Chris Ripley, the president and CEO of Sinclair Broadcast Group, sent out a company-wide email on Tuesday in which he vowed to stay the course despite what he described as “politically motivated attacks” from outside the company.
In the email, obtained by HuffPost, Ripley apologized multiple times to any Sinclair employees who had faced personal criticism since ThinkProgress and Deadspin posted video compilations late last month of local Sinclair news anchors reciting the same script about “irresponsible, one-sided news stories.”
The videos led to both internal and external anger. CNN called the anchors “zombies.” Others called them much worse. Inside the conservative-leaning Sinclair, multiple anchors, including one who spoke with HuffPost, said they had initially protested the script, but ultimately relented due to restrictive contractual obligations. The response to the viral videos was “brutal,” said the anchor who spoke to HuffPost.
As an organization it is important that we do not let extremists on any side of the political fence bully us because they do not like what they hear or see. Chris Ripley, the president and CEO of Sinclair Broadcast Group
“For having to field nasty calls, threats, personal confrontations and trolling on social media, I am truly sorry you had to endure such an experience,” Ripley wrote.
“However,” he added, “as an organization it is important that we do not let extremists on any side of the political fence bully us because they do not like what they hear or see.”
Throughout the email, Ripley implied that the criticism the company had faced was unfair. “As you know, the practice of on-air personalities following a script is not unique to Sinclair,” he wrote, “however, the blowback we received for doing so certainly is.”
In recent weeks, one of the most frequent criticisms leveled at Sinclair has been its continued use of mandatory “must-run” segments sent to local stations, including some by Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump White House official whom Sinclair hired as a chief political analyst in April 2017.
But Ripley, who served as the company’s chief financial officer before moving over to CEO in January 2017, implied nothing is set to change in that regard. He said the company will continue its “hybrid approach of bringing together the best of the local broadcast model with the best of the network model which will undoubtable [sic] expose us to more criticism because ‘no other local TV broadcasters does [sic] it that way.’”
Far from giving in to criticism, Sinclair now appears to be going on the attack. On Tuesday, a public relations firm hired by Sinclair sent out a video titled “Did CNN Attack Sinclair For Doing Exactly What CNN Has Done For Years?”
Sinclair did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Here is Ripley’s email in its entirety.
I know that for many of you, this past week has been challenging as the stations bore the brunt of politically motivated attacks regarding our news promotions. As you know, the practice of on-air personalities following a script is not unique to Sinclair, however, the blowback we received for doing so certainly is. For having to field nasty calls, threats, personal confrontations and trolling on social media, I am truly sorry you had to endure such an experience. However, as an organization it is important that we do not let extremists on any side of the political fence bully us because they do not like what they hear or see.
On Friday Scott Livingston and I had a News Director meeting to answer questions about the situation from the field. At the end of the call I did a recap regarding our commitment to local that I would like to paraphrase for the benefit of those that were not on the call.
In the TV station business, there are four core sources of value: 1) wireless spectrum, 2) programming/distribution contracts, 3) local news/content and 4) local sales/relationships. Due to our unique engineering talent and industry leadership in next generation TV (ATSC3.0), Sinclair is most known for spectrum, and often times this leads to a perception that we do not value the local aspects of the business. This perception is not consistent with the value drivers of the industry. In fact, two out of the four value drivers in this business are locally based.
As we enter into a time of unprecedented change and disruption in media, it’s more important now than ever to be focused on serving our local communities and businesses with the best programming and the best marketing services. Those that fail to do these two things well and fail to innovate will not be in business 5-10 years from now. That means we cannot be satisfied with the status quo way that TV broadcasting has historically operated. To that end, Sinclair will continue to pursue new and innovative strategies including our hybrid approach of bringing together the best of the local broadcast model with the best of the network model which will undoubtable expose us to more criticism because “no other local TV broadcasters does it that way.” However, those that do not answer the call to innovate will be sucked into the black hole that is big tech which is consuming every segment of the media universe. Contrary to much of the uninformed coverage on Sinclair we are not a monopoly and do not have any material market power, even by pre-internet standards. We simply have a seat a large table of competitors and potential substitutes. A seat that we have to earn the right to keep by focusing on the needs of our local viewers and local advertisers.
So let me be clear, service and dedication to our local communities is an absolute priority here at Sinclair. It is a key strategic advantage for our company and often the reason others value us in the media ecosystem. Once again, my apologies if you were personally affected by the attacks from last week.
President & CEO
Sinclair Broadcast Group