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

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

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Rob Savillo contributed research to this post.

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

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL



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

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

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

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

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

    The second episode had similarly Fox-y elements:

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

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

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

    America This Week premiered mostly online

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Eric Bolling represents the essence of Fox News

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

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

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

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

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

    Former Fox contributor Sebastian Gorka, an anti-Muslim extremist and Washington, D.C., swamp creature, recently officially became a Sinclair contributor as well. Like Bolling, Gorka had appeared multiple times in Sinclair national news programming beforehand, and he also hosted at least two special programs that aired on Sinclair local news stations. One of these specials, called The Rise of Terrorism: A Clash of Cultures, featured footage labeled as "ISIS propaganda" and shots of terror attacks followed by Gorka asking viewers, "Can the teachings of Islam and western values ever be reconciled? Is it possible for the waves of refugees arriving in the west to assimilate and coexist peacefully?"

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

    Sinclair’s future

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

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

  • Video: The Boris Epshteyn "must-runs" that Sinclair has been forcing local news stations to air since 2017

    Blog ››› ››› MILES LE

    Since 2017, Sinclair Broadcast Group has been mandating that its local news stations air commentary segments featuring Boris Epshteyn, a former aide to President Donald Trump. Even though there’s essentially no demand for these segments, Sinclair continues to force-feed Epshteyn’s pro-Trump commentary to viewers across the country. (Last month, Sinclair stations began airing companion segments from a new liberal commentator, Ameshia Cross, alongside Epshteyn's segments.) In his “must-runs,” Epshteyn has defended tear-gassing migrant children and warned of an “attempted invasion”; called former Trump fixer Michael Cohen a “rat”; conducted softball interviews with Trump, Trump administration officials, and Republican candidates for office; argued the “presidents on Mount Rushmore may have to make room” for Trump; and more.

    Take a look at the right-wing propaganda local news viewers are being exposed to on a regular basis thanks to Sinclair:

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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

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

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

    But the virulently anti-Muslimnational security expert” was making appearances on Sinclair news programming long before then. In 2017, about a month before he signed his Fox contract, Gorka participated in a gun violence town hall for Sinclair’s Washington, D.C., station WJLA and made headlines for saying he believed “Black Africans” were killing each other “by the bushel.”

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

    Gorka has also hosted at least two special programs that ran on Sinclair-controlled local news stations. In March 2018, Gorka hosted a special called The Rise of Terrorism: A Clash of Cultures, which aired on numerous Sinclair stations. In that program, footage labeled as "ISIS propaganda" and shots of terror attacks are followed by Gorka asking viewers, "Can the teachings of Islam and western values ever be reconciled? Is it possible for the waves of refugees arriving in the west to assimilate and coexist peacefully?" At one point, b-roll footage is shown of a protest sign that says "Rapefugees."

    In November, he hosted another 30-minute special -- this time fearmongering about socialism. The program began with stylized footage of a hammer and sickle being forged in flames and then clips of speeches by Democratic socialists Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and Virginia state Del. Lee Carter, much of it set to ominous music. Gorka spent the majority of the program discussing the history of various regimes across the globe, framed to show what happens when socialism goes wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • On Presidents Day, Sinclair's Boris Epshteyn said the "presidents on Mount Rushmore may have to make room" for Trump

    For the first time, Epshteyn’s segment was paired with a progressive segment from commentator Ameshia Cross -- further highlighting the absurdity of his hot takes 

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Boris Epshteyn celebrated Presidents Day by releasing a new “must-run” segment suggesting President Donald Trump’s face ought to be added on Mount Rushmore.  

    In the segment, Epshteyn argued that “we are lucky” to have Trump as president and that the Trump administration “so far has been … one of the most successful in our nation’s history.” Epshteyn, a former Trump aide who has signed a nondisparagement agreement that may prevent him from criticizing the president, concluded, “In just over two years of the Trump administration, we have seen great progress benefiting Americans. If this keeps up, much to the chagrin of many Democrats, the presidents on Mount Rushmore may have to make room for a new addition.”

    BORIS EPSHTEYN: Presidents Day is an important holiday for us to reflect upon those who we have elected to the highest office in our land. We are lucky to currently have a leader in President Trump, whose term so far has been, I would argue, one of the most successful in our nation’s history.

    The president has achieved tangible, concrete, quality-of-life improvements for the American people no matter the political cost. His disruption of the status quo has stirred many of his detractors. Despite what some liberals and many in the media may say, the Trump administration has taken strides to ensure that our country is thriving for all Americans.

    Since President Trump took office, the female unemployment rate has reached its lowest in approximately 65 years. American worker satisfaction is the highest since 2005. Unemployment among disabled Americans is at an all-time low, and the median income for Hispanic Americans has increased by nearly 4 percent. The president has circumvented partisanship and has tackled, head-on, human issues such as the opioid crisis in our country and criminal justice reform.

    Unfortunately, the spirit of bipartisanship has been largely missing, as many on the left and those in the media have put their love of our great country second to their personal hatred of our president. Despite all of that, President Trump is still getting results.

    Here’s the bottom line: In just over two years of the Trump administration, we have seen great progress benefiting Americans. If this keeps up, much to the chagrin of many Democrats, the presidents on Mount Rushmore may have to make room for a new addition.

    According to a Media Matters search of the iQ media database, the segment has aired on at least 50 stations in at least 28 states since the evening of February 18 -- and for what appears to be the first time, it was paired with a contrasting commentary segment from Sinclair’s new liberal commentator, Ameshia Cross.

    Cross’ segment, called “Cross Point,” aired alongside Epshteyn’s segment on Sinclair stations and covered the same topic. It appears the segments will play off each other and will now run with an on-screen disclaimer from Sinclair telling viewers that the opinions in the commentary segments don’t necessarily represent the views of the broadcasting giant.

    For example, here is how Cross’s segment was framed on a Sinclair-controlled station in Beaumont, TX:

    Epshteyn’s full segment aired later in the same newscast.

