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Pam Vogel

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  • Sinclair had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year and it has only itself to blame

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Sinclair Broadcast Group began 2018 hoping to finalize a massive deal that would cement its place as the country’s largest owner and operator of local TV stations, after having more or less weathered a few bad news cycles about its obvious conservative bent. But the local TV news giant is ending the year with arguably higher negative name recognition than ever before and with its proposed acquisition of 42 more stations rejected. In fact, one of its most formidable competitors is now aiming to knock Sinclair out of that top spot. And Sinclair has only itself to blame.

    Sinclair saw a huge spike in public criticism following the launch of a controversial anchor-read, Trumpian “must-run.”

    In March, Sinclair news stations across the country began airing “must-run” promotional segments in which local anchors read from a script that seemed to mirror President Donald Trump’s rhetoric by criticizing other media outlets for so-called bias.

    Some Sinclair employees were so unnerved by the script that they anonymously leaked it to CNN’s Brian Stelter weeks before the segments ran. Timothy Burke, then a video editor at Deadspin, quickly compiled clips of reporters at various stations reading from the shared script, and the resulting video supercut went viral.

    As of publication, the Deadspin video has more than 9 million views. Media Matters additionally documented 66 Sinclair stations nationwide airing the scripted segments. Widespread media coverage of the segments culminated with Trump himself tweeting multiple times in Sinclair’s defense. Sinclair employees continued to speak out about the “must-run” promos, saying they felt their employer was using their local credibility to advance an agenda, and professional groups condemned Sinclair’s tactics. A few employees and stations even refused to participate in the promo campaign.

    In an attempt at damage control, Sinclair executives emailed with reporters and circulated internal documents suggesting that coverage of the promotional segments was itself biased, attacking CNN specifically. The company also trotted out its chief political analyst, Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump aide, to deflect criticism of the promos in an odd second “must-run” segment.

    Sinclair’s chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn isn’t bringing in a loyal audience, but he has sparked several news cycles of outrage over his segments.

    Epshteyn caused numerous problems for his employer this year, producing “must-run” commentary segments that ranged from lackluster to embarrassing to -- on several occasions -- deeply offensive. This year, he drew public ire for using his Sinclair platform to:

    • defend Trump’s racist diatribe calling Haiti, El Salvador, and unspecified African nations “shithole countries”;
    • attempt to minimize the cruelty of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” family separation and child detention policies at the southern border;
    • exploit the murder of a young woman in Iowa to attack immigrants;
    • defend tear-gassing families seeking asylum; and
    • back conspiracy theorist and anti-Muslim extremist Laura Loomer.

    After the tear-gas defense in November, Sinclair had to issue multiple statements, at first distancing itself from Epshteyn’s views but then pivoting to saying that the segment had been “drastically and intentionally mischaracterized.” (It was not; Media Matters broke the story and included a full video and transcript.) A couple of media advocacy groups also expressed concern about the segment, with nonpartisan group Free Press even calling on Sinclair to fire Epshteyn.

    When he wasn’t forcing his employer to do damage control over his anti-immigrant commentary, Epshteyn was continuing to cultivate an embarrassingly miniscule audience and land pointless interviews with Trump officials, including the president himself. To give an idea of just how doting these interviews were, I documented the totality of the questions or comments Epshteyn made over the course of six “must-run” segments featuring portions of an interview with Trump. About half were some version of “sure” or “right.”

    This makes sense, of course, because another big problem for Sinclair this year was the news that Epshteyn may in fact be legally barred from criticizing the president. Epshteyn admitted in September that he had signed a nondisparagement agreement while working on the Trump campaign in 2016. As The Washington Post noted, “Epshteyn regularly discloses to viewers his former roles with Trump but hasn’t mentioned that he signed a nondisparagement agreement while he was with the campaign. Asked for comment, Epshteyn declined to address the issue directly.”

    A Sinclair host in St. Louis resigned after aiming abusive language at a Parkland school shooting survivor. 

