HELENA, Mont. – A Democratic candidate for Montana’s U.S. House seat is using Sinclair Broadcast Group’s own television stations to blast the company for forcing its reporters to read the conservative-leaning corporation’s statements on air.
John Heenan bought ads that will air starting Monday on Sinclair-owned stations KECI-TV in Missoula and KTVM-TV in Bozeman and Butte. In it, he calls Sinclair “a corporation using its power to take advantage of journalists, our democracy and the people of Montana.”
“This station is owned by Sinclair Broadcasting, a powerful corporation that forces its journalists to read corporate talking points on the air,” Heenan says in the ad.
KECI general manager Tamy Wagner said her station received the ad Friday morning and that it would run as scheduled.
“We don’t turn away candidate ads,” she said. She declined further comment.
Heenan added that the Sinclair stations did not object to the ad’s message. “They cashed our check,” he said.
The candidate, one of four Democrats competing for the chance to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, was referencing a script read by news anchors on Sinclair stations across the country that expressed concern about “one-sided news stories plaguing the country.”
A video by the website Deadspin that edited together dozens of anchors reading the same words from the Sinclair script has been viewed by millions of people.
Other Democratic candidates for political office in the U.S. have pulled their ads from Sinclair stations or pledged not to buy air time on them in protest. Heenan claimed to be the first candidate to use the company’s own airwaves against it.
He said in an interview Friday that he wanted to show support for the Sinclair employees who may not be able to speak out against the company, and to educate viewers about what’s happening.
“It’s troubling when we as the viewers trust what journalists tell us, particularly when we watch local news,” Heenan said. “Journalists are required to read from a script under threat of their jobs. I know that troubles me and I’m not the only one.”
Heenan is one of four candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for Montana’s only U.S. House seat. The winner goes up against Gianforte, who won the seat in a special election last year that received national attention when Gianforte assaulted a reporter who was trying to ask him a question.
Heenan noted that Sinclair director Robert E. Smith’s contributions to Gianforte in last year’s and this year’s elections exceed $10,000.