    The addition of Cross’ segment to the “must-run” lineup unintentionally underscores the company's blatant journalistic malpractice. For the past two years, the only regular "must-run" commentary Sinclair's local news viewers saw came from Epshteyn -- and it was presented without context or counterpoint. 

  • Sinclair brings Betsy DeVos and the education privatization echo chamber to local news

    DeVos’ softball interview with Sinclair’s Boris Epshteyn promotes an extreme agenda, and it’s airing on local news stations across the country

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is the latest member of President Donald Trump’s inner circle to use the ready-made platform at conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group as an infomercial for the president’s agenda -- this time, to promote education privatization.

    DeVos filmed a softball interview with Sinclair chief political analyst (and former Trump aide) Boris Epshteyn that began airing on January 24 on local news stations across the country. In the portion of the interview aired so far, the education secretary promotes National School Choice Week:

    But National School Choice Week is not as innocuous as its name might suggest. In fact, it’s a public relations campaign (and a group) funded overwhelmingly by the Gleason Family Foundation, the secretive private family foundation of a machine tool manufacturing company. The foundation supports many other pro-privatization and anti-union groups, including a number of Koch-affiliated libertarian think tanks that push union-busting “right-to-work” legislation.

    National School Choice Week is designed to promote a handful of policies that would privatize various aspects of the public education system, including vouchers and privately operated, for-profit, and online charter schools. It’s no coincidence that these specific policies are the best options for wealthy individuals or massive corporations that want to cash in on students -- or that these same policies are supported by more openly right-wing groups underwritten by corporate billionaires, such as the Koch-affiliated American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and State Policy Network think tanks. DeVos’ own family foundation has frequently donated to other dark-money groups associated with National School Choice Week in the past, and National School Choice Week’s current president used to work with DeVos at her pro-voucher lobbying group American Federation for Children.

    The whole operation illustrates the corporate dark-money echo chamber that wealthy conservatives have created to support education policies they can use for profit at the expense of the vulnerable. Research shows that the programs these types of policies support -- for-profit models that aren’t beholden to some traditional public school regulations and don’t have unionized workforces -- are most harmful to students belonging to already oppressed communities.

    DeVos’ Sinclair appearance contributes further to the conservative goal of cloaking these efforts in the language of “choice” and “innovation.” It’s not just an embarrassingly soft interview with a pro-Trump outlet; it’s dangerous for local viewers.

    As of this morning, it’s already aired on at least 35 local news stations in 22 states.

  • EPA nominee Andrew Wheeler is gaming the media ahead of his confirmation hearing

    Wheeler is looking increasingly like Scott Pruitt in his dealings with the press

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Andrew Wheeler, nominated by President Donald Trump on January 9 to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is increasingly following the aggressive media playbook of his predecessor, Scott Pruitt.

    Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, assumed the role of acting EPA administrator in July, after Pruitt got himself booted. He has continued Pruitt's work of rolling back major environmental regulations, a fact that has been well-reported. Less well-known is that Wheeler has also been following in Pruitt's footsteps in dealing with the press.

    Wheeler's EPA press team attacks journalists and media outlets

    The scandal-prone Pruitt had an extremely contentious relationship with the media. His press office retaliated against specific reporters whose stories it didn't like and even attacked them by name in press releases, among other antagonistic moves.

    When Wheeler took the helm, many reporters looked forward to a change in approach. E&E News published a story about the differences between the two EPA leaders in July under the headline "'Night and day' as Wheeler opens doors to press."

    But in the last few months, the EPA press office has returned to some of the same combative tactics used during the Pruitt era. An October 30 press release was headlined, "EPA Sets the Record Straight After Being Misrepresented in Press." Two days later, it got more aggressive with a press release titled "Fact Checking Seven Falsehoods in CNN’s Report." From an E&E News article published in mid-November:

    The [EPA press shop's] combative approach calmed a bit when acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler took over for Scott Pruitt, who resigned over the summer, but now it appears to be intensifying again.

    The agency's actions have been scrutinized in the press in recent weeks, and the public affairs shop has been hitting back.

    Bobby Magill, president of the Society of Environmental Journalists, said the agency seems to be returning to its war-room-style tactics under Pruitt.

    "It looks to me like they're sort of returning to form," Magill said. "This suggests that they are returning to their previous press strategy under Scott Pruitt."

    Wheeler may start feeling even more antagonistic toward the press in the coming months. On December 26, a federal judge ordered the EPA to release roughly 20,000 emails exchanged between industry groups and high-level political appointees at the agency, including Wheeler, after the Sierra Club sued to gain access to the records under the Freedom of Information Act. Similar records requests from the Sierra Club during Pruitt's tenure helped lead to his forced resignation; the group made the emails available to reporters, which led to the publication of many embarrassing articles about Pruitt.

    Wheeler favors right-wing media for his televised interviews

    Pruitt heavily favored Fox News and other right-wing media outlets, giving them far more interviews than mainstream news organizations.

    Wheeler exhibits similar preferences. All four of the TV interviews we've seen him give since becoming acting administrator at the EPA have been with right-wing outlets.

    The first went to the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group. Boris Epshteyn, Sinclair's chief political analyst and a former Trump aide, asked no hard questions and gave Wheeler a platform to make specious claims about automobile fuel economy. Wheeler's second TV interview was with Fox News, the third was with the Fox Business Network, and the fourth went to a Sinclair national correspondent, and those interviewers all went easy on him too.

    Wheeler is getting cozy with the right-wing Daily Caller

    Pruitt and his press office had a remarkably friendly relationship with The Daily Caller, a far-right online publication started by Fox News personality Tucker Carlson, funded by Charles Koch, and sustained through sketchy tax dealings. During Pruitt's tenure, the EPA press office issued a policy statement by sending out a press release that pointed to an interview Pruitt gave to The Daily Caller, while the right-wing outlet frequently defended Pruitt against accusations of wrongdoing, sometimes with "scoops" and "exclusives" based on information that appeared to have been leaked to the outlet by EPA sources.

