Sinclair Broadcast Group asks news directors for PAC donations, challenging journalism profession’s insistence on objectivity

The Washington Post is reporting, in a story by Paul Fahri, that the Sinclair Broadcast Group in Hunt Valley, near Baltimore MD, has asked its news directors to consider making PAC contributions for its political lobbying efforts to secure the rights to buy more television stations (apparently).  The purchase of the Chicago Tribune could be at issue.

The request did  not go to reporters, anchors, or lower-level employees.  However, others in the news business consider this request unethical.

In most news organizations, journalists are prohibited from making political contributions to elections or PACS.

I could speak to my own experience.  I worked for NBC (when it belonged to RCA) as a mainframe (Univac) computer programmer from 1974-1977 in Rockefeller Center in New York City.  This was an interesting time in my own life, to say the least. We were never approached for such contributions.  I worked on general ledger and financial reporting systems, and one of the systems I worked on was the Owned and Operated Stations ledgers.   We nearly made a business trip to Burbank CA for that project. I did learn how sensitive an issue station ownership was in the business at the time.

But with several other jobs that would follow in my career, even lower level employees were asked if they wanted to contribute to PAC’s.  I never did.   In one situation, I was also prodded about giving blood, when it was illegal for me to do so.  In the past, some employers have made a public issue of getting payroll deductions from their employees to specific community charities like United Way, which might sound inappropriate in the news business.

I regard myself as an “independent journalist” now (I hope a sane one who doesn’t act on fake news, about “Crooked Hillary” or anyone else).  That means I normally don’t contribute to political campaigns or PACS’s  It also means that I don’t normally run fund-raising campaigns under my own name on social media for non-profits (which Facebook seems to being to try to goad me to do.)  There is a conceivable complication that my two trusts name three non-profits among the beneficiaries, but that has not been interpreted mean that I actively promote them in public.  If you ponder this a bit, you will realize there are reasons why political resistance groups (especially on the Left) do not like to see bloggers declare themselves as too “independent” to join up.

Sinclair Broadcasting, known as a “conservative” media company like Fox and OANN,  is to be commended for some of its coverage of defense and homeland security issues, including the risk of electromagnetic pulse attacks by enemies (conceivably North Korea, at least E1), or power grid damage from extreme solar storms.  It even conducted a “Your Voice Your Future” session from Green Bay, WI on the subject with the locally owned Washington DC station WJLA (which tends to be much more liberal) advertised for its News Channel 8 but did not carry.

Jessica Corbett of Common Dreams has a story about Sinclair on Truth-Out.

See Pingback to another Conflict of Interest piece on May 30, 2016 posting here.

(Posted: Monday, February 12, 2018 at 6:30 PM EST)

Trump’s threat to media broadcast licenses, while silly and self-contradictory, shows the dangerous paradoxes of his populism

The media is indeed swooning at Trump’s latest supposed outrages, including his veiled threat to broadcast licenses after NBC supposedly reported his plans for increasing US nuclear supremacy.

Oliver Darcy and Brian Stelter have a typical summary on CNN.

There’s a potpourri of obvious legal problems if Trump were to try to do this. The biggest is that it is owned stations that have licenses, not the networks.  I remember this from my own days working for NBC as a computer programmer in the 1970s. I was responsible for an accounting ledger for “owned and operated stations”.  I remember networks were allowed to own five. Often, individual stations are owned by one company and affiliated with a network, like WJLA is owned by Sinclair and affiliated with ABC.  Often the stations don’t follow the bidding of owners.  Sinclair is a “conservative” media company that has played up the power grid threats which I have reported here, but WJLA has toned down these reports, even though I’ve encouraged WJLA (which knows me) to take them seriously.

