Media Structures & Regulations

Issues ››› Media Structures & Regulations
  • Variety: Sinclair adds "conservative tilt" to local news by forcing stations to run right-leaning segments

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    An article published in Variety magazine highlighted Sinclair Broadcast Group’s practice of using “must-run” commentary segments to inject “conservative tilt” into a myriad of Sinclair-owned local news stations across the United States.

    Sinclair and its affiliates have a long history of broadcasting reports and commentary that feature a distinct conservative slant, and over the last few months, Sinclair has required its stations to run commentary segments from pro-Trump personalities. If Sinclair’s recent bid to purchase Tribune Media company is successful, it will be able to foist these segments on 42 additional local stations across the country. Tribune Media employees and their union leadership have already expressed concerns about Sinclair’s tendency to pepper its news coverage with right-wing opinions. There is even speculation that the network is considering hiring Fox News spin masters Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly (who recently left Fox News amid reports of sexual harassment).

    As Variety reported, Sinclair “has drawn more and more fire from critics” who have chided the network’s policy of airing “must-run” conservative commentary segments on Sinclair-owned local news stations. The article also noted that the inclusion of former Trump strategist Boris Epshteyn’s “Bottom Line With Boris” commentary -- in which Epshteyn has thus far “unfailingly supported his ex-boss” -- in Sinclair’s “must-run” programming runs counter to the typical “down-the-middle approach” local news outlets usually take on national issues. As Media Matters President Angelo Carusone told Variety, with these segments, Sinclair is “exploiting and weaponizing the fact that people don’t expect their local news to be partisan”:

    It’s hardly surprising that Sinclair would face speculation over its plans for the future. The company is already the nation’s largest owner of TV stations, and it will grow to unprecedented size if the FCC approves the Tribune acquisition. And Sinclair has drawn more and more fire from critics — notably HBO’s John Oliver — for the increasingly conservative tilt to its local newscasts through “must-run” commentary segments and coverage decisions mandated at the corporate level.

    [...]

    Sinclair has generated controversy by mandating all of its stations run Epshteyn’s nine-times-weekly “Bottom Line With Boris” commentary segments. The former Trump strategist has unfailingly supported his ex-boss in virtually all of his two-minute segments to date: praising Trump’s “America First” trade policy, saluting his efforts to reform the Veterans Administration, crediting Trump for fueling job growth and chiding state leaders for balking at the administration’s request for voter registration data as part of its voter fraud investigation.

    [...]

    Viewers who tune in to Fox News or MSNBC likely expect to get a partisan slant on the headlines at least in some programs. But local TV news has typically had a down-the-middle approach, especially on national issues. Were Epshteyn to appear as a commentator on a cable news channel, his partisan affiliation would be identified. That’s not the case on air at Sinclair; Epshteyn’s previous work for Trump is disclosed only in the online postings of his commentaries on Sinclair station websites.

    “They’re really trying to warp the worldview and the narrative that their audience is receiving from their newscasts, and it’s being warped by a source that [the audience] would otherwise trust,” says Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, a liberal-leaning watchdog organization that has been a vocal critic of Sinclair for years. “I think it’s exploiting and weaponizing the fact that people don’t expect their local news to be partisan.”

  • New Trump hire Anthony Scaramucci to Sean Hannity: "We were separated at birth" because I agree with you "1,000 percent"

    Scaramucci and Hannity repeatedly agree on the White House communications strategy

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In a July 24 appearance on Sean Hannity’s radio show, Anthony Scaramucci, the newly-minted White House communications director, promised he would go after leakers, “find other ways” beyond traditional media outlets to “deliver information,” and confirmed that he would combat the media’s “double-standard.” This strategy mirrors the rantings from Sean Hannity on his radio program and Fox News show.

    Hunting and purging leakers in the government

    Scaramucci promises to fire "leakers" on his staff.

