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Media Structures & Regulations

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  • Thousands of advertisers have blacklisted Breitbart. Can Sinclair really partner with the site?

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    After newly reinstated Breitbart.com chief Stephen Bannon was fired from his role as a senior adviser in the Trump administration on Friday, he returned to the website he aimed to establish as a “platform for the ‘alt-right.’” Rumors have it that Bannon will now seek to expand Breitbart's reach -- a goal that would be complicated by a number of factors, including a massive, ongoing advertiser boycott that makes the Breitbart brand toxic for potential collaborators. In recent months, more than 2,500 advertisers have reportedly bailed on the site.  

    Almost immediately after Bannon’s departure from the White House and return to Breitbart.com, reports of his rumored plans for a Breitbart.com expansion emerged. In Vanity Fair, media reporter Gabriel Sherman reported that Bannon “has media ambitions to compete with Fox News from the right,” potentially by forging a partnership with right-wing local news giant Sinclair Broadcast Group.

    Sinclair is the largest U.S. provider of local TV news, and it often delivers embarrassingly pro-Trump commentary segments without proper disclosure to unwitting audiences across the country. Breitbart functions as the extreme online id of disaffected young white men venting their child-like frustrations by trolling everyone they disagree with (especially when they’re women or people of color). A collaboration between the two would certainly be dangerous. Good thing that probably won't happen.

    Politico’s Alex Weprin laid out several issues a Breitbart.com expansion to television would face, including difficulties with attracting the type of cable news audience (read: ages 60+) that would normally tune into Fox News. Another factor that could stop Bannon in his tracks: Breitbart.com has become completely untouchable for hundreds of advertisers.

    Since November, activist group Sleeping Giants has been waging a successful social media campaign asking advertisers to disassociate themselves from Breitbart’s extremism. In June, Breitbart.com ads had reportedly shrank by “nearly 90 percent” in just three months. Reports from earlier today revealed that “nearly 2,600 advertisers have pulled advertising from the far-right website.”  

    Breitbart’s “bleeding ad revenue” is yet another in a list of numerous strategic and financial reasons (not to mention the ideological, and, above all, moral reasons) Sinclair ought to avoid the infamously toxic, hate-filled troll cesspool at all costs.

  • Even some Trump allies are worried about Sinclair's expansion

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Yesterday was the last day for critics to urge the Federal Communications Commission to stop conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group’s proposed acquisition of Tribune Media Company. President Donald Trump’s administration, which frequently tries to promote right-wing outlets as part of its war on the mainstream press, has bent over backward in order to reward Sinclair for its favorable coverage, while the merger has drawn criticism from consumer watchdogs like Allied Progress and media consolidation foes like Free Press. But they aren’t the only ones objecting: Some pro-Trump media companies have also taken sides against the merger because they worry Sinclair’s growth will impact their own bottom lines, forcing the administration to choose between its staunchest press allies.

    Sinclair is already the nation’s largest local news provider, thanks to its ownership of 173 broadcast television stations in communities across the country. If its attempt to purchase Tribune’s 42 broadcast television stations is approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the result would be a broadcast goliath reaching more than seven in 10 U.S. television households -- nearly double the audience cap mandated by Congress. The deal would have been unthinkable if Trump-appointed FCC chairman Ajit Pai hadn’t rolled back a key Obama administration regulation in April that had prevented Sinclair from further expansion.

    The merger raised the hackles of NewsMax Media Inc, which owns a right-wing cable channel and website and has called for the FCC to slow down the process and seek additional information. In a filing, the company warned that the prospect of a combined Sinclair-Tribune company raises “serious competitive concerns” and that “press freedom and media diversity may be seriously harmed by this transaction.” NewsMax CEO Christopher Ruddy has said that the deal raises “so many serious concerns about the concentration of media power.”

    The conservative cable news channel One America News Network (OANN) also wants to delay the sale, telling the FCC that the “transaction raises competitive concerns and questions of law.”

    Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox is one player that did not weigh in during the comment period. Sinclair’s increasing power in the conservative media space could prove a threat to Fox News. But Fox also owns dozens of broadcast stations, and the FCC’s deregulation bent could also benefit the company’s own expansion plans. Instead of taking its would-be rival on at the FCC, Fox is reportedly considering dumping Sinclair as an affiliate partner.

    As for Trump, he wants to help Sinclair because the network has been a key media ally. After several cycles of support for Republican presidential candidates, the network stepped up its game in 2016, making a deal with the Trump campaign during the election cycle by providing positive coverage in exchange for access. After the election, Sinclair hired a former Trump adviser and required every one of its stations to regularly run his pro-Trump propaganda segments. Sinclair’s conservative “must-runs” are every bit as slanted as Fox News coverage, but Sinclair is more insidious because its viewers don’t expect that level of ideological content from their local news channels. Because so many Tribune media stations are located in big cities and swing states where Sinclair didn’t previously have a platform, the merger could provide a sizeable benefit to Trump’s re-election campaign.

    But NewsMax has also been a staunch supporter of the president -- in fact, it was one of Trump’s first real media allies in his political rise. The would-be Fox rival started giving him a platform as early as 2006 and regularly promoted a potential Trump run for president during the 2012 cycle. Described by reporters as the “Trump whisperer” and the administration’s “Zelig,” Ruddy is a close friend of the president who regularly advises Trump and his aides and is often quoted by reporters and appears on cable news as a kind of unofficial spokesperson. In turn, the Trump presidency has been good for NewsMax, which has received unprecedented access; during his first 48 press briefings as White House press secretary, Sean Spicer called on the network’s correspondent more than any other reporter but Fox’s representatives.

    OANN, another would-be Fox, is no slouch either -- as The Washington Post noted, the network became “one of President Trump’s favorite media outlets” because its coverage depicts his administration as “a juggernaut of progress, a shining success with a daily drumbeat of achievements.” OANN White House correspondent Trey Yingst was one of Spicer’s go-to questioners, and Trump called on him at a January press conference.

    Trump has sought to lift up conservative news outlets throughout his tenure. But as the OANN and NewsMax filings demonstrate, in this fractured media environment, he can’t help one of his media allies without hurting the others.

  • Pro-Trump outlet Sinclair is turning local news into Trump TV. Here's what it looks like.

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Local television news giant Sinclair Broadcast Group has been making headlines in recent weeks as it seeks to both double down on its requirement that its stations run mandated conservative commentary segments and vastly expand its reach into new major cities across the United States.  

    Plenty of recent major profiles of Sinclair have discussed its unusual tactic of designating certain conservative commentary segments it produces in its national studios as “must-runs,” meaning that every Sinclair-owned local television news station -- all 73, across 33 states and the District of Columbia -- is required to air them. The Sinclair brand has been openly right-wing for decades, causing controversy when executives similarly mandated the airing of an anti-John Kerry documentary and chose not to run a Nightline episode they viewed as critical of George W. Bush in the early 2000s.

    The latest Sinclair profiles often focus on the “Bottom Line with Boris” segments starring former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn, who is now employed as Sinclair’s chief political analyst. Epshteyn has been producing 60- to 90-second commentary segments several times a week since Sinclair hired him in April. Last month, Sinclair announced it would be upping Epshteyn’s segments from airing three times per week to nine.

    Employees at Sinclair stations across the country, from Seattle, WA, to Washington, D.C., are expressing concerns about the clearly conservative must-run segments pushed by Sinclair executives. 

    Anchors at individual local news stations owned by Sinclair are seemingly not required to introduce the segments in any particular way before running them; in fact, employees at at least one station have said they try to run the segments along with commercials “so they blend in with paid spots.” The on-air segments themselves have no built-in disclosure that Epshteyn was until recently employed by the same White House he now regularly lavishes with on-air praise (online versions of his commentary note his White House connection). Viewers also might not know that Sinclair’s efforts to expand to new cities across the country and corner the markets in mid-sized cities in battleground states are possible only because of the deregulatory efforts of the administration Epshteyn loves so dearly.

