Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. | Media Matters for America

Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.

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  • The Trump FCC is now being investigated for making rules changes to help Sinclair

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The nefarious relationship between the Trump-era Federal Communications Commission (FCC), conservative local TV news giant Sinclair Broadcast Group, and the Trump administration itself is now under investigation.

    On February 15, The New York Times reported that the FCC inspector general has opened an internal investigation into potential improper conduct by Trump-appointed FCC chair Ajit Pai and his aides in advocating for deregulatory rules that specifically benefited Sinclair.

    The Times noted that little is known about the extent of the investigation, which was launched at end of last year but had been undisclosed until now. The investigation began after several lawmakers called on the inspector general to investigate a “disturbing pattern of a three way quid-pro-quo.” Congressional letters to the inspector general, David Hunt, detailed reports of communications and meetings involving Pai, the Trump White House, and Sinclair executives. According to the Times report:

    A New York Times investigation published in August found that Mr. Pai and his staff members had met and corresponded with Sinclair executives several times. One meeting, with Sinclair’s executive chairman, took place days before Mr. Pai, who was appointed by President Trump, took over as F.C.C. chairman.

    Sinclair’s top lobbyist, a former F.C.C. official, also communicated frequently with former agency colleagues and pushed for the relaxation of media ownership rules. And language the lobbyist used about loosening rules has tracked closely to analysis and language used by Mr. Pai in speeches favoring such changes.

    In November, several Democrats in Congress, including Mr. Pallone, called on the inspector general’s office to explore all communications — including personal emails, social media accounts, text messages and phone calls — between Sinclair and Mr. Pai and his staff.

    The lawmakers also asked for communications between Mr. Pai’s office and the White House. They pointed to a report in March 2017 from The New York Post, in which Mr. Trump is said to have met with Sinclair’s executive chairman, David Smith, and discussed F.C.C. rules.

    The internal investigation could also tackle a series of recent FCC actions that have directly allowed Sinclair greater room to expand:

    • In April, the FCC reinstated an outdated media ownership rule known as the UHF discount, making room for a new level of local media consolidation at the hands of big media groups like Sinclair.
    • Weeks later, Sinclair announced it was proposing to acquire Tribune Media, a huge local news merger that wouldn’t have been allowed without the UHF discount in place. The FCC and Trump’s Department of Justice are now the only agencies that need to approve the deal.
    • In October, the FCC voted to eliminate a rule that required local news stations to maintain offices within the communities they serve, making it easier for Sinclair to consolidate and centralize local news resources as it buys up more stations.
    • In November, the FCC rolled back rules that limit broadcast station ownership, allowing for Sinclair to more easily own or operate multiple stations -- or merge stations -- in the same local media markets.

    Sinclair’s unprecedented gains under Pai’s purview are not just significant in terms of media consolidation; they’re ideologically dangerous. The company is known for requiring its local news stations across the country to air almost-daily segments that function as Trump propaganda. Its pending acquisition of Tribune would allow these segments to quietly spread further into major cities and battleground states ahead of the 2020 presidential race.

    The new FCC internal investigation, however, could throw a wrench in Sinclair’s plans. According to the Times, “Antitrust experts said this new investigation may complicate the reviews of the Sinclair-Tribune deal by the F.C.C. and the Justice Department. Even if the deal were approved, they said, any conclusions of improper conduct by Mr. Pai could give fuel to critics to challenge the review in courts.”

  • Sinclair solicits contributions for an election fight while running a nationwide segment supporting Trump's military parade

    Sinclair edges ever closer to full-blown state media

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Sinclair Broadcast Group‘s secretive campaign to transform local news stations into Trump propaganda machines is becoming all the more difficult to ignore -- both behind the scenes and on air.  

    On February 1, TV news trade outlet FTVLive first reported that Sinclair’s political action committee (PAC) had sent a letter to executive-level employees (including many station news directors) encouraging them to donate to the PAC. The letter, which FTVLive published in full, says the PAC “supports candidates for Congress who can influence the future of broadcasting.” It also praises Trump-appointed Federal Communications Commission (FCC) head Ajit Pai, and worries that Congress may attempt to derail Pai’s pro-Sinclair agenda. The letter says, “Since the change in administration last year, we now have an FCC Chairman who appreciates the important role of local broadcasting enough to launch a number of politically unpopular deregulatory initiatives necessary to ensure the future of our industry.”  

    What that vague sentence actually means is: Pai has spearheaded several FCC actions that all seem, incidentally, to benefit Sinclair more than anyone else. The rapid deregulation of the local broadcast industry under Pai’s leadership essentially permits Sinclair to have news control in an unprecedented number of local media markets across the country, in major cities and battleground states. It does nothing short of pave the way for Trump’s reelection.

    And if any lawmakers dare to challenge the FCC in its blatant regulatory overhaul, Sinclair PAC aims to be ready for an election fight -- ethics be damned.

    The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi spoke to experts about the PAC solicitation, and they seemed pretty shocked by the overt partisanship of making such a request of news directors:

    Major TV news outlets such as ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News and NBC say they prohibit their journalists from contributing to political parties, candidates or causes, and don’t ask them to chip in to the company’s PAC. The prohibition is aimed at eliminating the perception of partisanship by journalists.

    Given that tradition, Sinclair’s policy “violates every standard of conduct that has existed in newsrooms for the past 40 or 50 years,” said Lewis Friedland, a journalism professor at the University of Wisconsin and a former TV news producer. “I’ve never seen anything like this. They certainly have the right to do it, but it’s blatantly unethical.”

    By contributing money to Sinclair’s lobbying efforts, he said, news directors would be tacitly supporting the company’s agenda, potentially raising doubts about impartiality and independence when reporting on issues such as city or state legislative debates about deregulation. “It would cause people to ask whether they’re being fair and balanced in their coverage,” he said.

    [...]

    In addition to breaking with journalistic tradition, the company’s request could put its news directors in an untenable position, said Mark Feldstein, a professor of broadcast journalism at the University of Maryland. Despite Sinclair’s official reassurances, said Feldstein, a former local and network TV reporter, some news directors might feel that opting out would be perceived by their superiors as an act of disloyalty.

    Days after reports revealed this “blatantly unethical” behind-the-scenes strategy at Sinclair, its chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn produced yet another “must-run” segment that can only be described as propaganda.

    The “must-run” practice is itself questionable: Sinclair has been requiring all its local news stations to air Epshteyn’s “commentary” segments, essentially feeding audiences thinly veiled pro-Trump missives mixed in with local news stories, weather, and sports. 

    In a Bottom Line with Boris segment posted on February 12, Epshteyn argues that the dictator-style “military parade” floated by Trump last week could be a needed “morale boost" and “well worth” its estimated $21 million price tag to “promote national unity and strength.”

    Epshteyn -- a former Trump aide -- has starred in segments veering dangerously close to state media before; he routinely defends pretty much every action Trump takes and has relished the opportunity to attack media or individuals he views as too critical of the president. Thirsting for a Trumpian “military parade” is, in some ways, the next logical step.

  • Sinclair defends Trump’s racist “shithole” remarks as mere “salty language” 

    And local news viewers across the country will now be subjected to it

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Nearly one week after President Donald Trump reportedly referred to Haiti, El Salvador, and unspecified African nations as “shithole countries” in a racist diatribe, Sinclair Broadcast Group’s #1 Trump shill Boris Epshteyn would like local news audiences to know that it doesn’t matter.

    In a January 17 Bottom Line with Boris “must-run” segment for Sinclair, former Trump aide and Sinclair chief political analyst Epshteyn added his voice to the chorus of desperate right-wing media figures defending Trump’s latest racist moment. He argued that the entire “dust up” about Trump saying yet another clearly racist thing was about a president using “salty language” and saying “a curse word to a group of adults in private.” Epshteyn’s segment does not mention what the comments were in reference to, or name any of the countries targeted -- he doesn't even use the words "immigrant" or "immigration."

    He instead reserved his criticism for media outlets that reported on the comments and quoted the president saying "shithole," saying, "The problem here is that these networks are played in public places throughout our country. They are in airports, doctors’ offices, and restaurants. The screens are seen by adults and children alike. The allegation is that President Trump said the word once in a private meeting. How is it ok to repeat it and splash it on the screen hundreds of times? I believe that makes no sense." During the segment, the word "shithole" is even blurred out in a screengrab of CNN's coverage. 

    Seriously, just watch this.

    This embarrassing segment will now be forcibly aired, often spliced with local news coverage, on more than 100 Sinclair-owned or operated news stations throughout the country as part of the media giant’s infamous “must-run” line-up.

    Sinclair is known for its history of injecting right-wing spin into local newscasts, most notably with these “must-run” segments. The segments have included blatant (and sometimes embarrassing) pro-Trump propaganda missives from Epshteyn since last spring. In the last six months, Epshteyn has used his Bottom Line With Boris segments to attack members of the press for being too mean to the president, praise seemingly every move Trump makes, and offer jaw-droppingly ill-timed defenses of Trump and his staff members. Most recently, he developed an entire segment arguing that Trump’s horrifying “nuclear button” tweet threatening nuclear war with North Korea was a strong foreign policy move.

    Thanks to the Trump Federal Communications Commission, pro-Trump propaganda like this could soon air on even more local TV news stations and in major cities across the country, reaching 72% of U.S. television households.

  • Sinclair airs anti-survivor “must-run” segment on local news stations weeks after being named in a sexual harassment lawsuit

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Conservative local media giant Sinclair Broadcast Group is mandating local news stations air a “must-run” commentary segment touting “due process” at the expense of accusers in the #MeToo movement just weeks after being named in a lawsuit alleging workplace sexual harassment at its digital media entity Circa.

    A January 4 national “must-run” segment from former Sinclair executive Mark Hyman argued that while “sexual misconduct in any form, at any time, anywhere is never acceptable,” some protections for people who publicly report sexual misconduct are not appropriate. Hyman specifically begged, “Let’s not automatically grant anonymity to every accuser,” warning that doing so "could lead to false allegations used as weapons for any number of reasons." Hyman failed to note the very real dangers people face when they come forward.

    On December 20, 2017, The Baltimore Sun reported that Sinclair and its digital media arm, Circa, had been named in a lawsuit alleging workplace sexual harassment experienced by three former Circa employees. The lawsuit was not mentioned in Hyman’s website post about the “must-run” segment.

    Sinclair is known for its history of injecting right-wing spin into local newscasts, most notably with these nationally produced “must-run” commentary segments. The segments, which all Sinclair-owned and operated news stations are required to air, have included rants about “politically correct” culture from Hyman for some time, as well as blatant (and sometimes embarrassing) pro-Trump propaganda missives from former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn and “Terrorism Alert Desk” segments seemingly focused on whatever Muslims do.

