Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) wrote a letter Wednesday to Sinclair Broadcasting Group Executive Chairman David D. Smith calling the broadcaster’s actions "troubling" and demanding information about its editorial policies.
Durbin aired his concern, in a letter obtained by NBC News, about local stations in the group’s network delivering a message opposing false news. NBC and other media outlets strongly criticized Sinclair for having anchors around the country read that message, and Durbin said it comprises journalistic integrity.
"This most recent incident continues the troubling history of Sinclair dictating content to its stations, including mandating they run Sinclair-produced segments," Durbin wrote. "This practice not only compromises the ability of local reporters to serve the unique interests of their viewers, but it undercuts the journalistic integrity of local news anchors who are required to deliver corporate-scripted messages, at times without providing a disclaimer of their source."
Durbin added he had questioned Sinclair’s staff last year about how they operate, and at the time they said they would not deliver such messages.
"Not only is this practice concerning, it contradicts representations of Sinclair’s policies made to my staff by Sinclair’s Senior Vice President/Strategy and Policy in a November 2017 meeting," Durbin said.
The media reacted fiercely to a Deadspin video cutting together different Sinclair affiliates reading the promo. Critics fixated on Sinclair's conservative bent, calling the message "pro-Trump propaganda" and "dystopian."
Durbin also questioned whether Sinclair would penalize employees for not cooperating with corporate directions.
"Further troubling, is recent reporting that there are contractual penalties for Sinclair-owned stations and employees that refuse to run Sinclair-produced mandated content," he wrote.
"Please confirm what Sinclair’s policy is regarding Sinclair-produced mandated content for local news anchors," he added. "Further, please clarify whether there will be employment consequences for personnel at local stations who refuse to deliver the scripted promotional message."