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Pam Vogel

Author ››› Pam Vogel
  • The Sinclair-Tribune merger might be in big trouble because of Sinclair's shady business tactics 

    FCC signals it will slow-track the merger, citing Sinclair’s practice of using legal loopholes to skirt ownership rules

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On July 16, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai issued a statement saying he had “serious concerns” about the pending acquisition of Tribune Media by conservative local TV giant Sinclair Broadcast Group. The statement said the FCC would not be able to approve the acquisition outright and Pai will recommend that the matter be sent to an administrative law judge -- a move, according to Politico, that is “often viewed as a deal-killer.”

    In the July 16 statement, Pai cited evidence that “certain station divestitures that have been proposed to the FCC would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law.” In other words, the FCC can’t approve the deal because Sinclair would be breaking the law -- and doing it so blatantly that even Pai, a Trump appointee who’s currently being investigated for leading the FCC in deregulation efforts that suspiciously benefit Sinclair, couldn’t turn the other way.

    In fact, the company outlined in its final proposal to the FCC exactly how it would use legal loopholes to continue controlling stations in practice that it would legally be required to sell. It identified at least four local TV stations it was planning to sell, while simultaneously entering into agreements to continue controlling certain services and marketing for those stations -- WGN in Chicago, IL; KUNS in Seattle, WA; KAUT in Oklahoma City, OK; and KMYU in Salt Lake City, UT. It was planning to sell WGN to a newly formed company run by a Sinclair business partner, and to sell the other three to Sinclair-affiliated conservative pundit Armstrong Williams for well below market price. (Two additional stations, KDAF in Dallas, TX, and KIAH in Houston, TX, were going to be sold to another company affiliated with Sinclair, Cunningham Broadcasting.) 

    These legal maneuvers are commonly known as “sidecar” agreements, and Sinclair is notorious for using them in a manner that’s been described as bordering on “regulatory fraud.” Basically, when Sinclair bumps up against an ownership cap in a local market, it sells one of its stations to nominally fall below the cap. Then it uses “sidecar” agreements -- sometimes known as shared service agreements, joint sales agreements, or local marketing agreements -- to keep operating the station anyway.

    For example, Sinclair doesn’t actually own any local TV stations in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area of Pennsylvania -- but it still controls some content and/or handles operations at three stations there (WOLF, WSWB, and WQMY). And because of Sinclair’s complicated web of agreements, one of those Wilkes-Barre stations (WOLF) is sharing news anchors with two other Sinclair stations in entirely different states.

    According to Reuters, Pai's draft order to send the acquisition to a hearing goes so far as to cite potential "deception" by Sinclair in pursuing these kinds of legal arrangements. It’s unclear if the order for a hearing will definitely end Sinclair’s bid -- but it is a damning, if incredibly belated, recognition of the blatantly absurd regulatory tricks the company regularly employs to get its way.

  • A congressman who’s criticized Sinclair is up for re-election, and Sinclair’s chief political analyst is helping his challenger fundraise

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Sinclair Broadcast Group chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn is helping a Republican congressional candidate fundraise -- and she’s running against a Sinclair critic.

    On July 12, Epshteyn tweeted criticism of Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)’s opening statement in the congressional hearing with FBI agent Peter Strzok, in which Nadler mentioned the ongoing family separation crisis at the Mexican border caused by Trump administration policies. In his criticism, Epshteyn also tagged Nadler’s Republican challenger in the 2018 midterm elections, Naomi Levin.

    Levin responded to the tweet with more criticism of Nadler and then shared a link to a donation page for her campaign -- and Epshteyn retweeted the link to his nearly 32,000 followers.



    Nadler has previously criticized Sinclair, signing onto a letter to Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley last fall demanding more information about the company’s pending acquisition of Tribune Media. Nadler was also one of 85 lawmakers who called for a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) investigation of Sinclair in 2004, when the broadcasting group planned to mandate that its stations air an anti-John Kerry documentary shortly before the presidential election.

    The acquisition, should it be approved by the Trump Department of Justice and FCC, would bring a Sinclair station (WPIX, which it is poised to buy from Tribune) to Nadler’s district, which covers parts of New York City, for the first time.

    Eric Hananoki contributed research to this post.

  • Like clockwork, Sinclair has a must-run cheering on SCOTUS pick Brett Kavanaugh

    Sinclair chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn: “He is easily the most confirmable candidate” 

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    In a July 9 reality TV-like event, Trump formally nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by Justice Anthony Kennedy. Sinclair Broadcast Group’s chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn, who used to work in the Trump White House, was there in person to watch it unfold. And, as expected, he was ready to tell local news viewers how great this decision was.

    Less than a day later, Epshteyn published his latest commentary segment for Sinclair, in which you can practically hear him salivating over the Kavanaugh pick. In the 90-second segment, Epshteyn manages to throw just about every justification for supporting the Kavanaugh nomination at the wall, while attempting to paper over any of the myriad reasons lawmakers might oppose the nomination.

    Kavanaugh -- who, according to a recent analysis, would be nearly as far right ideologically as the most conservative current justice, Clarence Thomas -- doesn’t "seem affected by any political ideology,” Epshteyn argues. Epshteyn also suggests that Democratic senators in states like Indiana, North Dakota, and West Virginia will vote to confirm Kavanaugh if they want to "keep their chances to be reelected alive" come November. (Sinclair has local news stations in both Indiana and West Virginia.) 

    Here is the full transcript, along with video of the segment playing on Sinclair flagship station WBFF (Fox 45) in Baltimore, MD:

    BORIS EPSHTEYN: On Monday of this week, I had the honor of seeing President Trump nominate Judge Brett Kavanaugh to succeed retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh has served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia for almost 12 years. Kavanaugh is immensely qualified for the high court. He served as a Supreme Court law clerk for Justice Kennedy after attending Yale University and Yale Law School. Kavanaugh also worked in the Bush White House.

    The more conservative Republicans may not be thrilled with the selection. However, it is important to remember that Kavanaugh is a constitutionalist and will uphold the rule of law.

    Moderate Republicans are big fans of Kavanaugh’s pick. He has described Roe v. Wade as binding precedent and his decisions don’t seem affected by any political ideology. That position on Roe and the fact that Kavanaugh has not really taken a stand on Obamacare’s individual mandate put a lot pressure on Democrat senators in conservative states, such as Sens. [Joe] Manchin from West Virginia, [Heidi] Heitkamp from North Dakota, and [Joe] Donnelly from Indiana, to vote for Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

    Here's the bottom line: Kavanaugh was the least controversial nominee from the president's list of potential justices. He is easily the most confirmable candidate for the open seat. I imagine that we will see most of the Democrats in Republican-leaning states who are up for reelection in November vote for Kavanaugh in the end so as to keep their chances to be reelected alive.

    This segment will now be forcibly aired, often spliced into local news coverage, on more than 100 Sinclair-owned or -operated news stations throughout the country as part of the media giant’s infamous “must-run” lineup. According to a Media Matters search of the iQ media database this morning, the segment has already aired on stations in at least 21 states.

    Are there Sinclair stations near you? Use Media Matters’ interactive map at FindSinclair.com to learn more.

  • Why does Fox News’ Steve Doocy still have a job?

    Two years after he was implicated in Gretchen Carlson's lawsuit, the Fox News host remains on air

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    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Two years ago today, Fox News host Gretchen Carlson filed a civil lawsuit against then-Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, detailing serial sexual harassment and retaliation by Ailes and persistent gender-based harassment from her former co-host Steve Doocy. Two years later, the toxic culture for women at Fox has been exposed and Ailes and his deputy have both left the network in disgrace, but Doocy continues to co-host “the most powerful TV show in America.”

    Carlson held several on-air roles at Fox News from 2005 to the day she was fired from the network in 2016, about two weeks before she filed the lawsuit against Ailes. Her suit detailed pervasive harassment by Ailes and retaliation when she rejected his propositions. This included repeated sexual comments about Carlson’s body and several instances in which Ailes told Carlson that she should engage in a sexual relationship with him in order to improve her job standing.

    Carlson’s lawsuit further detailed allegations of harassment by her former Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy, also dismissed by Ailes:

    Carlson complained to her supervisor that one of her co-hosts on Fox & Friends, Steve Doocy, created a hostile work environment by regularly treating her in a sexist and condescending way, including by putting his hand on her and pulling down her arm to shush her during a live telecast.

    Doocy engaged in a pattern and practice of severe and pervasive sexual harassment of Carlson, including, but not limited to, mocking her during commercial breaks, shunning her off air, refusing to engage with her on air, belittling her contributions to the show, and generally attempting to put her in her place by refusing to accept and treat her as an intelligent and insightful female journalist rather than a blonde female prop.

    After learning of Carlson’s complaints, Ailes responded by calling Carlson a “man hater” and “killer” and telling her that she needed to learn to “get along with the boys.”

    Since Carlson filed the suit two years ago, a lot has changed. Ailes resigned shortly afterward, just as a flood of stories began to spill out reporting that he engaged in serial abuse of women at Fox. He died in May 2017. His right-hand man, Bill Shine, was named in subsequent reporting and lawsuits for reportedly aiding Ailes in covering up serial sexual misconduct. Shine also resigned from Fox, though he has now found another job for which this resume is perfectly suited.

    Media and activists have forced a spotlight on Fox News. More employees have come forward, reporting that the men in power -- Ailes, now-former host Bill O’Reilly, and several others -- subjected them to inappropriate misconduct. The stories also revealed a systemic, cultural disregard for the safety and autonomy of women at 21st Century Fox, exposing the toxic roots of the system. A movement has begun, and Carlson is now one of its pillars.

    But Steve Doocy still has a job.

    21st Century Fox’s initial statement about the 2016 lawsuit acknowledged Carlson’s statements about both Ailes and Doocy: “The Company has seen the allegations against Mr. Ailes and Mr. Doocy. We take these matters seriously. While we have full confidence in Mr. Ailes and Mr. Doocy, who have served the company brilliantly for over two decades, we have commenced an internal review of the matter.”

    With few exceptions, however, Doocy seems to have since been erased from the narrative on Fox News and workplace harassment.

    A former Fox News staffer told Politico shortly after the lawsuit was filed, “Everyone on staff knew about or saw Doocy make inappropriate comments.” Yet a Fox News source told CNN’s Brian Stelter that the internal investigation launched after the lawsuit appeared to be focused solely on Ailes. Carlson settled the lawsuit for $20 million in September 2016, and Fox issued a public apology as part of the settlement conditions. The apology did not mention Doocy (or Ailes) by name.

    Doocy continues to co-host Fox & Friends every weekday morning, beaming his inane and propagandistic commentary right onto the president’s TV screen. The program has been deemed “the most powerful TV show in America” because of its direct line to perhaps the nation’s most powerful sexual harasser.

    The years since Carlson’s lawsuit have yielded an important lesson: Fox News acts for the good of its employees only when it’s absolutely forced to -- because advertisers are fleeing, because the public is watching, because someone is loudly demanding accountability. Doocy has benefited from media silence for far too long.

  • In exclusive "must-run" interview with Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Sinclair analyst says she’s been victimized by the press

    Sinclair’s Boris Epshteyn to local news viewers: “The way many in the media treat White House press secretary Sarah Sanders is disrespectful and despicable” 

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Amid her regular routine of deflecting hard questions from journalists (last week, specifically about the Trump administration’s inhumane family separation policy), White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made time to sit down for a softball interview with Sinclair Broadcast Group to talk about liberal “media bias.”

    In a two-part interview conducted on June 20 and released on June 21 and June 25, Sanders joined Sinclair chief political analyst and former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn to talk about the ways so-called liberal media outlets are biased against her and the president and to discuss President Donald Trump’s recent summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. These parts of Epshteyn’s interview are now airing as “must-run” segments on more than 100 Sinclair-owned and -operated local TV news stations across the country, sandwiched between sports and the weather.

    In the latest “Bottom Line With Boris” segment, Sanders and Epshteyn discuss the “disrespectful and despicable” ways that “many in the media” treat Sanders. According to a Media Matters search of the iQ media database this morning, this segment has already aired on local news stations in at least 21 states.

    The entire astonishing two-minute spot is worth watching, if only to understand the propaganda that will now be broadcast into living rooms across the country. Below is a full transcript and video.

    BORIS EPSHTEYN: The way many in the media treat White House press secretary Sarah Sanders is disrespectful and despicable. Here is what she told me about her relationship with the press.

    [INTERVIEW CLIP]

    EPSHTEYN: What would you say the reason is for some of the overarching and really over-the-line heat that you have faced from some folks, sometimes very personal. What is the root, you think, of some of the treatment you’ve received?

    SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think some people, Democrats in particular, at some point they’re going to have to decide if they love our country more than they hate this president. And I hope that they’ll make the right decision in that process. But there’s certainly a lot of anger and a lot of hostility, and I think in large part it’s because they’ve got somebody like President Trump, who always beats them at their own game. He always overcomes the things that they say are not possible. They said he’d never run for president. He did. They said he’d never win. He did. They said he couldn’t get tax cuts done. He did. They said that the economy would completely crash. It’s the best it’s been since World War II. I mean, every single time that they try to tell him he can’t do something or that really bad things are going to happen, he proves them wrong, and I don’t think that they like that a lot.

    EPSHTEYN: What is something that people at home may not know about you, that they’re not seeing when you’re sparring with the media or representing the president?

    SANDERS: That maybe that I’m a little nicer than sometimes --

    EPSHTEYN: I think you’re very nice.

    SANDERS: -- than the media wants to make me out to be. Again, I’m a pretty, I think, happy person. I love life. And I’m a lot nicer, I think, than they make me out to be in the press.

    [END OF INTERVIEW CLIP]

    EPSHTEYN: Here is the bottom line: Sarah is a good person, a mother of three, and a public servant. I hope that all members of the press start treating her with the respect that she deserves.

    The June 21 segment of the interview focused on all the ways Sanders and Epshteyn believe the North Korea summit was successful; it has now aired on stations in at least 22 states. Here is a partial transcript of what local news audiences heard about the meeting:

    SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: And the president is a true leader on the global stage. And it was really magnificent to watch.

    BORIS EPSHTEYN: Do you think that North Korea will end up denuclearizing?

    SANDERS: As the president likes to say, we'll see what happens, but it was definitely a step in the right direction and we’re continuing to work towards denuclearization. We're going to keep pushing.

    EPSHTEYN: Last questions on this topic. What about the criticism -- the president has been criticized by some folks, expectedly -- for being "too nice" to Kim Jong Un. What do you say to that?

    SANDERS: I think those are people that are more worried about attacking this president than looking for the good that is happening both within our country and across the world.

    [END OF INTERVIEW CLIP]

    EPSHTEYN: Here is the bottom line: As you just heard from one of the few Americans who have met with Kim Jong Un face to face, the summit was a success.

    Sanders is far from the first Trump administration official (or personal affiliate of Trump’s) to retreat to the Sinclair safe space in order to escape criticism. Just last month, comically corrupt Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt sat down with Epshteyn for a softball interview. “Bottom Line With Boris” has previously featured interviews with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Small Business Administration head Linda McMahon, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, and then-Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin.

    And the friendly relationship between the Trump administration and Sinclair may be mutually beneficial. Thanks to the Trump Federal Communications Commission, segments like these could soon air on even more local TV news stations -- including in major cities and battleground states across the country -- ahead of the midterms, reaching 72 percent of U.S. television households.

  • Sinclair “must-run” segment on family separation policy and child detention attacks the media

    Sinclair's Boris Epshteyn: Media have “seized on this issue to make it seem as if those who are tough on immigration are somehow monsters”

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Audiences across the country are watching a segment on their local news telling them that liberals in media had overblown reports of children separated from their parents and detained in cages near the border -- all thanks to Sinclair Broadcast Group.

    From the most recent “must-run” “Bottom Line With Boris” commentary segment (emphasis added):

    BORIS EPSHTEYN: Our immigration system is undeniably broken and the discourse around this topic is toxic. A perfect illustration of these facts is the recent firestorm surrounding President Trump’s decision to enforce a “zero tolerance” policy and prosecute all adults illegally crossing our borders. Many members of the media and opponents of the president have seized on this issue to make it seem as if those who are tough on immigration are somehow monsters. Let’s be honest: While some of the concern is real, a lot of it is politically driven by the liberals in politics and the media.

    The two-minute spot concluded that President Donald Trump was “working to show that it is possible to balance humanity with security for our borders” by signing an executive order yesterday to end the zero tolerance family separation policy his administration unilaterally decided to implement in the first place.