    Late last year, Wheeler revealed his own affinity for The Daily Caller. After he was criticized for spreading a false attack on the National Climate Assessment, a major government report on climate change, the EPA issued a press release that tried to defend Wheeler by directly citing a Daily Caller article. For its part, The Daily Caller regularly publishes articles defending Wheeler and the actions of his EPA.

    Wheeler embraces right-wing outlets and slams mainstream media via his Twitter account

    Like his predecessor, Wheeler has a fondness for right-wing media outlets and personalities, but he has exhibited that preference in a way that Pruitt never did -- via his personal Twitter account. Or at least he did until a few weeks ago, when Wheeler protected his account to hide his tweets from the public. (Wheeler still has a publicly viewable official Twitter account.) But journalists and activists had made note of many of the controversial tweets from his personal account before he deleted individual ones and then made the whole account private.

    The Daily Beast reported last year on one troubling tweet:

    In August 2016, Wheeler publicly defended alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous after the latter was banned from Twitter for encouraging users to harass actress Leslie Jones. In a now-deleted tweet, the lobbyist linked to a six-minute video, “The Truth About Milo,” produced by InfoWars editor-at-large and noted conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, in which Watson posited that conservatives might be “banned from using the internet altogether if they trigger your butthurt.”

    Wheeler has amplified at least two tweets from Fox News' Brit Hume that bashed major newspapers. In December, Wheeler "liked" a Hume tweet that linked to a Wall Street Journal editorial criticizing The Washington Post for alleged anti-Trump bias. In October, he retweeted another Hume tweet that criticized The New York Times and linked to an article in the conservative National Review.

    Wheeler has also "liked" a number of tweets from other right-wing figures who criticized mainstream media outlets, including:

    • a Donald Trump Jr. tweet linking to The Daily Caller and mocking CNN
    • a tweet from frequent Fox guest and former NRATV host Dan Bongino that slammed MSNBC
    • a tweet from libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin that bashed HuffPost

    Wheeler promotes climate denial and racist memes via his Twitter account

    Like Pruitt, Wheeler also casts doubt on well-established climate science -- another view he has expressed through his Twitter account.

    In a 2015 tweet, Wheeler praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'” The essay criticized mainstream media outlets and scientific journals that have reported on climate change:

    Of course, we don’t have good data or sound arguments for decarbonizing our energy supply. But it sounds like we do. If you read Scientific American, Science, Nature, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and you take them at face value, you would have to agree that there is a strong likelihood that serious climate change is real and that decarbonization or geo-engineering are our only hopes. ... These are the people promoting a myth that has become deeply ingrained in our society.

    In 2011, Wheeler tweeted a link to a post on the climate-denial blog JunkScience.com. The post, written by the site's founder and longtime climate denier Steve Milloy, argued that information from the American Lung Association should not be trusted because the organization "is bought-and-paid-for by the EPA." Wheeler also retweeted a Milloy tweet from 2015 that took a shot at HuffPost founder Arianna Huffington. And in 2009, Wheeler sent two tweets linking to climate-denying blog posts.

    HuffPost's Alexander Kaufman has reported on how Wheeler used his social media accounts to endorse or promote other unsavory views:

    [Wheeler] repeatedly engaged with incendiary, partisan content on his personal Facebook and Twitter accounts over the past five years. The online activity included liking a racist image of former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on Facebook and retweeting an infamous “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist.

    Wheeler is turning back to major mainstream newspapers as he faces confirmation hearing

    Though Wheeler has shown a preference for right-wing media in TV interviews and on Twitter, he has also given a number of interviews to mainstream newspapers, wire services, and D.C. publications. In July, after it was announced that he would serve as acting EPA administrator, Wheeler gave interviews to The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, USA Today, and The New York Times.

    The pace of his interviews with print outlets slowed down after his first month in office, but then ramped back up in November around the time that Trump announced his intention to nominate Wheeler to permanently fill the top EPA spot. On November 16, Wheeler gave another interview to The New York Times, and then two weeks later sat for a live-streamed interview with The Washington Post. In December, he gave another interview to The Wall Street Journal and then one to The Hill.

    Granting interviews to major newspapers seems to be part of Wheeler's strategy to paint himself with a gloss of mainstream respectability before his Senate confirmation hearing, which is scheduled for January 16. Meanwhile, some of his more partisan views are now out of sight in that locked Twitter account, including insults lobbed at those very same newspapers. 

  • Sinclair had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year and it has only itself to blame

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Sinclair Broadcast Group began 2018 hoping to finalize a massive deal that would cement its place as the country’s largest owner and operator of local TV stations, after having more or less weathered a few bad news cycles about its obvious conservative bent. But the local TV news giant is ending the year with arguably higher negative name recognition than ever before and with its proposed acquisition of 42 more stations rejected. In fact, one of its most formidable competitors is now aiming to knock Sinclair out of that top spot. And Sinclair has only itself to blame.

    Sinclair saw a huge spike in public criticism following the launch of a controversial anchor-read, Trumpian “must-run.”

    In March, Sinclair news stations across the country began airing “must-run” promotional segments in which local anchors read from a script that seemed to mirror President Donald Trump’s rhetoric by criticizing other media outlets for so-called bias.

    Some Sinclair employees were so unnerved by the script that they anonymously leaked it to CNN’s Brian Stelter weeks before the segments ran. Timothy Burke, then a video editor at Deadspin, quickly compiled clips of reporters at various stations reading from the shared script, and the resulting video supercut went viral.

    As of publication, the Deadspin video has more than 9 million views. Media Matters additionally documented 66 Sinclair stations nationwide airing the scripted segments. Widespread media coverage of the segments culminated with Trump himself tweeting multiple times in Sinclair’s defense. Sinclair employees continued to speak out about the “must-run” promos, saying they felt their employer was using their local credibility to advance an agenda, and professional groups condemned Sinclair’s tactics. A few employees and stations even refused to participate in the promo campaign.