    Sinclair’s pending acquisition of Tribune Media, if approved by Trump’s Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice, would allow it to force-feed conservative commentary segments like these to more local news audiences in battleground states and major cities ahead of the likely re-election campaign of reported serial sexual harasser President Donald Trump in 2020.

  • Sinclair’s Boris Epshteyn praises Trump “nuclear button” tweet as strong, purposeful foreign policy 

    Epshteyn’s praise will be force-fed to local news viewers across the country

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    President Donald Trump’s recent unhinged, decidedly phallic tweet threatening nuclear war with North Korea horrified many -- but not former Trump aide and Sinclair Broadcast Group’s chief political analyst, Boris Epshteyn. Conveniently, Epshteyn has been given an ever-growing platform to share his views about his former boss with unsuspecting audiences nationwide during local news broadcasts.

    In a new Bottom Line with Boris segment posted on January 5, Epshteyn argues that Trump’s tweet comparing the size and power of his “nuclear button” to that of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un was an example of Trump fulfilling his promise of "standing up to international bullies." He concluded, "Strength is the policy that will be effective with these rogue actors."

    Sinclair is known for its history of injecting right-wing spin into local newscasts, most notably with its nationally produced “must-run” commentary segments. The segments, which all Sinclair-owned and operated news stations are required to air, have included blatant (and sometimes embarrassing) pro-Trump propaganda missives from Epshteyn since last spring. In the last six months, Epshteyn has used his Bottom Line With Boris segments to attack members of the press for being too mean to the president, praise seemingly every move Trump makes, and offer jaw-droppingly ill-timed defenses of Trump and his staff members.

  • 2017 was a disastrous year for local news

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Local news matters now more than ever -- and it’s also in unprecedented peril.

    In the midst of an unparalleled presidential war on the press, people still trust and rely on their local news. This year we’ve watched local journalists contribute invaluable on-the-ground reporting that helps communities and saves lives -- whether it’s about natural disasters, a mass shooting, or a public health crisis -- while adding valuable local context to national stories.

    Although the decline of local news certainly did not begin this year, 2017 has dealt the industry some particularly heavy blows. And right-wing corporations are already swooping in to fill the voids that dying local outlets leave behind. As conservative media expert Will Sommer theorized recently, 2018 may become “the year that every media market in the country gets its own Fox News-style voice at the local level.”

    If that terrifying prospect comes to pass, it will be directly because of the damage done in 2017.

    Sinclair quietly pushed pro-Trump propaganda on local news stations across the country -- and it’s only going to get worse

    Perhaps the biggest development in local news this year was conservative media giant Sinclair Broadcast Group's nefarious local broadcast news takeover. Sinclair is known for a few unusual tactics: acquiring and consolidating local news stations and severely scaling back resources, deceptively blending paid advertising and straight news reporting (it was just fined $13.3 million for doing this again), and producing “must-run” segments that its news stations across the country are required to air.

    Sinclair has long been a right-wing news entity, infusing its political slant into news programming for years. But 2017 was arguably the year Sinclair became a household name as it expanded its right-wing influence on local news in unprecedented ways that could no longer flourish under the radar. It hired Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump aide, as its “chief political analyst” in April, then ratcheted up Epshteyn’s influence even further in July. Epshteyn’s must-run “Bottom Line with Boris” segments now air nine times per week on Sinclair’s local news stations -- without substantive introduction or context to signal to viewers exactly what they’re watching: a nationally produced 90-second propaganda segment by an ex-Trump staffer about why people are being too mean to his former boss or why Trump’s latest terrible decision is actually good.

    What’s worse: Trump’s Republican-majority Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is helping Sinclair expand. The FCC has moved to end several regulations, making it easier for Sinclair to grow even bigger. Soon, it will likely be injecting right-wing spin into more local media markets in battleground states and major cities ahead of the 2018 and 2020 national elections.

    Billionaire Joe Ricketts bought, then shut down, a conglomerate of hyper-local digital outlets

    In March, banking billionaire and GOP megadonor Joe Rickettshyperlocal news company DNAInfo purchased the New York City-focused digital outlet Gothamist and its sister sites in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. The acquisition followed a round of layoffs at DNAInfo. Shortly after the acquisition, it was reported that Gothamist had deleted from its website five posts that were critical of Ricketts.

    By November, Ricketts unceremoniously announced that he had elected to shut down all of the sites. At least some staff reportedly learned of the decision along with the public when they refreshed their own site and instead found an open letter from Ricketts -- and all of their work and past clips erased. (Following media uproar, the past content would later reappear as an “archive.”) The decision put 115 people out of work, with three months of paid “administrative leave” and four weeks of severance.  

    A week prior to Ricketts’ unilateral decision to shutter the sites, the New York staff at DNAInfo and Gothamist formally voted to unionize. Ricketts had refused to voluntarily recognize the union prior to the formal vote conducted by the National Labor Relations Board. Ricketts himself and other executives at DNAInfo had fearmongered that unionization could be “the final straw that caused the business to be closed.” He did not mention unionization in his November letter, but his previous pattern of union-busting tactics is unignorable.

    Local news on the West Coast is rapidly disintegrating, and it hurts Spanish-speaking communities most

    West Coast local media was significantly gutted this year, especially in Los Angeles and Seattle, marginalizing Spanish-speaking communities.

    California has lost LAist and SFist to billionaire Joe Ricketts’ spitefulness and watched as Sinclair took over local media markets, including purchasing several Univision affiliates in northern California. In addition to other Sinclair news stations in Bakersfield and Fresno, CA, the broadcasting company also already owns and operates news stations including additional Univision affiliates in Seattle and Portland. The lack of local news diversity for Spanish-speakers is even more stark considering 31.1 percent of Latinx households and 47.7 percent of Spanish-speaking Latinx households have only free broadcast (not cable or satellite) TV for their news.

