The journalists at KOMO described small acts of rebellion, like airing the segments at times of low viewership or immediately before or after commercial breaks so they blend in with paid spots. They all spoke on condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal from the company.
Those interviewed said that being on the other side of the country from the corporate headquarters outside Baltimore gave them some breathing room. But not always.
In late 2013, for instance, after The Seattle Times wrote an editorial criticizing Sinclair’s purchase of KOMO, Sinclair ordered KOMO to do a story critical of the newspaper industry, and of The Seattle Times in particular, according to two of the people interviewed.
KOMO journalists were surprised in January when, at a morning planning meeting, they received what they considered an unusual request. The station’s news director, who normally avoided overtly political stories, instructed his staff to look into an online ad that seemed to be recruiting paid protesters for President Trump’s inauguration. Right-leaning media organizations had seized on the ad, which was later revealed as a hoax, as proof of coordinated efforts by the left to subvert Mr. Trump.
Only after reporters had left the room did they learn the origin of the assignment, two of them said: The order had come down from Sinclair.
In a telephone interview on Thursday, Mr. Livingston rebuffed suggestions that Sinclair pushed right-leaning views. “We work very hard to be objective and fair and be in the middle,” he said. “I think maybe some other news organizations may be to the left of center, and we work very hard to be in the center.”
He said multiple times that local news was “at the heart of Sinclair” and that the company was committed to its communities.
With its offices in a glass-walled building across the street from the Space Needle, KOMO, an ABC affiliate, is one of several broadcast stations that beam news to the country’s 14th-biggest television market. Since its founding in 1953, the station has covered the staples of local news: civic politics, emergencies, transportation and crime.
KOMO’s experience under Sinclair could foretell the kinds of challenges the company would face with its news staffs in bigger cities. If it acquires Tribune, Sinclair would gain stations in the nation’s three largest markets — New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Not only are cities like those more liberal, but the journalists who work…