    This reprehensible segment will now be forcibly aired, often spliced into local news coverage, on more than 100 Sinclair-owned or -operated news stations throughout the country as part of the media giant’s infamous “must-run” lineup. According to a Media Matters search of the iQ media database this morning, the segment has already aired on stations in at least 18 states. 

    Sinclair is known for its history of injecting right-wing spin into local newscasts, most notably with these “must-run” segments. The segments have included blatant (and sometimes embarrassing) pro-Trump propaganda missives from Epshteyn for more than a year now. Epshteyn has used his “Bottom Line With Boris” segments to attack members of the press for being too mean to the president, praise seemingly every move Trump makes, and offer jaw-droppingly ill-timed defenses of Trump and his staff members. He also defended Trump’s unforgivable statements after the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, and supported Trump’s idea to hold a dictator-style military parade.

    Thanks to the Trump Federal Communications Commission, segments like this could soon air on even more local TV news stations including in major cities and battleground states across the country, reaching 72 percent of U.S. television households.

    Are there Sinclair stations near you? Use Media Matters’ interactive map at FindSinclair.com to learn more. 

    This post has been updated to include more information about where the segment has aired. 

  • Sinclair and the midterms: California edition

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    If you live in a midsize city or battleground state, you are now more likely than ever to see pro-Trump propaganda and conservative spin on your local news -- just in time for the 2018 election season -- thanks to conservative media giant Sinclair Broadcast Group.

    Media Matters has identified communities that will see competitive congressional midterm races and that have Sinclair-owned or -operated news stations. Many Sinclair stations are already airing national news programming with a conservative slant, and they will be ramping up coverage of their local races.

    We’ve already tackled Nevada, Tennessee, New York, Florida, Virginia, and Ohio. Now, we’re taking a look at California.

    Key 2018 races

    There are seven key congressional district races in California, most labeled by Cook Political Report as toss-up or “lean Republican” races and some targeted as key races by political groups. One currently includes several communities with Sinclair news stations, and the rest may have at least one Sinclair station before Election Day.

    • House: California’s 21st congressional district (CA-21), in the central San Joaquin Valley, was considered a “likely Republican” race by Cook Political Report as of publication, but it is one of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s targeted races for 2018. Incumbent Republican Rep. David Valadao faces Democrat challenger TJ Cox.
    • House: There are six other key House races in California, many in districts that are part of Orange County and/or the greater Los Angeles area: CA-10, CA-25, CA-39, CA-45, CA-48, and CA-49.

    Sinclair stations in the state

    KMPH (Fox 26), KFRE (CW 59), and KMPH-CD in Fresno

    • Sinclair controls KMPH (Fox 26) and KFRE (CW 59), two main local stations in the Fresno area, including parts of CA-21. It also owns KMPH-CD, a separate, small station that relays Fox 26 broadcasts to certain parts of the media market. All three stations share a main studio address in Fresno.
    • Fox 26 regularly airs at least some of Sinclair’s “must-run” content, including some nationally produced news packages, fearmongering “Terrorism Alert Desk” updates, and “Bottom Line with Boris” pro-Trump commentary segments. It also aired the recent anchor-read scripted segments about media bias at least twice.
    • The CW 59 re-airs some newscasts from Fox 26, likely including some of these “must-run” segments.

    KBAK (CBS 29) and KBFX (Fox 58) in Bakersfield

    KRCR (ABC 7), KCVU (Fox 20), KUCO-LP (Univision), and KRVU-LD (MyNetwork) in Chico and Redding

    • Further north, Sinclair owns a group of four stations in the media market serving the areas around Chico and Redding: KRCR (ABC, News Channel 7), KVCU (Fox 20), and smaller stations KUCO-LP (a Univision affiliate) and KRVU-LD (a MyNetwork TV affiliate).
    • ABC 7 regularly airs at least some of Sinclair’s “must-run” content, including national news packages, “Terrorism Alert Desk,” and “Bottom Line with Boris.” It also airs Full Measure, and it ran the recent anchor-read scripted segments about media bias at least 17 times. Fox 20 airs a nightly KRCR newscast, likely including some of these “must-run” segments.

