Z on TV Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV

Zurawik: Attorney General Frosh would be foolish to agree to a TV debate hosted by Sinclair

I have always believed that TV debates among political candidates are essentially a good thing. The more the better — and the better democracy is served by them.

Until I read Luke Broadwater’s story in the Sunday Sun about the Maryland attorney general’s race and Republican challenger Craig Wolf accusing Democrat Brian Frosh of not wanting to do TV debates because the incumbent has not accepted an invitation to appear with him on WBFF-TV, a Baltimore station owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group.

If I were Frosh, I wouldn’t do a debate hosted by the Hunt-Valley-based Sinclair either. Actually, let me tell you how I really feel in language we can all understand: Frosh would have to have a hole in his head to put himself in the hands of an outfit that President Donald Trump has praised for its coverage, describing it as “far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.”

Remember that presidential tweet from April when Trump was defending Sinclair against viral criticism and ridicule in the wake of Deadspin video showing Sinclair anchors across the country reading from the same script accusing other media outlets of publishing “fake” stories?

That was when Trump was still using Twitter to try and pressure the Federal Communications Commission to approve the company’s purchase of Tribune Media, a deal that has since blown up in Sinclair’s face and left it facing a $1 billion lawsuit from Tribune.

Sinclair gave up any pretense of being a down-the-middle broadcaster when it hired Boris Epshteyn, a Trump aide, to be its chief political analyst. Epshteyn’s “Bottom Line with Boris” segments, which are carried on WBFF, are as close to propaganda as anything I have seen on American broadcast TV in 30 years of writing about the medium.

And now, Sinclair wants to host a debate between candidates for one of the most important offices in Maryland — a role that makes you a major player in choosing the moderator, camera angles, staging, graphics, lighting and all the other bits and pieces of TV business that can dramatically alter what comes across on screens across the state.

And who would be involved in making those decisions as executive producer of Town Hall and Political Content for Sinclair? That would be Gregory Massoni, the longtime political aide to former Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

I am going to leave it right there, as they say on cable news TV, except to say If I am a Democratic candidate, I would prefer to trust my TV image to someone who has a history of slightly less partisan politics.

Frosh has absolutely no obligation to the citizens of Maryland to do a TV debate on any Sinclair station. It’s not even close.

And the fact that he has agreed to do two debates hosted by law schools, which was described in Broadwater’s report as the tradition in Maryland, makes it even more outrageous for Wolf to be tying to spin this as Frosh depriving citizens of the chance to get information about the candidates.

Some stations see the hosting of events like TV debates as a public service burden. I see them as an honor. And I believe if you get partisan and political, you forfeit that honor.



Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad