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Pam Vogel

Author ››› Pam Vogel
  • Sinclair’s latest conservative “must-run” segment attempts to defend Trump’s racist tweets 

    Chief political commentator Boris Epshteyn: “For those who believe that the American system is not for them, … you are free to go” 

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Update (7/17/19): This piece has been updated with additional information about where the segment has aired.

    On July 14, President Donald Trump tweeted a racist diatribe directed at four progressive congresswomen of color, saying they should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” 

    In the days since, the mainstream press has largely covered Trump’s vile remarks with necessary context about their racist origins (though many outlets initially hesitated or declined to accurately label them as overtly racist), and the tweets have been widely condemned by public figures, elected Democrats, and some Republicans. At this point, the main defenders of the racist tweets targeted at Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), llhan Omar (D-MN), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) are the Trump administration itself, a handful of GOP loyalists, and the president’s unofficial advisers in the right-wing media echo chamber. 

    Now, the conservative local news behemoth Sinclair Broadcast Group has joined them. The latest “must-run” commentary segment from Sinclair’s chief political commentator Boris Epshteyn -- a former Trump aide -- characterized the president’s racist comments as simply standing up to “radical, far-left Democrats” who “consistently bad-mouth the United States.” Epshteyn went on to claim, “The wrongful, knee-jerk conclusion that the president is somehow racist for criticizing those who denigrate America is reflective of a liberal ideology that is obsessed with identity politics.” 

    He concluded, “For those who believe that the American system is not for them, unlike the people in communist North Korea or socialist Venezuela, you are free to go.” 

    Dozens of Sinclair-controlled local news stations across the country are required to air Epshteyn’s short commentary segments almost every weekday. (In recent months, the segments have also been accompanied by a rebuttal from liberal commentator Ameshia Cross.) 

    By the morning of July 17, the segment had already aired on at least 50 local news stations in 27 states and the District of Columbia, according to the iQ media database.

    Here is the full "Bottom Line with Boris" segment: 

    BORIS EPSHTEYN: President Trump has spoken out against radical, far-left Democrats, code-named “the squad,” who consistently bad-mouth the United States. My family and I came to America as Jewish refugees. As an immigrant, I know how blessed I am to live in these United States. We could have gone to a different country, but we came to America because of what it stands for: freedom, opportunity, and the pursuit of happiness.

    Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a member of “the squad,” and her family also chose the United States. Yet she has decided to use her freedom to spew hateful anti-Semitism, join the radical left in its efforts to tear our country apart, and most recently, to not condemn the terrorist group Al Qaeda which carried out the barbaric September 11 terrorist attacks on our soil.

    The wrongful, knee-jerk conclusion that the president is somehow racist for criticizing those who denigrate America is reflective of a liberal ideology that is obsessed with identity politics.

    Here’s the bottom line: For those who believe that the American system is not for them, unlike the people in communist North Korea or socialist Venezuela, you are free to go. We are all more than the color of our skin, the religion we choose to observe, or the country we come from. Together we are Americans. Love it or leave it.

    To find Sinclair-owned or operated local news stations near you, visit FindSinclair.com

  • Fox News' refusal to take sexual harassment seriously sends a clear message to all of us

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    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In the last several years, Fox News has been forced to address reports of workplace sexual harassment so often that top brass has seemingly developed a formulaic public relations strategy to save face until the news cycle moves on. But the latest reports have not even elicited the typical canned response. Instead, Fox’s egregious mishandling of the reports against Fox Nation host Tyrus makes it all too clear that the company is motivated only by threats to publicity or its bottom line -- not by any sort of genuine concern for its employees or viewers. 

    In June, The Daily Beast reported that Tyrus -- a former professional wrestler and frequent Fox News guest who goes by one name -- was “quietly removed” in mid-April from the Fox Nation show after a "personal dispute" with co-host Britt McHenry. Tyrus and McHenry had co-hosted the semi-weekly show Un-PC on the Fox Nation streaming platform since the service launched in late 2018. At the time, The Daily Beast noted, Fox barely acknowledged Tyrus’ move from Un-PC to a brand-new streaming show he’d host on his own, called Nuff Said with Tyrus: 

    Fox Nation only subtly announced Tyrus’ exit from its most-hyped show. A May 23 press release and accompanying article from the network’s media reporter noted that the ex-wrestler has a new show called NUFFSAID, while McHenry “will continue to co-host ‘Un-PC.’” Any explicit mention of Tyrus’ departure from Un-PC was omitted.

    On June 11, The Daily Beast further reported that the previously unspecified “dispute” was actually a sexual harassment complaint that McHenry had made against Tyrus. McHenry said that her co-host had repeatedly sent her inappropriate and unsolicited lewd text messages. Sources at Fox told Daily Beast reporters Maxwell Tani and Asawin Suebsaeng that network leadership was aware of the complaint but ultimately made the decision to discreetly give Tyrus a new show -- effectively giving him a promotion. Nuff Said premiered the day after this latest report and was promoted on Fox’s website. 

    A Fox spokesperson told The Daily Beast that “the situation was independently investigated and we consider the matter resolved.” 

    On July 11, Yashar Ali reported in HuffPost on the contents of some of the text messages Tyrus reportedly sent McHenry, including one which references a photograph of genitalia he may have sent her: 

    The messages, which have not previously been reported, include texts in which Tyrus said to McHenry: “Just pull your boobs out now why don’t you. Just grin and bare it” and “keep being negative and I’ll send you another dick pic.”

    After initially declining to comment, Fox again offered a statement saying the matter had been thoroughly investigated and that the network had implemented recommendations stemming from the investigation. 

    But actions speak louder than statements. Throughout this slow trickle of reporting on the complaints, Fox News has handled the issue by keeping Tyrus’ departure from Un-PC as quiet as possible, effectively giving him a promotion to a new solo show without so much as a suspension, allowing him to continue his regular appearances on several Fox News shows as well, and continuing to promote his Fox Nation and Fox News screentime to its audience. 

    According to a Media Matters count, Tyrus has appeared on Fox News at least 11 times since the first Daily Beast report was published on June 4 -- all on The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino and The Greg Gutfeld Show. He made his regular guest appearances on both Fox News shows immediately after Ali’s report came out on the texts he sent McHenry. 

    On July 12 -- less than 24 hours after the HuffPost report was published -- Tyrus joined Perino for a five-minute segment that made no mention of the reports about his alleged workplace misconduct. Instead, Tyrus and Perino discussed Hurricane Barry and which one of them could hold a plank for longer: 

    Later that day, on The Five, co-host Greg Gutfeld teased Tyrus’ appearance on his other show the following night. The show’s Twitter account also promoted it numerous times. And Fox aired at least one promo for Nuff Said.

    The next day, Gutfeld introduced Tyrus on his show by joking, “Monsters check for him under their beds before they go to sleep.” 

    Tyrus and the other regular guests then discussed a series of topics including in-fighting among Democratic lawmakers, a hockey coach telling players to respect the national anthem, an Instagram model selling her bath water, and a new study about how couples meet. When the panel discussed the dating study, Gutfeld directed a comment about “civil war” between men and women to Tyrus, who stayed silent and was met with laughter: 

    (The July 13 show was preempted during its regular 10 p.m. time slot because of the power outage in New York City, but it aired later in the night.) 

    Tyrus is at least the 10th publicly known Fox News employee to have been reported for sexual harassment or other misconduct since former host Gretchen Carlson went public with her lawsuit against former chief Roger Ailes in the summer of 2016 -- not to mention several others who were implicated for aiding and abetting this reported harassment.

    The network has developed a formula for responding to these reports -- nominally admonishing and sometimes suspending the employee reported for inappropriate behavior, launching an internal investigation, and then either discretely allowing them to return to the status quo or reluctantly firing them with a golden parachute. 

    Of course, this has happened only when Fox sensed a threat to its bottom line or a wave of negative publicity it needed to combat, i.e. when the public spoke up and advertisers began to flee. 

    Absent these triggers, Fox News will continue to do next to nothing -- as evidenced most recently by its handling of the Tyrus allegations. 

    Lis Power contributed research to this post. 

  • Sinclair is forcing its stations to run a commentary segment that’s essentially a Trump campaign ad

    Sinclair chief political commentator and former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn hosted a new “must-run” gushing about the president’s 2020 campaign

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    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Conservative local news giant Sinclair Broadcast Group is now pushing its local news stations to air what amounts to an unofficial ad for the Trump 2020 campaign.

    The local news behemoth currently employs two commentators -- one pro-Trump and one liberal -- who each produce a “must-run” commentary segment on a near-daily basis. The segments are distributed to Sinclair’s local news stations across the country, and the stations are required to air them within a certain period of time, typically during a local newscast. The June 19 commentary segments from Boris Epshteyn and Ameshia Cross tackled President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign launch ploy in Orlando.

    Epshteyn, who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign and may have signed a nondisparagement agreement during that time that would prevent him from criticizing the president, delivered a 90-second segment that could just as easily have been produced by the Trump campaign itself. 

    In the segment, Epshteyn praises crowd sizes at Trump’s rallies and “unprecedented social media engagement” from Trump supporters, and encourages the president’s campaign to “ride the wind of his accomplishments to reelection.”

    BORIS EPSHTEYN: Well, it’s official. President Trump has launched his 2020 reelection campaign. The energy behind President Trump and his “America First” movement is palpable, and if I’m a Democrat running in 2020, I am worried about my chances. That energy is quantifiable in the crowds that fill up massive stadiums. You see it on display when lines begin to form days in advance of Trump rallies. You see the energy in the unprecedented social media engagement for President Trump. You also see it in fundraising, where, according to reports, President Trump raised more in his first day running than any Democratic candidate did in their first three months.

    Democrats have struggled to find a candidate who is able to hit these notes. Democratic candidates from Mayor Bill de Blasio to Sen. Kamala Harris and even the front-runner, former Vice President Joe Biden, are failing to fill crowds or garner supporter reactions. On the other hand, the sitting president is treated like a rock star by his base.

    President Trump’s strategy is simple: Keep the energy and motivation high, focus on several key issues, and ride the wind of his accomplishments to reelection. Here’s the bottom line: The advantages of incumbency and a successful first term are on full display for President Trump so far this cycle. While Democrats struggle to differentiate from one another, President Trump is proving that the GOP’s amp goes up to 11.

    As of this morning, Epshteyn’s “must-run” segment has already aired on at least 42 Sinclair-controlled local news stations in 26 states and the District of Columbia, according to the iQ media database.

    For more than a year, Epshteyn was the only Sinclair personality creating “must-run” commentary segments for the broadcaster to send to its stations. In February, Sinclair added commentator Ameshia Cross to its lineup to produce segments on the same topics from a more liberal perspective. The two segments -- Epshteyn’s Bottom Line with Boris and Cross’ Cross Point -- typically air during the same local newscasts on a given station. Cross’ segment about the reelection campaign focused on Trump’s attacks on media, Democratic candidates, and Hillary Clinton during the rally.

    Sinclair’s programming decisions and executive leadership tilted strongly in favor of the Trump campaign in 2016, and the close connections between the Trump administration and the broadcasting company have seemingly only strengthened in the time since. The president himself, along with numerous cabinet members and other individuals circulating in his inner circle, have made appearances on Sinclair programming and granted exclusive interviews to Sinclair hosts and reporters -- including with openly conservative personalities like Epshteyn and former Fox News host Eric Bolling.

    Epshteyn similarly used many of his “must-runs” to essentially campaign for Republicans in the year leading up to the 2018 midterms; some of his segments even skipped the usual commentary altogether and simply featured softball interviews with GOP candidates. Sinclair’s past election efforts are particularly notable because the nearly 200 stations it owns or operates are mostly concentrated in mid-sized cities and battleground states.

  • Disgraced former Fox News hosts Bill O’Reilly and Eric Bolling reunite on Bolling’s Sinclair program

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Disgraced former Fox News host and serial sexual harasser Bill O’Reilly appeared on the latest episode of Eric Bolling’s show for Sinclair Broadcast Group. The two men have a lot in common: Both Bolling and O’Reilly previously worked at Fox News, and both left their previous hosting gigs after reports that they had sexually harassed multiple colleagues.

    O’Reilly was one of several guests on the May 22 edition of Bolling’s America This Week program, a relatively new weekly political show that streams on Sinclair station websites and occasionally broadcasts on air. In the roughly eight-minute interview, Bolling and O’Reilly discussed disagreements among Democratic presidential candidates about appearing on Fox News, Bolling's and O'Reilly's opinions about The New York Times, and journalists’ use of anonymous sources. The casual interview began and ended with a series of inside jokes about the conservative media world and teasing banter between the host and his “good friend.”

    The episode also featured Sinclair employees (and ex-Fox News employees) Sebastian Gorka and James Rosen, as well as Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and conservative grifter James O’Keefe, among others.

    O’Reilly was fired from Fox News in April 2017 following reports that he and 21st Century Fox had settled multiple sexual harassment lawsuits. Later reporting from The New York Times revealed that Fox and O’Reilly actually paid out a total of about $45 million in six publicly known settlements with women who reported he sexually harassed or verbally abused them -- including one previously unknown $32 million sexual harassment settlement reached shortly before Fox renewed his contract in early 2017. (During the interview, Bolling acknowledged that O’Reilly had a “bone of contention with [the Times] for a very long time,” likely a reference to the paper reporting several major scoops about these settlements.)

    O’Reilly has since been largely relegated to streaming and posting his takes on his eponymous website, though he is now writing a book about President Donald Trump and he interviewed the president on Air Force One earlier this year.

    Bolling left Fox News in 2017 as well, following reports he had sent multiple workers unsolicited pictures of genitalia. Bolling now hosts a regular program on the conservative streaming platform BlazeTV as well as his Sinclair show. He, too, has remained part of Trump’s orbit, working with first lady Melania Trump on opioid misuse issues and interviewing the president for a previous episode of his Sinclair show.

    O’Reilly and Bolling both embodied the worst of Fox News during their tenures at the network, frequently spewing race-baiting, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and misogynistic rhetoric.

  • Eric Bolling is using his Sinclair and BlazeTV shows to elevate conspiracy theorists Alex Jones and Roger Stone

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    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Right-wing media personality Eric Bolling now hosts regular programs at two different outlets: Sinclair Broadcast Group and BlazeTV. In the space of a week, he has used both platforms to interview well-known conspiracy theorists -- and appeared on one of their shows as well.

    In early April, Bolling began hosting a weekly show for Sinclair called America This Week, which streams online on websites of Sinclair news stations and is promoted with on-air teasers or sometimes aired in full on some Sinclair news stations. The program has also already featured a number of right-wing media talking heads and members of the Trump orbit, including: President Donald Trump himself, former Trump adviser and Sinclair contributor Sebastian Gorka, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, Sinclair reporter and former Fox employee James Rosen, presidential daughter-in-law and current Trump campaign adviser Lara Trump, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, and Sinclair chief political commentator and former Trump staffer Boris Epshteyn.

    On the May 1 edition of Sinclair's America This Week, Bolling interviewed longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone. Stone is a sexist, racist conspiracy theorist who has pushed conspiracy theories about the 9/11 terror attacks, the JFK assassination, the Clintons and Bushes (saying they committed murders), the 2016 presidential election, the death of former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, and more. In January, Stone was indicted for obstruction, making false statements to Congress, and witness tampering as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

    In the 10-minute interview with Bolling, Stone discussed his current criminal defense, his background as an aide to President Richard Nixon, his relationship with Trump, and the 2020 presidential election. Below is the full segment:

    Before joining Sinclair, Bolling was already hosting a regular program on the conservative outlet Blaze Media’s streaming platform BlazeTV. The show, America with Eric Bolling, continues to stream online most weekdays for a subscription audience.

    The April 24 edition of America with Eric Bolling featured an interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Major social media networks have taken actions against Jones and his outlet Infowars to limit their ability to share content. Jones has used his outlet to spread rampant bigotry, hint at violence, host and promote white supremacists, and push conspiracy theories about mass tragedies including the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the Parkland high school shooting, the 9/11 attacks, and the Boston Marathon bombings, as well as the 2016 presidential election and “globalist” plots by prominent political figures such as the Clinton and Obama families.

    In the episode, Bolling introduced Jones as a “good friend of the show, good friend of mine.” The segment also re-aired an Infowars clip (of Jones yelling into a bullhorn outside the White House). At one point during their interview outside the Capitol, the men attempt to confront a woman who called one of them a liar as she passed by. Bolling half-heartedly tried to downplay some of Jones’ more extreme views, saying that he disagreed with what Jones has said about Sandy Hook and 9/11 specifically but that he believes Jones should be free to say what he wants. Jones responded by asserting that media and tech companies conspired to twist his words on those topics, which Bolling did not challenge. (Jones has repeatedly tried to rewrite the history of his comments on Sandy Hook, but Media Matters has documented his repeated lies on the subject.)

    Jones ended the interview by promoting his website and telling viewers, “Tune in to this guy, spread the word about his show, my show, and the free, independent media that’s bringing this country back.”

    On the same day, Bolling and Jones also filmed a second interview -- this time with Jones interviewing Bolling for Infowars. A video was posted to the Infowars website on April 27 that included both Jones’ interview of Bolling and Bolling’s previously aired interview of Jones for BlazeTV. In the Infowars interview footage, Bolling and Jones discussed several supposed smear campaigns against them from “the left” and each talked about his personal relationship with Trump. At one point, Jones called former first lady Michelle Obama an anti-trans slur and referred to her as “Michael Obama,” and Bolling laughed and said he was staying out of it. The interview ended with Bolling promoting his BlazeTV and Sinclair shows and discussing Sinclair’s move toward hiring more conservatives and possibly competing with Fox News.

    During his lengthy tenure as a host at Fox News, Bolling himself trafficked in conspiracy theories. He was one of the outlet’s leading voices pushing the racist Obama birther conspiracy theory and also hinted at far-right claims about the tragic death of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich. Bolling left Fox in 2017 amid reports that he had sent multiple colleagues unsolicited images of genitalia.

    Bolling is now in the unusual position of simultaneously hosting shows on dual media platforms with ostensibly different missions. Sinclair is now well-known for injecting conservative bias into its local news broadcasts and for employing an outsize number of right-wing personalities, but it still styles itself as a more neutral media outlet. BlazeTV is a relatively new right-wing behemoth cobbled together from two obviously and openly conservative online outlets: Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze and Mark Levin’s CRTV. Both of Bolling’s shows attempt to create a veneer of legitimacy by bringing on token liberals or actual journalists for discussions, but they do far greater harm by elevating far-right conspiracy theorists in the same place.

    Notably, Bolling also uses the two shows to cross-promote his own work. During one Sinclair special program in February, Bolling appeared in front of a background with the BlazeTV logo and aired clips from his interviews for BlazeTV. Advertising for BlazeTV programming was also shown on screen. And on his BlazeTV show, Bolling has aired snippets of his Sinclair interview with Trump and told viewers to tune in to his Sinclair show.

  • Sinclair's latest Trump interview may as well have been produced by the White House

    Former Fox host Eric Bolling interviewed the president, and it went about how you'd expect

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    This week, President Donald Trump continued his practice of rewarding conservative media outlets he believes are not biased against him, sitting down for an exclusive interview in the Rose Garden with Eric Bolling, a political anchor at the right-wing Sinclair Broadcast Group.

    Bolling interviewed Trump for the third episode of his new show for Sinclair, America This Week, which streams on Sinclair station websites weekly and is promoted and occasionally aired on the stations themselves.

    In one promotional clip, Trump and Bolling discussed the president’s belief that the press is biased against him because of “Trump derangement syndrome.” Trump also said that the term “fake news” is no longer strong enough to convey mainstream media’s supposed bias against him. This clip aired on at least 49 stations in 28 states and the District of Columbia on April 16 and 17, according to the iQ media database.  

    In another clip, the president misleadingly told Bolling (and viewers), “We’re building a lot of wall right now. We’re taking old stuff down that didn’t work, and we’re using -- we’re building beautiful 30-foot barriers and bollards and, in some cases, concrete, depending on what we need. And a lot of wall is being built.” This clip aired on at least 40 stations in 22 states from April 12 through April 15.

    The full 15-minute interview was posted online on April 17, and it was about what you might expect from a former Fox News host who previously said he would work for Trump for $1. Bolling introduced the interview like this:

    I found the president relaxed and confident, just off the Mueller and Barr report release. The busiest and most powerful man on the planet gave me 15 minutes on tape and another 30 minutes walking around the beautiful Rose Garden setting.

    And the interview itself began (after a minute-long monologue from Bolling about Media Matters) with the men stating that they respect each other. Many of Bolling’s questions for the president were more like supportive comments about Trump’s agenda or softball setups for Trump to bash Democrats or the media. Here are a few:

    • “The left wing, the mainstream media seems to love anything that can take a shot at Mr. Trump. But here’s what I want to ask: We’re now going to be aired in 200 stations across the country. Middle America is watching. What type of news diet are they being fed by the mainstream media, all these people?”
    • “The number came out. And the lowest number of jobless claims in 49 and a half years. Almost 50 years. You know, I had to debate with a guy the other day about whose economy is it. I said it’s a Trump economy. He said, ‘No, no, no, this is just Trump finishing up Obama’s economy.’ I beg to differ. I think your GDP is pushing 3% and Obama had point one and a half. Half the GDP.”
    • “Can I tell you, one of the things -- and I’ve done business; I started in the business networks -- one of the things that people ignore and one of the ways I always catch liberals who were attacking me about ‘it was Obama’s economy, not Trump’s’ is: For the first time in maybe 12 years, wages are growing substantially. And that’s a function of a more favorable business environment. Companies feel better about the future, so they’ll pay people more to stay. Whereas in the past, they were, ‘Eh, I’m not sure about the economy.’ So it’s a confidence in the economy that probably is immeasurable, but that’s part of the reason why the number has been so good.”
    • “I remember you came in on a Saturday and started rolling back regulation. I’ll never forget that.”
    • “This new -- on the left -- this new embrace of socialism. You know, AOC comes -- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez -- comes out with a Green New Deal. We’re going to be extinct in 12 years unless we adopt this program?”
    • “Anti-Semitism a growing concern with a couple of new freshman congresswomen, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. Your thoughts on is there a growing tide of anti-Semitism in the country?”

    This sit-down with Bolling is Trump’s ninth on-camera interview of the year. In February, he was interviewed by CBS’ Margaret Brennan, and earlier this month he spoke with KSTP in St. Paul, MN; the other six interviews were with Fox News or Fox Business personalities. He has also sat down for multiple interviews with Sinclair personalities in the past, including for a series of “must-run” segments with Sinclair chief political commentator and former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn last year.

    Bolling previously worked at the president’s favorite network, Fox News, where he pushed the network’s signature misogyny, race-baiting, and anti-Muslim rhetoric, as well as the racist birther conspiracy theory championed by Trump. He left Fox in 2017 amid reports that he sent multiple colleagues unsolicited images of genitalia.

    The first two episodes of Bolling’s Sinclair program were ripped right from Fox News, focusing on common conservative tropes like media bias, censorship, and a border crisis. The program has also already featured a number of right-wing media talking heads and members of the Trump orbit, including: former Trump adviser and Sinclair contributor Sebastian Gorka, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, Sinclair reporter and former Fox employee James Rosen, presidential daughter-in-law and current Trump campaign adviser Lara Trump, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Sinclair chief political commentator Boris Epshteyn and Sinclair commentator Ameshia Cross, and several liberals who are also frequent Fox News guests. It was only a matter of time before Bolling landed an interview with the president himself.

    Rob Savillo contributed research to this post.

  • Eric Bolling's new show for Sinclair Broadcast Group brings the worst of right-wing media to local news

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    Sinclair Broadcast Group’s newest program signals the conservative media giant’s shift toward more openly embracing right-wing propaganda and hiring Fox News castoffs.

    On April 2, Mediaite reported that Sinclair was set to debut America This Week, a new weekly program hosted by Eric Bolling. The first episode would include appearances by several members of the Trump inner circle: former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, and 2020 campaign adviser and the president’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump. Bolling is a newly official Sinclair personality who has been making appearances on its national programming for months, and he also hosts a streaming show with right-wing outlet BlazeTV. He was previously a host and co-host at Fox News -- where he regularly trafficked in conspiracy theories, misogyny, and race-baiting -- but he left in 2017 amid reports that he sent multiple colleagues unsolicited images of genitalia.

    The first two episodes of Eric Bolling’s America This Week program are straight out of Fox News

    In a sign of Sinclair’s increasing willingness to adopt the Fox News model of poisoning viewers against any other news sources, much of the first hour-long program was devoted to decrying so-called media bias against President Donald Trump:

    • The program began with a brief introductory monologue from Bolling in which he told viewers, “This show is all about holding the mainstream media and the powerful accountable.” Bolling then decried “today’s media, where truth and facts give way to biased opinions and a dangerous disregard for fact.”
    • Bolling then led a discussion with former Trump adviser and Sinclair contributor Sebastian Gorka and Democratic strategist and frequent Fox News guest Jonathan Harris, and another with former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Both Gorka and Lewandowski addressed supposed mainstream media bias against the president.
    • Later in the episode, Bolling featured a report about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from James Rosen, another former Fox News employee.
    • He also played a pre-taped interview with presidential daughter-in-law and current Trump campaign adviser Lara Trump, which touched on the idea of media bias against the president.
    • The show also aired an interview at the “Breitbart Embassy” with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon discussing, again, media bias against Trump, the concept of a “deep state,” and Bannon’s thoughts about various public figures including former FBI Director James Comey, progressive philanthropist George Soros, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), the pope, Trump, and himself.

    The second episode had similarly Fox-y elements:

    • Bolling’s monologue was focused on a “crisis at the border.”
    • It was followed by a discussion with Gorka, again, along with Democratic strategist Joel Payne, about immigration and special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
    • Bolling then introduced his interview with Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) about “the Russian collusion illusion.” Nunes spent the last portion of the interview discussing the false talking point that conservatives are being “shadow banned” or otherwise discriminated against by social media platforms and his lawsuit against Twitter.
    • Bolling conducted a long interview with former President Barack Obama adviser Austan Goolsbee (also a frequent Fox News guest), in part to discuss whether a good economy ought to be credited to Obama or Trump.
    • There was another report from Rosen, this time focused on Attorney General Bill Barr’s misleading statements before Congress about “spying” on the Trump presidential campaign in 2016.
    • And there was a discussion about Hitler apologist and far-right personality Candace Owens and “nationalism” between Sinclair chief political commentator Boris Epshteyn and Sinclair commentator Ameshia Cross.

    The episodes attempt to show some balance by including short segments from Sinclair local reporters in different states, and bringing in reporters at national outlets for a segment called “Balls and Strikes” in which Bolling goes over stories of the week (so far, Politico’s Gabby Orr, Time’s Brian Bennett, and The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay have appeared).

