Sinclair: Stations won't run entire anti-Kerry film
(CNN) -- Sinclair Broadcast Group announced Tuesday its television stations won't run in its entirety a documentary attacking Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry and said reports that it had planned to do so were incorrect.
The announcement from the Maryland-based company followed two weeks of intense criticism from Democrats and from its own Washington bureau chief, who was fired Monday after he told The Baltimore Sun the decision to air the 45-minute film as a news program was "biased political propaganda."
The film, "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal," features former American prisoners of war blasting Kerry's Vietnam-era antiwar activism, particularly his 1971 testimony before a Senate committee in which the decorated Navy officer recounted allegations of atrocities by U.S. troops.
Sinclair said Tuesday it will air a special news program, called "A POW Story," that will include the documentary's allegations against Kerry in a "broader discussion." The company said 40 of its 62 stations will air the program, including stations in the presidential swing states of Ohio, Florida, Iowa and Wisconsin.
"Contrary to numerous inaccurate political and press accounts, the Sinclair stations will not be airing the documentary 'Stolen Honor' in its entirety," the company said in a written statement. "At no time did Sinclair ever publicly announce that it intended to do so."
The film, by journalist Carlton Sherwood, is backed by the anti-Kerry veterans group Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for Truth. The group has accused Kerry of lying about his Vietnam combat record and harming U.S. prisoners as an antiwar activist by recounting allegations of war crimes by U.S. troops to a Senate committee.
Sinclair had ordered its television stations to pre-empt regular programming to air the program based on "Stolen Honor." But it said Tuesday that it had prominently noted throughout the controversy that "the exact format of this unscripted event has not been finalized."
"The news special will focus in part on the use of documentaries and other media to influence voting, which emerged during the 2004 political campaigns, as well as on the content of certain of these documentaries," a corporate statement said. "The program will also examine the role of the media in filtering the information contained in these documentaries, allegations of media bias by media organizations that ignore or filter legitimate news and the attempts by candidates and other organizations to influence media coverage."
Jon Leiberman, the Sinclair reporter fired for publicly criticizing the company's handling of the documentary, said Sinclair executives told its news staff Sunday that they planned to run a "significant chunk" of the film, "but they refused to put a time on it." He said he objected when the company told reporters to develop news stories around the film.
"They were going to have the news department take an active role in framing this documentary as a news item," Leiberman said.
Leiberman, who said he has seen "Stolen Honor," called the film "very inflammatory."
"It's a presentation of some of what a number of POWs have to say about how they were tortured because of what John Kerry said in 1971, and they make a direct link between the treatment and torture they received and John Kerry's statements. It wouldn't be considered objective by any means."
He said his objections stemmed from Sinclair's efforts to build a news program around the movie, which he warned would damage the company's journalistic credibility.
"It seems like they're backing off, but we won't know until we see what's on the air on Friday," Leiberman said. "If they do back off, I honestly believe it's because of all the pressure."
Sinclair's stations reach about a quarter of U.S. households. Its top executives have donated at least $58,000 to President Bush's re-election campaign or the Republican National Committee for the 2004 election. Democrats said Sinclair would have been making an illegal campaign contribution to Bush's re-election effort by airing the film. Some stockholders have raised questions about the decision as well, and some Wall Street analysts have blamed the controversy for recent declines in the company's stock value.
Leiberman was dismissed for violating company policy when he repeated his complaints to The Sun. Company spokesman Mark Hyman, whose conservative commentaries are included in news programming Sinclair produces for its stations, said Leiberman was breaking silence because of his "political views."
"We have no further comment on the actions of a disgruntled employee or an ongoing personnel matter," Hyman said in a statement to CNN Monday night. "Viewers can grade Leiberman's opinion versus the reality when the finished product is aired."