Sinclair, which owns 62 stations in 39 media markets, will instead air a debate over the merits of war in Iraq on its seven ABC affiliates. Areas served by those stations include St. Louis, Mo.; Columbus, Ohio; Charleston, W.Va.; Springfield, Mass.; and parts of Florida, Alabama and North and South Carolina.
"The action (of reading the names) appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq," Sinclair said in a statement.
"I think clearly here's a guy who is opposed to the war and is trying to stir up public opposition to it," Sinclair Vice President for Corporate Relations Mark Hyman said of Nightline anchor Ted Koppel. "If he wants to do that, fine. But don't do it as a reporter."
Leroy Sievers, executive producer of Nightline, rejected the accusation that the decision was politically motivated. Sievers likened the program to a June 1969 issue of Life which included photos of soldiers killed during one week in Vietnam, and said it was meant to pay respect to the dead American service members.
"We want to remind people that they all have faces and names and families," Sievers said. "If you agree with the war or disagree with the war, these people here have died in our names. We think it's the least we can do, to list their names."
Sinclair officials responded that if Nightline's producers were sincere, they would have devoted time to reading the names of the thousands of people killed in terrorist attacks, including Sept. 11, 2001. ABC News defended its record, saying it has reported hundreds of stories about the Sept. 11 attacks and on the first anniversary broadcast the names of all the victims.
Sinclair invited Koppel to participate in the program it will air to pre-empt Nightline's expanded 40-minute show, but ABC News rejected the offer.
ABC News invited Hyman to discuss the controversy on Good Morning America, but Sinclair officials refused to participate when the morning program would not agree to air the interview live.
Sinclair made news in 2001 when it directed its stations to read on-air statements in support of President Bush. It has also provided its own newscasts to highlight what it says are the positive achievement of the U.S.-led occupation in Iraq.
-- Compiled from wire reports and other media sources