    Next week, Bolling said, will feature an interview with the president.

    America This Week premiered mostly online

    The first two full episodes of America This Week were posted on local Sinclair station websites on April 3 and April 10. While initial reporting suggested the show would air on Sinclair news stations across the country weekly, thus far it appears to have been distributed primarily online, with short excerpts aired on TV.

    According to the iQ media database, on April 3 and 4, local stations typically aired one (or both) of two short clips from Bolling’s interview with Bannon and then told audiences to head to the station website to see the entire program. The teasers and interview snippets aired on at least 61 Sinclair stations in 29 states and the District of Columbia. A handful of stations told viewers the full program would be broadcast on Sunday nights at a certain time, but iQ media video showed those stations airing different national programming such as Entertainment Tonight or wrestling matches at those times instead.

    The America This Week snippets that some local news viewers saw on air last week were these two clips:

    Steve Bannon railing against media bias at The New York Times and CNN (as seen here on KEYE in Austin, TX):

    Or Steve Bannon discussing a “deep state” and doing word association about himself (as seen here on KTVL in Medford, OR):

    The following week, the second episode of the program again was featured on Sinclair station websites and promoted on the air with clips from Bolling’s interview with Nunes. As seen on KBAK in Bakersfield, CA:

    The first episode of Bolling's show does not appear to have aired in full on any local news stations -- at least not on any the larger news affiliates that are included in the iQ media database. It is possible the show aired on smaller stations, like CW or MyNetwork affiliates, or on digital-only subchannels, both of which cater to smaller audiences. On April 10, Bolling promoted the show on Twitter, telling users to “check your local listings.” The replies are largely from accounts saying that they couldn’t find the program. The local Washington, D.C., Sinclair station, WJLA, aired Wheel of Fortune during the 7 p.m. hour that night.

    Eric Bolling represents the essence of Fox News

    For months before the premiere of America This Week, Bolling had been hosting ongoing town hall programming for Sinclair focused on opioids, including one in which he interviewed first lady Melania Trump. He was also beginning to make appearances on other Sinclair national programming as a “political anchor,” and he interviewed both President Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on behalf of Sinclair in recent months.

    At Fox, Bolling regularly trafficked in the casual misogyny, race-baiting, anti-Muslim rhetoric, and right-wing conspiracy theories that continue to define the network. In his time at Fox:

    • Bolling was a major voice pushing the racist birther conspiracy theory about Obama. He even examined Obama’s birth certificate on the air, speculating that the certificate’s border showed it may have been photoshopped.
    • He also speculated about the death of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, saying, “There wasn’t a robbery. … This was a hit.”
    • Bolling had to apologize for asking if the first female pilot for the United Arab Emirates, who participated in bombing against Islamic State terrorists, “would … be considered boobs on the ground.”
    • He whined that allowing young girls to play football was part of “the wussification of American men” and criticized a story of a 9-year-old girl playing football, saying, “Let the boys be boys, let the girls be girls.”
    • Bolling told Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) that she should “step away from the crack pipe.”
    • He lectured “rappers,” saying that they should be happy because white people are “financing their lifestyles” by buying their music.
    • Bolling criticized Obama's leadership by claiming the first Black president was "chugging a few 40s" instead of doing his job.
    • When Gabonese President Ali Bongo visited the White House during the Obama administration, Bolling characterized it as "a hoodlum in the hizzouse."
    • He has also argued that “there’s no racial aspect of [police] profiling” and said that racism doesn’t exist anymore.
    • Bolling argued that “every terrorist on American soil has been a Muslim.”
    • Bolling also opposed the proposal to build a Muslim community center near ground zero in New York City, suggesting it could be “a meeting place for some of the scariest minds,” even “some of the biggest terrorist minds.”

    Bolling joins other former Fox News personalities who’ve moved to Sinclair

    Bolling is one of three former Fox News employees to have landed at Sinclair after leaving the network, all of whom appeared in both episodes so far of America This Week.

    Former Fox contributor Sebastian Gorka, an anti-Muslim extremist and Washington, D.C., swamp creature, recently officially became a Sinclair contributor as well. Like Bolling, Gorka had appeared multiple times in Sinclair national news programming beforehand, and he also hosted at least two special programs that aired on Sinclair local news stations. One of these specials, called The Rise of Terrorism: A Clash of Cultures, featured footage labeled as "ISIS propaganda" and shots of terror attacks followed by Gorka asking viewers, "Can 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?"

    Sinclair investigative reporter James Rosen also joined Sinclair this year; he previously worked as Fox News’ chief Washington correspondent before leaving the network in early 2018 amid reports that he sexually harassed colleagues.

    Sinclair’s future

    Sinclair’s recent decisions to formally hire multiple ex-Fox News figures and to give one of them a weekly online program signal the media giant’s shift to more openly embracing its reputation as a right-wing outlet. For years, Sinclair flew under the radar and was quietly injecting conservative spin into local news programming -- but now that it’s become more of a household name, it seems to be pivoting even further right.

    Before the broadcasting giant began airing Trumpian “must-run” segments warning of media bias last spring, Sinclair stations were already running multiple commentary segments featuring what were clearly right-wing perspectives, producing fearmongering “Terrorism Alert Desk” segments, and broadcasting weekly shows from conservative conspiracy theorist Sharyl Attkisson and right-wing grifter Armstrong Williams. In recent months, Sinclair finally brought a liberal commentator on board to produce “must-runs” from a different point of view, but the company simultaneously invested in Rosen, Gorka, and Bolling.