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): Let's talk a little bit about the statement that you made here. "Any leakers are going to be shown the door," does that also include deep state leakers? Because there was one report --

    ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI: So, let me -- let me rephrase that for your listeners, it's the leakers that I have control over, okay? So, I sit in the comms shop now, I report directly to the president, had a very crisp meeting with him this morning about some of the things I'd like to do, got his green light. I met with about 40 or so people in the Roosevelt Room, here in the West Wing shortly thereafter, and sort of laid out what i want to do culturally here to make people understand where I'm coming from. And so, very very binary, like I said to Jake Tapper, "You are going to leak, you are going to go outside on Pennsylvania Avenue, and you're going to sell postcards to the tourists." It's just that simple.

    HANNITY: Well, I --

    SCARAMUCCI: If you're not going to leak, you can stay here and work. You gotta make a decision.

    HANNITY: I think one of the harder things to find is gonna be the 125 leaks from within the intelligence community --

    SCARAMUCCI: Yeah.

    HANNITY: -- against the President. I mean, we had one late last week again, and this one was against Jeff Sessions, and it seems like it just never ends.

    SCARAMUCCI: Yeah, so that's a -- totally separate topic, and so unfortunately it is outside of my authority. But what I will say there is that we are going to start a process of bolstering the exposure of those as well. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 7/24/17]

    Hannity: Trump should fire everyone in the executive branch who Isn't loyal to him “because he’s got to end the leaks that are plaguing this administration.

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): Let's go back to 1861, President Abraham Lincoln he created a team of rivals, a so-called team of rivals, a cabinet of rivals including adversaries that he ran against the Republican primary. While President Lincoln sought to unify his party through cabinet selections, he also executed an extensive government purge. He fired over 75 percent, nearly 1200 people. Out of 1500 bureaucrats that worked in the executive branch that President Lincoln feared could be disloyal. It's time now for President Trump to follow Abraham Lincoln's example and fire anyone and everyone who was actively working against him in government.

    [...]

    Because he’s got to end the leaks that are plaguing this administration.[Fox News, Hannity, 3/9/17]

    Circumventing traditional press to get better news coverage

    Scaramucci: “If I can’t get the help from the mainstream media,” “we’ll find other ways” to “deliver information to the American people.”

    ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI: We’re going to try to keep this as transparent as we can, and as open. I don’t think we’re going to be able to fight through a lot of the mainstream media nonsense, I think they’re just going to go off the hook into the direction they’re going in, but we’ve got very sharp people here on the comms team. We’re going to reinvent the way we deliver information to the American people, and if I can’t get the help from the mainstream media, of giving the president a fair shake, we’ll find other ways to do that. On -- certainly, the president does that with his social media situation.

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): I honestly have seen a shift and a change just before you came onboard, and then we saw a lot of it this weekend, I mean -- I think the exchange we just played with you and Jake Tapper is a really good one, “Well Jake, I know you’re trying to come up with analogies on the fly, but good try, it doesn’t work here,” or Kellyanne was on CNN, and Doctor Gorka’s two appearances, Anderson Cooper and Alisyn Camerota went viral. I do think that they have gotten away with way too much, and I think there has been far too little pushback, in my humble opinion. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 7/24/17]
     

    Hannity led the charge to get Trump to abandon traditional media. Sean Hannity has devoted himself to promoting the notion that Trump should not have a press office in his White House and should use other methods of reaching out to the American people outside of the mainstream media. [Media Matters, 12/14/16]

    Scaramucci echoed Hannity’s claim that Trump’s communication strategy should combat the media’s “double standard”

    “You and I were separated at birth”: Scaramucci tells Hannity he agrees completely with his comments on combating the media’s double standard.

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): How do you combat all of -- all of this double standard at one time? Are you going to -- are you going to take these issues to the media?

    ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI: Yeah, so you know you and I were separated at birth, you just happen to be Irish, right? You know that about yourself, right? So, everything you just said, you know, I 1000 percent agree with.