    While Sinclair regularly inserts its clearly conservative national commentary and reporting segments into local newscasts, the vast majority of employees at Sinclair-controlled stations are just legitimate journalists trying to do their jobs. At the Sinclair station in St. Louis, MO, however, that was not the case. The station, KDNL ABC 30, didn’t offer any typical local newscasts; instead, three times a day it aired a commentary program hosted by local conservative radio host Jamie Allman. At least, until April it did.

    On March 26, Allman sent a threatening tweet about David Hogg, a teenage gun safety activist who survived the February mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. In the tweet, Allman wrote that he wanted to “ram a hot poker up David Hogg’s ass.” After the St. Louis alt-weekly the Riverfront Times reported on the Hogg tweet, some advertisers pulled their spots from his radio show and a state lawmaker called for a boycott. Within days, Allman had resigned and his KDNL show was cancelled.

    This entire story was an unforced error on Sinclair’s part. It was not the first time Allman had tweeted abusive or unhinged things before or after he was hired to host the Sinclair show -- including a string of abusive tweets he sent to me after Media Matters published a report about him last year. More than eight months later, KDNL still does not appear to air any daily local news programming.

    Sinclair attempted to put a thumb on the scales for midterms, but it didn’t really pay off.

    Though Sinclair has quietly (and sometimes not-so-quietly) engaged in openly partisan activities in the past, the company’s conservative point of view was on particular display during this year’s midterm elections. Early on in the year, Sinclair began soliciting contributions from upper-level employees for its political action committee (PAC). In keeping with its past efforts, the PAC donated overwhelmingly to Republicans. Sinclair executives personally gave to candidates including racist ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio and Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT), who is known primarily for body-slamming a reporter. And Epshteyn helped New York Republican congressional candidate Naomi Levin raise money over the summer, promoting her campaign donation link on Twitter.

    Epshteyn’s segments increasingly forewent commentary altogether in the lead-up to the elections, instead excerpting softball interviews that essentially served as infomercials for White House and Republican Party officials and their policies. Over the course of the year, Epshteyn segments included excerpts of interviews with at least five Republicans on November’s ballots, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. In many cases, the interviews ran in the states and cities these lawmakers were hoping to represent after November or worked to lay the groundwork for Trump in communities that could be pivotal in the 2020 presidential election.

    While many of the Republican candidates specifically supported by Sinclair on or off air coasted to victories in safely red areas, others saw surprisingly stiff competition and extremely close races. And as the true extent of the November “blue wave” was revealed, it seems the company’s larger strategy of promoting conservative views in swing districts didn’t quite pay off.

    Sinclair mishandled its proposal to acquire 42 new stations, and the FCC slow-tracked the potential deal until Tribune pulled out.

    Sinclair headed into 2018 expecting to close on its proposed deal to acquire Tribune Media’s 42 local news stations. That plan required approval from the Trump Department of Justice and Federal Communications Commission (FCC), but the agency had already made several regulatory moves to help the broadcasting company. The acquisition would have cemented Sinclair as the nation’s largest owner and operator of local TV stations and allowed the company to effectively control large portions of some local media markets, enter into the country’s largest markets for the first time, and reach more than 70 percent of U.S. television households.

    Instead, in July, the FCC surprised experts by deciding to slow-track the deal, citing a handful of potential station divestments about which commissioners believed Sinclair has purposely misled them. Instead of approving the acquisition outright, the commission elected to send the proposal to an administrative judge, which has been a death blow to similar deals in the past. More details emerged when the hearing designation order was made public, including allegations that Sinclair had shown a “lack of candor” in its communications about the deal with the FCC. A few weeks later, on August 9, Tribune called off the merger.

    The trouble for Sinclair didn’t end there, either. Tribune also filed a lawsuit against Sinclair for “breach of contract,” arguing that company representatives had recklessly endangered the deal by intentionally misrepresenting some of the proposed station divestments. The order also alleged further specifics about Sinclair’s “belligerent” conduct throughout the federal approval process for the deal, saying Sinclair “fought, threatened, insulted, and misled regulators” at the Department of Justice.

    What’s next for Sinclair?

