Sinclair Broadcast Group and the "Stolen Honor" Documentary

[October 20, 2004]  On October 9, 2004 Los Angeles Times reported that Sinclair Broadcast Group planned to require its 62 stations, including 14 in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, to preempt their regular primetime programming one week before the election and broadcast the film "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal." 

The film is critical of Senator John Kerry's activities following his return from Vietnam.   It was produced by Carlton Sherwood, a Vietnam Veteran, and former television and newspaper reporter, who is now executive vice president and director of communications of the WVC3 Group, Inc., a security firm in Northern Virginia.  Sherwood claims to be a Pulitizer Prize recipient; he was part of a Gannett team that won the award in 1980.  However, he later was forced to resign from a Washington, DC television station; subsequently, while at the Washington Times, he wrote a book praising the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

Democrats mobilized against Sinclair.  On October 12 the DNC filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission charging that the planned broadcast comprises an "unlawful corporate-funded electioneering communication and corporate in-kind contribution to the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign and the Republican National Committee."  On October 15 Kerry-Edwards 2004 General Counsel Marc E. Elias, in a letter to SBG President and CEO David D. Smith, cited the FCC's Zapple Doctrine, and stated, "If Sinclair does air this program in which supporters of President Bush attack Senator Kerry, it must provide a similar opportunity for Senator Kerry's supporters."

A "Boycott Sinclair Broadcast Group" website promoting an advertiser boycott quickly went up .  By October 15 it claimed "over 50 confirmed advertiser pullouts from Sinclair, including at least one large national advertiser."  Additionally, Concerts for Change, a pro-Kerry group, launched a "" website with an online petition to oppose the Sinclair plan.  Concerts for Change planned to deliver more than 100,000 petition signatures to the Sinclair headquarters on October 20.

On October 19 the DNC put out a somewhat gleeful press release pointing to an AP story indicating that Sinclair stock's value had fallen $1.32 to $6.26 since October 11 and that, "The four principal owners have lost a combined $37.7 million in stock value."  The Nader campaign even jumped into the fray, describing Sinclair's order to its stations as "a flagrant example of how our democracy is being swamped by the confluence of money, politics and concentrated media" and calling on station managers to defy the order.

In an October 19 press release Sinclair announced the format of its news special, stating that the controversy was "based on misinformation."  Sinclair had no plans to run "Stolen Honor" in its entirety but rather intended to use it as part of a broader program.  Further, Sinclair noted that its  invitation to Sen. Kerry or his designee to participate in the program remained open.  Smith, the company's president, decried the "misguided attempts by a small but vocal minority to influence behavior and trample on the First Amendment rights of those with whom they might not agree."

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