    KAEF (ABC 23), KBVU (Fox 28), KECA-LD (CW), and KEUV-LP (Univision) in Eureka

    • Sinclair also controls a group of four stations in the Eureka media market, which neighbors the market serving Chico and Redding. It owns KAEF (ABC 23), KBVU (Fox 28), and smaller stations KECA-LD (a CW affiliate) and KEUV-LP (a Univision affiliate.) ABC 23 and Fox 28 -- together branded as “North Coast News” -- share a website with the Sinclair-owned ABC and Fox affiliates in Chico and Redding.
    • Data is not currently available for ABC 23 or Fox 28’s airing of “must-run” segments. ABC 23 does air Sinclair’s weekly news show Full Measure and appears to likely share some news resources with KRCR (ABC 7) in nearby Redding, which airs “must-run” content.   

    Coming soon: KTLA (KTLA 5, CW) in Los Angeles

    • Sinclair is set to purchase several more California local news stations via its pending acquisition of Tribune Media, including KTLA (KTLA 5, a CW affiliate) in Los Angeles, one of the largest local media markets in the country.
    • KTLA serves parts of CA-25, CA-39, CA-45, CA-48, and CA-49.

    Possibly coming soon: KSWB (Fox 5) in San Diego and KTXL (Fox 40) in Sacramento

    • Sinclair also plans to acquire KSWB (Fox 5) in San Diego, which serves parts of CA-49. However, Sinclair has agreed to sell the station to 21st Century Fox in order to comply with current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ownership limits.
    • Sinclair plans to use the same strategy for KTXL (Fox 40) in Sacramento, which serves parts of both CA-10 and CA-21. It will also acquire the station from Tribune Media and has agreed to sell it to Fox.

    Are there Sinclair stations near you?

    Use Media Matters’ interactive map at FindSinclair.com to learn more.

    Graphics by Sarah Wasko

  • Get a load of this wild Sinclair town hall discussion on “youth & morality” 

    Sinclair says such discussions are a “significant public interest benefit” for stations it buys

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Last night, Sinclair Broadcast Group station WJLA hosted a “town hall” discussion on "youth & morality" featuring morally bankrupt media personality Armstrong Williams, young conservative talking heads Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens, a campus carry activist, and a Daily Caller reporter (among others) -- and Sinclair wants you to believe it’s for the public good.

    The town hall was branded as both an episode of Sinclair-linked commentator Armstrong Williams’ show and a part of Sinclair’s ongoing town hall discussion series. The town hall does not appear to have yet aired on WJLA and it’s not clear if it has aired or will air on the WJLA-operated local Washington, D.C., cable channel News Channel 8, but it’s posted in full on WJLA’s website.

    Sinclair touts its “Your Voice, Your Future” local town halls as a public service and an opportunity to “alert, inform, empower and engage our audience.” Here’s a quick clip to give you an idea of how that went:

    For this event, “morality” actually meant Christianity specifically

    Though the panel was titled “Youth & Morality,” it was advertised as largely focusing on one study that showed dwindling millennial identification with Christianity, which WJLA characterized as a sign of “unprecedented moral decline.” The panel discussion was filmed at the Museum of the Bible.  

    Two minutes into the town hall, host Armstrong Williams asked the audience to raise their hands if they believe in God. (Williams also asked for audience members to raise their hands if they were atheist; one person did and panelists grimaced.) Williams’ first question for the panelists followed from there: “Can you be moral and good and not believe in God?” (Most of the panelists agreed that it was possible but not as easy.) Within eight minutes, panelists were equating “objective truth” with a belief in a Christian god and arguing that the inability to identify objective truths was “cultural Marxist.”

    At one point during a commercial break, Williams can be heard joking on a live mic, “Don’t fall asleep on me!” The panel returned from that break to listen to Charlie Kirk talk about “the distinction between Christianity and other religions.”  

    The “morality” panel was hosted by the notoriously morally challenged Armstrong Williams

    The town hall was hosted by conservative pundit Armstrong Williams, who has significant ties to Sinclair. Williams hosts a weekly show that airs on the Sinclair-owned News Channel 8 in the D.C. area and is syndicated on other Sinclair local TV stations across the country. Williams also owns several local TV stations through his holding company, Howard Stirk Holdings, which in turn sends business back to Sinclair through operations agreements.

