunning that here in Baltimore--a city awash in patriotic icons, the town that gave the United States both its national anthem and its Pledge of Allegiance--honoring the war dead is seen as something to avoid.

By now you've probably heard about Hunt Valley-based Sinclair Broadcast Group's decision to pre-empt last Friday's Nightline on the seven ABC affiliates it owns for the sole reason that the program and anchor Ted Koppel decided to read the names of the 721 military men and women who have died in the war on Iraq and its aftermath. Sinclair, as noted in this space before, has taken upon itself as the country's largest owner of TV stations to pump in news to all its stations from an operation it calls "News Central" up at its headquarters in Baltimore County. Through News Central, the broadcast company pumps out right-wing opinion and puts its own spin on affiliates' newscasts--in some cases, over the wishes of the local reporters and editors on the scene. Back when the war was gearing up, Sinclair reportedly told its staffers here at Fox 45 to read pro-administration messages in support of the war on terrorism. In itself this is only slightly odious, but when you realize that Sinclair reaches almost 25 percent of the country through its 62 TV stations in 39 markets, you can see how insidious this ham-handed attempt at bias actually is.

Sinclair vice president Mark Hyman, who also doubles as News Central's right-wing commentator, has fired off his response to critics of the company's decision. Hyman was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying, "We have a principled view that we don't want to see the memories [of those who have given their lives] tarnished," as part of what Sinclair calls a political statement. In any number of other interviews, Hyman has said that he feels Nightline's reading of the names is not "proportional" to the war effort. Like the Bush administration does all the time, his arguments attempt to tie Iraq to Sept. 11, 2001, noting that Nightline isn't listing all the names of the people who died then.

For once and for all, can we say this clearly to those who would keep peddling this malarkey? There were no ties between Iraq and Sept. 11! None! There were no Iraqis on those planes, no meetings between Saddam Hussein's people and al-Qaida, no link between a secular regime and the minions of a religious fanatic. To keep bringing up that canard insults the intelligence of every person who makes the sad mistake of watching a one of Hyman's "The Point" commentaries through to its finish.

It is sad that the parents and families of these young men and women have to bear the burden of such a clueless media operation. Photos themselves carry no context--they are what you bring to them. Many parents who might have wanted the small honor of seeing the picture of their son or daughter on national television, fresh-faced and serious decked out in military dress uniform, were denied that miniscule bit of pride. Interestingly enough, last Friday USA Today spread the pictures of all the servicemen and -women who died in April, the deadliest month of engagement in Iraq, across its front page. One wonders if the Sinclair crowd thought that was a political statement as well.

It's no secret that the Sinclair brass are George W. Bush supporters. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, four of Sinclair's top executives have maxed out their allowed political donations to the Bush-Cheney campaign. Not that you need ask, but no, they did not hedge their bets like many corporate types do and give money to Sen. John Kerry or any Democrats.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, himself a former POW in Vietnam, saw the Sinclair hooey for what it really was--a cheap ploy to ally itself with an administration that has yet to level with Americans about why their sons and daughters were sent to die in Iraq. Last Friday, McCain sent a letter to David Smith, the president and CEO of Sinclair: "Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war's terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking detail, is a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. It is, in short, sir, unpatriotic. I hope it meets with the public opprobrium it most certainly deserves."

If it were up to Sinclair, the only news out of Iraq would be happy stories about all the schools and hospitals that have opened since the end of the war. No pictures of flag-draped coffins would see the light of day, no names of soldiers would ever be read to teary families, no solitary sounds of "Taps" would bring a solemn end to a local newscast. Because, of course, that would be unpatriotic.

President Lincoln said it best, and little has changed since then: "It is rather for us the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain."

But for Sinclair, perhaps they have.

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