    For one: Many of Sinclair’s regulatory issues stemming from the shuttered Tribune deal have yet to be resolved and will follow the broadcasting company into the new year. Since the FCC singled out the deal proposal for review due to potential “misrepresentation or lack of candor” by Sinclair, the unresolved allegation of misbehavior has been a dark cloud over the company. It’s something regulators at the FCC will have to consider as they contemplate renewing Sinclair’s public broadcasting licenses for its large number of stations -- and that could be happening sooner than expected. Last month, the American Cable Association filed a petition asking the FCC to conduct an early license renewal process for four of Sinclair’s stations so it can “resolve the serious charges it leveled against Sinclair.”

    Even with this potential hurdle looming, Sinclair doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. It still controls about 190 local news stations, and the company is reportedly already pursuing other ways to expand. Earlier this month, Fox Business reported that Sinclair is planning to make a bid for Fox’s regional sports networks. The company could also take advantage of any good graces it still has with the FCC to advocate for further industry deregulation during the commission’s periodic review of its broadcast ownership rules next year.

    After a high-profile year, Sinclair seems likely to really embrace its public image as an openly conservative media company. It’s already taking steps in that direction by continuing to offer Trump administration and Republican officials an easy interview platform, hosting a town hall with right-wing darlings Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens, and enlisting former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka to host a special program decrying socialism. It’s also been courting former Fox News figures -- including BlazeTV personality Eric Bolling, who left Fox News last year after colleagues reported that he sent them sexually graphic pictures and who now appears to be partnering with Sinclair in some capacity. It’s unclear what projects Sinclair may have in the works for these former Fox personalities, but they could make appearances on a rival network (though that’s not as likely without the Tribune assets) or on Sinclair’s new streaming app, STIRR, which is set to launch in the new year and could compete with Fox’s new Fox Nation platform.

    One thing about Sinclair’s immediate future seems particularly certain, though: It’s going to keep up its harmful tactics. There will be more offensive “must-run” segments, and probably more brain-washy promotions in the spring, and definitely more blatant agenda-pushing with the Trump administration. The company has shown little desire to change behavior or admit when it’s done something morally objectionable so far. Why would it start now?

  • If Sinclair really didn't endorse Boris Epshteyn's commentary, the company wouldn't force its local news stations to air it

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Earlier this week, local news stations controlled by the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group aired a segment defending the use of tear gas on children and families traveling with a migrant caravan near the U.S.-Mexico border. Last night, the broadcast company finally issued a tepid statement, but there’s plenty more that Sinclair still needs to address.

    On November 26, Sinclair-owned and -operated local news stations across the country began airing a two-minute segment in which former aide to President Donald Trump and Sinclair chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn defended the use of tear gas and pepper balls on members of a Honduran migrant caravan attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego, CA. The crowd hit with tear gas included children. Epshteyn also characterized the group of migrants as “attempting to storm” the border in an “attempted invasion of our country.”

    This segment has since aired, often spliced into local news coverage, on Sinclair-controlled local news stations in at least 26 states, according to the iQ media database. Media Matters estimates that the segment aired on roughly 100 Sinclair news stations as part of the company’s infamous “must-run” lineup.

    News outlets ranging from the local to the national, in print and online, covered the rightful public outrage generated by Epshteyn's comments. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists released a statement saying that it’s reconsidering its professional relationship with Sinclair.

    This is what the broadcasting giant said in a series of tweets: 

    We'd like to take a moment and address some concerns regarding a commentary segment by @borisep that was aired on Sinclair stations this week. The opinions expressed in this segment do not reflect the views of Sinclair Broadcast Group. When Boris’s segments are aired on our stations, they are labeled clearly as commentary. We also offer our stations reporting from the Beltway and beyond that are not partisan or bias (sic) in any way. If you have any concerns about any of our content, we genuinely want to hear from you: https://wjla.com/content-concerns …. Above all, we are committed to fair, unbiased journalism across our stations nationwide and are truly honored to serve our communities. Local news always comes first. 

    There is no press release version on Sinclair’s website as of publication. Given the massive amount of attention the tear gas segment provoked, this statement is almost certainly a response to it -- but it's impossible to say, because it doesn't mention anything about the content of the segment in question. The words “tear gas” and “children” are nowhere to be found. Neither are words like “sorry,” “apology,” or “consequences.”

