Category: Thomas Wheatley

The Sinclair Debacle Is a Big, Juicy Nothingburger


The national press is outraged after a video surfaced revealing Sinclair Broadcast Group’s decision to have its local news anchors read a scripted announcement about accuracy in journalism.

So what’s the big deal?

Sure, there’s something unnerving about seeing local TV anchors across the country reciting a scripted message in unison.  But that’s more of a testament to the power of effective video editing than anything else.  Any group chant can be painted as creepy (like when these celebrities pledged to “be a servant to” President Obama), as can any video.

Nor am I concerned with reporters saying something with which they personally disagree.  Most journalists in their career, at one point or another, have received instructions from higher-ups on what to cover and how – maybe even instructions they didn’t like.

What’s more, Sinclair’s message is nearly identical to messages put out by Trump’s most ardent critics.  A few examples: In December 2017, the Brookings Institution published an article that explained “how to combat fake news and disinformation.”  Readers were advised to be “skeptical of news sources” online and warned of outlets that “resort to misleading or sensationalized headlines.”  Fake news, according to Brookings, is “especially problematic in democratic systems.”  Former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat, recommended in a New York Times op-ed that social media platforms adopt various transparency measures to combat fake news and “protect our democracy.”  Dan Rather, shortly after dismissing Sinclair’s message as “propaganda,” appeared on The Young Turks to recommend that citizens “challenge [their] news” and to “understand that trusting a news outlet doesn’t mean they’re perfect.”  If an outlet focuses on “personal, salacious and speculative stories,” said Rather, “find a new outlet.”

(It’s worth noting, by the way, that none of these folks needed evidence or examples of fake news to make their case, as demanded of Sinclair by the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple.)

Some would probably say the Sinclair broadcast wasn’t addressing that kind of fake news, but instead was a rallying cry for Trump’s ongoing attack on our nation’s distinguished Fourth Estate.

Assuming that’s true, how any average American could distill this message from the scripted announcement – and thus join Trump’s “brainwashed cult” – I am unsure.  Rewatch the clip sans creepy super-cut.  Not only is there no mention of Trump, but there is no mention of any specific media outlet or political figure whatsoever.  The message is so neutral that it even invites viewers to scrutinize Sinclair-run stations as well.

Moreover, viewers couldn’t have even guessed an ideological slant from the local TV station’s network affiliation – affiliates of Fox, CBS, NBC, and ABC all aired the announcement.  Context clues didn’t seem to help, either.  “Sinclair Broadcast Group” is not a household name, and it’s doubtful Americans know Sinclair’s political preferences.

A facially neutral message coupled with such a broad ignorance of Sinclair Broadcast Group means there’s virtually no chance a person watching the 90-second spot saw it as a pro-Trump advertisement.  Instead, viewers likely understood it to be a quick plug to make their local station seem more trustworthy (something CNN does every day when it calls itself “The Most Trusted Name in News”).

Yet for many in the media, the announcement was nonetheless “insidious.” Perhaps that belief has less to do with the message and more to do with messenger – specifically, the messenger’s support for Trump.

If so, Sinclair’s message shouldn’t be condemned, but celebrated for its perceptiveness.  Disagreeing with an idea one would otherwise normally agree with simply because of the speaker’s political alignment is the very definition of bias, which in this case makes Sinclair correct to say “some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda[.]”

It’s not such a crazy notion, given the story’s origins.  According to the New York Times, the video at issue was created by Deadspin video director Timothy Burke and published on Deadspin’s left-wing political blog, The Concourse.  Then a similarly edited video was released by ThinkProgress, a notoriously far-left outlet that has been caught on multiple occasions boosting false or misleading news stories and is characterized by Media Bias/Fact Check as an outlet that tends to “utilize strong, loaded words” and “publish misleading reports [that] omit reporting of information that may damage liberal causes.”

The media’s left-most members want us to believe that a media corporation instructing its anchors to educate viewers on the existence of reckless and false journalism threatens the very foundation of our democracy, simply because the corporation’s leaders support Trump.  That’s nonsense wrapped in partisan delusion.

