Sinclair’s Soldiers in Trump’s War on Media
Video essays are a language, an investigative method, an audiovisual toolbox for critical analysis. Their rhetorical strategies can be used for different purposes than critiquing a television show or analysing a blockbuster movie. That is exactly what this video essay, made by Timothy Burke for Deadspin, does. It uses tried and tested videographic formats (the supercut and the side-by-side comparison) to expose a questionable audiovisual practice.
In March 2018, local television stations owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group all over the US aired peculiar statements. In these promos the local news anchors denounced “one sided news stories” and promised a “commitment to factual reporting”. However, all of these dozens of concerned editorial messages were modelled on the same text, which Sinclair required its affiliates to personalize (“Insert local news station name and location here”) and then deliver on air. Burke’s supercut of the different renditions of the exact same text can be seen as a damning rebuke of Sinclair’s practice. What should have been a profession of the independence of each of these local stations is exposed as an almost dystopian parroting of a force-fed text that smacks of propaganda.
This video did not go unnoticed. It became part of an effort by a media watchdog group to stifle Sinclair’s attempts to acquire even more local television stations. Timothy Burke himself was not pleased with this weaponizing of what he himself called his “dumb video”. In fact, he explicitly stated that he does not “want the videos to represent anything other than the farce that is the intersection of media and reality at this moment in time”. In a follow-up story, he claims to be baffled or even frightened by the different ways in which his video was interpreted and the different contexts in which it was seen. (It is hard to not read those remarks as backtracking, because they are very much at odds with the activist tone of the original story as evidenced in its title and in its soliciting of anonymous tipsters). Whatever his intent, the video still stands as a potent piece of audiovisual criticism in its own right.