    Instead, the broadcasting giant is attempting to distance itself from its own employee. To be clear, Sinclair’s actions have proved that that distance simply does not exist.

    Sinclair hired Epshteyn fresh off his stint in the Trump White House last year and quickly invested in his regular “must-run” segments -- upping the frequency with which the segments are aired on local stations, rolling out a daily newsletter, hiring a producer (also an ex-Trump staffer) to work with Epshteyn, and sticking by him as he’s defended some of Trump’s worst, most racist moments.

    Epshteyn is currently creating new “must-run” segments for Sinclair about five days a week. This segment defending deploying tear gas on migrant families isn’t the first or last time Epshteyn has used his Sinclair platform to defend the indefensible with no clear consequences.

    In fact, the day after Epshteyn’s tear gas defense began airing, he was out with a new segment defending conspiracy theorist and anti-Muslim extremist Laura Loomer.

    Earlier this year, Sinclair stations ran a segment from Epshteyn minimizing the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of separating families and detaining children at the border.

    In January, an Epshteyn segment attempted to dismiss Trump’s reported reference to Haiti, El Salvador, and unspecified African nations as “shithole countries,” arguing that media had simply overblown some “salty language” from the president.

    And in August 2017, Epshteyn produced a “must-run” segment backing Trump in his “both sides” statements about a neo-Nazi protest in Charlottesville, VA, in which a white supremacist killed peaceful counterprotester Heather Heyer.

    Media Matters has documented plenty more examples, too.

    What’s more, there should be no reason for Sinclair to stick with Epshteyn in spite of all the unforced errors and grief he’s brought his employer. His “commentary” has no natural audience, which is probably why Sinclair has to force its stations to air these segments in the first place.

    And Sinclair is currently facing the possibility it will have to prove to the Federal Communications Commission that it still has the “basic character qualifications” to hold public broadcasting licenses. Running regular segments that defend cruelty and violence against specific groups of people probably doesn’t help its case.

    I can think of only three possibilities for why Sinclair continues to employ Epshteyn as its chief political analyst.

    The first is the access-above-all-else argument. Epshteyn often uses his commentary segments to interview Trump administration and GOP officials, including the president himself. If Epshteyn used those interviews to ask thoughtful, tough questions and to break news, that would absolutely be a reason to keep him on staff. But he does not. Instead, those softball interviews essentially serve as infomercials for Trump and the Republican Party. Epshteyn typically just nods along in agreement with whatever his interview subjects say. In fact, he may be legally barred from criticizing the president because of his work on the Trump campaign.

    The second potential reason is that hiring Epshteyn was a major investment that Sinclair hasn’t or can’t give up on, perhaps a contract that can’t be easily broken.

    And the third is that those in charge at Sinclair Broadcast Group -- -- which has a long history of meddling in elections in favor of Republicans, has plenty of other ties to the Trump administration, and is owned by an openly and vocally conservative family -- do, in fact, hold the same indefensible views as Epshteyn. It's probably why they hired him in the first place. 

  • Sinclair’s latest “must-run” defends tear-gassing migrant children, warns of an "attempted invasion”

    Sinclair’s Boris Epshteyn: “The fact of the matter is that this is an attempted invasion of our country. Period.”

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    The Trump administration has again unleashed particular cruelty and violence on Central American immigrants, and the pro-Trump local media giant Sinclair Broadcast Group is rushing to defend it.

    On November 25, a group of Central American migrants traveling in a caravan approached the U.S.-Mexico border, “prompting federal authorities to launch tear gas in an apparent attempt to get the group to disperse,” The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. According to federal officials, some members of the caravan “threw projectiles at Customs and Border Protection personnel and multiple agents were hit with rocks.” U.S. forces launched pepper balls and tear gas canisters at the crowd, which included children.

    On November 26, Sinclair chief political analyst and former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn released a new “must-run” segment for the company that defended the use of tear gas on these families and attempted to stoke fear, saying the group of migrants is "attempting to storm" the border in an “attempted invasion of our country." 