The verdict here is clear: the so-called Sinclair “scandal” is a double-bacon nothingburger.  With cheese.

Thomas Wheatley is an attorney living in Arlington, Virginia and a regular contributor to the Washington Post’s “All Opinions Are Local” blog.  You can email him at tnwheatley@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @TNWheatley.  Check out all of his writings at www.thomasnwheatley.com.

The national press is outraged after a video surfaced revealing Sinclair Broadcast Group’s decision to have its local news anchors read a scripted announcement about accuracy in journalism.

So what’s the big deal?

Sure, there’s something unnerving about seeing local TV anchors across the country reciting a scripted message in unison.  But that’s more of a testament to the power of effective video editing than anything else.  Any group chant can be painted as creepy (like when these celebrities pledged to “be a servant to” President Obama), as can any video.

Nor am I concerned with reporters saying something with which they personally disagree.  Most journalists in their career, at one point or another, have received instructions from higher-ups on what to cover and how – maybe even instructions they didn’t like.

What’s more, Sinclair’s message is nearly identical to messages put out by Trump’s most ardent critics.  A few examples: In December 2017, the Brookings Institution published an article that explained “how to combat fake news and disinformation.”  Readers were advised to be “skeptical of news sources” online and warned of outlets that “resort to misleading or sensationalized headlines.”  Fake news, according to Brookings, is “especially problematic in democratic systems.”  Former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat, recommended in a New York Times op-ed that social media platforms adopt various transparency measures to combat fake news and “protect our democracy.”  Dan Rather, shortly after dismissing Sinclair’s message as “propaganda,” appeared on The Young Turks to recommend that citizens “challenge [their] news” and to “understand that trusting a news outlet doesn’t mean they’re perfect.”  If an outlet focuses on “personal, salacious and speculative stories,” said Rather, “find a new outlet.”

(It’s worth noting, by the way, that none of these folks needed evidence or examples of fake news to make their case, as demanded of Sinclair by the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple.)

Some would probably say the Sinclair broadcast wasn’t addressing that kind of fake news, but instead was a rallying cry for Trump’s ongoing attack on our nation’s distinguished Fourth Estate.

Assuming that’s true, how any average American could distill this message from the scripted announcement – and thus join Trump’s “brainwashed cult” – I am unsure.  Rewatch the clip sans creepy super-cut.  Not only is there no mention of Trump, but there is no mention of any specific media outlet or political figure whatsoever.  The message is so neutral that it even invites viewers to scrutinize Sinclair-run stations as well.

Moreover, viewers couldn’t have even guessed an ideological slant from the local TV station’s network affiliation – affiliates of Fox, CBS, NBC, and ABC all aired the announcement.  Context clues didn’t seem to help, either.  “Sinclair Broadcast Group” is not a household name, and it’s doubtful Americans know Sinclair’s political preferences.

A facially neutral message coupled with such a broad ignorance of Sinclair Broadcast Group means there’s virtually no chance a person watching the 90-second spot saw it as a pro-Trump advertisement.  Instead, viewers likely understood it to be a quick plug to make their local station seem more trustworthy (something CNN does every day when it calls itself “The Most Trusted Name in News”).

Yet for many in the media, the announcement was nonetheless “insidious.” Perhaps that belief has less to do with the message and more to do with messenger – specifically, the messenger’s support for Trump.

If so, Sinclair’s message shouldn’t be condemned, but celebrated for its perceptiveness.  Disagreeing with an idea one would otherwise normally agree with simply because of the speaker’s political alignment is the very definition of bias, which in this case makes Sinclair correct to say “some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda[.]”

It’s not such a crazy notion, given the story’s origins.  According to the New York Times, the video at issue was created by Deadspin video director Timothy Burke and published on Deadspin’s left-wing political blog, The Concourse.  Then a similarly edited video was released by ThinkProgress, a notoriously far-left outlet that has been caught on multiple occasions boosting false or misleading news stories and is characterized by Media Bias/Fact Check as an outlet that tends to “utilize strong, loaded words” and “publish misleading reports [that] omit reporting of information that may damage liberal causes.”

