Wednesday, October 20

Sinclair Fires Washington News Bureau Chief

PressThink: Sinclair Fires Jonathan Leiberman.
... the (former) Washington bureau chief for Sinclair Broadcast Group, Jon Leiberman, who in Monday's Baltimore Sun spoke out. He denounced the company's intention to show on 60 of its stations all or part of the film Stolen Honor. "It's biased political propaganda, with clear intentions to sway this election," Leiberman told the Sun. "For me, it's not about right or left -- it's about what's right or wrong in news coverage this close to an election." Leiberman (bio), who is 29 and a Northwestern grad, was hired last year to lead a four-person Washington bureau. He spoke to the Sun's David Folkenflik after a mandatory staff meeting for Sinclair's corporate news division at company headquarters in Hunt Valley, MD, outside Baltimore. At the meeting staffers were told the special program would be defined as news, not opinion, on orders from above. "I have nothing to gain here -- and really, I have a lot to lose," Leiberman said in taking his complaint public. "At the end of the day, though, all you really have is your credibility." At the end of the day, he was unemployed and explaining to Paula Zahn on CNN what happened. Sinclair fired Leiberman and had him escorted from the building. The official reason: he broke company policy by talking about the staff meeting to the Sun. Leiberman agreed that he had violated the firm's gag order, but for reasons of professsional conscience. "I felt we were violating the public trust," he told Zahn. And as Howard Kurtz put it, Sinclair "found itself explaining why it dismissed a top journalist for speaking to the media." ("Disgruntled employee," it said.) Leiberman--who said he's a registered Democrat and voted for Bush in 2000--agreed that Sinclair "under the First Amendment, has the right to air part or all of this documentary, but my argument has been, call it commentary, call it editorial, call it programming, but don't call it news."

It's been a good year for h-less Jons.

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