    BORIS EPSHTEYN (HOST): The migrant crisis on our southern border has greatly escalated. This past weekend, the United States was forced to temporarily close a major point of entry in San Diego, California, in response to hundreds of migrants attempting to storm the U.S.-Mexico border in hopes of claiming asylum. Dozens of migrants attacked U.S. border enforcement by throwing rocks and bottles. Ultimately, American authorities had to use tear gas to stop the attacks.

    Some on the left, such as Democrat Congresswoman Maxine Waters, were immediately up in arms about our president and his team standing up for our men and women in uniform and for our national security. The fact of the matter is that this is an attempted invasion of our country. Period. Our border must remain intact and secure. It is not a partisan position to believe that our immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed. However, it unfortunately appears that there are many on the left who believe it is wrong to defend our country and abide by the rule of law. I would bet that many of those same people live behind walls and locked doors but do not want to afford the same benefit to our country as a whole.

    Here’s the bottom line: The notion that a caravan of migrants can be allowed to break through our borders is ludicrous and dangerous. The United States of America should not and cannot be intimidated by those willing to use force to get into our country illegally.

    This segment will now be forcibly aired, often spliced into local news coverage, on an estimated 100 Sinclair-owned or -operated news stations throughout the country as part of the media giant’s infamous “must-run” lineup. According to the iQ media database, the segment has already aired on stations in at least 24 states.

    In his previous Sinclair segments, Epshteyn has defended some of the most violent and racist actions of the Trump administration.

    Just to name a couple: Earlier this year, Sinclair stations ran a segment from Epshteyn minimizing the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of separating families and detaining children at the border. And in August 2017, Epshteyn produced a “must-run” segment backing Trump in his “both sides” treatment of violent neo-Nazism in Charlottesville, VA.

  • Sinclair stations are airing a dramatic special fearmongering about socialism, and it’s hosted by former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka 

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Local TV news stations controlled by the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group recently began airing a “special program” hosted by former Trump aide and current Fox News contributor Sebastian Gorka called Inside Socialism. In the 30-minute show -- which appears to be the first episode in a multipart series -- Gorka tells the audience he will “take an in-depth look at the appeal of a system that promises equality to all and what happens when the initial enthusiasm gives way to a sobering reality.”

    The program kicks off with stylized footage of a hammer and sickle being forged in flames and then clips of speeches by Democratic socialists Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Virginia state Del. Lee Carter, and New York Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, much of it set to ominous music.

    It is not understated.

    Gorka spends the majority of rest of the program discussing the history of various regimes across the globe, framed to show what happens when socialism goes wrong. The final block of the program features a package on Brazil’s political future from Sinclair reporter Jonathan Elias. A version of that package ran earlier in November as part of conspiracy theorist Sharyl Attkisson’s weekly Sinclair program Full Measure.

    Gorka signs off by saying he will “continue to follow the developments on this important issue” and telling viewers to “join us next time for another edition of Inside Socialism.”

    According to the iQ media database, the program aired on at least 18 Sinclair-owned or -operated local news stations between November 10 and November 13. Some clips featured in Inside Socialism -- none with Gorka -- have also been repackaged and posted on various Sinclair station websites under Elias' byline. 

    The special was produced by a company called Cisneros Media, which has helped create similar special programming for Sinclair in the past. A press release from a similar project from 2016 suggests Sinclair provided input on the programming’s content and that the program may air on more than 100 Sinclair stations nationwide.

    A separate special hosted by Gorka, called The Rise of Terrorism: A Clash of Cultures, aired on numerous Sinclair stations in March. In that program, footage labeled as "ISIS propaganda" and shots of terror attacks are followed by Gorka asking viewers, "Can the the teachings of Islam and western values ever be reconciled? Is it possible for the waves of refugees arriving in the west to assimilate and coexist peacefully?" At one point, b-roll footage is shown of a protest sign that says "Rapefugees." 

    A Sinclair-contracted spokesperson did not respond to a question about whether Gorka is an employee, though he has appeared in the company’s programming in the past. Last year, Gorka participated in a gun violence town hall for Sinclair’s Washington, D.C., station, WJLA, and made headlines for saying he believed “Black Africans” were killing each other “by the bushel.” In March, he appeared in a nationally aired news segment produced by Sinclair reporter Kristine Frazao about the so-called “deep state.”

