Sinclair Pulls Back From Airing Anti-Kerry Film

Instead, the company said it would air excerpts from the film as part of an hour-long program scheduled for Friday.

“The experience of preparing to air this news special has been trying for many of those involved,” Sinclair chief executive David Smith said in a statement. “The company and many of its executives have endured personal attacks of the vilest nature, as well as calls on our advertisers and our viewers to boycott our stations and on our shareholders to sell their stock.”

Sinclair, the nation’s largest television station group, said the special would run at 8 p.m. Friday on 40 of the 62 stations it owns or operates, many of them in swing states. Originally, Sinclair planned to broadcast an hour-long program, apparently based entirely on the 42-minute documentary “Stolen Honor,” on 60 of its 62 stations over several nights this week.

The company, which runs two or more outlets in 21 markets nationwide, said it had decided to limit the special to air on one station in each city to “minimize the interruption of normally scheduled programming.”

The new hour-long special, “A POW Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media,” hosted by Sinclair’s Baltimore anchor Jeff Barnd, focuses on the use of political documentaries to influence voters, as well as media bias, in the 2004 presidential campaign, according to its press release.

In this broader context, the program would examine allegations surrounding Senator Kerry’s anti-Vietnam war activities in the early 1970s raised by a number of former POWs in “Stolen Honor,” according to its press statement. The statement did not say how much of the controversial documentary Sinclair plans to feature in its special, nor did it name any other documentaries that will be used.

Sinclair added that contrary to numerous media reports, it had never said it would show the “Stolen Honor” documentary in its entirety.

The decision by Sinclair followed mounting protests from Democrats, the Kerry campaign and public interest groups, who have all filed formal complaints with several federal agencies about the planned broadcast.

Since the controversy erupted 11 days ago, Sinclair’s stock has dropped more than 15 percent, prompting major shareholders and institutional investors to complain to the company’s board of directors.

On Tuesday, Glickenhaus & Co., an investment firm holding 6,100 Sinclair shares, wrote Sinclair’s board of directors, asking that it immediately “provide those with views opposed to the allegations in the film an equal opportunity to respond” or otherwise face legal action to stop the broadcast. The left-leaning advocacy group Media Matters for America underwrote the action.

Also Tuesday, lawyer and Democratic fundraiser William Lerach, representing a group of Sinclair shareholders, threatened to file suit against the company’s management, charging it with insider trading and damaging the company financially by pursuing the partisan political interests of its owners. Sinclair’s executives are prominent donors to the Republican Party.

New York state comptroller Alan Hevesi, a Democrat whose state pension fund holds more than 250,000 shares of Sinclair stock, wrote a letter to Smith, questioning how airing the documentary “will improve performance and add to shareholder value.” Hevesi asked Smith to explain why critics who accused the company of pursuing “partisan political views” rather than “protecting shareholder value” were wrong, The New York Times reported.

Still, Sinclair dismissed that it decided to alter the program because of the public backlash.

“We cannot in a free America yield to 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,” Smith said in his statement.

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