  • Media outlets somehow make Trump the savior of Special Olympics funding that his budget aimed to cut in the first place

    Sloppy headlines and tweets that simply quote the president without context are just good PR for Trump

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Trump administration last week made a particularly cruel show of defunding the Special Olympics program in its annual proposed budget -- a largely symbolic gesture that was nonetheless indicative of the administration’s wholesale disregard for people with disabilities. After Secretary of Education Betsy Devos made a series of inept attempts to defend or address the proposed cut amid mounting public pressure, President Donald Trump finally walked back his administration’s line, saying he would change the proposal. In reporting Trump’s remarks, sloppy headlines, tweets, and cable news chyrons that simply quoted the president inherently gave him credit where absolutely none was due. It's part of a larger pattern in which context-free framing can undermine the substance of otherwise good reporting, reducing complex stories to overly simplistic headlines or lead sentences that ultimately mislead the public. 

    What happened? 

    Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos appeared twice before Congress last week to discuss her department’s proposed budget for the 2020 fiscal year, and she faced tough questions about a proposed $17.6 million cut that would eliminate federal funding for the Special Olympics.

    Presidential administrations typically release a proposed annual budget every year as a recommendation and a way to indicate policy priorities -- the federal budget is ultimately under the purview of Congress alone, which can take the presidential proposal under advisement. Indeed, Politico noted that the administration had proposed defunding the Special Olympics in its last two budgets as well. As s.e. smith wrote for Vox, the proposed cut illustrated the underlying threat to people with disabilities that the administration poses -- and distracts from other proposed budget cuts and previous administration activities that could harm students with disabilities and limit their access to quality public education.

    DeVos faced strong pressure to reconsider the budget line, both in the hearings and from media, and was asked clarifying questions about the reasons for the defunding proposal. She struggled to defend the decision, completely and awkwardly ignoring questions from at least one CNN reporter and engaging in the Trump administration’s signature deflection tactic of attacking the media instead. Meanwhile, a Trump campaign spokesperson pivoted to bizarrely attacking Democrats’ support for abortion.

    Eventually, after multiple days of negative public attention, Trump reversed his administration’s long-held position on cutting the funding. The president told reporters last Thursday that he had “overridden” his own administration and had “authorized a funding of the Special Olympics,” saying that he had “heard about it this morning.” At best, this means Trump had no idea what his own administration was up to until reporters and members of Congress pointed it out. At worst, Trump was well aware of the cut and didn’t care about it until he looked bad publicly -- and was willing to throw DeVos under the bus to fix things.

    This episode showcased, once again, not just the Trump inner circle’s signature moral repugnancy but also its overwhelming ineptitude.

    How was it framed by some in media? 

    After Trump abruptly announced the proposed budget change, some blue-checkmarked reporters and media figures immediately started tweeting his breaking news quotes for impact and virality -- a common industry-wide practice. The unintentional effect was a series of tweets that together reframed the news story positively for Trump.

    Rather than making clear that Trump was reversing his own proposed budget, which does not determine actual funding levels regardless, the tweets portrayed Trump as the savior of the program -- a hero willing to fight his own bureaucracy to protect what he cared about. It amounted to passively spreading misinformation.

    And news organizations also piled on.

    Some headlines and cable news chyrons followed the same pattern: they either quoted the president with no context on the shameless pivot or actively framed him as heroically bucking bureaucracy.

    [The Hill, 3/28/19]

    [USA Today, 3/28/19]

    [CNN, 3/28/19]

    [Time, 3/28/19]

    [CNN, The Lead, 3/28/19]

    [MSNBC, Deadline: White House, 3/28/19]

    Surely not all context about the issue can fit in a headline or a tweet. But a few extra words can go a long way in better serving news audiences; some news organizations were able to do it just fine.

    Every tweet, headline, push notification, and chyron counts. Even if context is provided in subsequent reporting, or in different chyrons or an accompanying discussion, that is not enough. The essential framing has to be right.

    Media have a responsibility to serve an audience that we know is trying to catch up on the news by glancing at the TV screens (maybe in public, with the sound off, even) and scrolling quickly through tweets, push notifications, or headlines. Reporters covering this should distill what’s most relevant and accurate to a busy, distracted public that’s relying on them. Otherwise, they’re doing the work of the president’s communications shop.

  • Sebastian Gorka is officially bringing his anti-Muslim commentary to Sinclair stations across the country

    The former Trump aide isn’t renewing his Fox News contract, instead increasing his presence at Sinclair

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Sebastian Gorka, a D.C. swamp creature with barely a degree of separation from a Nazi-linked group, will no longer be a Fox News contributor -- but the public can still find his bigoted, anti-Muslim commentary on local Sinclair Broadcast Group stations around the country.

    After briefly serving as an adviser to President Donald Trump in 2017, Gorka parlayed his White House role into a new job as a Fox News contributor. On March 3, The Hollywood Reporter’s Jeremy Barr broke the news that Gorka was not renewing his contributor contract with Fox. Gorka told Barr, “I decided not to renew my contract since I have a new nationally syndicated radio show and a position with Sinclair TV which obviated a new arrangement with FNC.”

    The Sinclair role that Gorka is referencing has been publicly confirmed for only about a month: In February, Gorka appeared as part of Sinclair’s special programming for the State of the Union address and was identified as a Sinclair contributor.

    But the virulently anti-Muslimnational security expert” was making appearances on Sinclair news programming long before then. In 2017, about a month before he signed his Fox contract, 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.”

