Chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn: “Americans such as Mollie Tibbetts … dying at the hands of illegal immigrants is a very real threat”
You’d think Sinclair Broadcast Group would lay low for a while and reassess its options after an extremely damaging month. Instead, the conservative media giant will force news stations across the country to air a 90-second segment exploiting the murder of Iowa woman Mollie Tibbetts to echo President Donald Trump’s attacks on immigrants.
Tibbetts was reported missing last month after she went out for a jog on a country road in Brooklyn, IA. Last week, local law enforcement found Tibbetts’ body and charged Mexican national Cristhian Bahena Rivera, an undocumented immigrant, for her murder.
Mollie Tibbetts would have returned to the University of Iowa last week. At a campus vigil, her older brother Jake encouraged everyone in attendance to “make a new friend” in honor of his “goofy” and passionate sister. Tibbetts’ friends have shared memories of the psychology student smiling as she walked through campus. “She was an advocate for mental health and genuinely cared about how people thought,” one friend told the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
That’s not what the Sinclair segment is about, though.
The segment, which will now air on an estimated 100 or more local news stations nationwide, ignores Tibbetts’ family members’ specific wishes for people to not weaponize Mollie's death for anti-immigrant ends. Instead, the Sinclair clip leans on the common racist trope of white women’s sanctity as it adds another disgusting entry to the right-wing media canon of unabashed xenophobic exploitation.
In the clip, chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn mirrors Trump's rhetoric by referencing “families who have been permanently separated from their children,” a grotesque talking point drawing a comparison to the administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the border. Epshteyn also references the deaths of Kate Steinle and Drew Rosenberg, which right-wing media have exploited to smear immigrants.
BORIS EPSHTEYN (HOST): Last week, our country collectively mourned the loss of 20-year-old University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts. According to investigators, Tibbetts was followed and murdered by an illegal immigrant while on a run near her Brooklyn, IA, home. Her killer illegally entered our country. He then worked at an Iowa farm for several years after giving them fake identification and breaking through the very system in place to prevent these tragedies from occurring.
Tibbetts’ murder has brought the debate over immigration reform to the forefront of the American consciousness once again. Republicans like Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley are advocating for stronger immigration laws. Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have focused mostly on scoring political points against our president. In a CNN interview last week, Warren pivoted from sharing her condolences to the Tibbetts family to attacking the administration’s zero-tolerance policy of border enforcement. According to Warren, we should be focusing on the people who, quote, “pose a real threat.”
Sen. Warren, Americans such as Mollie Tibbetts, Kate Steinle, and Drew Rosenberg dying at the hands of illegal immigrants is a very real threat. Here’s the bottom line: Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Mollie Tibbetts and to all of the families who have been permanently separated from their children due to horrific tragedy such as this. Abolishing ICE and opening our borders are unacceptable solutions to our flawed immigration system.
Among other offenses, Epshteyn left out a few crucial pieces of context here. Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than their peers born in the U.S. And as writer Jessica Valenti pointed out, “The deadliest demographic for American women isn't immigrants - it's husbands & boyfriends. But the truth about who kills women in this country isn't politically useful.” Women are harassed, abused, and killed every day, simply for daring to exist.
I have watched every one of the 287 “Bottom Line With Boris” clips available online. He displays untold levels of ignorance and political obtuseness, along with a lack of charisma I cannot accurately convey with words. He has defended Trump’s “both sides” rhetoric about literal murderous Nazis. He has minimized the Trump administration’s abhorrent family separation policy, suggesting media had overblown the issue. He has fearmongered about “chain migration” and devoted multiple segments to attacking protesting NFL players. He has attacked Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) repeatedly, in segments about topics that barely relate to her, for unexplained reasons.
Now there’s this.
The fact that this segment will air in homes across the country, unchallenged, decontextualized -- over dinner or breakfast, between the traffic and weather -- is Sinclair’s horrific legacy.
Fox's Dana Perino invites Wheeler to "reassure [the layperson] that this isn't about giving polluters a pass"
Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), made his first appearance on Fox News on Tuesday in an interview with host Dana Perino. Wheeler got soft treatment during the interview, just as his disgraced predecessor Scott Pruitt did during most of the numerous interviews he gave to Fox News.
Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, came on to discuss the Trump administration's proposal to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which was intended to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants and move the nation toward cleaner sources of power. The EPA's proposed replacement plan would drastically reduce emissions standards for coal plants and allow more air pollution, which even the agency expects would lead to 470 to 1,400 premature deaths each year by 2030, as The New York Times reported.
Perino started the interview by inviting Wheeler to "reassure [the layperson] that this isn't about giving polluters a pass." Later in the interview, she asked Wheeler about the Times article and the estimates of premature deaths, but he dodged the question, and she didn't follow up and press him for an answer.
The interview with Fox appears to have been Wheeler's second TV interview since taking the helm at EPA on July 9. Wheeler did an interview last week with the TV conglomerate Sinclair, another Trump-friendly, right-wing outlet. The Sinclair interviewer, Boris Epshteyn, asked no hard questions either. After Wheeler's Fox appearance on August 21, he gave what appears to have been his third TV interview -- this time to Fox Business, yet another Trump-friendly network.
From the August 21 edition of Fox News' The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino:
DANA PERINO (HOST): Joining me now is acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. It’s good to have you on the program. Tell me how you would explain to the layperson -- I know that this stuff can get very technical -- what you are trying to do and how you would reassure them that this isn't about giving polluters a pass.
ANDREW WHEELER (ACTING EPA ADMINISTRATOR): Sure. First of all, Dana, thank you for having me on the show today. This is a big day, the unveiling of our Affordable Clean Energy rule. What this rule will do will set guidelines for the states to then work with utilities around the country to make sure that every utility makes reductions on their CO2 emissions going forward. It’s very different from the Obama approach, which was very much a command-and-control approach where they dictated to all the states what they had to do. We’ll actually be working cooperatively with the states on this.
PERINO: So, the clean air rules over time have been, the states work together and it's all integrated. But for people who say “but air pollution knows no state boundaries,” so doesn't the EPA need to oversee what the states are doing in order to protect people?
WHEELER: Yes, and we will be. What we’re doing is setting the guidelines, and then the states will then report back to the agency as to how they’re going to implement this and we will then be able to approve their plan. And if we don’t believe that they’ve gone far enough, we can always step in as a backstop to make sure that they are making the reductions that are necessary going forward.
PERINO: Critics of this move will say that this is a rollback of President Obama's very stringent regulations, but as I recall, Obama’s rule actually never went into place. There was a major lawsuit by 29 states that went to the Supreme Court and it's been stayed. So, what are you actually replacing?
WHEELER: Exactly. It's not a rollback, it's an overhaul, because the Obama regulations, as you said, never took effect because the Supreme Court did take the unprecedented action of issuing the stay. So what we're doing is we took a close look at the Clean Air Act to make sure that we are within the four corners of the act, that we’re using the laws that Congress gave us, and we’ve moved forward with this new approach, which we believe is legally sound and can be implemented across the country and it will provide protections for all Americans, as well as lower electricity rates. And this is exactly what President Trump asked us to do last year.
PERINO: Sorry, so if I can get in here -- two of the other pieces of criticism: One, the New York Times article today was about the increase in possible premature deaths due to this new policy, saying that the plan would see between 470 and 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030 because of increased rates of microscopic airborne particulates. The Obama administration would say that obviously its plan was much better than that. I wanted to also ask you about climate change and the administration's position on it, human-caused or not, because one of the criticisms is that in the report that you’ve put forward for this new proposal, climate change doesn’t even come up until page 300. Was that on purpose?
WHEELER: Well, I do believe that climate change is real and that man does have an impact on climate change. We talk about this in terms of energy efficiency, and energy efficiency you release less CO2, and that’s what we’re providing with this regulation. As far as the New York Times report, this regulation and the Obama approach were both about CO2 reductions. We address particulate matter and the other pollutants under other regulations and those regulations are still in effect. In fact, we just released a report two or three weeks ago showing that our air quality is 73 percent cleaner today than it was in the 1970s, and all of those regulations, the guides to that 73 percent cleaner, are still in effect and will still be working into the future.