The media’s left-most members want us to believe that a media corporation instructing its anchors to educate viewers on the existence of reckless and false journalism threatens the very foundation of our democracy, simply because the corporation’s leaders support Trump.  That’s nonsense wrapped in partisan delusion.

The verdict here is clear: the so-called Sinclair “scandal” is a double-bacon nothingburger.  With cheese.

Thomas Wheatley is an attorney living in Arlington, Virginia and a regular contributor to the Washington Post’s “All Opinions Are Local” blog.  You can email him at tnwheatley@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @TNWheatley.  Check out all of his writings at www.thomasnwheatley.com.



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Ralph Northam's Failure of Character


Democrat Ralph Northam has a new title: spineless hypocrite.

Last week, the Latino Victory Fund launched an ad depicting a white man barreling down Virginia streets in a truck bearing a confederate flag and an Ed Gillespie bumper sticker. In the ad, the driver of the truck sees a group of minority children and chases them through parks, streets, and eventually to a dead-end alley, where the terrified children huddle together in helplessness.

The ad ends with the same children jolting awake in their beds, the truck and its driver an apparent nightmare. Images of the torch-bearing white supremacists from August’s Charlottesville rally flash on screen as a narrator’s voice asks, “Is this what Donald Trump and Ed Gillespie mean by the ‘American Dream?’”

Ultimately, the ad was pulled, but only after a radical Islamic terrorist drove a truck into a crowd of people in New York City on October 31. Yet the disturbing depiction of innocent children running for their lives represented a sickening turn in a gubernatorial race that has sadly become the new archetype in American politics.

Say what you will about the ads Ed Gillespie has run against his opponent — Ralph Northam certainly has. Northam was all too happy to condemn Gillespie’s ads suggesting Northam’s platform was soft on crime, calling them “despicable” and “a bunch of baloney.” The Washington Post also piled on, saying Gillespie’s ads “use specious claims and appeals to race and ethnicity to scare and divide.” (While it is not clear how Gillespie’s ads are “specious” or exploitative of race and ethnicity; it is undisputed that MS-13 uses illegal channels of immigration from Central America to expand its ranks in Virginia.)

Turn the tables, however, and Northam seems content to embrace the benefits of left-wing extremists suggesting his opponent is complicit in murderous white supremacy. The most his campaign could muster — only after days of intense backlash, I hasten to add — was to dismiss the ad as one which he “would not have run.”

Northam’s cowardice is out of step with what Virginians want in a leader. Not only has the Libertarian candidate in the gubernatorial race called on his rivals to cease lobbing “wild-eyed accusations,” seasoned political operatives on both sides of the aisle have frowned upon the racial overtones of the race. Even the Washington Post’s editors, who previously endorsed Northam, have condemned the Latino Victory Fund’s ad as “vile.”

For Virginians deciding which lever to pull on November 7, Northam’s willingness to smear a good man just to boost his dwindling poll numbers is not just a sign of desperation — it is a glimpse into the Democratic candidate’s personal character.

Sure, Gillespie has run ads that attack his opponent’s softness toward illegal immigration, but let us not forget that encouraging a tougher stance on illegal immigration — specifically, enhancing border security, as Gillespie wants to do — was a Democratic talking point as recently as 2013. Indeed, it was President Clinton who oversaw passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996, and President Obama deported more immigrants than any other president in history, earning him the moniker “Deporter in Chief.” Moreover, Gillespie was one of the first Republicans to condemn the white supremacists who spewed their poison in Charlottesville.

On that point, the pro-Northam ad by the Latino Victory Fund was not just below the belt — it was plainly wrong. Still, Northam remained indifferent.

In sum, the ad was fearmongering at its worst. It reflects in the Latino Victory Fund a foaming-at-the-mouth obsession with painting conservative voters as bloodthirsty racists and minorities as helpless children. The perversity of scaring immigrants as a means to gain power is astonishing, yet it is a tactic Northam seemed content to tolerate. Virginia deserves better.