    Sinclair will soon enter the Los Angeles media market as well, with its planned acquisition of KTLA in 2018. Meanwhile, local alternative weekly magazine L.A. Weekly was purchased by a mysterious new shell group and nearly the entirety of its editorial staff was immediately fired without explanation. Days later, the new owners were revealed to be a group of  investors in a post on L.A. Weekly’s site -- but no explanation was given for the mass firing. The new owners, known as Semanal Media, selected “free-market enthusiast” and local opinion editor Brian Calle as the alt-weekly’s new chief executive. Calle and investor David Welch wrote a letter to the publication’s readership weeks after the initial firing spree, acknowledging they’d made missteps in their takeover and appointing one of the few remaining staffers as interim editor. Days later, that staffer was suspended following reporting on his previous offensive tweets. Meanwhile, former LAist Editor-in-Chief Julia Wick noted recently that L.A. Weekly now appears to be re-publishing former staffers’ older work and changing the dates to make it seem like new content. 

    And in Seattle, Sinclair already has a foothold with its ownership of local news station KOMO and KUNS, the local affiliate for Univision. Local staff are already fighting back, but Sinclair is set to acquire even more Seattle stations in 2018. KOMO also cut its investigative team in the beginning of the year.

    The Seattle Times likewise kicked off the year by losing 23 newsroom staffers “in a combination of buyouts, layoffs, and voluntary departures” as the paper “faces falling ad revenue.” In February, journalists at a group of free Washington community weeklies operated by Issaquah Press published a full-page ad announcing they’d be “for hire” since the publications were shutting down.

    Local media newsrooms are downsizing and shutting down across the country, creating local “news deserts”

    The Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) devoted an issue to exploring “a local news solution” this year, writing, “It won’t come as news to many of you that local journalism in our country is in dire shape. Pick your metric -- numbers of reporters, newspapers, readers -- and nearly all the trendlines veer downhill. It’s not a happy story.” As part of the project, CJR launched a new tool designed to track growing local “news deserts” across the country, writing “more and more communities are left with no daily local news outlet at all.” In another article, CJR’s David Uberti cited layoffs in McClatchy-operated newsrooms at The Sacramento Bee, The Fresno Bee, and the Tacoma, WA, News Tribune to demonstrate this growing phenomenon. Uberti also pointed to similarly quiet layoffs at Gannett publications in recent months, and later said his own reporting showed “at least 60 staffers, from 15 separate newsrooms” had been let go.

    One particular casualty in the desertification of local news has been the free alternative newsweekly. Not every alt-weekly decimation has been as dramatic as L.A. Weekly’s this December, but its shuttering along with several others this year prompted one writer to ask, “Can any alt-weeklies survive anymore?” Both Baltimore’s City Paper and the Knoxville Mercury in Tennessee closed their doors this year, and New York’s Village Voice and the Houston Press both ended their print editions. Others appear to be struggling as 2018 begins: Washington City Paper recently told employees it was cutting salaries by 40 percent as it seeks a new buyer.

  • The latest Trump propaganda segments running on local news, courtesy of Sinclair Broadcast Group

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    As it closes in on a significant expansion into major cities and battleground states across the country, conservative local news behemoth Sinclair Broadcast Group has gone into overdrive with its pro-Trump and anti-media propaganda.

    Sinclair is known for its history of injecting right-wing spin into local newscasts, most notably with its nationally produced “must-run” commentary segments. The segments, which all Sinclair-owned and operated news stations are required to air, have included (sometimes embarrassing) pro-Trump propaganda missives from former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn since the spring.

    Last week (one day after reportedly partying at Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C.), Epshteyn produced a new must-run segment essentially arguing that media are being too mean to the Trump administration:

    Epshteyn’s latest video is yet another effort by Sinclair to adopt the Fox News model: By arguing that media at large is not to be trusted, it’s attempting to isolate local news audiences, suggesting to communities across the country that the only news they can trust is coming from Sinclair. (Not to be outdone, Sinclair’s other must-run personality Mark Hyman released a new segment the same day asserting full-blown anti-Trump “media collusion.”)

    This segment is far from Epshteyn’s first defense of Trump from what he views as unfair attacks by the press, nor is it the first to suggest mainstream media are hopelessly biased and untrustworthy. It’s also not alone in looking like straight-up Trump propaganda.

    In recent months, Epshteyn segments have also told viewers that:

    All Americans should be more like actor Bryan Cranston, who remarked  during an interview that people ought to hope Trump succeeds for the good of the country. (Yes, this warranted an entire must-run segment.)

    The FBI just might be targeting Trump because of his political leanings.

    Deregulation under the Trump administration has led to a spectacularly growing economy.

    The Colin Kaepernick-led NFL protests are really about how Trump gets genuinely upset when the flag is “disrespected,” as Epshteyn can personally attest.

    The Trump administration’s response to devastation in Puerto Rico deserved a little criticism, but only polite criticism.

    These are just (perhaps) the most egregiously propagandistic of Epshteyn’s must-run segments since Media Matters last documented his worst videos in August, and unfortunately there are plenty more to choose from. Epshteyn’s segments have also defended Trump and the GOP on the following: Jared Kushner’s Middle East diplomacyending the DACA program with a grace period, another revised Muslim travel ban, North Korea strategy, repealing the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

    As it stands, Sinclair is broadcasting segments like these on stations across 34 states and the District of Columbia, particularly in local media markets for suburbs and mid-sized cities from Maine to California -- and they could be coming to a station near you.