    But what I said from the podium on Friday was that, you know, the Navy SEALs have a great line, that the only way that you can eat an entire elephant is to take one bite at a time. So, the first thing that I’ve got to do, Sean, is I’ve got to clean up the culture here in the comms shop, and I have to stop the internecine civil warfare among the personalities and the egomaniacs.

    Once they stop shooting at each other, we can subordinate all of that to the president’s message. Once we get that under control, we can start dealing with the stuff that you’re referencing -- but I 1000 percent agree with you that we’ve got to start going in that direction. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 7/24/17]

  • Trump is reportedly considering fulfilling a months-long right-wing media fantasy to fire Robert Mueller

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President Donald Trump and his legal team “are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest,” according to a Washington Post report. The president’s right-wing media allies have waged a months-long campaign against Mueller and his team, calling for Mueller to be fired or his investigation “to be shut down,” and citing supposed “conflicts of interest” among members of Mueller’s investigative team and even of Mueller himself.

  • 21st Century Fox had to settle reports about sexual harassment as early as 1998

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    21st Century Fox paid a woman a “substantial” settlement in 1998 after she reported David Hill, former chairman of Fox Sports, for sexual misconduct. The case is one of the “earliest recorded” settlements by 21st Century Fox for sexual misconduct according to attorney Lisa Bloom.

    Hill was reported by Paula Radin, a vice president for special events at Fox Broadcasting Company, for “sexually aggressive behavior,” leading to a “substantial” settlement. Hill was later promoted to chairman of Fox Sports Media group according to The Wrap.

    Earlier this year, Bill O’Reilly was let go following a long history of sexual harassment reports by multiple women. In 2016, former Fox News chairman and CEO, Roger Ailes was reported for sexual harassment by 25 women and forced to resign. Recently, Fox Business host Charles Payne has been suspended while being investigated following a report of sexual harassment by a former political analyst at the network. And less than two weeks ago, Fox Sports president, Jamie Horowitz was let go under sexual misconduct allegations.

    Lisa Bloom, an attorney who has filed multiple sexual harassment cases against Fox says that Fox’s failure to address these cases in an appropriate manner has allowed this behavior to continue for years. From The Wrap:

    21st Century Fox paid off a woman who accused former top executive David Hill of sexual misconduct while he ran Fox Sports, two individuals with knowledge of the situation told TheWrap.

    The payment happened in 1998, and suggests Fox had issues with sexual harassment long before the investigations that led to the exits of Fox News star Bill O’Reilly and founder Roger Ailes, and the ouster of Fox Sports President Jamie Horowitz last month.

    The payment came when Hill was chairman of Fox Sports. Hill, part of Fox chief Rupert Murdoch’s inner circle, was promoted to chairman of Fox Sports Media Group the following year, and had a 24-year career with the company that ended in 2015.

    “That’s the earliest recorded Fox case I’ve heard about,” attorney Lisa Bloom, who has filed several sexual harassment suits against Fox, said of the 1998 case. “If they’d cleaned house then, or simply monitored their staff to require compliance with the law, so many women could have been spared.

  • Statement of Media Matters president Angelo Carusone on Sinclair Broadcast Group internal memo

    Memo of Sinclair VP is "totally disconnected from the reality of Sinclair’s programming"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Media Matters President Angelo Carusone released the following statement after Politico reported on an internal memo sent from Sinclair Vice President of News Scott Livingston that attempts to defend the network for requiring local stations to broadcast right-wing opinion packages:

    Sinclair’s defensive memo holds about as much weight as its deceptive “must run” segments. The broadcaster is in damage control mode. And with good reason! Even though Sinclair executives are acting like their takeover of Tribune’s stations is a done deal, it actually hasn’t been finalized yet.

    Sinclair knows that the deal could still far apart, especially given that afraid viewers and employees of Tribune stations all across the country have started to stand up for their local news since Sinclair’s agenda and chicanery were exposed.