PERINO: One last question for you, we’ll make it a quick one: The lawsuits that are currently underway from the Justice Department against big energy companies that are underway, I think it’s DTE in Michigan -- will those continue to be prosecuted under this new rule?
WHEELER: Well, there was no prosecution under the previous rule, so those prosecutions were under other regulations.
WHEELER: And yes, we will continue to enforce the regulations that are on the books. Absolutely.
PERINO: All right. Andrew Wheeler, for your first national interview, thank you so much for being here. We appreciate it.
WHEELER: Thank you, Dana.
Because of the company's potential misconduct, the FCC could reconsider its broadcast licenses
Wheeler and Sinclair's Boris Epshteyn push debunked claims about auto efficiency and safety
This post was updated on 8/16/18.
Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, gave an exclusive interview to Sinclair Broadcast Group chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn -- and used the opportunity to push deceptive talking points about auto-efficiency rules. The interview was released in three parts, each of which is a "must-run" segment for more than 100 local TV news stations that Sinclair owns and operates around the U.S. Sinclair has a strong right-wing bent, and Epshteyn, a former Trump aide, is a consistent apologist for the president and his administration.
This appears to be the first TV interview Wheeler has granted since assuming the top spot at EPA on July 9. Wheeler has given a number of interviews to newspapers and wire services in the last six weeks, mostly to mainstream outlets, including The Washington Post, USA Today, and Bloomberg. But with this interview, Wheeler is following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, who frequently turned to right-wing media to push Trump administration talking points. Pruitt gave an interview to Sinclair's Epshteyn in May, at a time when Pruitt was dogged by scandals and therefore avoiding mainstream media outlets.
Media Matters has chronicled Sinclair’s aggressive approach to promoting its conservative agenda, which includes forcing local stations to air “must-run” segments. Like other conservative media outlets, Sinclair has given cover to Trump and provided his allies and administration officials with a platform to spread White House propaganda. Trump, in turn, has defended Sinclair. The president recently bashed the Federal Communications Commission for slowing Sinclair's now-scuttled acquisition of Tribune Media Company, tweeting that a merger "would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People."
As usual, Epshteyn asked no tough questions in his interview with Wheeler. Instead, in the first part of the interview, he allowed the EPA chief to push the debunked notion that more fuel-efficient cars are dangerous. Wheeler claimed that the Trump administration's proposal to weaken auto fuel-efficiency standards would "save over a thousand lives a year." In fact, recent research has found that strengthening auto standards can actually improve road safety and save lives.
In the second part of the interview, Wheeler described his background and talked up the EPA's work with states. In the third part, Wheeler argued in vague terms that there's a need to revisit some decades-old regulations, and Epshteyn praised the agency's efforts to "get rid of the unnecessary, stifling regulations." In neither the second nor third parts did Wheeler or Epshteyn mention any of the controversial issues now facing the agency.
From Sinclair's “Bottom Line with Boris,” here is part one of the interview, released on August 13:
BORIS EPSHTEYN (HOST): The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that they're proposing freezing certain emissions standards at 2020 levels until 2026. I spoke to the acting administrator of the EPA, Andrew Wheeler, about the rationale behind that proposal. Here's what he told me.
ANDREW WHEELER (ACTING EPA ADMINISTRATOR): Well, we looked at a lot of data when we worked with our partners over at Department of Transportation, and we believe by freezing those for five years we'll save over a thousand lives a year and save the American consumer $500 billion over the course of the regulation. So this is really an important regulation, important standard, for the American consumer, and we really anticipate more new cars will be sold because the prices will be slightly lower, and when new cars are sold they're safer and they're cleaner for the environment.
EPSHTEYN: And there's now a comment period in place. What is the process for actually freezing the standards?
WHEELER: Well, you're right, we are taking comments, we're taking comments from our proposal which is freezing the standard for five years. It’s also important to remember that the standards will continue to get tighter between now and 2021, and then they'll freeze. We're taking comments on that all the way up to the Obama proposal, and seven or eight steps in between. So we want the American public to comment on this. We want to hear from industry, the states, the environmental organizations. We want to make sure that the rule that we go final with at the end of the process is the best rule for all Americans.
EPSHTEYN: Here's the bottom line: The EPA's proposed freeze on emissions standards is a common-sense solution to a complex problem. It will both save billions of dollars, and more importantly, save lives.
Here is part two of the interview, released on August 14:
EPSHTEYN: Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler has taken the reins at the EPA. He is also a top contender to become the permanent administrator. I spoke to him about his qualifications and experience. Here's what he said.
WHEELER: I started my career here at the EPA as a career employee, and so I worked with -- a lot of the employees that I worked with, they're still here, and that has really helped me because I understand the mission of the agency. I understand what we're trying to do here, and I think the experience that I had working on Capitol Hill and at the United States Senate, as well in private practice, has really given me a very well-rounded background to help me as the acting administrator.
EPSHTEYN: You began your career at the EPA. You're now leading the agency over 20 years later. How has the agency changed in that time?
WHEELER: Well, probably the biggest change is that we're working more with the states and local governments. In the last 25-plus years, we've gone from operating the entire permit program for all the water and air permits, to delegating most of those to the states. Right now, 96 percent of our water permits are done by the states. So we're working more collaboratively and cooperatively with our state partners, and those are the people on the ground that are, you know, they live among the areas where they're issuing the permits. I think that's really a good thing for the environment and for the country.
EPSHTEYN: Here's the bottom line: The EPA is in good hands with Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler at the helm. He is going to do all he can to continue achieving the administration's goals.
Here is part three of the interview, released on August 16:
EPSHTEYN: In the Trump administration, the Environmental Protection Agency has two missions. One, to get rid of unnecessary regulations; two, to make sure that our environment is clean and safe. I spoke to acting administrator of the EPA Andrew Wheeler about how they balance those two priorities. Here’s what he told me:
WHEELER: Some of our regulations have been on the books 30, 40-plus years. And what we need to make sure is that some of those regulations aren’t actually causing a negative impact on the environment because some of them, sometimes, inhibits people from installing cleaner technologies. So what we want to do is make sure we have a common-sense approach to make sure the people can install the cleanest technologies possible. To make sure that the air and the water continue to get better. It’s -- I would say it's more, making sure that we’re doing the right thing and the smart thing. When we look at a standard, when we look at cleaning up a Superfund site for example, we’re trying to get rid of the attorneys that have been slowing down the process and getting the sites cleaned up faster, so we can get sites more productive use for the American public.
EPSHTEYN: Here's the bottom line: The Trump administration and the EPA specifically are working hard to thread the needle, and make sure that they get rid of the unnecessary, stifling regulations while also ensuring that we live in a safe and clean environment.
After several weeks of uncertainty, Tribune Media has officially pulled the plug on its planned acquisition by conservative local TV broadcasting behemoth Sinclair Broadcast Group. Though Sinclair’s massive expansion plan is foiled, the company remains the largest owner and operator of local TV stations in the country and an increasingly popular friendly media platform for conservatives. And there are other local media battles on the horizon.
On August 9, Tribune Media announced it has pulled out of the embattled Sinclair-Tribune acquisition proposal and has filed a lawsuit against Sinclair for “breach of contract,” citing the company’s questionable conduct that led to the deal’s slow-tracking. The announcement comes several weeks after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) designated the proposed acquisition for further legal scrutiny, citing possible “misrepresentation or lack of candor” by Sinclair. In the time since, Sinclair’s extensive record of shady business tactics has returned to the spotlight. And as of late July, both Sinclair and Tribune, along with several other major broadcasters, are being investigated by the Department of Justice for possible advertisement price fixing.
The end of this proposed expansion is a huge victory for those who want local news to stay truly local, and especially those communities who were set to see Sinclair take over their airwaves. But Sinclair is still a major threat to the future of local news.
Sinclair currently owns or operates 192 TV stations in 89 different local media markets across the country. Even without the new stations it would have acquired through the Tribune purchase, Sinclair is still the largest owner and operator of local TV stations in the country. It’s already actively inflicting plenty of damage to local communities using two tactics: consolidation and content.
Sinclair’s M.O. for years has been to infiltrate media markets and consolidate news resources, making local news measurably less local and more conservative. The company currently dominates numerous specific local media markets across the nation, using several types of legal maneuvers to own, operate, or otherwise control multiple top broadcast stations in a given place. There are at least 48 stations in 23 states that aren’t owned by Sinclair but are operated by the company in some capacity.
Through outright ownership and roundabout legal agreements, Sinclair manages to currently broadcast “must-run” segments on around 100 local news stations nationwide. These stations are forced to air, often during morning or nightly newscasts, pro-Trump commentary segments hosted by former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn and regular “Terrorism Alert Desk” segments seemingly designed to spur anti-Muslim xenophobia.
Sinclair’s most well-known connection to the Trump administration is its “Bottom Line With Boris” series, particularly segments in which Epshteyn does friendly interviews with members of the Trump administration. At least seven administration officials -- and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani -- have used Sinclair as a friendly media platform. In the last few weeks, Sinclair has mandated that its news stations air four different excerpts from Epshteyn’s recent interview with Vice President Mike Pence.
Epshteyn’s blatant Trump propaganda is only a small piece of the much larger web of connections between Sinclair and elected officials and members of the Trump camp. Trump has given exclusive interviews to Sinclair reporters at least 16 times, and Trump and others in his orbit have promoted Sinclair and its content.
And though the Sinclair-Tribune deal has been shuttered, an internal investigation into Trump-appointed FCC chair Ajit Pai’s relationship with Sinclair may still be ongoing. In February, The New York Times reported that the FCC inspector general has opened an internal investigation into potential improper conduct by Pai and his aides in pushing deregulatory measures that have specifically benefited Sinclair. The investigation began after lawmakers called on the inspector general to investigate a “disturbing pattern of a three way quid-pro-quo” that could include a laundry list of activities, beginning shortly after Sinclair’s top executive told then-candidate Trump the outlet was there to “deliver [his] message” to America before the 2016 election.
Sinclair began meeting with current and former Fox News personalities while waiting for the Tribune deal to be approved, reportedly planning to develop a direct cable news competitor for Fox. It was developing ideas for a “three-hour block of news-opinion programming” that could air on a cable network Sinclair already owns or another it would have acquired in the Tribune deal.
Even without the deal, Sinclair still has options for pursuing its cable news idea. In July, Buzzfeed News reported that Sinclair was developing a free streaming app called STIRR that it could use to launch its Fox News competitor. And Sinclair bought Circa, an online news company, in 2015. Sinclair stations already typically link to Circa on their websites and sometimes run packaged segments from Circa on their local newscasts. And after a 2017 stint as the prime resource for stoking Fox host Sean Hannity’s pro-Trump conspiracy theories, the outlet is now focused on bringing Sinclair’s nationally produced news segments to a wider audience.
Though it did sideline the Sinclair-Tribune deal, the Trump FCC is still very much in favor of media deregulation, and it’s poised to consider another move that could help Sinclair and other large broadcasters homogenize local news. In conversations with Media Matters, representatives from media and consumer advocacy groups said a possible FCC reconsideration of what’s known as the national ownership cap, or national television audience reach cap, could be the next big local media fight on the horizon.
Currently, the law specifies that no broadcaster could own local stations reaching more than a collective 39 percent of U.S. television households. Changing this rule would give major companies like Sinclair the freedom to pursue other mergers and acquisitions currently restricted by the cap -- and it’s only a matter of time before the FCC makes a move.
The commission gave public notice back in December that it plans to reconsider the cap, and a long list of broadcasters has already signaled public support for raising the limit. Sinclair, for its part, urged the FCC to eliminate the cap altogether.
Free Press policy analyst Dana Floberg: “If the FCC loosens the national ownership cap, it'll be even easier for Sinclair and other big broadcasters to merge their way to national broadcasting monopolies”
With conservative local TV behemoth Sinclair Broadcast Group’s unprecedented expansion plan now in sudden peril, advocates are warning that the fight for local news is far from over. The Trump Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is still very much in favor of media deregulation, and it’s poised to consider another move that could homogenize your local news.
July brought a bombshell announcement from the FCC: Sinclair’s proposed acquisition of Tribune Media, which would give the local TV giant unprecedented control over local stations across the country, was designated for greater legal scrutiny. The decision was shocking to opponents of the deal, who had fought back as the FCC spent the last year bestowing upon Sinclair a series of regulatory giveaways that made the proposed deal possible in the first place.
In announcing the need for additional consideration -- a move that has doomed similar large transactions in the past -- the FCC cited several specific divestitures proposed as part of the deal, which would have involved Sinclair’s signature use of legal loopholes to skirt ownership caps. It even asserted that Sinclair may have misrepresented its intentions in these cases. As of publication, however, neither Sinclair nor Tribune has indicated it will pull back from the deal rather than follow through with a hearing.
In the weeks since the announcement, consumer and media advocates who had previously faced a sharp uphill battle in challenging the merger are now discussing other imminent threats to ensuring a diversity of voices in local media, including Sinclair’s larger repertoire of sketchy business practices and other consolidation efforts on the horizon.
In conversations with Media Matters, representatives from media and consumer advocacy groups said a possible FCC reconsideration of what’s known as the national ownership cap, or national television audience reach cap, could be the next big local media fight on the horizon.
As Francella Ochillo, the director of government and legal affairs at the National Hispanic Media Coalition, explained to Media Matters, loosening ownership limits “would pave the way for additional media consolidation and cross-ownership, allowing one entity to own more stations in already concentrated markets. That will also have a direct impact on the diversity of voices in those communities.”
In 2004, Congress created a statute stating that no broadcaster could own local stations reaching more than a collective 39 percent of U.S. television households. The new cap was part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2004, which also specified that only Congress -- and not the FCC -- could change that 39 percent figure moving forward.
Though it does not have the power to change the cap unilaterally, the FCC, in the years since, has made changes to how that ownership reach is calculated. Most notably, the commission has waffled back and forth in recent years about using a now-outdated rule known as the UHF discount, which allows station owners to calculate their ownership reach in a misleading way that effectively skirts the 39 percent cap. The FCC’s bizarre move to reinstate the UHF discount in 2017 is what allowed Sinclair to pursue such a huge acquisition to begin with.
Some advocacy groups challenged the UHF discount reinstatement in court, but the case was recently dismissed for lack of standing, with no ruling on the merits of the case. (Earlier questioning from the panel of judges suggested skepticism of the FCC’s reasoning for reinstating the outdated rule, though. One judge said the commission seemed to be keeping the discount “on life support.”)
Now it appears that the FCC will reconsider both the UHF discount and the entire national ownership cap, though. It’s only a matter of when and how drastically things could change.
For his part, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai remains heavily in favor of media deregulation and consolidation, often under the guise of innovation; he expressed a desire to raise the national ownership cap as far back as 2013.
The commission in December gave public notice of its intent to review the current limit, introducing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and mentioning the possibility that the cap could be eliminated altogether.
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in a dissenting statement at the time that by pursuing new rulemaking on the national cap, “we are destroying our most basic values and tearing apart the rules that have helped keep our media markets local, diverse, and competitive.” Then-Commissioner Mignon Clyburn lamented, “The current Administration, in its quest to green light even greater media consolidation, has found a way to rewrite history” by initiating a reconsideration of the cap without the authority to do so.
A long list of major broadcasting companies stated their support for raising the cap to 50 percent after the rulemaking announcement. And Sinclair urged the FCC in an April filing to eliminate the cap altogether.
The FCC has not acted further on the reconsideration yet, though there were rumors it would to do so in July. But when it does, a change could boost not just Sinclair (which would be free to pursue other deals currently restricted by the cap) but also the many other major broadcast owners that are looking to further expand but currently cannot.
Dana Floberg, a policy analyst at consumer advocacy group Free Press, explained to Media Matters, “If the FCC loosens the national ownership cap, it'll be even easier for Sinclair and other big broadcasters to merge their way to national broadcasting monopolies.”
