The Baltimore Sun gives us a tale of journalistic courage in the person of 29-year-old Jon Leiberman, the Sinclair Broadcasting Washington DC bureau chief shitcanned this week for criticizing Sinclair’s plans to use the public airways to bash a candidate in the name of news. What a kickass story this guy has to tell:
“It was the daily struggle to get fair news on the air,” he said. “I’ve been raising red flags for months. I didn’t just fly off the handle. … This is an agonizing process.”
The Maryland-based corporation owns or operates 62 stations in 39 markets that reach about 24 percent of the American viewing public. In creating a centralized newscast for many of its stations, produced at its Hunt Valley headquarters, Sinclair sought a new tone to distinguish it from many of its local competitors. It was flashy and fast-paced. It was edgy.
But Leiberman said that tone took on a clear ideological bent, and it came directly from CEO David D. Smith and vice president and editorialist Mark Hyman: Stories had to be positive for conservatives and Republicans, he said, and negative for Democrats and liberals.
Last weekend, Sinclair executives began finalizing plans to air an hourlong special built around charges that Kerry’s anti-war activism had led to the prolonged torture of U.S. prisoners of war by their North Vietnamese captors. After months of internal protest, Leiberman spoke out.
“I didn’t do this for attention,”he said. “I didn’t do this for my 10 minutes, because I know that in a week from now this will all be gone – all the attention – and I’ll still have to live with my decision. I think I can do that.”
Seriously, what has happened to this guy is idiotic. Mr. Leiberman and others in his profession do a difficult job. We hack on them a lot when they screw up or act like idiots, but the reality is that television pundits and whores are the exception (albeit the extremely influential and visible one) to the rule. The good people working hard to overcome the constraints their corporate offices put on them and get the news out deserve a lot of credit, and when bosses drive people like Leiberman away, that only makes more room for fame-whoring assholes who’ll suck up to anyone to get some screen time.
As Romenesko points out, it’s doubtful Leiberman will be unemployed long. I hope he winds up at a place that appreciates his willingness to take risks for what’s right.