Pro-Kerry filmmaker offers Sinclair 'equal time' solution

By Eric Boehlert
Published October 12, 2004 7:08PM (EDT)

The filmmaker behind the new pro-John Kerry documentary plans to offer it to Sinclair Broadcasting-- free of charge -- to see if the company is interested in showing its viewers a balanced presentation of the candidate. The challenge comes in the wake of Sinclair's extraordinary decision to force its 62 stations nationwide, just days before the presidential election, to air "Stolen Honor," which attacks Kerry's anti-war activities from the early 1970s, and which the Kerry campaign has labeled a smear film.

"Sinclair's using public airwaves to broadcast, at a politically sensitive time, an anti-Kerry message," says Paul Alexander, director of the critically-acclaimed "Brothers in Arms" film, which examines Kerry's experience in Vietnam, and casts him in a favorable light. "My argument is if they're going to air 'Stolen Honor' then they should run my film, and preferably in the hour right after it. I'm sending them a letter tomorrow demanding that." Earlier this week as the controversy brewed, a Sinclair spokesman told the New York Times the company would consider running a Kerry documentary from a different perspective. Alexander's offer may effectively, and publicly, call Sinclair's bluff.

"If they're going to air an anti-Kerry documentary, it's my opinion that under the equal time rule they're required to air the same amount of time" showing the other side, he adds, referring to the broadcast regulation that forbids stations from giving significant airtime to one candidate but not his or her opponent. The filmmaker says several television outlets have approached him about airing his film, "Brothers in Arms," but backed away when faced with the equal time restraint, which might force them to air a film about Bush. "But suddenly on the other side it's okay," to ignore the obligation for balance, asks Alexander.

Executives at conservative Sinclair, who made headlines last spring when they ordered their eight ABC stations not to run "Nightline" when the news show read the names of the fallen U.S. soldiers in Iraq, claim "Stolen Honor" is a news program and therefore does not fall under any equal time requirement. Alexander, noting "Stolen Honor" is widely available in DVD form to anyone who wants to purchase it, insists the film does not constitute news. He says he's also willing to offer his movie for free and to cut it down to match the exact the time length of "Stolen Honor." "I'll do whatever it takes," he says. Adding, "If they don't air it, then their intention with "Stolen Honor" is clear; it's a political move to assassinate the character of John Kerry."

Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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