Conservative local TV news giant Sinclair Broadcast Group has produced two “must-run” segments misrepresenting the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and casting doubt on its “hate group” designations. Sinclair is known for requiring its local news stations to air “must-run” segments that often look like right-wing propaganda. These must-runs come as hate groups and other right-wing organizations have ramped up their years-long campaign against SPLC in 2017.
Sinclair’s Behind the Headlines with Mark Hyman segment that ran on air on October 31 included several false claims about SPLC, including the incorrect claim that the group spent only $62,000 on legal expenses in 2015 and that SPLC gave a “hate group” designation to “a young woman who called into a radio show to discuss socialism.” (Right-wing media, hate groups, and Fox News helped amplify that same lie in October.) The segment also took issue with SPLC’s designation of some “christian ministries, think tanks and public interest law firms” as hate groups, giving an innocuous veneer to groups such as the rabidly anti-LGBTQ Liberty Counsel. The segment said SPLC’s inclusion of those groups in a list of hate groups that includes “the Klan and skinheads … raises serious questions,” echoing an argument repeatedly made by hate groups and right-wing media.
SPLC responded to the segment by sending a November 21 letter to Sinclair station WSYX that called the claims made by Hyman “inaccurate, defamatory, and irresponsible.” The letter called on the station “to acknowledge on the air the errors contained in the story about the SPLC, remove any reference to the story from your website if it was posted there, and not run the segment again.” The SPLC previously called for similar action by Fox News after the channel made false claims about the group’s legal spending. On December 7, Hyman replied to SPLC in a second Behind the Headlines segment. Hyman read some of SPLC’s clarification in response to the October segment but failed to acknowledge that his previous claims about SPLC were wrong. Thus local news audiences across the country will be shown another exchange in a Sinclair personality’s petty and inaccurate attacks against a major civil rights group.
Hyman’s segments came during a year in which anti-LGBTQ hate groups have stepped up their campaign against SPLC and its “hate group” designation. A number of those groups even launched an “SPLCexposed” campaign in an attempt to discredit the label and mainstream bigotry against the queer and trans community.
Sinclair’s “must-run” segments feature right-wing and pro-Trump commentary and are required to be aired by all Sinclair-owned or operated local news stations. Hyman’s twice-weekly segment is just one of those so-called “must-runs.” If Sinclair’s controversial purchase of Tribune Media Group is approved by the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice, the company would grow as the largest provider of local TV news in the country, adding 42 more stations to its existing 173 stations in 81 markets. In November, Media Matters compiled a list of more than 15 communities that will be affected by Sinclair’s acquisition.