Media Structures & Regulations

Issues ››› Media Structures & Regulations
  • 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.

  • Pro-Trump troll says he's doing "performance art" as Gateway Pundit's White House correspondent

    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette profile shows Lucian Wintrich is an anti-media, pro-Trump troll

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Gateway Pundit’s Lucian Wintrich said he’s doing “performance art” as a White House correspondent in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette profile, reinforcing that his role is less of a journalist and more of a sycophantic troll.

    Wintrich, who was behind the “Twinks4Trump” photography exhibit, was hired by the far-right fringe (and often wrong) political blog The Gateway Pundit as its White House correspondent in February. Since then, Wintrich has adopted the Trump administration’s playbook for delegitimizing the media, including referring to anything critical reported about the administration as fake news and attacking media organizations like CNN. This coincided with the propaganda effort by the Trump administration to rely on pro-Trump shills to spread its message. Additionally, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Wintrich admitted that "Half of what I do — well, on social media specifically — is f—ing with people."

    The Post-Gazette’s July 14 profile noted that Wintrich “has yet to ask a question in a White House briefing” and that he “doesn’t have formal journalistic training” and “wears his [pro-Trump] allegiance on his sleeve.” The Post-Gazette also quoted Media Matters president Angelo Carusone, who explained that Wintrich "is not really doing what a White House correspondent does, but he wasn’t supposed to. They’re looking for that moment when they get a viral response." From the Post-Gazette:

    Mr. Wintrich, who previously worked for a New York advertising firm, has yet to ask a question in a White House briefing. But he’s already scored a different kind of journalistic coup: being confronted by another journalist.

    [...]

    When Mr. Wintrich gained White House credentials in February, The New York Times reported “concerns that the Trump administration, which has called the news media ‘the opposition party,’ is favoring outlets more sympathetic to its views.”

    For his part, Mr. Wintrich told the Times “We will be doing a little trolling of the media,” referring to the online practice of goading opponents into lashing out and making fools of themselves.

    [...]

    He wears his allegiance on his sleeve, penning stories like “Trump Administration: One of the Most Transparent in US History, Open to Media,” which countered media grumbling with reminders of secretive practices by President Barack Obama.

    [...]

    Mr. Wintrich has largely avoided such controversies. But few of his roughly 100 Gateway Pundit posts since January have drawn on his White House access: Policy issues, like a recent post on internet policy, “get minimal engagement,” he said.

    Many posts rely on material reported elsewhere. And often, Mr. Wintrich himself is the story.

    “I consider some of what I’m doing to be performance art,” he said, adding that “quote-unquote serious journalists are doing performance art themselves, but they don’t understand that.”

    [...]

    Angelo Carusone, president of liberal media-criticism outlet Media Matters for America, said Mr. Wintrich “is not really doing what a White House correspondent does, but he wasn’t supposed to. They’re looking for that moment when they get a viral response.”

  • NY Times details how “reverence for Putin” in right-wing media helps Trump run from his Russia scandal

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A report from The New York Times highlighted how an ongoing, years-long trend of right-wing media figures praising Russian President Vladimir Putin has helped President Donald Trump downplay the fast-growing Russian scandal surrounding himself, his family, and his administration.

    Right-wing media has long been obsessed with Putin’s masculinity and authoritarian tendencies. In 2013, Fox News analyst Ralph Peters, when speaking about Putin said, “I respect that guy,” adding “he presents himself as a real He-Man.” The same year, Matt Drudge tweeted “Putin is the leader of the free world.” FoxNews.com previously published a “must watch” video of "Putin doing macho things." And Fox host Kimberly Guilfoyle once said she wanted Putin to be US president for 48 hours in order to defeat ISIS.

    Essentially, right-wing media effectively built a normalization machine working to sanitize Putin, and it had results.