    Williams is a close confidante of Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Ben Carson, even doing public relations work on behalf of Carson while continuing to also work as a media figure. (He also served as a Carson presidential campaign adviser while maintaining his weekly hosting duties.) Recently, Williams has aligned himself with other members of the Trump administration, joining Sinclair CEO David Smith in meeting with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai -- who was then a commissioner -- to advocate for pro-industry policies the day before Trump’s inauguration. About two months later, Williams hosted Pai on his show for a friendly interview.

    Back in 2005, Williams used an earlier version of his syndicated show to promote Bush administration education policies, failing to note he was paid $240,000 by the administration to do so. The Government Accountability Office subsequently found that the Bush Department of Education had violated federal laws about covert government propaganda by paying Williams for the promotion.

    Williams has also settled at least two sexual harassment suits -- one in 1997 involving reports that he “repeatedly kissed and fondled” a former producer for his now-defunct radio show over the course of nearly two years, and another in 2017 alleging that he groped and sought sexual favors from a former employee and later retaliated against the man.

    During the panel, Williams talked about his daily prayer routine and decision not to “use profane language” at work because he is the “moral leader” in his office.

    Several participants also seem to struggle with morals

    The panel featured eight participants in addition to Williams, the majority of whom were young conservative media figures who fall at various points on the spectrum from extreme or blatantly racist to embarrassing or just boring.

    TPUSA’s Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens both participated in parts of the town hall. Frequent Fox News guest and conservative “boy wonder” Kirk is the founder of TPUSA, a group best known for a misguided 2017 protest in which its members wore adult diapers to “trigger the libs,” but whose stated mission is to “identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government.” Kirk, Owens, and TPUSA frequently fearmonger about suppression of conservative speech on college campuses while themselves leading a McCarthyist doxxing effort against liberal professors. Meanwhile, TPUSA has defended at least one professor with ties to a white nationalist group and several of its leading members have been outed for expressing patently racist sentiments, e.g. the group’s former national field director making the statement “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE.”

    Owens, TPUSA’s communications director, is another Fox News regular and “a far-right vlogger and conspiracy theorist” who has lately garnered media attention after rapper Kanye West praised “the way Candace Owens thinks.” Owens gained attention from far-right MAGA trolls after she posted a video in the wake of the deadly Charlottesville, VA, “Unite the Right” rally in which she dismissed white supremacy as a narrative pushed by the media, leading to her appearance on conspiracy theory outlet Infowars. Owens has also called for all DREAMers to be deported and has argued that immigrants directly harm the black community.

    During the town hall discussion, Owens lamented that conservatives were allowing themselves to be “silenced by liberal outrage” and said that younger conservatives and Christians ought to “punch back.”

    The Daily Caller’s Amber Athey also participated in the discussion. The Daily Caller is Tucker Carlson’s sexist and racist brainchild, which frequently dabbles in anti-Semitism, anti-trans rhetoric, far-right conspiracy theories, and celebrity bikini photo slideshows, and makes light of sexual assault. Athey herself has tweeted anti-Semitic jokes, and repeatedly used the slurs “fag” and ”faggot,” and, in one case, “nigga$.” (Athey has since deleted the tweets, but they are available via archive.is.)

    During the town hall discussion, Athey complained, “There are a lot of ideas on college campuses that -- if they’re conservative or they’re religious, they’re considered taboo and you’re not allowed to say it. Otherwise you’re considered a bigot.”  

    Town hall participant Antonia Okafor describes herself as “one of the country’s foremost advocates of concealed carry on campus” and has previously appeared in NRA media. Okafor makes regular media appearances pushing NRA-backed myths about campus carry, arguing that carrying concealed firearms would make young black women safer. In reality, the presence of firearms in domestic violence situations, for example, puts women’s lives -- and especially black women’s lives -- at significantly greater risk. And household gun ownership in general only increases the risk of death due to homicide, suicide, or accident; Okafor’s agenda would put women in greater danger.