Thomas Wheatley is a writer living in Arlington, Virginia. A regular contributor to the Washington Post’s “All Opinions Are Local” blog, he holds a law degree from the Antonin Scalia Law School and was a 2016 Publius Fellow at the Claremont Institute. Email him at tnwheatley@gmail.comand follow him on Twitter @TNWheatley.

Democrat Ralph Northam has a new title: spineless hypocrite.

Last week, the Latino Victory Fund launched an ad depicting a white man barreling down Virginia streets in a truck bearing a confederate flag and an Ed Gillespie bumper sticker. In the ad, the driver of the truck sees a group of minority children and chases them through parks, streets, and eventually to a dead-end alley, where the terrified children huddle together in helplessness.

The ad ends with the same children jolting awake in their beds, the truck and its driver an apparent nightmare. Images of the torch-bearing white supremacists from August’s Charlottesville rally flash on screen as a narrator’s voice asks, “Is this what Donald Trump and Ed Gillespie mean by the ‘American Dream?’”

Ultimately, the ad was pulled, but only after a radical Islamic terrorist drove a truck into a crowd of people in New York City on October 31. Yet the disturbing depiction of innocent children running for their lives represented a sickening turn in a gubernatorial race that has sadly become the new archetype in American politics.

Say what you will about the ads Ed Gillespie has run against his opponent — Ralph Northam certainly has. Northam was all too happy to condemn Gillespie’s ads suggesting Northam’s platform was soft on crime, calling them “despicable” and “a bunch of baloney.” The Washington Post also piled on, saying Gillespie’s ads “use specious claims and appeals to race and ethnicity to scare and divide.” (While it is not clear how Gillespie’s ads are “specious” or exploitative of race and ethnicity; it is undisputed that MS-13 uses illegal channels of immigration from Central America to expand its ranks in Virginia.)

Turn the tables, however, and Northam seems content to embrace the benefits of left-wing extremists suggesting his opponent is complicit in murderous white supremacy. The most his campaign could muster — only after days of intense backlash, I hasten to add — was to dismiss the ad as one which he “would not have run.”

Northam’s cowardice is out of step with what Virginians want in a leader. Not only has the Libertarian candidate in the gubernatorial race called on his rivals to cease lobbing “wild-eyed accusations,” seasoned political operatives on both sides of the aisle have frowned upon the racial overtones of the race. Even the Washington Post’s editors, who previously endorsed Northam, have condemned the Latino Victory Fund’s ad as “vile.”

For Virginians deciding which lever to pull on November 7, Northam’s willingness to smear a good man just to boost his dwindling poll numbers is not just a sign of desperation — it is a glimpse into the Democratic candidate’s personal character.

Sure, Gillespie has run ads that attack his opponent’s softness toward illegal immigration, but let us not forget that encouraging a tougher stance on illegal immigration — specifically, enhancing border security, as Gillespie wants to do — was a Democratic talking point as recently as 2013. Indeed, it was President Clinton who oversaw passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996, and President Obama deported more immigrants than any other president in history, earning him the moniker “Deporter in Chief.” Moreover, Gillespie was one of the first Republicans to condemn the white supremacists who spewed their poison in Charlottesville.

On that point, the pro-Northam ad by the Latino Victory Fund was not just below the belt — it was plainly wrong. Still, Northam remained indifferent.

In sum, the ad was fearmongering at its worst. It reflects in the Latino Victory Fund a foaming-at-the-mouth obsession with painting conservative voters as bloodthirsty racists and minorities as helpless children. The perversity of scaring immigrants as a means to gain power is astonishing, yet it is a tactic Northam seemed content to tolerate. Virginia deserves better.

Thomas Wheatley is a writer living in Arlington, Virginia. A regular contributor to the Washington Post’s “All Opinions Are Local” blog, he holds a law degree from the Antonin Scalia Law School and was a 2016 Publius Fellow at the Claremont Institute. Email him at tnwheatley@gmail.comand follow him on Twitter @TNWheatley.