    Last March, he appeared in a nationally aired news package produced by Sinclair reporter Kristine Frazao about the so-called “deep state.” Around the same time, he participated in a discussion about “the deep state” that also featured Frank Gaffney, leader of an anti-Muslim extremist group, on the Sinclair-affiliated The Armstrong Williams Show.

    Gorka has also hosted at least two special programs that ran on Sinclair-controlled local news stations. In March 2018, Gorka hosted a special called The Rise of Terrorism: A Clash of Cultures, which aired on numerous Sinclair stations. In that program, footage labeled as "ISIS propaganda" and shots of terror attacks are followed by Gorka asking viewers, "Can 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."

    In November, he hosted another 30-minute special -- this time fearmongering about socialism. The program began 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), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and Virginia state Del. Lee Carter, much of it set to ominous music. Gorka spent the majority of the program discussing the history of various regimes across the globe, framed to show what happens when socialism goes wrong.

    Despite these numerous appearances, Gorka’s relationship with Sinclair wasn’t publicly addressed until very recently -- including on his own Twitter account, where he frequently promotes his media appearances. He didn’t appear to list the role in his account bio until some time after the town hall appearance last month. And two previous Media Matters requests sent to Sinclair representatives about Gorka’s role at the media company were not answered. (It is uncommon for Fox News contributors to simultaneously hold positions at other media outlets.)

    Now that Gorka has finally made his move to Sinclair official, viewers around the country can unfortunately expect even more anti-Muslim extremism creeping into their local newscasts. Sinclair is already known for its near-daily “Terrorism Alert Desk” segments, which actively reinforce far-right, xenophobic narratives about terrorism and focus heavily on stories involving Islam in any way.

    Gorka has already appeared in at least six Sinclair national news packages in 2019, mostly discussing stories related to ISIS or immigration:

    • A February 21 segment about an American woman who regrets marrying an ISIS fighter
    • A February 18 segment about captured ISIS fighters
    • A February 1 segment about the fate of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipients in immigration negotiations
    • A January 25 segment about the arrest of Trump confidant Roger Stone
    • A January 17 segment about global terror attacks
    • A January 4 segment about Democrats in Congress and Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s (D-MI) comments about impeaching Trump

    Gorka’s move to Sinclair also helps solidify the local news conglomerate as a media safe space for Fox News castoffs. Former Fox co-host Eric Bolling -- who also appeared in the February State of the Union special -- is now a “Sinclair political anchor” as well as a host on conservative BlazeTV. Bolling recently interviewed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) at CPAC on behalf of Sinclair, and he hosts an ongoing town hall series about the opioid crisis. He left Fox News in 2017 amid reports he sent images of genitalia to multiple coworkers. James Rosen, a Sinclair investigative reporter, also previously worked at Fox News before leaving in January 2018 amid multiple sexual harassment reports.

  • Boris Epshteyn calls Michael Cohen a "rat" in a Sinclair must-run segment airing across the country 

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Sinclair Broadcast Group’s local TV stations around the country are currently airing a commentary segment in which former Trump administration official Boris Epshteyn declares Michael Cohen a “rat.”

    Cohen, a former longtime personal lawyer and “fixer” for President Donald Trump, testified publicly in a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on February 27. In his sworn testimony, Cohen offered new details about the president’s awareness of WikiLeaks’ plans to release hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee ahead of the 2016 election and Trump’s role in arranging hush money payments to women he had sexual relationships with, among other damning information. Cohen also testified that the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. had played more significant roles in a Trump Tower Moscow project and in arranging the hush money payments than previously disclosed.

    In a new “must-run” segment about the testimony airing on dozens of Sinclair-controlled local news stations, Epshteyn -- a former Trump aide and Sinclair’s chief political analyst since 2017 -- fell in line with other pro-Trump media attempting to downplay the testimony. Epshteyn also emphatically denounced Cohen as a “rat.”

    BORIS EPSHTEYN: President Trump's former personal attorney and rat, Michael Cohen, was questioned in a heated, all-day hearing in front of the House oversight committee this week. Despite Cohen’s scathing opening remarks, there were three key takeaways from his hearing.

    One: Cohen said under oath that he did not take a trip to Prague to collude with Russia on behalf of then-candidate Donald Trump. Cohen stated that he did not have any evidence whatsoever of any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

    Two: Cohen said that he did not seek a position in the Trump administration. Many in the president’s inner circle as well as acquaintances of Cohen's have taken to Twitter to deny that ridiculous claim. That may mean that Cohen perjured himself again in his congressional testimony. If so, Cohen could face additional jail time on top of the three years that he’s due to start serving in May.

    Three: Cohen repeatedly called himself a liar, exposing his bias against the president and making a total fool out of himself.

    Here’s the bottom line: The good news for Democrats? They got an opportunity to continue to talk about President Trump and the Russia investigation for just a little longer. The bad news? Cohen’s testimony exposed their narrative for what it really is: totally fabricated nonsense.

    Epshteyn previously worked in the Trump White House on the communications team after a stint on the Trump inaugural committee. He also served as a Trump media surrogate throughout the campaign and during the first days of his presidency. Epshteyn is personal friends with the president’s sons Eric and Donald Jr., and he has been spotted at Trump International Hotel multiple times, including with Don Jr.

    Epshteyn privately testified before the House Intelligence Committee in 2017 on matters related to Russian collusion in the 2016 election.

    The segment began running on Sinclair stations on February 28, and so far it has aired on at least 35 stations in at least 25 states. It is accompanied, typically in the same newscast, by an opposing “must-run” segment from Sinclair’s new liberal commentator Ameshia Cross.