    In an attempt at damage control, Sinclair executives emailed with reporters and circulated internal documents suggesting that coverage of the promotional segments was itself biased, attacking CNN specifically. The company also trotted out its chief political analyst, Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump aide, to deflect criticism of the promos in an odd second “must-run” segment.

    Sinclair’s chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn isn’t bringing in a loyal audience, but he has sparked several news cycles of outrage over his segments.

    Epshteyn caused numerous problems for his employer this year, producing “must-run” commentary segments that ranged from lackluster to embarrassing to -- on several occasions -- deeply offensive. This year, he drew public ire for using his Sinclair platform to:

    • defend Trump’s racist diatribe calling Haiti, El Salvador, and unspecified African nations “shithole countries”;
    • attempt to minimize the cruelty of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” family separation and child detention policies at the southern border;
    • exploit the murder of a young woman in Iowa to attack immigrants;
    • defend tear-gassing families seeking asylum; and
    • back conspiracy theorist and anti-Muslim extremist Laura Loomer.

    After the tear-gas defense in November, Sinclair had to issue multiple statements, at first distancing itself from Epshteyn’s views but then pivoting to saying that the segment had been “drastically and intentionally mischaracterized.” (It was not; Media Matters broke the story and included a full video and transcript.) A couple of media advocacy groups also expressed concern about the segment, with nonpartisan group Free Press even calling on Sinclair to fire Epshteyn.

    When he wasn’t forcing his employer to do damage control over his anti-immigrant commentary, Epshteyn was continuing to cultivate an embarrassingly miniscule audience and land pointless interviews with Trump officials, including the president himself. To give an idea of just how doting these interviews were, I documented the totality of the questions or comments Epshteyn made over the course of six “must-run” segments featuring portions of an interview with Trump. About half were some version of “sure” or “right.”

    This makes sense, of course, because another big problem for Sinclair this year was the news that Epshteyn may in fact be legally barred from criticizing the president. Epshteyn admitted in September that he had signed a nondisparagement agreement while working on the Trump campaign in 2016. As The Washington Post noted, “Epshteyn regularly discloses to viewers his former roles with Trump but hasn’t mentioned that he signed a nondisparagement agreement while he was with the campaign. Asked for comment, Epshteyn declined to address the issue directly.”

    A Sinclair host in St. Louis resigned after aiming abusive language at a Parkland school shooting survivor. 

    While Sinclair regularly inserts its clearly conservative national commentary and reporting segments into local newscasts, the vast majority of employees at Sinclair-controlled stations are just legitimate journalists trying to do their jobs. At the Sinclair station in St. Louis, MO, however, that was not the case. The station, KDNL ABC 30, didn’t offer any typical local newscasts; instead, three times a day it aired a commentary program hosted by local conservative radio host Jamie Allman. At least, until April it did.

    On March 26, Allman sent a threatening tweet about David Hogg, a teenage gun safety activist who survived the February mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. In the tweet, Allman wrote that he wanted to “ram a hot poker up David Hogg’s ass.” After the St. Louis alt-weekly the Riverfront Times reported on the Hogg tweet, some advertisers pulled their spots from his radio show and a state lawmaker called for a boycott. Within days, Allman had resigned and his KDNL show was cancelled.

    This entire story was an unforced error on Sinclair’s part. It was not the first time Allman had tweeted abusive or unhinged things before or after he was hired to host the Sinclair show -- including a string of abusive tweets he sent to me after Media Matters published a report about him last year. More than eight months later, KDNL still does not appear to air any daily local news programming.

    Sinclair attempted to put a thumb on the scales for midterms, but it didn’t really pay off.

    Though Sinclair has quietly (and sometimes not-so-quietly) engaged in openly partisan activities in the past, the company’s conservative point of view was on particular display during this year’s midterm elections. Early on in the year, Sinclair began soliciting contributions from upper-level employees for its political action committee (PAC). In keeping with its past efforts, the PAC donated overwhelmingly to Republicans. Sinclair executives personally gave to candidates including racist ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio and Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT), who is known primarily for body-slamming a reporter. And Epshteyn helped New York Republican congressional candidate Naomi Levin raise money over the summer, promoting her campaign donation link on Twitter.

    Epshteyn’s segments increasingly forewent commentary altogether in the lead-up to the elections, instead excerpting softball interviews that essentially served as infomercials for White House and Republican Party officials and their policies. Over the course of the year, Epshteyn segments included excerpts of interviews with at least five Republicans on November’s ballots, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. In many cases, the interviews ran in the states and cities these lawmakers were hoping to represent after November or worked to lay the groundwork for Trump in communities that could be pivotal in the 2020 presidential election.

    While many of the Republican candidates specifically supported by Sinclair on or off air coasted to victories in safely red areas, others saw surprisingly stiff competition and extremely close races. And as the true extent of the November “blue wave” was revealed, it seems the company’s larger strategy of promoting conservative views in swing districts didn’t quite pay off.

    Sinclair mishandled its proposal to acquire 42 new stations, and the FCC slow-tracked the potential deal until Tribune pulled out.

    Sinclair headed into 2018 expecting to close on its proposed deal to acquire Tribune Media’s 42 local news stations. That plan required approval from the Trump Department of Justice and Federal Communications Commission (FCC), but the agency had already made several regulatory moves to help the broadcasting company. The acquisition would have cemented Sinclair as the nation’s largest owner and operator of local TV stations and allowed the company to effectively control large portions of some local media markets, enter into the country’s largest markets for the first time, and reach more than 70 percent of U.S. television households.

    Instead, in July, the FCC surprised experts by deciding to slow-track the deal, citing a handful of potential station divestments about which commissioners believed Sinclair has purposely misled them. Instead of approving the acquisition outright, the commission elected to send the proposal to an administrative judge, which has been a death blow to similar deals in the past. More details emerged when the hearing designation order was made public, including allegations that Sinclair had shown a “lack of candor” in its communications about the deal with the FCC. A few weeks later, on August 9, Tribune called off the merger.