    The pushback that Sinclair is getting is well-founded too! Sinclair’s right-wing political agenda is a well-established fact. The company advances its politics by exploiting the trust and confidence that the public still has in local news in order to poison the information landscape with bias and pro-Trump propaganda from the bottom up.

    Mr. Livingston’s memo is totally disconnected from the reality of Sinclair’s programming. The company’s intentions are clear, its record is well-established, and no amount of internal memos will correct for its bias and agenda.

    Sinclair Broadcast Group, the country's largest operator of local television stations, has announced that it will buy Tribune Media, which runs news stations located in critical swing state cities including Indianapolis, Des Moines, Philadelphia, Chicago and Miami, among others. Sinclair and its affiliates have a history of airing conservative-leaning reporting and commentary, and its executives have donated to Republicans and Republican causes.

    More Americans trust their local news stations more than national news and cable pundits. Now these local news viewers are increasingly and unsuspectingly faced with state run-style propaganda from Sinclair-owned stations. Precisely because viewers aren’t on their guard when they watch local news,  local news outlets are a powerful delivery mechanism for pernicious misinformation and false narratives -- and Sinclair is taking advantage of that.

    Sinclair’s expanding media footprint -- rife with pro-Trump talking points presented by Trump-tied personalities in “must run” commentaries  -- is dangerous to our national discourse. The company’s ongoing relationship with the Trump administration is just as dangerous as its coverage, including a deal struck during the election for “more access to Trump” in exchange for “straighter coverage.” With the Sinclair-Tribune merger imminent, local news stations around the country -- especially in battleground states -- are about to become more Fox News-like.

    For the millions of Americans who get their news through local programming, vigilance is key. If your local news station is owned by Sinclair, don’t be fooled by the conservative lies the network will try to pass off as “balanced” or run-of-the-mill commentary. It’s propaganda and should be called out as such.

  • A short history of the right-wing politics of Sinclair Broadcasting

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Sinclair Broadcast Group, the country's largest operator of local television stations, is in the process of buying Tribune Media. Sinclair and its affiliates have a history of airing conservative-leaning reporting and commentary, and its executives have donated to Republicans and Republican causes. The company also has ties to President Donald Trump and his administration, covered him very favorably during his presidential campaign, and hired one of his former aides as an analyst.

  • Don’t be fooled: Sinclair is trying to bring the Fox News model to your local news station 

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    According to Sinclair Broadcasting Group, it's doing a service to its viewers by requiring the many local TV news stations it owns to air unabashedly pro-Trump propaganda on a regular basis.  

    The local TV news giant has been pushing a right-wing slant on local television stations across the country for years. Owned by the Smiths, a family of longtime Republican donors who have all the ambition of News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch but a much lower profile, Sinclair has mostly flown under the radar. But following the election of President Donald Trump, the network has begun adopting the playbook Roger Ailes used to turn Fox News into a conservative media goliath.

    Over the last few months, Sinclair has been requiring its stations to run more commentaries from pro-Trump personalities and expanding its reach to greater numbers of unassuming viewers in new local media markets. Now it's defending these clear moves to mimic the aspiring state media over at Fox with warped, brainwash-y logic: The conservative propaganda it pushes on its viewers is necessary because the rest of the media is biased.

    Politico’s Hadas Gold obtained a new internal memo from Sinclair executive Scott Livingston declaring that much of the recent reporting about Sinclair’s moves to expand right-wing local news is “false.”

    In the memo, Livingston said the network’s right-wing commentary segments “provide a viewpoint that often gets lost in the typical national broadcast media dialogue.” His memo closed with an attempt to cast recent criticism of Sinclair as illegitimate and perpetrated by "biased" reporters seeking to "destroy our reputation." On and off-screen, it's Sinclair vs. the world:

    "What we find most troubling in the reporting about our company, by major media outlets (like the New York Times and Washington Post), is the omission of key facts in their stories,” Livingston wrote. "Such omissions suggest the existence of either journalistic incompetency or editorial bias. We do not believe these journalists are incompetent, so we are left to conclude that they are biased.