    The local news giant is now awaiting approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Department of Justice of its acquisition of Tribune Media, which would allow Sinclair to further spread its propaganda in the country’s top media markets, reaching nearly three-quarters of U.S. households. If this week’s deeply unpopular move to repeal net neutrality rules is any indication of the five FCC commissioners’ adherence to party lines, the FCC seal of approval for this deal is pretty much a sure thing thanks to its current Republican majority.

    Media Matters has mapped out more than 15 communities that will be hit hard by the Sinclair-Tribune merger. You can also find a full list of stations owned or operated by Sinclair on its website, and here is the full list of stations it is set to acquire with its purchase of Tribune Media.

  • Sinclair is forcing local news stations across the country to air multiple false attacks on the Southern Poverty Law Center

    Right-wing groups and anti-LGBTQ hate groups have been actively campaigning against SPLC’s “hate group” designation

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Conservative local TV news giant Sinclair Broadcast Group has produced two “must-run” segments misrepresenting the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and casting doubt on its “hate group” designations. Sinclair is known for requiring its local news stations to air “must-run” segments that often look like right-wing propaganda. These must-runs come as hate groups and other right-wing organizations have ramped up their years-long campaign against SPLC in 2017.

    Sinclair’s Behind the Headlines with Mark Hyman segment that ran on air on October 31 included several false claims about SPLC, including the incorrect claim that the group spent only $62,000 on legal expenses in 2015 and that SPLC gave a “hate group” designation to “a young woman who called into a radio show to discuss socialism.” (Right-wing media, hate groups, and Fox News helped amplify that same lie in October.) The segment also took issue with SPLC’s designation of some “christian ministries, think tanks and public interest law firms” as hate groups, giving an innocuous veneer to groups such as the rabidly anti-LGBTQ Liberty Counsel. The segment said SPLC’s inclusion of those groups in a list of hate groups that includes “the Klan and skinheads … raises serious questions,” echoing an argument repeatedly made by hate groups and right-wing media.

    SPLC responded to the segment by sending a November 21 letter to Sinclair station WSYX that called the claims made by Hyman “inaccurate, defamatory, and irresponsible.” The letter called on the station “to acknowledge on the air the errors contained in the story about the SPLC, remove any reference to the story from your website if it was posted there, and not run the segment again.” The SPLC previously called for similar action by Fox News after the channel made false claims about the group’s legal spending. On December 7, Hyman replied to SPLC in a second Behind the Headlines segment. Hyman read some of SPLC’s clarification in response to the October segment but failed to acknowledge that his previous claims about SPLC were wrong. Thus local news audiences across the country will be shown another exchange in a Sinclair personality’s petty and inaccurate attacks against a major civil rights group.

    Hyman’s segments came during a year in which anti-LGBTQ hate groups have stepped up their campaign against SPLC and its “hate group” designation. A number of those groups even launched an “SPLCexposed” campaign in an attempt to discredit the label and mainstream bigotry against the queer and trans community.

    Sinclair’s “must-run” segments feature right-wing and pro-Trump commentary and are required to be aired by all Sinclair-owned or operated local news stations. Hyman’s twice-weekly segment is just one of those so-called “must-runs.” If Sinclair’s controversial purchase of Tribune Media Group is approved by the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice, the company would grow as the largest provider of local TV news in the country, adding 42 more stations to its existing 173 stations in 81 markets. In November, Media Matters compiled a list of more than 15 communities that will be affected by Sinclair’s acquisition.

  • Bill McKibben on why we should be worried about media consolidation and Facebook

    The author and activist talks to Media Matters about media trends, climate journalism, and his new novel 

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    "I think media activism is one of the most important parts of this whole resistance," Bill McKibben, influential climate activist and journalist, told Media Matters in a recent interview. His new novel, Radio Free Vermont, puts a spotlight on the importance of independent media. 

    "Just as we have got to go about the work of building a fundamentally healthy energy system, and a fundamentally healthy agriculture system, we have to go about the long, patient, crucial work of building a healthy information system again on this planet," he said.

    McKibben has published more than a dozen nonfiction books, many of them about climate change and environmental issues, but Radio Free Vermont is his first foray into fiction. It features a band of activist pranksters in Vermont who find creative ways to fight against corporate control and the big retail chains that push out locally owned businesses. The novel's protagonist, Vern Barclay, is spurred to become a rabble-rouser because the local radio station where he works is taken over by a corporation based in Oklahoma.

    McKibben says this aspect of the book was partly inspired by a frightening event that happened in Minot, ND, in 2002. In the middle of the night, a train derailment caused a dangerous chemical release into the town's air, ultimately killing one resident. When police tried to reach someone at the local radio station that was designated as the town's emergency broadcaster, they couldn't get ahold of anyone. Clear Channel Communications, a Texas-based conglomerate, owned that station and all five of the other commercial stations in Minot, and piped in prepackaged content from remote locations.

    "That really struck me," said McKibben.

    Clear Channel, now known as iHeartMedia, is the largest operator of radio stations in the U.S., with more than 850 in its control. Meanwhile, in the TV market, Sinclair Broadcast Group owns more stations than any company in the U.S. and is poised to acquire many more, which would enable it to squelch local voices and spread its right-wing messaging to the biggest media markets in the country.