Another interesting point is that the president doesn’t have the full legal authority to order the FCC exactly what to do. Furthermore Trump’s appointment, Ajit Pai, has favored loosening and eliminating Obama’s network neutrality rules in a way that would benefit Comcast, which owns NBC.  Even so, loosening of network neutrality rules really hasn’t in big companies like Comcast trying to throttle smaller businesses and individual speakers from having fair treatment in access to self-broadcast on their telecom pipes (something that the “liberals” feared more than the gutting of Section 230 as a threat to user speech).

It’s ironic that, in his propagation of “the people” and populism, Trump really hasn’t gone after individual elites (like standalone bloggers) as much as he had certain big companies (mainstream liberal media) whom he can portray to the “people” as their enemies with fake news.  But, of course, it is the world of user-generated content that the Russians infected with their fake news barrage in order to divide the people further.  But Trump wants the people divided. He believes that it is the strongest tribes that survive, not the strongest individuals.  Yet, in Trump’s individual behavior, it’s obvious that Trump admires strong young adult individuals – look at who he hired on “The Apprentice”.  At a personal level, he probably does admire young scientists, young tech entreprenuers, and even young conservative journalists who would show him up.   More contradictions on the LGBT side: he seems to admire plenty of LGBT individuals, but attacks the intersectional politics of the LGBT activist establishment with all his appointments.

The mainstream media’s reaction to this latest flap over violating the first amendment (the freedom of the press standards apart from the more general freedom of speech in the First Amendment) has sometimes been a bit silly and hyperbolic.  Look at how the Washington Post (“Democracy dies in darkbess”) asks “can he really do that?” by dragging you into listening to an overlong podcast.  By now everybody has forgotten all about “opening up libel laws.” British style (as Kitty Kelly explains in 1997, truth doesn’t always defend against libel, especially if absolute truth no longer exists).

Trump’s latest action on health care (like with immigration) shows he is willing to let “ordinary people” become pawns as he makes his ideological points, which really do have some merit.  Yup, making health young people buy coverage they don’t need sets a bad example for other areas.  Yes, it may really be illegal for the Executive to continue premium and copay support for poor people until Congress does its job, does its math, and can explicitly authorize it (sounds like how he handles DACA).

And, yup, previous administrations may have appeased North Korea too much, and a “domino theory” that tends to enlist ordinary citizens as potential combatants may have some real merit (as I covered particularly in my first DADT book).  But all of this, right now, sets up a very dangerous situation, the most perilous for the safety of ordinary Americans since the Cuban Missile Crisis, even more so than 9/11.  If Trump really wants his zeal for populism to wind up with martial law (as one friend on FB suggests), or a “purification” (as another puts it), he might have his duel in the Sun.

I also wanted to point out Sean Illing’s compendium on Vox, “20 of America’s top political scientists gathered to discuss our democracy. They’re scared”.  One out of six Americans is OK with military rule (like in the Philippines — that’s like saying one out of six movies should be a horror movie).  Our society of individualism requires a talent for individualized abstraction.  That tends to leave out a lot of “average joes”.  But all of us find more meaning in power structures and “station in life” than is healthy for freedom.

(Posted: Friday, Oct. 13, 2017 at 11:30 PM EDT)


Families of San Bernadino terror attack victims sue Facebook, Twitter, Google over “propaganda” arguments that evade Section 230

Families of victims of the fall 2015 terror attack in San Bernadino, CA are suing the three biggest social media companies (that allow unmonitored broadcast of content in public mode), that is Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Similar suits have been filed by victims of the Pulse attack in Orlando and the 2015 terror attacks in Paris.

Station WJLA in Washington DC, a subsidiary of the “conservative” (perhaps mildly so) Sinclair Broadcast Group in Baltimore, put up a news story Tuesday morning, including a Scribd PDF copy of the legal complaint in a federal court in central California, here. I find it interesting that Sinclair released this report, as it did so last summer with stories about threats to the power grids, which WJLA and News Channel 8 in Washington announced but then provided very little coverage of to local audiences (I had to hunt it down online to a station in Wisconsin).

