Media face dilemma in patriotic displays

Many in the news business are seeking ways to balance their competing impulses during this time of crisis as journalists and as patriots. Some are finding it more challenging than their peers.

At Baltimore's WBFF-TV (Channel 45), officials required news and sports anchors, even a weather forecaster, to read messages conveying full support for the Bush administration's efforts against terrorism. Several staffers objected on the grounds that it would undermine their objectivity.


As a compromise, the message read by on-air staffers indicated that it came from "station management."

Still, according to at least four people at WBFF, some staffers believe they now look as though they are endorsing specific government actions. That is anathema to many working journalists.


The spots began airing late last week.

Several people interviewed at WBFF described the choice as "no-win": do something that could erode their reputations as objective journalists, or appear unpatriotic and uncaring toward the victims of last week's terrorist attacks.

WBFF's more than 60 sister stations nationwide also are running spots declaring support for the efforts of President Bush and other government leaders to thwart terrorist groups.

Many of the stations, all controlled by the Baltimore County-based Sinclair Broadcasting Group Inc., broadcast messages read by their station managers or by Mark Hyman, a senior Sinclair official.

No one at WBFF critical of its decision was willing to talk for the record. Sinclair maintains a policy requiring that all interviews be approved by station or corporate officials. All inquiries for direct attribution were referred to WBFF general manager Bill Fanshawe.

Along with his counterparts at some other Sinclair stations, Fanshawe was entertaining major clients in Paris last week during the terrorist attacks. "Since I was not here, we thought it was best for 'talent' to do the spots," Fanshawe said yesterday. "I don't see it as controversial because the statement was made that it was a 'station management' philosophy."

Other journalistic outlets are finding different ways to respond. The Sun, for example, published a two-page reproduction of the American flag, after a reader's suggestion. At the direction of the marketing department, workers taped the flags to the windows of a Sun walkway along Calvert Street in downtown Baltimore.

Like The New York Times and many local television and radio stations, including some Sinclair stations, The Sun and its corporate siblings are helping to raise money for relief efforts.


In addition, The Sun has helped to sponsor a music rally tomorrow evening at the state fairgrounds in Timonium. Other sponsors include WMAR (Channel 2); the major broadcasters Clear Channel and Radio One; IWIF, a semi-public insurance agency; and the Ravens football team.

At WJZ (Channel 13) and WMAR, staffers brought in homemade ribbons of red, white and blue for colleagues to wear. Most did.