    Gorka is best known for having parlayed his brief tenure in President Donald Trump’s administration into a right-wing pundit career despite his lack of expertise or qualifications -- and for his connections to the Hungarian Nazi-linked group Vitezi Rend. Last January, Gorka wore a Vitezi Rend medal to the Trump inaugural ball; by November, he had become a "national security strategist" for Fox News.

    And Gorka is not the only former Trump aide who can broadcast commentary on local news stations across the country thanks to Sinclair, either. In 2017, the media giant hired former Trump campaign and White House staffer Boris Epshteyn to serve as its chief political analyst. Epshteyn, who may be legally barred from criticizing the president, produces near-daily “must-run” segments for Sinclair stations that often defend Trump’s actions, mimic the president’s lines of attack on members of the press, or provide administration and Republican Party officials with platforms to push their messages.

    Update (11/19/18): Since publication, the special has aired on at least 23 more Sinclair-controlled local news stations, bringing the total to at least 41 stations in 27 states.

  • Sinclair is already gearing up for Trump 2020 

    New “must-run” segment airing a week after midterms boosts Trump and dismisses Democratic chances in 2020

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Less than one week after the 2018 midterm elections, Sinclair Broadcast Group is already pushing “must-run” segments minimizing Democratic chances in 2020 and boosting President Donald Trump’s re-election bid.

    A new “must-run” commentary segment about the 2020 elections began airing on Sinclair’s local stations on November 12. It’s part of Sinclair’s ongoing series called “Bottom Line with Boris,” which features chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn. Epshteyn worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign and may have signed a nondisparagement agreement during that time that would prevent him from criticizing the president.

    In the segment, Epshteyn tells viewers that the Democratic Party has “too many competing messages and varying factions” that will prevent “a clear path to victory in their primaries." He cited eight potential 2020 contenders for the Democratic nomination, ranging from party members like Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who supposedly wants to take the party in "a radical direction of open borders and single-payer health care," to "centrist, pro-business old guard" like former Vice President Joe Biden. Epshteyn said that the Republican Party is very united behind Trump, whom he called a “very formidable candidate” and an “active and strong campaigner.”

    With the 2018 midterms behind us, the country now turns toward the 2020 election cycle, including what is sure to be a hotly contested re-election race for President Trump.

    President Trump will continue to be an active and strong campaigner. Potential Democrat candidates, like Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris, want to take their party in a radical direction of open borders and single-payer health care.

    Other rumored candidates, such as former Vice President Joe Biden and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, represent the centrist, pro-business old guard of the Democrat Party. There’s also a chance that Democrats go local and nominate a former young mayor in either Mitch Landrieu from New Orleans or Eric Garcetti from Los Angeles.

    Headed into 2020 you'll hear a lot about how the GOP is equally as divided as Democrats. Ignore that. The president’s approval rating is at about 90 percent among Republicans. The “Never Trump” movement is now largely a figment of imagination perpetuated by the flood of former Republican operatives who are paid to make frequent appearances on the networks so they can bash the president and the Republican Party.

    Here's the bottom line: Right now, there are too many competing messages and varying factions vying for the Democratic nomination for there to be a clear path to victory in their primaries. Democrat candidates will have to declare their intentions very soon. It will be interesting to see which direction their party chooses to take in trying to defeat a very formidable candidate, and unquestionably the leader of the Republican Party, in President Trump.

    Epshteyn also teased in his morning newsletter another “must-run” to be released later today, which will focus on “a potential 2020 presidential run for Hillary Clinton.” Both of these segments will air on an estimated 100 local TV stations nationwide, including in major battleground states.

    Epshteyn’s -- and his employer’s -- early shift to 2020 makes perfect sense, since he spent the year leading up to the 2018 elections using his platform to essentially campaign for Republicans. In his “Bottom Line With Boris” segments, he focused specifically on the midterms at least 13 times this year and more broadly made the case for Republican policies countless others. Some segments skipped the usual commentary altogether, instead featuring excerpts from softball interviews he conducted with Trump and five Republican politicians on ballots last week, including Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis and newly re-elected Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

    Taking into account Sinclair’s yearlong effort to put its thumb on the scales in 2018 along with its longer history of political meddling during election seasons, local news viewers should unfortunately expect more Trump 2020 messaging on Sinclair stations for the next two years.