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Before We Vilify John McCain


On Friday morning, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) cast the decisive vote and rejected the Health Care Freedom Act, colloquially known as the “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act. Sen. McCain’s vote, along with two other Republican senators, left the final tally at 51 nays and 49 yeas, dealing a devastating blow to Republican efforts to repeal ObamaCare.

Conservatives like myself are understandably furious at our elected officials’ seeming inability to make good on their campaign promises. We are ideally situated to reap the gains of nearly a decade of tireless campaigning — knocking on doors, making thousands of phone calls, and dragging our friends to the polls on election day — all ensure true conservatives represented us in Washington. 

We did our part.

But let’s face it: the “skinny repeal” was bad law. It reflected a stunning lack of substance, and was intentionally designed to patronize conservative constituents without easing any of ObamaCare’s burdens.

In sum, the bill had two main provisions: a permanent repeal of the individual mandate, and a temporary suspension of the employer mandate and medical device tax. Otherwise, the law made no other substantive changes, leaving intact 411 of ObamaCare’s 419 sections. 

Most destructively, the law left in place ObamaCare’s tremendously onerous demands of health insurance companies. This, as the American Medical Association explained, would have created a toxic concoction: insurance companies would be forced to cover a wide array of costly conditions, but without revenue from the individual mandate, they would be unable to recoup their losses through federal subsidies (at least without the taxpayers incurring a ghastly expansion in the federal deficit). The American people — mostly the middle class — would pay astronomical monthly premiums to make up the difference.

In that light, Sen. McCain’s vote was of sound political judgment. Opportunities for meaningful healthcare reform do not arise often. For example, seventeen years separated Hillary Clinton’s 1993 attempt to overhaul American healthcare and the enactment of the Affordable Care Act. I hate to imagine the grisly electoral consequences for Republicans if they were forced to defend across a seventeen-year span “skinny repeal’s” legacy of higher premiums for inferior care.

Make no mistake: for ObamaCare, the chickens will come home to roost. Even absent interference from the White House, ObamaCare will become what nearly every Democratically-conceived federal entitlement program (notably Social Security and Medicare) has become: an enfeebled government parasite hurtling toward insolvency. Insurers will continue dropping out of the market, healthcare choices will continue to vanish, wait times will continue to increase, and quality of care will continue to decline.

Sure — millions will be “insured,” but their insurance policies will be about as valuable as the paper on which they are printed. No amount of accounting gimmickry from the Congressional Budget Office — whose ObamaCare projections have been significantly wrong on virtually every material provision of the law — or misleading comparisons to Scandinavian “miracles” will change this (predictably, Europe is currently struggling to sustain its public healthcare model, and is considering both rationing and privatizing healthcare access).

Some Democrats will likely sneer at this GOP fumble, but those having any moral compass will not. Indeed, the Democrats’ swindle has paid off; healthcare is now affixed in the body politic psyche as a “human right.” But the Democrats’ modus operandi of using the people’s money to buy power (relying, of course, on the “stupidity of the American voter” to cinch the deal) has put Americans in a perilous position. The exhilarating high of “free healthcare” may bode well for short-term political gain, but the unavoidable rules of economics will one day come to collect, and by that time, Democrats will have moved on to their next scam. The American people, sadly, will be left yet again to foot the bill for another one of the Democratic Party’s “historic” ideas.

As a Republican and a conservative, I refuse to play the Democrats’ crooked game of deception. I believe conservatives are called to a higher standard of statesmanship than that which has been exhibited by the Democratic Party throughout the ObamaCare debacle. Our standard should reject political trickery in favor of deliberation and prudence. The “skinny repeal” reflected neither.

As Sen. McCain remarked after his vote, Republicans must “send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of aisle, heed the recommendations of [the] nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people.”

Thomas Wheatley is a writer living in Arlington, Virginia. A regular contributor to the Washington Post’s “All Opinions Are Local” blog, he holds a law degree from the Antonin Scalia Law School and was a 2016 Publius Fellow at the Claremont Institute. Email him at tnwheatley@gmail.comand follow him on Twitter @TNWheatley.