    In a July 14 New York Times article, Jeremy Peters noted that while “such fondness for Mr. Putin fell outside the Republican Party’s mainstream” previously it became a widely held sentiment in the conservative movement by the time Mr. Trump started running for president in 2015.” Peters wrote that “the veneration of Mr. Putin helps explain why revelations about Russia’s involvement in the election ... and Mr. Trump’s reluctance to acknowledge it, have barely penetrated the consciousness of the president’s conservative base.” Media Matters President Angelo Carusone added that the mythologizing of Putin by right-wing media has led to him enjoying “a Paul Bunyan-esque persona among this audience.” From the July 14 article:

    Years before the words “collusion” and “Russian hacking” became associated with President Vladimir V. Putin, some prominent Republicans found far more laudatory ways to talk about the Russian leader.

    “Putin decides what he wants to do, and he does it in half a day,” Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor and longtime friend and adviser to President Trump, gushed in 2014.

    Mr. Putin was worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, K. T. McFarland said in 2013, before going on to serve a brief and ill-fated stint as Mr. Trump’s deputy national security adviser.

    “A great leader,” “very reasoned,” and “extremely diplomatic,” was how Mr. Trump himself described Mr. Putin that same year.

    Though such fondness for Mr. Putin fell outside the Republican Party’s mainstream at the time, it became a widely held sentiment inside the conservative movement by the time Mr. Trump started running for president in 2015. And it persists today, despite evidence of Russian intervention in the 2016 American election and Mr. Putin’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies at home.

    The veneration of Mr. Putin helps explain why revelations about Russia’s involvement in the election — including recent reports that members of Mr. Trump’s inner circle set up a meeting at which they expected a representative of the Russian government to give them incriminating information about Hillary Clinton — and Mr. Trump’s reluctance to acknowledge it, have barely penetrated the consciousness of the president’s conservative base.

    [...]

    In this view, the Russian president is a brilliant tactician, a slayer of murderous Islamic extremists — and not incidentally, a leader who outmaneuvered and emasculated President Barack Obama on the world stage. And because of that, almost any other transgression seems forgivable.

    [...]

    The unflattering comparisons with Mr. Obama became especially personal in 2014 after Mr. Putin invaded Crimea, an act of aggression that was widely condemned by the United States and its allies but praised as a display of brawn and guts by many on the right.

    Sarah Palin, for one, questioned Mr. Obama’s “potency” and added that no one had any such doubts about Mr. Putin. “People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil,” she told Sean Hannity on Fox News.

    “He’s looking like a real man,” Mr. Limbaugh declared approvingly in 2014.

    Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, which has tracked the conservative media’s depiction of the Russian president, described Mr. Putin as taking on “a Paul Bunyan-esque persona among this audience.”

    Mr. Putin’s mystique for conservatives resembles in many ways the image that Mr. Trump has cultivated for himself.

  • Trump’s shallow, congratulatory 700 Club interview is exactly what he wishes all interviews could be

    The president only wants to talk to people who will make him feel smart

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    President Donald Trump broke his streak of granting interviews exclusively to his friends at Fox to delve into an even safer space: talking about windmills with an octogenarian who hangs on his every word.

    This morning, the president’s interview with kooky bigot Pat Robertson aired on the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN)'s The 700 Club.

    Trump’s sit-down with Robertson is the first televised interview he’s granted to an outlet other than Fox News in two months. (He also gave an interview to Reuters’ Steve Holland on the same day.) With this interview, Trump has now granted more on-camera interviews to the Christian Broadcasting Network (two) than he has to any other network besides Fox (11) since his inauguration.

    It’s telling that the president would turn to Robertson for a friendly media face as his administration continues to stifle press access in unprecedented ways -- he thinks critics of Trump are defying “God’s plan for America.” Robertson is also a deeply anti-LGBTQ figure on the evangelical right who has blamed feminists and the ACLU for 9/11 and thinks the Hurricane Katrina devastation was “connected” to abortion.

    Trump talked to Robertson because he knew the unabashed Trump fan wouldn't press him on any of the many scandals engulfing his administration, and Robertson didn't disappoint. Here are the highlights, speaking for themselves.