  • The true cost of hiring Megyn Kelly

    NBC, what did you think would happen here?

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    It turns out there may actually be a limit to failing upward in the media business, and Megyn Kelly may have finally reached it. But at what cost?

    Kelly began her national news career at Fox in 2004, making appearances on Fox News shows including The O’Reilly Factor before trying her hand at weekday and weekend programs on the network. She landed her own prime-time show there, The Kelly File, in 2013.

    In the years she worked at Fox News, Kelly engaged in the network’s signature race-baiting, xenophobic rhetoric, anti-LGBTQ attacks, rape apologia, and climate denial like the rest of her colleagues. We know because we watched her do it.

    • Kelly made race-baiting and outright racist comments a cornerstone of her Fox News show. On several occasions, her coverage of Black victims of police-perpetrated violence essentially blamed the victims by insisting they didn’t respect the police officers or focusing on their previous criminal records. She said of a 14-year-old Black girl violently manhandled by a police officer at a Texas pool party: “She was no saint either.”
    • Kelly infamously insisted in a 2013 Fox appearance that both Santa Claus, a fictional character, and Jesus, who was Middle Eastern, were white. She added, “Just because it makes you uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change.”
    • Kelly regularly fearmongered and pushed conservative lies to attack the Muslim community, including advocating for Muslim profiling.
    • Kelly used her Fox platform to fearmonger about immigration, defending Trump’s campaign comments calling Mexican immigrants criminals and “rapists,” and allowing Trump to call them “killers" without any pushback in a later appearance on her show.
    • Kelly regularly hosted anti-LGBTQ extremists and other hate group leaders on her Fox show -- including Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, a figure on the evangelical right who endorsed a Ugandan bill that would have imposed the death penalty for homosexuality.
    • Kelly repeatedly mocked and dismissed transgender people, including misgendering transgender inmates multiple times.
    • Kelly criticized sexual assault prevention measures and minimized survivors, particularly in discussions of campus sexual assault.
    • Kelly employed Fox News’ signature climate science denial tactics, from hosting questionable figures to pushing fringe beliefs about climate change and making jokes that cold weather disproves global warming.

    But when Kelly signaled she was ready to leave Fox behind, NBC pursued and hired her anyway.

    And then, unsurprisingly for no one besides apparently the executives who hired her, she did it all again: hosted a dangerous conspiracy theorist, defended an alleged sexual assailant, delivered a petty, Fox-like monologue attacking one of her previous guests, and now has defended blackface.

    Yet Kelly may walk away from the network with $69 million she didn’t earn, and NBC will be left to pay many more costs for its inexcusable decision to bring her on board in the first place.

    The true cost of NBC’s decision to hire Kelly is far greater than that astronomical $69 million, or even the show’s high-budget staff, or the $10 million NBC spent redesigning her studio space.

    It includes the career costs and emotional costs for the two talented Black TV personalities she replaced when she joined the Today show, Tamron Hall and Al Roker. Hall and Roker had been hosting the 9 a.m. hour of Today and were bringing in higher ratings than she ever managed to do while earning significantly smaller paychecks. Reportedly, the two hosts together were earning less than half of Kelly’s annual $23 million. Hall’s departure from NBC was swift and mishandled by the network; she apparently found out she was being replaced just minutes before going on air and did not get to say goodbye to her viewers. And Roker, along with Today anchor Craig Melvin, who is also Black, was put in the position of having to comment on their colleague’s casual racism this week.

    The immeasurable costs of NBC choosing to ink a massive deal with Kelly also include the missed opportunities of the network supporting many other journalists who could have focused on covering and representing communities of color or the LGBTQ community. Instead, NBC gambled its profits on a woman with a well-documented history of further marginalizing the marginalized.