    McKibben's character Barclay worries about "big media barons" and a federal rule that would "let the big media companies own even more TV and radio stations." He's right to worry: The Federal Communications Commission, now chaired by a Trump appointee, has been making decisions that will benefit Sinclair, such as rolling back a rule that required local news stations to maintain offices in the communities they serve.

    Another big problem with media in the U.S., according to McKibben, is the misinformation being spread via giant social media companies like Facebook, which "seem to be mostly sewers for sort of garbage information."

    "I think that we took the notion for granted that somehow the internet was going to perform this necessary work by itself, that it would accomplish an awful lot. I guess we were wrong," McKibben said with a rueful laugh. Facebook “seems to have introduced us to yet another new circle of hell where we look back fondly on the three monopolistic television networks that ruled our lives."

    Good journalism can break through the cacophony, though, especially when activists help to spread and amplify it, McKibben said. He pointed to investigative reporting by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times in 2015 exposing that Exxon knew the basics of climate science 40 years ago but buried that information and worked to stymie action to fight climate change. The reporting inspired advocates, political leaders, and state attorneys general to pursue investigations and lawsuits to hold Exxon accountable.

    But overall, media coverage of climate change has been lacking in both quality and quantity for decades, McKibben said. "Where it continues to fall down is in making people understand the urgency of the situation that we're in. People continue to perceive it as something that will happen in the future instead of something that is crashing into us now."

    He pointed to the string of record-breaking hurricanes and fires that have hit the U.S. in the last few months. "Those are all precisely the things that scientists have been saying for years will happen as we warm the planet, and journalists have not done a good job at making those connections in every single story as they should, over and over and over again."

    Climate change "is undoubtedly the biggest story of our day," McKibben said, but "the news media doesn't seize onto" that. "Every single day, there's something more dramatic happening than climate change. But every single day, there's nothing more important happening than climate change." So when disasters hit, media need to report on how extreme weather is linked to climate change. "When we have the opportunities to foreground that story, to make people understand the stakes, we should definitely be taking them."

    McKibben made his name as a pioneering climate journalist, but he wishes more reporters would have quickly followed him onto the beat. "When I was writing The End of Nature, the first book about all of this climate change 30 years ago, I was like a tiny bit worried in 1989 that someone else was going to write the book or the big story for The New Yorker or something and scoop me. It turns out I needn't have worried. For much, much longer than I've wanted to, I've had the biggest story on the planet more to myself than I should have."

  • On Sinclair stations, Boris Epshteyn covered GOP losses by regurgitating Trump tweets

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    After last night’s Democrat blowout in elections across the country, conservative local news giant Sinclair Broadcast Group trotted out its “chief political analyst,” former Trump aide and current Trump propagandist Boris Epshteyn, to essentially slightly rephrase Trump’s own tweets in an effort to do damage control.

    Epshteyn joined Sinclair earlier this year following a short-lived role in the Trump administration. He produces frequent “Bottom Line With Boris” “must-run” commentary segments that amount to Trump TV -- and he sometimes joins local news anchors to offer live “analysis” (seemingly always aligned with the views of his former boss) following major events.

    So when Democratic candidates won major state and local races and key progressive ballot initiatives prevailed across the country last night, naturally Sinclair asked Epshteyn to rehash the events with local news anchors.

    In appearances on Sinclair-owned stations broadcasting in Maryland, Ohio, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Virginia, Epshteyn spoke about last night’s elections by essentially doubling down on the president’s talking points. Here is Trump’s tweet from last night, in which he attempts to distance himself from the Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate, Ed Gillespie, after he’d been defeated:

    And here is what Epshteyn had to say about Gillespie’s loss this morning on WCYB’s News 5 Today, which airs in the Tri-Cities area of southwest Virginia and northeast Tennessee:

    PRESTON AYRES (HOST): Now some have called the Virginia governor’s race a referendum, possibly, on President Trump, a big win for Democrats. And they’re claiming that after Ralph Northam winning last night. Do you think the president played a role in last night’s election and the returns that we saw?

    BORIS EPSHTEYN: Of course the president played some role, but, again, Virginia’s a state that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Ed Gillespie is somebody who has been around Republican politics for a long time, a former chair of the National Republican Committee (sic), so this is somebody who is not a Trump politician. Now, toward the end of the race he did adapt some more Trump policies on immigration, on fighting MS-13, but this was not a natural fit necessarily. And Ed Gillespie and Donald Trump never campaigned together. So this was more of a referendum on Ed Gillespie and on Republicans overall, and Virginians now are saying that they support Democrats.

    He repeated very similar talking points de-emphasizing Trump’s connection to Republican losses in appearances on WCHS’ Eyewitness News in West Virginia, WTTE’s Good Day Columbus in Ohio, and WBFF’s Fox 45 Morning News in Baltimore, MD, Sinclair’s flagship station. During his Fox 45 appearance, Epshteyn even went so far as to bafflingly attempt to spin Maine’s referendum to expand Medicaid as a win for the horrendous Graham-Cassidy health care bill.

    Epshteyn’s latest regurgitation of Trump talking points in local media is part of Sinclair’s ongoing campaign to quietly infuse local news with pro-Trump propaganda. At the same time, the Trump Federal Communications Commission has already helped pave the way for Sinclair’s further expansion -- and will soon vote on further measures to aid Sinclair, even as experts and insiders sound the alarm.

    It seems like Sinclair could save some money and still hit its propaganda quotient if it just cut to the chase and ran screenshots of Trump tweets next time.