Normally, Section 230 protects social media companies from downstream liability for the usual personal torts, especially libel, and DNCA Safe Harbor protects them in a similar fashion from copyright liability if they remove content when notified.

However, the complaint seems to suggest that the companies are spreading propaganda and share in the advertising revenue earned from the content, particularly in some cases from news aggregation aimed at user “Likenomics”.

Companies do have a legal responsibility to remove certain content when brought to their attention, including especially child pornography and probably sex trafficking, and probably clearcut criminal plans. They might have legal duties in wartime settings regarding espionage, and they conceivably could have legal obligations regarding classified information (which is what the legal debate over Wikileaks and Russian hacking deals with).

But “propaganda” by itself is ideology. Authoritarian politicians on both the right and left (Vladimir Putin) use the word a lot, because they rule over populations that are less individualistic in their life experience than ours, where critical thinking isn’t possible, and where people have to act together. The word, which we all learn about in high school civics and government social studies classes (and I write this post on a school day – and I used to sub), has always sounded dangerous to me.

But the propagation of ideology alone would probably be protected by the First Amendment, until it is accompanied by more specific criminal or military (war) plans. A possible complication could be the idea that terror ideology regards civilians as combatants.

Facebook recently announced it would add 3000 associates to screen for terror or hate content, but mainly on conjunction with Facebook Live broadcasts of crimes or even suicide. I would probably be a good candidate for one of these positions, but I am so busy working for myself I don’t have time (in “retirement”, which is rather like “in relief” in baseball).

Again, the Internet that we know with unfiltered user-generated content is not possible today if service companies have to pre-screen what gets published for possible legal problems. Section 230 will come under fire for other reasons soon (the Backpage scandal).

I have an earlier legacy post about Section 230 and Backpage here.

(Posted: Tuesday, May 9, 2017 at 1 PM EDT)

Some US utilities have been infected with trojan “Black Energy Malware” since 2012, could be unleased by hackers


On Friday, November 4, 2016, on the same day of warnings (mainly reported on CBS) of possible Al Qeada activity right before the election, and of possible Russian tampering (NBC ) , WJLA TV reporter Lisa Fletcher for “Seven on your Side” explained in more detail how cyber war could attack US infrastructure, including the power grid (basic link), in a short film “Cyber Hitmen for Hire“. The film was apparently produced by Sinclair Broadcasting (which owns WJLA) in Baltimore, and follows a Sinclair report July 6 and a “Your Voice Your Future” panel from Wisconsin on Aug. 1,

Security expert Isaac Palmer mentioned “Black Energy Malware”  which Russia used to take out some power stations in the Ukraine, and which he says had been surreptitiously loaded onto some US power companies in 2012, and which is “impossible to remove”.  The malware would be activated by an phishing email launched within a utility company’s server.

Palmer claimed that criminal hackers for hire can damage utilities if paid a few thousand in bitcoin. They can use tools on the “Dark Web”, and information dug from public records, to infiltrate utilities.  But it isn’t normally possible to “hack the grid” from the normal Internet the way the public uses it (except possibly from poorly secures small electric cooperatives).

Technology has been proposed (by Taylor Wilson and others) that could decentralize power stations in such a way that transformer overload from attacks would be impossible.

The FBI has its own primer on the Dark Web for law enforcement here.

The cyberthreat to utilities is much more likely to come from Russia than from radical Islam.

So is Donald Trump really ready for “law and order”?  Why hasn’t he presented technologies that would provide more security to infrastructure?  Make America great again?

(Posted: Saturday, November 5, 2016 at 12:15 PM EDT)

Sinclair Broadcast Group publishes sudden dire warning about future EMP or cyber attacks on US power grids


On Tuesday, July 5, 2016, WJLA affiliate station WJLA broadcast (at about 5:55 PM EDT) a 4-minute report  (by Jeff Barnd) from the Sinclair Broadcast Group  (near Baltimore, in Hunt Valley) about the security threats to the three big power grids.  I could not find the story on Sinclair’s own site. WJLA gave the story the title “Next terror target: Our power grids?”


