NEW YORK — Accusing veteran TV anchor Ted Koppel of undermining the war effort and using the airwaves for political subterfuge, Sinclair Broadcasting will boycott tonight’s edition of ABC News’ “Nightline.”
During the broadcast, Koppel will show pictures of and read the names of the 523 U.S. service men and women killed in action in Iraq. Alphabet said Thursday the show is being extended from 30 to 40 minutes to allow enough time to read all the names.
The program won’t, however, be seen on Sinclair’s eight ABC affiliate stations. The largest ABC station is KDNL-TV in St. Louis.
Issue of soldiers killed in Iraq is considered a politically volatile one for President Bush as he faces re-election, with the Bush administration upholding a ban preventing the media form photographing coffins of soldiers as they are transported home from Iraq.
“Nightline” said it wanted to pay tribute to those killed before their names are “lost” forever. The Bush administration itself has not publicly criticized the tribute broadcast, which was announced earlier this week.
But Sinclair said more sinister forces were at work.
“While the Sinclair Broadcast Group honors the memory of the brave members of the military who have sacrificed their lives in the service of our country, we do not believe such political statements should be disguised as news content,” broadcaster said in a statement.
“Despite the denials by a spokeswoman for the show, the action appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq,” Sinclair said.
The Alphabet’s news division said it “respectfully disagreed” with Sinclair’s preemption. It said it knows of no other affiliate preemptions.
“ABC News is dedicated to thoughtful and balanced coverage and reports on the events shaping our world with neither fear nor favor — as our audience expects, deserves and rightly demands,” show said.
But the conservative-minded Sinclair, which is known for its right-wing approach to news and substantial donations to the Republican party, harshly questioned why Koppel wasn’t reading the names of those Americans killed in terrorist attacks both on and since 9/11.
“In his answer, you will find the real motivation behind his action scheduled for this Friday,” Sinclair said.
Alphabet’s news division reminded that it broadcast the names of the victims of 9/11 on the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
“ABC News will continue to report on all facets of the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism in a manner consistent with the standards which ABC News has set for decades,” news net said.
Sinclair’s other ABC affil stations are WSYX Columbus, Ohio; WGGB Springfield, Mass.; WTXL Tallahassee, Fla.; WEAR Pensacola, Fla.; WXLV Greensboro/Winston-Salem, N.C.; WLOS Asheville/Greenville N.C.; and WCHS Charleston, W.Va.
U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) said Sinclair’s action was deeply troubling, depriving viewers in eight markets of the chance to watch Koppel’s show.
“The decision by Sinclair Broadcast Group to keep this program off its stations is being made by a corporation with a political agenda without regard to the wants or needs of its viewers,” Hinchey said.
Hinchey was one of the lawmakers who spearheaded the fight to roll back a relaxation in media ownership rules.