AUSTIN, Texas -- Now is the time for all good men -- and women -- to race to the aid of their country. Liberals and libertarians unite! The Sinclair Broadcasting Group has moved this election into the realm of creeping fascism, state propaganda, Big Brother and brainwashing. What me, hyperbole?

            This is SO simple -- how would you conservatives feel if NBC, CBS or ABC decided to pre-empt primetime programming a week before the election to air Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11"? And then announced, "But we've offered President Bush a chance to reply"?

            Sinclair has also offered President George W. Bush the inestimable service of diverting attention from his record and is using OUR publicly owned airwaves to do it.

            For Sinclair's lobbyist and on-air editorialist Mark Hyman to claim this long attack ad is "news" is ludicrous -- almost as strained as his claim, somewhere between infelicitous and crackers, that those who disagree are like "Holocaust deniers."

            Sinclair Group is the perfect example of what's wrong with the concentration of ownership in media: Just a few companies now own almost all the major information outlets. Sinclair is the largest owner of local TV stations in the nation. It controls 62 stations in 39 markets and reaches at least 25 percent of Americans every day, all day.

            As FCC Commissioner Michael Copps noted in a 2001 decision: "Over the last several years (Sinclair) has pursued a strategy of acquiring interests in or management of more than one station in each market in which it has a television station. In so doing, it has continually pushed against the parameters of ownership structures prohibited by the commission. With the investigation before the commission today, Sinclair has crossed the line into behavior that the majority has found to violate the commission's rules. In assessing a fine on Sinclair for this violation, the majority purports to stop the expansion of Sinclair's forays ... but in fact it merely points out that lines have been crossed, while allowing Sinclair to run over those lines and to continue its multiple ownership strategy." Truer words were never written.

            When Sinclair bought a second station in Pittsburgh, it sold its existing station to the first station's manager, an employee of Sinclair, on favorable terms, and then proceeded to operate both. It repeated this trick at least twice and then used a new one: The president of Sinclair had his mother "buy" the new station. The new corporation's stock was 70 percent owned by his mother and the same station manager, who then transferred control of these stations to Sinclair.

            Sinclair sends prerecorded right-wing editorial commentary to its affiliates to be broadcast as "local news." Sinclair's management has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars almost entirely to Republicans (97 percent this year), as it continued to lobby for looser ownership rules. The Bush administration is pushing aggressively to remove those same rules.

            The producer of the alleged "documentary," which is actually just a very long Swift Boat Liars ad, makes the same arguments and features some of the same people as the thoroughly discredited short ads.

            Carlton Sherwood, the ad's producer, was part of a Gannett team that won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in 1980, but he has since moved far to the right and away from anything resembling actual journalism. In 1986, he joined The Washington Times, a right-wing daily owned by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. In 1991, he wrote a book "Inquisition: The Persecution and Prosecution of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon," defending the self-described "Son of God." Sherwood then went to work for then-Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, now homeland security director for Bush.

            I have not seen Sherwood's ad. I am relying on press reports that its central thesis is that John Kerry's congressional testimony in 1971 prolonged the Vietnam War. Sure, the North Vietnamese would have surrendered long before they never did, if it hadn't have been for Kerry. Look, 14,000 more Americans died after his testimony -- how many would it take to make that war anything other than a mistaken horror?

            The ad also alleges that Kerry impugned the good names of all those who served in Vietnam. That is not only false but malicious. I heard his testimony at the time and have reviewed it since during this campaign -- it is honorable and patriotic. I am also familiar with the Winter Soldier hearings on which his testimony was partly based, and they were just as he reported.

            I am sick of the right wing claiming patriotism as its exclusive purview. No one serves this country well who blindly supports misbegotten wars in the name of patriotism. The right to dissent is one of the founding principles of this country and is in itself a high form of patriotism. What you owe your country is your best evaluation of whether we are or are not going in the right direction.

            As Huey P. Long once said, "Sure we'll have fascism in America, but it'll come disguised as 100 percent Americanism."

            To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2004 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.