    The trouble for Sinclair didn’t end there, either. Tribune also filed a lawsuit against Sinclair for “breach of contract,” arguing that company representatives had recklessly endangered the deal by intentionally misrepresenting some of the proposed station divestments. The order also alleged further specifics about Sinclair’s “belligerent” conduct throughout the federal approval process for the deal, saying Sinclair “fought, threatened, insulted, and misled regulators” at the Department of Justice.

    What’s next for Sinclair?

    For one: Many of Sinclair’s regulatory issues stemming from the shuttered Tribune deal have yet to be resolved and will follow the broadcasting company into the new year. Since the FCC singled out the deal proposal for review due to potential “misrepresentation or lack of candor” by Sinclair, the unresolved allegation of misbehavior has been a dark cloud over the company. It’s something regulators at the FCC will have to consider as they contemplate renewing Sinclair’s public broadcasting licenses for its large number of stations -- and that could be happening sooner than expected. Last month, the American Cable Association filed a petition asking the FCC to conduct an early license renewal process for four of Sinclair’s stations so it can “resolve the serious charges it leveled against Sinclair.”

    Even with this potential hurdle looming, Sinclair doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. It still controls about 190 local news stations, and the company is reportedly already pursuing other ways to expand. Earlier this month, Fox Business reported that Sinclair is planning to make a bid for Fox’s regional sports networks. The company could also take advantage of any good graces it still has with the FCC to advocate for further industry deregulation during the commission’s periodic review of its broadcast ownership rules next year.

    After a high-profile year, Sinclair seems likely to really embrace its public image as an openly conservative media company. It’s already taking steps in that direction by continuing to offer Trump administration and Republican officials an easy interview platform, hosting a town hall with right-wing darlings Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens, and enlisting former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka to host a special program decrying socialism. It’s also been courting former Fox News figures -- including BlazeTV personality Eric Bolling, who left Fox News last year after colleagues reported that he sent them sexually graphic pictures and who now appears to be partnering with Sinclair in some capacity. It’s unclear what projects Sinclair may have in the works for these former Fox personalities, but they could make appearances on a rival network (though that’s not as likely without the Tribune assets) or on Sinclair’s new streaming app, STIRR, which is set to launch in the new year and could compete with Fox’s new Fox Nation platform.

    One thing about Sinclair’s immediate future seems particularly certain, though: It’s going to keep up its harmful tactics. There will be more offensive “must-run” segments, and probably more brain-washy promotions in the spring, and definitely more blatant agenda-pushing with the Trump administration. The company has shown little desire to change behavior or admit when it’s done something morally objectionable so far. Why would it start now?

  • If Sinclair really didn't endorse Boris Epshteyn's commentary, the company wouldn't force its local news stations to air it

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Earlier this week, local news stations controlled by the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group aired a segment defending the use of tear gas on children and families traveling with a migrant caravan near the U.S.-Mexico border. Last night, the broadcast company finally issued a tepid statement, but there’s plenty more that Sinclair still needs to address.

    On November 26, Sinclair-owned and -operated local news stations across the country began airing a two-minute segment in which former aide to President Donald Trump and Sinclair chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn defended the use of tear gas and pepper balls on members of a Honduran migrant caravan attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego, CA. The crowd hit with tear gas included children. Epshteyn also characterized the group of migrants as “attempting to storm” the border in an “attempted invasion of our country.”

    This segment has since aired, often spliced into local news coverage, on Sinclair-controlled local news stations in at least 26 states, according to the iQ media database. Media Matters estimates that the segment aired on roughly 100 Sinclair news stations as part of the company’s infamous “must-run” lineup.

    News outlets ranging from the local to the national, in print and online, covered the rightful public outrage generated by Epshteyn's comments. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists released a statement saying that it’s reconsidering its professional relationship with Sinclair.

    This is what the broadcasting giant said in a series of tweets: 

    We'd like to take a moment and address some concerns regarding a commentary segment by @borisep that was aired on Sinclair stations this week. The opinions expressed in this segment do not reflect the views of Sinclair Broadcast Group. When Boris’s segments are aired on our stations, they are labeled clearly as commentary. We also offer our stations reporting from the Beltway and beyond that are not partisan or bias (sic) in any way. If you have any concerns about any of our content, we genuinely want to hear from you: https://wjla.com/content-concerns …. Above all, we are committed to fair, unbiased journalism across our stations nationwide and are truly honored to serve our communities. Local news always comes first. 

    There is no press release version on Sinclair’s website as of publication. Given the massive amount of attention the tear gas segment provoked, this statement is almost certainly a response to it -- but it's impossible to say, because it doesn't mention anything about the content of the segment in question. The words “tear gas” and “children” are nowhere to be found. Neither are words like “sorry,” “apology,” or “consequences.”

    Instead, the broadcasting giant is attempting to distance itself from its own employee. To be clear, Sinclair’s actions have proved that that distance simply does not exist.

    Sinclair hired Epshteyn fresh off his stint in the Trump White House last year and quickly invested in his regular “must-run” segments -- upping the frequency with which the segments are aired on local stations, rolling out a daily newsletter, hiring a producer (also an ex-Trump staffer) to work with Epshteyn, and sticking by him as he’s defended some of Trump’s worst, most racist moments.

    Epshteyn is currently creating new “must-run” segments for Sinclair about five days a week. This segment defending deploying tear gas on migrant families isn’t the first or last time Epshteyn has used his Sinclair platform to defend the indefensible with no clear consequences.

    In fact, the day after Epshteyn’s tear gas defense began airing, he was out with a new segment defending conspiracy theorist and anti-Muslim extremist Laura Loomer.

    Earlier this year, Sinclair stations ran a segment from Epshteyn minimizing the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of separating families and detaining children at the border.

    In January, an Epshteyn segment attempted to dismiss Trump’s reported reference to Haiti, El Salvador, and unspecified African nations as “shithole countries,” arguing that media had simply overblown some “salty language” from the president.

    And in August 2017, Epshteyn produced a “must-run” segment backing Trump in his “both sides” statements about a neo-Nazi protest in Charlottesville, VA, in which a white supremacist killed peaceful counterprotester Heather Heyer.