    Here’s Robertson opening the interview by telling Trump he’s “so proud of everything you’re doing”:

    Here is Trump showing off to Robertson that he knows how to pronounce Qatar:

    Here is Trump explaining to Robertson that the G20 Summit was a success because there were 20 countries represented there, and he got along well with everyone:

    Here is a hard-hitting exchange about Trump’s “good” and “not bad” meeting with Putin:

    Here is Trump sneaking in a little reference to windmills, one of his very favorite topics:

    Here’s Trump and Robertson talking about “thousands” of regulations Trump has purportedly lifted:

    Here’s the very in-depth answer Robertson got when he asked about the potential failure of the Republican health care bill:

    This one is just fun:

    And here’s Robertson predicting Trump will be re-elected and telling him that the “evangelicals of America” are praying for him: 

    There is no video of Trump talking about the ongoing investigations into his presidential campaign’s possible collusion with Russia, because it just never came up!

    The interview ended with Trump explaining, to Robertson’s visible delight, that he gave an interview to the host because he’s “treated very unfairly by the press” but Robertson has “people that I love.” “You will be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again very soon,” Trump assured him.

    Robertson then spent more time reflecting on his delightful time with the president and his staff and praising Trump’s “vision.” The televangelist also congratulated himself on not asking the president about any Russia “garbage.” Good job, Pat.

  • The Daily Beast details how Circa, a Sinclair Broadcast Group subsidiary, rebuilt itself as a pro-Trump outlet

    Media Matters' Angelo Carusone explains Sinclair and Circa's "insidious" positioning in the "conservative media echo chamber": "They understood that they had to have a veneer of journalism for their political content"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A report from The Daily Beast explained how the right-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group “remade Circa [News] in its own image.” According to the article, Circa now "is considered ... friendly to the Trump White House" and even has something of a "robust partnership" with Trump sycophant Sean Hannity.  

    In 2015, Sinclair bought Circa, which The Wall Street Journal described at the time as a “defunct mobile news site.” Sinclair has a history of pushing right-wing commentary that has been compared to “propaganda” and of selectively omitting stories that don’t fit its agenda. White House senior adviser Jared Kushner reportedly “struck a deal” with Sinclair during the campaign to “secure better media coverage” for then-candidate Donald Trump in exchange for “more access to Trump and the campaign.” Additionally, Sinclair has also made a series of conservative hires, including discredited former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson and former Trump White House aide Boris Epshteyn. Just this week, Sinclair announced it would be tripling the number of segments featuring Epshteyn that are sent to stations as “must-run” packages -- a typical practice for the company.

    And as The Daily Beast pointed out, Harvard’s Nieman Lab found that since Circa relaunched under Sinclair, there has been “a tendency for its stories to be picked up by Fox News.” As the Nieman Lab piece noted, Circa national security correspondent Sara Carter “appeared on [Fox News’] Hannity 11 times in March, six times in April, five times in May, and 12 times in June.” Additionally, The Daily Beast reported, Trump’s personal attorney “was planning to use the site to counter all the damaging stories in the legacy media surrounding Don Jr.’s Russia/email debacle.”

    Media Matters President Angelo Carusone told The Daily Beast that Circa is part of the “conservative media echo chamber” and “Trump sycophants are now using that brand in order to promote what’s supposed to original reporting but aligns very closely with Trump’s agenda.” From the July 12 Daily Beast report:

    [P]ress critic Angelo Carusone, president of the liberal-leaning watchdog group Media Matters, said that unlike conservative-leaning outlets of years past, Circa News cleverly presents itself as a straight-down-the-middle news site whose ideologically driven content is subtly masked.

    “What’s different about Circa and Sinclair as well is the way in which they position themselves in the conservative media echo chamber,” Carusone told The Daily Beast. “It’s so insidious. They understood that they had to have a veneer of journalism for their political content… They’re building up this veneer of credibility the way they’re positioning themselves to appeal to disaffected millennials.”

    [...]

    “They’re using a clean brand that doesn’t really have any baggage affiliated with it,” Carusone said. “It’s hollowed out, and they fill it not just with conservative misinformation but, in this case, Trump sycophants are now using that brand in order to promote what’s supposed to original reporting but aligns very closely with Trump’s agenda.”

    UPDATE: The block quote in this piece has been edited for brevity.