    UPDATE: 

    In addition to the appearances Epshteyn made on select Sinclair-owned stations' morning news programs, he also produced a must-run "Bottom Line With Boris" segment that repeats the same Trump election talking points. In the segment, which will be aired on every Sinclair news station, Epshteyn argues, "Here's the bottom line: the gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia were not referendums on Donald Trump."

  • Sharyl Attkisson's softball interview of Trump is the latest example of Sinclair's pro-Trump propaganda

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

    In what is merely the latest example of Sinclair Broadcasting’s mission to imbue local news with pro-Trump propaganda, Sinclair's Full Measure invited President Donald Trump on to make unchecked, demonstrably false claims, tout his non-existent legislative successes, and attack the news media.

    During the November 5 interview, host Sharyl Attkisson, a former CBS anchor with a history of flawed reporting and right-wing advocacy, asked few contentious or adversarial questions of the president and issued no follow-ups to Trump’s false claim that the Trump-Russia dossier is “phony” and “fake,” his inaccurate claim that his administration has had more military successes against ISIS than during the entire presidency of Barack Obama, or his erroneous claim that his administration has enacted “almost a record” number of bills. Trump also attacked the “fake” media during the interview, continuing his war on the press. This is not Trump’s first time on Full Measure. During a previous appearance on the show, when he was a candidate for president, Trump said he was entertaining the idea of “banning reporters from certain events.

    As president, Trump has not given a one-on-one interview with a serious journalist since May, and instead has granted interviews only to fawning sycophants on sympathetic networks, including Sinclair. Sinclair has benefited from Trump, thanks to the deregulatory efforts of Trump’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The organization has announced plans to acquire Tribune Media’s dozens of local television stations, a controversial deal at least four states are urging the FCC to reject. Last week the FCC helped Sinclair towards achieving that acquisition when it voted along party lines to eliminate a rule that mandated local news stations maintain offices within the communities they serve.

    Even before Trump won the election, Sinclair had aligned itself with him and reportedly struck a deal for greater press access to the then-candidate in exchange for better coverage. Attkisson’s interview is just the latest manifestation of a growing Sinclair-FCC partnership that exploits Americans’ trust in local news for political gain.

  • Study: Maine media omit key benefits of potential Medicaid expansion

    Stations owned by Sinclair also proved reluctant to cover the proposal at all

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    A Media Matters analysis found that, from February 21 to October 21, local TV news stations in Portland, ME, critically downplayed and even omitted information about the benefits of expanding Medicaid in the state through an upcoming ballot measure. Additionally, the study found that stations owned by Sinclair Broadcasting Group were much less likely than other stations to report on the proposal at all.

  • Trump’s secret weapon for 2020 keeps quietly gathering steam

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    If you live in a mid-sized city in a battleground state, you are more likely than ever to see pro-Trump propaganda on your local news by next election season -- thanks to conservative media giant Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Trump administration itself.

    Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) quietly voted along party lines to eliminate its “main studio rule,” which mandated that local news stations maintain offices within the communities they serve. Without the main studio rule, Sinclair is free to consolidate and centralize local news resources in its roughly 190 stations across the country, eliminating the “local” element of local news as much as possible.

    This move is just the latest in a thriving symbiotic relationship between the openly conservative Sinclair and the Trump FCC, a relationship that seems to benefit all parties but the American public. And there’s more to come.

    Sinclair is known for its history of injecting right-wing spin into local newscasts, most notably with its nationally produced “must-run” commentary segments. The segments, which all Sinclair-owned and operated news stations are required to air, include (frequently embarrassing) pro-Trump propaganda missives from former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn, rants about “politically correct” culture from former Sinclair exec Mark Hyman, and fearmongering “Terrorism Alert Desk” segments that seem to largely focus on just about anything Muslims do.

    Just yesterday, for example, as news broke of the federal indictments of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and campaign staffer Rick Gates and the guilty plea of George Papadopoulos for lying to the FBI during its investigation into Russian meddling -- making it  perhaps the worst day in Trump’s presidency so far -- Sinclair was airing a “Bottom Line With Boris” segment in which Epshteyn asserted that impending Republican tax reform was contributing to a soaring stock market benefiting all Americans.

    As it stands, Sinclair is broadcasting segments like these on stations across 34 states and the District of Columbia, particularly in local media markets for suburbs and mid-sized cities from Maine to California. The news behemoth is now awaiting FCC approval of its acquisition of Tribune Media, which would allow Sinclair to further spread its propaganda in the country’s top media markets, reaching nearly three-quarters of U.S. households. If last week’s actions are any indication of the five FCC commissioners’ adherence to party lines, the FCC seal of approval for this deal is pretty much a sure thing thanks to its current Republican majority.

    Even before Trump won the election, Sinclair had aligned itself with him by reportedly striking a deal for greater press access to the then-candidate in exchange for better coverage. And since Trump took office and appointed a conservative FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, the agency has taken significant action to loosen its rules in ways that just so happen to allow Sinclair to further solidify its power.

    In April, the commission voted to reinstate an outdated rule known as “the UHF discount,” which first cleared the way for Sinclair to purchase Tribune Media. The FCC prohibits major broadcasters like Sinclair from owning TV stations “that collectively reach more than 39 percent” of U.S. households -- but the UHF discount allowed entities to skirt this regulation by giving certain stations less weight when calculating this cap, based on outdated technology considerations. The discount was eliminated in 2016, but the FCC under Trump quickly moved to reinstate the outdated rule, making Sinclair’s anticipated expansion possible.