On Friday morning, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) cast the decisive vote and rejected the Health Care Freedom Act, colloquially known as the “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act. Sen. McCain’s vote, along with two other Republican senators, left the final tally at 51 nays and 49 yeas, dealing a devastating blow to Republican efforts to repeal ObamaCare.

Conservatives like myself are understandably furious at our elected officials’ seeming inability to make good on their campaign promises. We are ideally situated to reap the gains of nearly a decade of tireless campaigning — knocking on doors, making thousands of phone calls, and dragging our friends to the polls on election day — all ensure true conservatives represented us in Washington. 

We did our part.

But let’s face it: the “skinny repeal” was bad law. It reflected a stunning lack of substance, and was intentionally designed to patronize conservative constituents without easing any of ObamaCare’s burdens.

In sum, the bill had two main provisions: a permanent repeal of the individual mandate, and a temporary suspension of the employer mandate and medical device tax. Otherwise, the law made no other substantive changes, leaving intact 411 of ObamaCare’s 419 sections. 

Most destructively, the law left in place ObamaCare’s tremendously onerous demands of health insurance companies. This, as the American Medical Association explained, would have created a toxic concoction: insurance companies would be forced to cover a wide array of costly conditions, but without revenue from the individual mandate, they would be unable to recoup their losses through federal subsidies (at least without the taxpayers incurring a ghastly expansion in the federal deficit). The American people — mostly the middle class — would pay astronomical monthly premiums to make up the difference.

In that light, Sen. McCain’s vote was of sound political judgment. Opportunities for meaningful healthcare reform do not arise often. For example, seventeen years separated Hillary Clinton’s 1993 attempt to overhaul American healthcare and the enactment of the Affordable Care Act. I hate to imagine the grisly electoral consequences for Republicans if they were forced to defend across a seventeen-year span “skinny repeal’s” legacy of higher premiums for inferior care.

Make no mistake: for ObamaCare, the chickens will come home to roost. Even absent interference from the White House, ObamaCare will become what nearly every Democratically-conceived federal entitlement program (notably Social Security and Medicare) has become: an enfeebled government parasite hurtling toward insolvency. Insurers will continue dropping out of the market, healthcare choices will continue to vanish, wait times will continue to increase, and quality of care will continue to decline.

Sure — millions will be “insured,” but their insurance policies will be about as valuable as the paper on which they are printed. No amount of accounting gimmickry from the Congressional Budget Office — whose ObamaCare projections have been significantly wrong on virtually every material provision of the law — or misleading comparisons to Scandinavian “miracles” will change this (predictably, Europe is currently struggling to sustain its public healthcare model, and is considering both rationing and privatizing healthcare access).

Some Democrats will likely sneer at this GOP fumble, but those having any moral compass will not. Indeed, the Democrats’ swindle has paid off; healthcare is now affixed in the body politic psyche as a “human right.” But the Democrats’ modus operandi of using the people’s money to buy power (relying, of course, on the “stupidity of the American voter” to cinch the deal) has put Americans in a perilous position. The exhilarating high of “free healthcare” may bode well for short-term political gain, but the unavoidable rules of economics will one day come to collect, and by that time, Democrats will have moved on to their next scam. The American people, sadly, will be left yet again to foot the bill for another one of the Democratic Party’s “historic” ideas.

As a Republican and a conservative, I refuse to play the Democrats’ crooked game of deception. I believe conservatives are called to a higher standard of statesmanship than that which has been exhibited by the Democratic Party throughout the ObamaCare debacle. Our standard should reject political trickery in favor of deliberation and prudence. The “skinny repeal” reflected neither.

As Sen. McCain remarked after his vote, Republicans must “send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of aisle, heed the recommendations of [the] nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people.”

Thomas Wheatley is a writer living in Arlington, Virginia. A regular contributor to the Washington Post’s “All Opinions Are Local” blog, he holds a law degree from the Antonin Scalia Law School and was a 2016 Publius Fellow at the Claremont Institute. Email him at tnwheatley@gmail.comand follow him on Twitter @TNWheatley.



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