The report correctly called the Texas grid as the “Texas Interconnect”.

The report suggested that the main threat would probably be a high altitude blast from a hostile state enemy, like North Korea (Alaska and the US Pacific Northwest, within a couple more years, possibly) or Iran (which could try an attack on Israel or even Sunni neighbors), throwing an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) wave(s) over a large area, perhaps most of the country in extreme cases.  The report said that ISIS probably does not have the expertise to mount such an attack.

The report also suggests that a major threat could come from cyber hacking of the grid.  Either a major blast or cyberwar could overload parts of the grid suddenly, because of the “overconnecteness” of power companies selling power for profit.

It’s less clear, to me at least, that an outside actor could even reach the power control systems through the public Internet.  It should not be possible to reach the grid control from my own computer, according to any mathematical topology.   However Ted Koppel’s book “Lights Out” may have been a factor in Sinclair’s report.

The report did not mention that smaller conventional flux weapons can produce localized EMP effects. It also did not mention solar storms.

The report described massive fatalities from prolonged electricity loss like those in the NBC series “Revolution” or the novel “One Second After”.

The report also suggested that an EMP attack might be followed by a physical attack on the homeland, like in the movies (like either “Red Dawn” movie).   That sounds more likely if the aggressor is Vladimir Putin himself.

It has been very unusual for mainstream media to discuss the EMP threat. Only Ted Cruz has mentioned so far, among presidential candidates, but I suspect Newt Gingrich would discuss it as a VP candidate.  When will Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton talk about this openly?

Could my own blogging (June 17) have drawn attention to the problem?  Maybe.  Some people at WJLA know me and I have discussed my concerns about it with their reporters  in person at least twice at “Your Voice, Your Future” forums in Arlington.

Important films on the topic include “American Blackout” (National Geographic Channel, aired Oct. 27, 2013, and CNN’s “We Were Warned: Cyber Shockwave” in February 2010.

To me, this topic deserves a lot more attention than something very narrow (affecting a cohort group close to me personally) like the North Carolina bathroom bills (but there is an iceberg or “slippery slope” effect even from small issues).  But throughout my adult life, many have resented my bringing up external issues and threats when I seem less inclined to live communally as part of a closely knit “helping hands” intentional community.   I’m still a lot more into winning arguments than counting partisan converts.

Anyway, “I told you so”.   But I’m not better than you, and couldn’t live with you in a 19th Century society.

(Published: Tuesday, July 5 at 9:45 PM EDT)


Update: July 9

I got an email from a site called “Fiscal Beacon” reproducing what it claimed was a story from Fox News about the devastation that could come from a power grid attack, bringing ordinary Americans to their knees in a personal way (that would include me).  The email offered sales of a home solar power generator, so it has a doomsday prepper flavor.  I could not find the source online, but Fox does have a couple of stories about the FBI’s comments on the issue, especially in view of a hack in the Ukraine, here by Victoria Craig, as well as a later one in April by Bill Gertz. It’s possible I got the email in response to this blog post about the Sinclair story, but I could not verify its authenticity quickly.

Here is a video on a typical solar power generator, this one apparently in Utah and popular with LDS.

Update: July 16

The Wall Street Journal carries, on p. C5 of the weekend edition, a book review (by R. Tyler Priest) of the book “The Grid” by Gretchen Bakke, from Bloomsbury.  I will purchase the book and provide my own review soon.


Update: July 26

The Wall Street Journal also published a major article by Rebecca Smith, “How America Could Go Dark” on July 14, with illustrations, and some focus on the physical attack in 2013 at PG&E’s Metcalf facility in the Silicon Valley, CA.  There is an LTE today about “unsecure technology”.