    The FCC is now also making moves to relax its existing local media ownership caps, a proposal that would allow Sinclair to own more than one of the top four television news stations in certain local media markets. Currently, Sinclair uses existing loopholes to effectively control the operations of more than one top station by entering into news share agreements with other owners. In Sioux City, IA, for example, Sinclair owns the Fox affiliate, KPTH, and operates the CBS affiliate, KMEG, through a “joint services agreement” with KMEG’s owner. The stations are branded together as “Siouxland News” and now share a website, headquarters, and news staff. The new FCC proposal, which will be voted on in November, would eliminate all the extra hassle involved in structuring sharing agreements like this one, letting Sinclair cut right to the chase and own multiple top local stations outright. This would especially help Sinclair as it finalizes its purchase of Tribune Media, leaving the broadcasting giant free to acquire new stations in its existing markets without having to worry about selling off any station properties to comply with FCC rules.

    The same proposal would also relax FCC regulations that cap media market ownership across television and radio platforms. Sinclair’s 2015 acquisition of its own digital media and mobile news platform, Circa -- a serial news misinformer in its own right -- and recent rumors that it’s exploring a partnership with serial sexual predator Bill O’Reilly hint that the broadcasting company is looking for new ways to deliver conservative news. These FCC changes would certainly permit Sinclair to experiment with consolidating resources at local news stations and redirecting those resources into newer, covert avenues to add right-wing spin to newscasts.

    We know that voters continue to trust local news more than national sources. Sinclair and the Trump FCC are working in tandem to exploit that trust with greater precision and power than ever before -- just in time for the 2018 and 2020 elections.

  • Sinclair-owned stations give platform to serial misinformer Peter Schweizer of Breitbart

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Dozens of Sinclair-owned local news stations are running a package featuring serial misinformer Peter Schweizer, a senior editor-at-large for Breitbart, making debunked allegations about Hillary Clinton’s role in a deal selling U.S. uranium holdings to Russia while she was secretary of state. This package is the latest in Sinclair’s attempt to infect local media with inaccurate right-wing commentary.

    Schweizer, whose work has been funded in large part by hedge fund billionaires Robert and Rebekah Mercer, used the segment to hype debunked allegations from his error-riddled book Clinton Cash. He implied that there was “cronyism” or “corruption” surrounding the selling of the Uranium One company to a Russian nuclear company while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state because the company, Rosatom, donated to the Clinton Foundation. Schweizer, who has a long history of pushing misinformation, baselessly claimed, “There was a quid pro quo culture at the Clinton Foundation, that large donors were getting favors in return for those donations.”

    From the October 20 edition of WNWO’s NBC 24 News:

    PETER SCHWEIZER: People often assume that corruption or cronyism is a victimless crime, that it’s just politicians making money and what’s the big deal? The problem is, in this particular case, there are huge national security implications.

    SARA CARTER: Peter Schweizer, the man behind the book Clinton Cash, says the U.S. government should take a closer look at the deal that allowed the Russian nuclear company Rosatom to purchase Uranium One.

    SCHWEIZER: Even at the time this deal was approved in 2010, it was massively controversial. You had a dozen members of Congress who ran national security committees, you had U.S. senators who wrote letters to the [Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States] raising questions about the fact that this deal was being looked at.

    CARTER: One of the points of contention for people investigating the Clintons’ potential connection to the deal were speech fees Bill Clinton received from a Russian bank while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state and sat on the panel that approved the transaction. Schweizer says a Clinton Foundation review, done at the behest of Chelsea Clinton, shows a lack of transparency in their contributions.

    SCHWEIZER: There was a quid pro quo culture at the Clinton Foundation, that large donors were getting favors in return for those donations.

    CARTER: When Schweizer helped The New York Times with an article on the Clinton Foundation in 2015, a spokesperson for the Hillary Clinton campaign told them no one has ever produced a shred of evidence supporting the theory that Hillary Clinton ever took action as secretary of state to support the interest of donors to the Clinton Foundation. The Clinton Foundation did not respond to attempts for comment.

    However, as numerous fact-checkers have previously pointed out, “The State Department was one of nine agencies on the committee that approved the deal,” and “there is no evidence Clinton herself got involved in the deal personally, and it is highly questionable that this deal even rose to the level of the secretary of state.”

    The segment, which was reported by Sinclair Broadcast Group subsidiary Circa, is the latest in Sinclair’s history of pushing right-wing commentary that has been compared to “propaganda.” The broadcasting company also has selectively omitted stories that don’t fit its agenda. Recently, Sinclair has made a series of conservative hires, including discredited former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson and former Trump White House aide Boris Epshteyn. In July, 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. There has also been reporting that Sinclair could partner with Breitbart, as the latter site’s chairman and former White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has sought to expand his “platform for the alt-right” to “compete with Fox News from the right.” Both Bannon and Schweizer worked at the Government Accountability Insitute, a venture that was funded by the Mercers.

    Sinclair’s dealings with the Trump administration run deep. During the campaign, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner reportedly “struck a deal” with Sinclair to “secure better media coverage” for then-candidate Donald Trump in exchange for “more access to Trump and the campaign.” Additionally, President Donald Trump’s Federal Communications Committee has pursued deregulatory efforts that could make it easier for the Sinclair empire to grow as it seeks to merge with Tribune Media.

    Circa, and in particular its correspondent Sara Carter, have become a favorite source for others in right-wing media, especially Fox News’ Sean Hannity.