    Media Matters has documented plenty more examples, too.

    What’s more, there should be no reason for Sinclair to stick with Epshteyn in spite of all the unforced errors and grief he’s brought his employer. His “commentary” has no natural audience, which is probably why Sinclair has to force its stations to air these segments in the first place.

    And Sinclair is currently facing the possibility it will have to prove to the Federal Communications Commission that it still has the “basic character qualifications” to hold public broadcasting licenses. Running regular segments that defend cruelty and violence against specific groups of people probably doesn’t help its case.

    I can think of only three possibilities for why Sinclair continues to employ Epshteyn as its chief political analyst.

    The first is the access-above-all-else argument. Epshteyn often uses his commentary segments to interview Trump administration and GOP officials, including the president himself. If Epshteyn used those interviews to ask thoughtful, tough questions and to break news, that would absolutely be a reason to keep him on staff. But he does not. Instead, those softball interviews essentially serve as infomercials for Trump and the Republican Party. Epshteyn typically just nods along in agreement with whatever his interview subjects say. In fact, he may be legally barred from criticizing the president because of his work on the Trump campaign.

    The second potential reason is that hiring Epshteyn was a major investment that Sinclair hasn’t or can’t give up on, perhaps a contract that can’t be easily broken.

    And the third is that those in charge at Sinclair Broadcast Group -- -- which has a long history of meddling in elections in favor of Republicans, has plenty of other ties to the Trump administration, and is owned by an openly and vocally conservative family -- do, in fact, hold the same indefensible views as Epshteyn. It's probably why they hired him in the first place. 

  • Sinclair’s latest “must-run” defends tear-gassing migrant children, warns of an "attempted invasion”

    Sinclair’s Boris Epshteyn: “The fact of the matter is that this is an attempted invasion of our country. Period.”

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    The Trump administration has again unleashed particular cruelty and violence on Central American immigrants, and the pro-Trump local media giant Sinclair Broadcast Group is rushing to defend it.

    On November 25, a group of Central American migrants traveling in a caravan approached the U.S.-Mexico border, “prompting federal authorities to launch tear gas in an apparent attempt to get the group to disperse,” The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. According to federal officials, some members of the caravan “threw projectiles at Customs and Border Protection personnel and multiple agents were hit with rocks.” U.S. forces launched pepper balls and tear gas canisters at the crowd, which included children.

    On November 26, Sinclair chief political analyst and former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn released a new “must-run” segment for the company that defended the use of tear gas on these families and attempted to stoke fear, saying the group of migrants is "attempting to storm" the border in an “attempted invasion of our country." 

    BORIS EPSHTEYN (HOST): The migrant crisis on our southern border has greatly escalated. This past weekend, the United States was forced to temporarily close a major point of entry in San Diego, California, in response to hundreds of migrants attempting to storm the U.S.-Mexico border in hopes of claiming asylum. Dozens of migrants attacked U.S. border enforcement by throwing rocks and bottles. Ultimately, American authorities had to use tear gas to stop the attacks.

    Some on the left, such as Democrat Congresswoman Maxine Waters, were immediately up in arms about our president and his team standing up for our men and women in uniform and for our national security. The fact of the matter is that this is an attempted invasion of our country. Period. Our border must remain intact and secure. It is not a partisan position to believe that our immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed. However, it unfortunately appears that there are many on the left who believe it is wrong to defend our country and abide by the rule of law. I would bet that many of those same people live behind walls and locked doors but do not want to afford the same benefit to our country as a whole.

    Here’s the bottom line: The notion that a caravan of migrants can be allowed to break through our borders is ludicrous and dangerous. The United States of America should not and cannot be intimidated by those willing to use force to get into our country illegally.

    This segment will now be forcibly aired, often spliced into local news coverage, on an estimated 100 Sinclair-owned or -operated news stations throughout the country as part of the media giant’s infamous “must-run” lineup. According to the iQ media database, the segment has already aired on stations in at least 24 states.

    In his previous Sinclair segments, Epshteyn has defended some of the most violent and racist actions of the Trump administration.

    Just to name a couple: Earlier this year, Sinclair stations ran a segment from Epshteyn minimizing the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of separating families and detaining children at the border. And in August 2017, Epshteyn produced a “must-run” segment backing Trump in his “both sides” treatment of violent neo-Nazism in Charlottesville, VA.

  • What you need to know about EPA nominee Andrew Wheeler and the media

    Wheeler mimics Scott Pruitt's press strategy ahead of his Senate confirmation hearings

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Note: An updated version of this post was published here on January 10, 2019. 

    Andrew Wheeler, President Donald Trump's soon-to-be nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is more like his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, than most people realize -- particularly when it comes to his interactions with the media.

    It's well-known that Wheeler, who took over as acting administrator of the EPA after Pruitt resigned in July, has continued Pruitt's work of rolling back major environmental regulations. That was no surprise; Wheeler formerly worked as a lobbyist for coal, natural gas, chemical, and utility companies, and as an aide to Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the Senate's most recalcitrant climate denier.

    Wheeler does, however, have a reputation as a more behind-the-scenes, businesslike administrator than the scandal-plagued Pruitt. New York Times reporter Lisa Friedman recently described the acting EPA chief as having a "low-key, under-the-radar style, even as he has worked diligently and methodically to advance Mr. Trump’s deregulatory agenda."

    But Wheeler is now following in Pruitt's footsteps in many of his dealings with journalists and the press.

    Wheeler's EPA press office attacks journalists and media outlets

    Pruitt had a remarkably contentious relationship with the media. His press office retaliated against specific reporters whose stories it didn't like and attacked them by name in press releases, among other aggressive moves.

    When Wheeler took over, many reporters noticed and welcomed a change in approach. E&E News published a story about the differences in July under the headline "'Night and day' as Wheeler opens doors to press."