    Sinclair is empowering Epshteyn to broadcast regular segments effusively praising his former employer to local TV news viewers across the country who aren’t signing up to watch garbled propaganda every evening. His segments often seem to lazily tow the administration’s line on a given news story, when they bother to address a story at all -- sometimes his segments are glaringly focused on subjects that have nothing to do with whatever embarrassing headlines Trump is making that day.

    There are a few key examples of Epshteyn’s propaganda you may have already seen, like the video from June in which he mirrored the Trump administration’s war on the press by declaring the White House press briefing “a circus and a distraction,” or last weekend’s jaw-droppingly ill-timed defense of 10-day White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci.

    But these aren’t isolated examples. Here are five other “Bottom Line with Boris” segments that your aunt in Cedar Rapids may have unwittingly watched. Judge for yourself.

    Trump’s trade policies are good and so is “America first” as a slogan!

    In Epshteyn’s July 14 “Bottom Line with Boris” segment, he defended Trump’s use of the dog-whistle “America First” slogan and asserted that Trump is “strengthening” U.S. trade policy.

    From the beginning of the segment:

    America first. That has been President Trump’s slogan since the campaign, and it continues to be the mantra of the administration when it comes to international trade. What does an “America First” trade policy mean? It means fair trade, smart trade, taking a hard line with our trading partners, including our closest allies.

    CNN is biased against Trump!

    In Epshteyn’s June 28 “Bottom Line with Boris” segment, he focused on echoing Trump’s talking points casting CNN as biased and pushing a highly misleading (and embarrassing) video of a CNN medical producer discussing the network’s political coverage from right-wing video artist James O’Keefe.

    Epshteyn concluded that CNN was “struggling” to report on the facts writ large:

    It’s also important to further focus on CNN’s digital presence. The network’s website is supposed to be delivering news. However, it is dominated by opinion-based headlines and articles with more commentary than impartial fact. The bottom line is this: CNN, along with other cable news networks, is struggling to stick to the facts and to be impartial in covering politics in general and this president specifically.

    States should cooperate with Trump’s “voter fraud” commission!

    In Epshteyn’s July 5 “Bottom Line with Boris” segment, he encouraged states to cooperate with the Trump administration’s bogus voter fraud commission, which experts have said could actually be used to suppress legal votes.

    Epshteyn concluded:

    The extent of voter fraud in our elections has been hotly debated between the left and the right. The president's commission has been established to come up with a factual, impartial answer to that question. The states should do everything within their power to cooperate with the commission, and that’s the bottom line.

    Trump's Department of Veteran Affairs is crushing it!

    In Epshteyn’s July 11 “Bottom Line with Boris” segment, he celebrated the Department of Veteran Affairs’ report that it had fired numerous employees, declaring that Trump was “not wasting any time cleaning up the department” and was “delivering on those campaign promises.”

    Epshteyn concluded:

    The president made veterans issues a focal point of his campaign and his administration is now delivering on those campaign promises. We have to honor our veterans. We owe them proper treatment. Both the structure and substance of care of our veterans have to improve dramatically. The VA is unquestionably taking steps in the right direction. The bottom line is as long as Secretary [David] Shulkin and his department continue down this road, the VA will regain the trust of the American people and our veterans will receive the care they duly deserve.

    Don’t trust any national media to report on James Comey!  

    In Epshteyn’s June 11 “Bottom Line with Boris” segment, he covered former FBI director James Comey’s testimony before Congress on June 9. Epshteyn’s commentary did not focus on the substance of the hearing, but rather on three aspects Epshteyn says the “national media” failed to cover, including its own “inaccurate” reporting on Russia.

    Epshteyn’s concluded that viewers “learned much more about the president’s opponents and his critics” during the hearing than about anything related to Trump. OK.