Editorial: Anti-Kerry film reveals mass media conflict of interest

When Karl Rove was trying to salvage George W. Bush’s image after an embarrassing first presidential debate, he told supporters not to worry, because the campaign has a surprise in store that will regain its favorability.

No, he was not talking about Bush’s recent debate cameo as a stand-up comic (Need some wood?!).

He was referring to a new anti-Kerry documentary – one that accuses Kerry of betraying American prisoners during the Vietnam War – that will be broadcast to millions of viewers just two weeks before the election on Sinclair Broadcasting Group networks, according to The Washington Post.

Sinclair – which reaches about 25 percent of all U.S. households, including a dozen in the critical swing states of Ohio, Florida, Iowa and Wisconsin – has contributed significantly to the Republican Party, and made news last April when it ordered seven of its ABC-affiliated stations not to air a “Nightline” show that featured a reading of the names of U.S. troops who had been killed in Iraq.

Sinclair executives deemed the segment “contrary to the public interest.”

These same executives – CEO David Smith and Vice President Frederick Smith – gave the maximum $2,000 to Bush-Cheney 2004 and $175,000 to the Republican National Convention.

Apparently, these executives do not fully understand exactly what a “conflict of interest” is.

Reading the names of soldiers who died for the “war on terror” is not a conflict of interest – especially not in April, months away from the election. It is a tribute to those troops who gave up their lives for their country – a patriotic ideal that Republicans often like to tout.

This is along the same lines as showing the nation real photographs of real coffins that contain real American soldiers, which newspapers were admonished for doing last spring.

A University of Delaware professor is now subpoenaing the Pentagon for those photos, which should simply be handed to the press.

A conflict of interest, on the other hand, is financially endorsing a political party and then compelling your constituents to broadcast party propaganda while declaring on your Web site “characterizations regarding the content (of the documentary) are premature and are based on ill-informed sources.”

Since when is The Washington Post an ill-informed source? These executives are obviously ill-informed on federal campaign finance law that declares it is illegal for a corporation to contribute “anything of value to a federal campaign or national political committee, including broadcast communications,” according to a CNN report.

Networks did not broadcast the anti-Bush op-ed “Fahrenheit 9/11” – viewers are allowed to choose if they want to watch op-ed pieces of this genre by purchasing a movie ticket.

But when a network whose corporate interests are at stake during this election decides for its viewers – many of whom are in swing states – what is in their best interest, it is no surprise that it will manipulate the media for its political gains.

Karl Rove, no more surprises, please.