    But in recent weeks, the EPA press office has returned to some of the same combative tactics employed during the Pruitt era. On October 30, it published a press release headlined "EPA Sets the Record Straight After Being Misrepresented in Press." Two days later, it got more aggressive with a press release titled "Fact Checking Seven Falsehoods in CNN’s Report."

    From an E&E News article published last week:

    The [EPA press shop's] combative approach calmed a bit when acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler took over for Scott Pruitt, who resigned over the summer, but now it appears to be intensifying again.

    ...

    The agency's actions have been scrutinized in the press in recent weeks, and the public affairs shop has been hitting back.

    ...

    Bobby Magill, president of the Society of Environmental Journalists, said the agency seems to be returning to its war-room-style tactics under Pruitt.

    "It looks to me like they're sort of returning to form," Magill said. "This suggests that they are returning to their previous press strategy under Scott Pruitt."

    Wheeler favors right-wing media for his televised interviews

    Pruitt heavily favored Fox News and other right-wing media outlets, giving them far more interviews than mainstream news organizations.

    Wheeler exhibits similar preferences. All four of the TV interviews we've seen him give since becoming acting administrator at the EPA have been with right-wing outlets.

    The first went to the conservative Sinclair TV conglomerate. Boris Epshteyn, Sinclair's chief political analyst and a former Trump aide, asked no hard questions and gave Wheeler a platform to make specious claims about automobile fuel economy. Wheeler's second TV interview was with Fox News, the third was with the Fox Business Network, and the fourth went to a Sinclair national correspondent.

    Wheeler embraces right-wing outlets and bashes mainstream media via his Twitter account

    Like his predecessor, Wheeler has a fondness for right-wing media outlets and personalities, but he's exhibited that in a way that Pruitt never did -- via his personal Twitter account.

    The Daily Beast's Scott Bixby reported earlier this year on one noteworthy example:

    In August 2016, Wheeler publicly defended alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous after the latter was banned from Twitter for encouraging users to harass actress Leslie Jones. In a now-deleted tweet, the lobbyist linked to a six-minute video, “The Truth About Milo,” produced by InfoWars editor-at-large and noted conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, in which Watson posited that conservatives might be “banned from using the internet altogether if they trigger your butthurt.”

    Wheeler recently retweeted Fox's Brit Hume when he criticized The New York Times and linked to an article in the conservative National Review. Wheeler has also liked a number of tweets from right-wing figures who criticized mainstream media outlets, including:

    • a Donald Trump Jr. tweet linking to The Daily Caller and mocking CNN
    • a tweet from frequent Fox guest and NRATV host Dan Bongino that slammed MSNBC
    • a tweet from libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin that bashed HuffPost

    Wheeler promotes climate denial and racist memes via his Twitter account

    Like Pruitt, Wheeler also casts doubt on well-established climate science -- another view he has expressed through his Twitter account.

    In a 2015 tweet, Wheeler praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'” The essay criticized mainstream media outlets and scientific journals that have reported on climate change:

    Of course, we don’t have good data or sound arguments for decarbonizing our energy supply. But it sounds like we do. If you read Scientific American, Science, Nature, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and you take them at face value, you would have to agree that there is a strong likelihood that serious climate change is real and that decarbonization or geo-engineering are our only hopes. ... These are the people promoting a myth that has become deeply ingrained in our society.

    In 2011, Wheeler tweeted a link to a post on the climate-denial blog JunkScience.com. The post, written by the site's founder and longtime climate denier Steve Milloy, argued that information from the American Lung Association should not be trusted because the organization "is bought-and-paid-for by the EPA." Wheeler also retweeted a Milloy tweet from 2015 that took a shot at HuffPost founder Arianna Huffington. And in 2009, Wheeler sent two tweets linking to climate-denying blog posts.

    As HuffPost's Alexander Kaufman reported last month, Wheeler has also used his social media accounts to endorse or promote other troubling views:

    Andrew Wheeler, the acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, repeatedly engaged with inflammatory content on his personal Facebook and Twitter accounts over the past five years, including some in the past month.

    The previously-unreported interactions include liking a racist image of former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama on Facebook and retweeting an infamous “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist.

    Wheeler now turns back to major mainstream newspapers as he faces confirmation fight

    Though Wheeler has shown a preference for right-wing media when he does TV interviews, he has given a number of interviews to mainstream newspapers and wire services. In July, after it was announced that he would serve as acting EPA administrator, Wheeler gave substantive interviews to The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, USA Today, and The New York Times.

    The pace of his interviews with print outlets slowed down after his first month in office, but Wheeler now appears to be ramping it back up -- just as he's about to begin the process of trying to earn Senate confirmation.

    On November 16, hours before Trump announced that he would nominate Wheeler to officially fill the top EPA spot, Wheeler sat down for an interview with New York Times reporter Lisa Friedman. And Wheeler is scheduled to do a live-streamed interview with Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin on November 28.

    Wheeler may want to present himself as a mainstream moderate rather than a right-wing partisan as he tries to win over senators, and turning to major mainstream newspapers could be part of his strategy. But that would also present an opportunity for environmental journalists to ask tough questions and push him off his well-rehearsed talking points before confirmation hearings begin. We'll be looking to Eilperin to kick that process off next week.  

  • Sinclair stations are airing a dramatic special fearmongering about socialism, and it’s hosted by former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka 

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    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Local TV news stations controlled by the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group recently began airing a “special program” hosted by former Trump aide and current Fox News contributor Sebastian Gorka called Inside Socialism. In the 30-minute show -- which appears to be the first episode in a multipart series -- Gorka tells the audience he will “take an in-depth look at the appeal of a system that promises equality to all and what happens when the initial enthusiasm gives way to a sobering reality.”

    The program kicks off with stylized footage of a hammer and sickle being forged in flames and then clips of speeches by Democratic socialists Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Virginia state Del. Lee Carter, and New York Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, much of it set to ominous music.

    It is not understated.

