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Inside Politics

Sinclair fires reporter for criticizing anti-Kerry program

Sinclair Broadcasting Group is based in Hunt Valley, Maryland.
Sinclair Broadcast Group Incorporated

(CNN) -- The Washington bureau chief for a chain of television stations that plans to run a documentary critical of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said Monday he was fired for publicly criticizing the company's decision to air the program.

In an interview published Monday, Jon Leiberman told The Baltimore Sun that Sinclair Broadcast Group's decision to air the 45-minute film as a news program was "biased political propaganda."

Leiberman later told CNN he was fired after the story hit newsstands.

"The reason for my firing was that I relayed what they called proprietary information from an in-house meeting and I divulged it to the media, which is against company policy," he said.

Corporate spokesman Mark Hyman confirmed Leiberman's dismissal and said the company did not comment on personnel matters.

Leiberman told CNN he had raised objections within the company to airing the film as a news program, and "just basically said, 'I don't want to be a part of it.'" He said he was warned not to go public with his objections and was canned when he did.

"I knew this was a possible consequence," Leiberman said. "I really wanted them to just change the ways that they do things. I've been telling them for months that they need to change the way they do things."

Sinclair has ordered its 62 television stations to run the 40-minute film "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal," in which former U.S. prisoners of war criticize Kerry's role in the Vietnam-era antiwar movement.

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 owns stations in the swing states of Ohio, Florida, Iowa and Wisconsin, and Democrats say Sinclair would be making an illegal campaign contribution to President Bush's re-election effort by airing the film. But the company says it is a news program and has offered Kerry time to respond.

Hyman 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. "Viewers can grade Leiberman's opinion versus the reality when the finished product is aired."

But Leiberman told the Sun his objection was not a matter of politics -- "It's about what's right or wrong in news coverage this close to an election."

The company has drawn attention within the industry with its "News Central" broadcasts, which beam centralized news programming from corporate headquarters for its stations. That programming includes conservative news commentary from Hyman.

Sinclair's top executives are public supporters of the Bush campaign. They have donated at least $58,000 to the Bush-Cheney campaign or the Republican National Committee for the 2004 election.

Leiberman said he had worked for Sinclair for four and a half years and founded the company's Washington bureau 15 months ago.

"There was a lot of pressure from above and from the commentary department to put a certain slant on the news, and I fought that. I fought that for months," he said.

There was no immediate reaction from Hyman to that allegation.

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