    It includes the lost loyalty of morning show viewers, who have increasingly flocked to her ABC competitors instead since Kelly joined Today. Kelly’s schtick of parroting classic conservative rhetoric and coupling it with the occasional tough question never translated to mainstream broadcasting. NBC never saw the ratings it had likely anticipated for Kelly’s Today hour, or for the hour after, or for her scuttled Sunday show -- and the effects extended beyond NBC’s national platform to harm local NBC affiliate stations too. (It’s more than likely this consistent stagnation in viewership is what actually did her in at NBC, rather than some sudden moral reaction to a race-baiting comment the network executives should have seen coming.)

    It includes losing the faith of NBC employees, many of whom were embarrassed or alienated by their well-paid colleague’s right-wing antics on Today.

    And it includes losing public faith, because so many of us saw this coming from day one.

    Was it worth it?

  • Voter suppression stories aren't just about which party wins or loses in November -- they're about racist disenfranchisement in the long term

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Recent reporting has revealed indisputable voter suppression efforts in North Dakota and Georgia that appear to specifically target Native and Black communities. While these racist disenfranchisement efforts are obviously notable in the lead-up to next month’s midterm elections, media fail the public when they simply focus on the impact in the short-term and turn the story into another horse-race conversation. The real story here is the long-term, conservative-led effort to systematically dismantle voting rights for people of color -- and it won’t go away after November.

    On October 9, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to suspend a lower federal court ruling that requires North Dakota voters to show identification with a residential address in order to vote. This requirement effectively disenfranchises Native American tribal residents, as many do not have the acceptable identification or don’t list residential addresses on their IDs. As the plaintiffs in the original court case explained, the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t deliver to residences in rural tribal communities so residents instead list P.O. boxes on tribal IDs. In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that “the risk of disfranchisement is large” in clearing the way for the state to enforce this voter ID requirement after it had previously been blocked during primary voting.

    On the same day, The Associated Press reported that Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (who is also currently running for governor on the Republican ticket) has actively purged “over 1.4 million voter registrations since 2012,” and currently has “over 53,000 registrations sitting on hold.” AP’s analysis revealed that nearly 70 percent of the 53,000 “on hold” registrations were those of Black voters, an astonishing statistic when the state population is only 32 percent Black. The reasons for holding a registration vary, and can include simple errors in entry or “a dropped hyphen in a last name, for example.”

    Both of these efforts began well before the current election cycle. Mother Jones reports that North Dakota Republicans began tightening state voter ID laws after Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp was first elected in 2012. Kemp was first elected secretary of state in 2010, but his office began its purge as early as 2012 as well. It’s not even the only move Kemp has made to suppress votes in Georgia in recent months. Both fit into the broader systemic dismantling of voting rights in America, signaled by the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder case, and subsequent rulings granting states greater freedom to dictate their own election maps and voting requirements -- tools that some states have used to create stricter barriers to voting access for communities of color.

    Right-wing media have been cheering on the conservative voter suppression campaign for as long as it has been underway, helpfully propping up bogus claims of widespread voter fraud to justify this clear and targeted racist disenfranchisement.

    Media silence about the systemic dismantling of voting rights -- as was the case for coverage of the 2016 races -- should not be an option. Instead, media’s responsibility is to present the full context and actively counter the decades-long trend in voter suppression perpetrated by the right-wing political and media ecosystem.

    Coverage ought to focus on conveying the message that instances of voter suppression are both far from isolated, and far from random in the communities they affect. And even summing up in-depth reports that do provide this context with narrow midterms-focused headlines, like these, is itself a disservice:

    [Salon, 10/10/18]

    [New York, 10/10/18]

    [GQ, 10/10/18]

    [Alternet, 10/9/18]

    [Mic, 10/10/18]

    It’s just one step above a headline that tells readers nothing at all.

    Framing the latest voter purges from Georgia and North Dakota as purely horse-race developments effectively erases the opportunity to address the racist erosion of voting rights. This is not simply about a red or blue wave, or about polling numbers, or campaign strategy. This is not a matter of being bad for Democrats or good for Republicans. And this will not go away after next month.

    Black and Native people are being robbed of their voices at the polls in service of a conservative structure that will only work to systematically reinforce and further these voter suppression efforts in the future. Racism is a feature of this system, not a bug.

    Every time we see a headline about one specific and seemingly isolated disenfranchisement effort, we are deprived of the chance to make larger connections; to understand the rot at the core of our electoral system; and to fight it.