    Gorka spends the majority of rest of the program discussing the history of various regimes across the globe, framed to show what happens when socialism goes wrong. The final block of the program features a package on Brazil’s political future from Sinclair reporter Jonathan Elias. A version of that package ran earlier in November as part of conspiracy theorist Sharyl Attkisson’s weekly Sinclair program Full Measure.

    Gorka signs off by saying he will “continue to follow the developments on this important issue” and telling viewers to “join us next time for another edition of Inside Socialism.”

    According to the iQ media database, the program aired on at least 18 Sinclair-owned or -operated local news stations between November 10 and November 13. Some clips featured in Inside Socialism -- none with Gorka -- have also been repackaged and posted on various Sinclair station websites under Elias' byline. 

    The special was produced by a company called Cisneros Media, which has helped create similar special programming for Sinclair in the past. A press release from a similar project from 2016 suggests Sinclair provided input on the programming’s content and that the program may air on more than 100 Sinclair stations nationwide.

    A separate special hosted by Gorka, called The Rise of Terrorism: A Clash of Cultures, aired on numerous Sinclair stations in March. In that program, footage labeled as "ISIS propaganda" and shots of terror attacks are followed by Gorka asking viewers, "Can the teachings of Islam and western values ever be reconciled? Is it possible for the waves of refugees arriving in the west to assimilate and coexist peacefully?" At one point, b-roll footage is shown of a protest sign that says "Rapefugees." 

    A Sinclair-contracted spokesperson did not respond to a question about whether Gorka is an employee, though he has appeared in the company’s programming in the past. Last year, Gorka participated in a gun violence town hall for Sinclair’s Washington, D.C., station, WJLA, and made headlines for saying he believed “Black Africans” were killing each other “by the bushel.” In March, he appeared in a nationally aired news segment produced by Sinclair reporter Kristine Frazao about the so-called “deep state.”

    Gorka is best known for having parlayed his brief tenure in President Donald Trump’s administration into a right-wing pundit career despite his lack of expertise or qualifications -- and for his connections to the Hungarian Nazi-linked group Vitezi Rend. Last January, Gorka wore a Vitezi Rend medal to the Trump inaugural ball; by November, he had become a "national security strategist" for Fox News.

    And Gorka is not the only former Trump aide who can broadcast commentary on local news stations across the country thanks to Sinclair, either. In 2017, the media giant hired former Trump campaign and White House staffer Boris Epshteyn to serve as its chief political analyst. Epshteyn, who may be legally barred from criticizing the president, produces near-daily “must-run” segments for Sinclair stations that often defend Trump’s actions, mimic the president’s lines of attack on members of the press, or provide administration and Republican Party officials with platforms to push their messages.

    Update (11/19/18): Since publication, the special has aired on at least 23 more Sinclair-controlled local news stations, bringing the total to at least 41 stations in 27 states.

  • Sinclair is already gearing up for Trump 2020 

    New “must-run” segment airing a week after midterms boosts Trump and dismisses Democratic chances in 2020

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    Less than one week after the 2018 midterm elections, Sinclair Broadcast Group is already pushing “must-run” segments minimizing Democratic chances in 2020 and boosting President Donald Trump’s re-election bid.

    A new “must-run” commentary segment about the 2020 elections began airing on Sinclair’s local stations on November 12. It’s part of Sinclair’s ongoing series called “Bottom Line with Boris,” which features chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn. Epshteyn worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign and may have signed a nondisparagement agreement during that time that would prevent him from criticizing the president.

    In the segment, Epshteyn tells viewers that the Democratic Party has “too many competing messages and varying factions” that will prevent “a clear path to victory in their primaries." He cited eight potential 2020 contenders for the Democratic nomination, ranging from party members like Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who supposedly wants to take the party in "a radical direction of open borders and single-payer health care," to "centrist, pro-business old guard" like former Vice President Joe Biden. Epshteyn said that the Republican Party is very united behind Trump, whom he called a “very formidable candidate” and an “active and strong campaigner.”

    With the 2018 midterms behind us, the country now turns toward the 2020 election cycle, including what is sure to be a hotly contested re-election race for President Trump.

    President Trump will continue to be an active and strong campaigner. Potential Democrat candidates, like Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris, want to take their party in a radical direction of open borders and single-payer health care.

    Other rumored candidates, such as former Vice President Joe Biden and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, represent the centrist, pro-business old guard of the Democrat Party. There’s also a chance that Democrats go local and nominate a former young mayor in either Mitch Landrieu from New Orleans or Eric Garcetti from Los Angeles.

    Headed into 2020 you'll hear a lot about how the GOP is equally as divided as Democrats. Ignore that. The president’s approval rating is at about 90 percent among Republicans. The “Never Trump” movement is now largely a figment of imagination perpetuated by the flood of former Republican operatives who are paid to make frequent appearances on the networks so they can bash the president and the Republican Party.

    Here's the bottom line: Right now, there are too many competing messages and varying factions vying for the Democratic nomination for there to be a clear path to victory in their primaries. Democrat candidates will have to declare their intentions very soon. It will be interesting to see which direction their party chooses to take in trying to defeat a very formidable candidate, and unquestionably the leader of the Republican Party, in President Trump.

    Epshteyn also teased in his morning newsletter another “must-run” to be released later today, which will focus on “a potential 2020 presidential run for Hillary Clinton.” Both of these segments will air on an estimated 100 local TV stations nationwide, including in major battleground states.

    Epshteyn’s -- and his employer’s -- early shift to 2020 makes perfect sense, since he spent the year leading up to the 2018 elections using his platform to essentially campaign for Republicans. In his “Bottom Line With Boris” segments, he focused specifically on the midterms at least 13 times this year and more broadly made the case for Republican policies countless others. Some segments skipped the usual commentary altogether, instead featuring excerpts from softball interviews he conducted with Trump and five Republican politicians on ballots last week, including Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis and newly re-elected Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

    Taking into account Sinclair’s yearlong effort to put its thumb on the scales in 2018 along with its longer history of political meddling during election seasons, local news viewers should unfortunately expect more Trump 2020 messaging on Sinclair stations for the next two years.