    "We are proud to offer a range of perspectives, both conservative and liberal --- to our consumers -- -on our Sinclair broadcast stations each day. It is unfortunate that so many of our competitors do not provide the same marketplace of ideas,” he continued. "Our commitment is to tracking the truth, providing context and perspective in our reporting and serving our communities with valuable and, at times, life-saving information. We value our viewers and our journalists who work hard each day to serve the communities in which they live -- -all across this great country. It’s concerning and troubling that so many once trusted news organizations continue to push false narratives with an agenda to destroy our reputation and discredit the great journalism across our company.”

    Like Ailes before him, Livingston hopes that he can garner ratings by presenting his network as “fair and balanced” in opposition to the mainstream press. But here are the undeniable, troubling facts about the direction Sinclair is taking:

    • Months after hiring former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn as its chief political analyst, Sinclair announced it would be increasing the number of times per week that Epshteyn’s right-wing commentary segment, “Bottom Line with Boris,” must air on its local stations. Media critic David Zurawik has described these segments as “as close to classic propaganda as I think I have seen” over his 30-year career.
    • “Bottom Line with Boris” is one of three regular Sinclair segments considered to be “must run” content, meaning that all Sinclair stations are required to air them. The other two segments are “Behind the Headlines” with conservative commentator Mark Hyman and a fearmongering “terrorism alert desk.” The practice has raised concerns from experts and employees at local Sinclair stations.
    • Sinclair is currently seeking to acquire Tribune Media for $3.9 billion, a move that would make Sinclair the largest provider of local television news in the country. The potential acquisition, by the way, is possible only because of a Trump administration move to roll back Obama-era consumer regulations.

    It’s clear that Sinclair is attempting to push an increasingly skewed view of the news to an ever-expanding audience in regions across the country. And this isn’t Livingston’s first time lashing out at non-Sinclair outlets. Back in March, Livingston set this tone by narrating a strange “must run” segment warning viewers about “biased and false news” from “members of the national media.”

    The “must run” segments are not just run-of-the-mill conservative “commentary”

    While Livingston is trying to pass off the must-run segments as merely conservative commentary, there’s no doubt that the Epshteyn and Hyman segments are straight-up propaganda. In recent weeks, neither commentator seems to have aired a segment touching on possible collusion between members of the Trump camp and Russia, despite frequent bombshells on the top story. (In June, Hyman's take on Russian meddling in the election was: "We do it. Russians do it. Everyone does it. Meddling in another nation's democratic elections is actually routine behavior.") They’ve also had little to say about the dangerously inept Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, a major news story and a Trump administration priority gone wrong. (Epshteyn’s most recent segment, as of publication, is a confused critique of net neutrality. Hyman’s is about why raising the minimum wage in Seattle is bad.)

    At its very worst, the Sinclair “must run” strategy also attempts to drive a wedge between local audiences and the facts. Both Epshteyn and Hyman have found time to produce several segments each since Trump’s inauguration attacking mainstream media outlets in a direct echo of both their employer’s rhetoric and Trump administration talking points. Epshteyn even cheered Trump’s threat to scale back White House press briefings last month, calling the briefings “a circus and a distraction.”

    And at its very, very worst, Sinclair is sneaking the very lowest in fringe, far-right commentary into the living rooms of unsuspecting Americans who did not sign up for it. The most devastating example is this must-run segment from April, in which Mark Hyman alludes to the heinous far-right conspiracy theory about the death of DNC staffer Seth Rich.

    The Hyman and Epshteyn segments are doing the dirty work of pushing Sinclair’s openly pro-Trump agenda and anti-media propaganda efforts to unknowing local television viewers on the regular.