    Rounding out the participant list are right-wing media figures Jason Russell, an editor at the conservative Washington Examiner, and Shermichael Singleton, an aspiring conservative pundit who briefly worked at Carson’s HUD before he was fired for anti-Trump writings. Preacher and lobbyist Quadricos Driskell and American Legislative Exchange Council-affiliated conservative attorney Shelby Emmett also participated.

    Sinclair cites town halls like this as evidence its expansion would benefit the public

    Sinclair has used its “Your Voice, Your Future” town halls -- also the platform former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka used to decry “black African gun crime” last fall -- to argue that Sinclair-owned and -operated local TV stations are providing greater services to the public. In one Federal Communications Commission (FCC) filing, Sinclair pointed to the discussion series as evidence that its planned acquisition of Tribune Media would create a “significant public interest benefit.”

    The FCC is currently reviewing the Sinclair-Tribune deal specifically to ensure it would benefit the public and has signaled it will make a decision following a comment period that ends on July 12.

    Eric Hananoki contributed research to this post.

  • Sinclair is gearing up to compete with Fox -- by being even worse than Fox

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Recent reports indicate that local TV news giant Sinclair Broadcast Group has met with a number of current and former Fox News employees and is gearing up to compete directly with the cable channel -- by attempting to beat Fox News in a race to the very bottom.

    On May 16, Politico’s Jason Schwartz reported that Sinclair executive chairman David Smith met “in the last few months” with the executive producer of Fox News’ Hannity. The producer, Porter Berry, is at least the second person with close ties to Sean Hannity to have reportedly met with Sinclair leadership recently; Schwartz earlier reported that Sinclair was attempting to recruit current Tribune programming executive Sean Compton, a “close friend” of Hannity’s.

    According to Schwartz’s sources, Smith is planning to set up Sinclair as a direct competitor with Fox News after the former’s massive acquisition of Tribune Media is finalized. Smith is said to be developing ideas for a “three-hour block of news-opinion programming” that could air on a cable network Sinclair already owns or another it would acquire in the Tribune deal.

    Sinclair’s apparent dream line-up for this nightly cable news programming amounts to a who’s who of Fox News liabilities and Trump sycophants. Not only has Smith reportedly met with executives close to Hannity, but he’s also been in talks with current Fox News host Jeanine Pirro as well as a handful of former Fox personalities: Greta Van Susteren, Eric Bolling, James Rosen, and (at least at one point) Bill O’Reilly.

    Of this group of six, half left Fox News in connection with sexual misconduct reports. Bolling parted ways with Fox last September amid an investigation into reports he had sent unsolicited pictures of male genitalia to multiple colleagues. Rosen reportedly departed the network around the new year following “increased scrutiny of his behavior” due to an “established pattern” of harassment. And O’Reilly, of course, was fired in April 2017 after reports came out that he had engaged in a decades-long pattern of harassment and that 21st Century Fox had failed to stop it.

    O’Reilly, Pirro, Van Susteren, and Hannity were all vocal defenders of late Fox chief Roger Ailes when he was named for serial sexual harassment in 2016. (Van Susteren later said she regretted defending Ailes.)

    In order to truly compete with Fox News, Sinclair has decided it must be willing to become a safe space for Fox News’ most toxic liabilities -- including powerful media men who have hurt others, created hostile and unsafe work environments, and done little to nothing to make it right. This shameful decision is the latest sign from Sinclair executives that the company simply does not care about the safety of its employees or the actual needs of its viewers.  

    Sinclair’s strategy for competing with Fox also seems to include seeking out top Trump sycophants like Pirro, who spends nearly every Saturday night on Fox yelling about the president’s alleged mistreatment by just about everyone (and who is also informally advising the president). Bolling, too, has been orbiting the Trump White House for months. And Sean Hannity -- perhaps the worst of them all -- has taken Fox prime time to impossibly new lows in the name of defending the president.

    Sinclair is already drastically changing the local news landscape, infecting TV stations across the country with a combination of blatant pro-Trump propaganda, fearmongering rhetoric, and uniform local news that barely counts as “local” at all. Its M.O. of drastic consolidation leaves its own journalists under-resourced and embarrassed by their employer, and it leaves local audiences with less access to the news they need.

    Sinclair is doing more than enough to make local news measurably worse. Will it now sink below even the Fox News fever swamp to bring more horrors -- and even less actual news -- to cable?