What’s more: Loosening or eliminating the cap would leave local media consumers -- especially some communities of color that rely more heavily on local broadcast news -- with fewer options.
Ochillo described this significant potential impact of a corporate-friendly change to the cap. “As media consolidation increases, the number of voices controlling the local media broadcasts will decrease. That means that media ownership could become even more homogenous than it is today. The FCC must honor its commitment to promote diversity in media ownership.”
Chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn: “Let’s hope he is confirmed without delay”
This piece was updated on August 27 to include two more "must-run" segments.
Conservative TV giant Sinclair Broadcast Group is requiring its local news stations across the country to air multiple “must-run” segments praising “perfectly qualified” Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh and encouraging a quick confirmation.
As of August 27, Sinclair has produced at least six “must-run” commentary segments about the open Supreme Court seat, including three that feature excerpts from interviews with Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). The segments either laud Kavanaugh’s qualifications, dismiss real concerns about what’s at stake if he is confirmed, or push for a quick confirmation process. Some do all three.
Sinclair designates that certain news and commentary segments, produced in its national studios, must air on its local news stations across the country -- including all four of the Kavanaugh-related segments. According to a Media Matters search of the iQ media database, one or more of these segments have aired in at least 22 states, including those with potentially key senators in a confirmation vote like Alabama, Maine, Nevada, and West Virginia.
The first “must-run” aired on June 28 and 29, shortly after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement. In his recurring “Bottom Line With Boris” commentary segment, Sinclair chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn argued that the Senate ought to confirm whomever President Donald Trump would nominate to replace Kennedy before the midterm elections in November. Epshteyn ended the segment, “Nominating and confirming a second conservative justice to the Supreme Court will be a huge achievement for the president and Senate Republicans. It will further cement their reputation as defenders of the rule of law and our Constitution.”
Here is the full segment, as aired on WPFO (Fox 23) in Portland, Maine:
A second “must-run” segment aired on July 10 and July 11, right after Trump announced his nomination of Kavanaugh. Again, Epshteyn argued that Kavanaugh ought to be confirmed quickly and listed off reasons why the judge was “immensely qualified” for the role. Epshteyn also argues that the far-right wing of the GOP should support the nomination and that Kavanaugh is “the least controversial” and “easily the most confirmable” candidate. He also mentioned by name three Democratic senators who are up for re-election: Sen. Joe Manchin in West Virginia, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, and Sen. Joe Donnelly in Indiana. Epshteyn predicted “most” would vote to confirm Kavanaugh “so as to keep their chances to be re-elected alive.”
Here is the full segment, as aired on WVAH (Fox 11) in Charleston, West Virginia:
The “must-run” featuring Rep. Lamar Smith aired on July 17 and July 18. In the clip, Smith attempted to dismiss concerns that Kavanaugh’s confirmation would threaten abortion access, saying, “Clearly, he is a judge who has made comments about Roe v. Wade but he’s also written a book on the importance of precedent. I think a lot of legal scholars don't expect him to vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, although I think a lot of the Democratic senators are using that as a scare tactic. I think it’s probably unlikely it would be completely overturned.”
Epshteyn offered no additional context on the matter, then concluded, “There’s no question that Judge Brett Kavanaugh is perfectly qualified to be the next Supreme Court Justice. Let’s hope he is confirmed without delay.” Here is the full segment, as aired on WBMA (ABC 33/40) in Birmingham, Alabama:
The fourth “must-run” segment, featuring Pence, aired on July 25 and July 26. In it, Pence again made the case for Kavanaugh, telling Epshteyn that Kavanaugh is “a man of integrity, with a lifetime of calling to public service as a family man, a man of faith,” and “the most qualified person in America to fill that seat on the Supreme Court.” Epshteyn nodded in agreement and then ended the segment by asserting, “Judge Brett Kavanaugh is fully qualified to be on the Supreme Court. Democrats in the Senate should not let partisanship cloud their judgement, and they should give Judge Brett Kavanaugh fair consideration.”
Here is the full segment, as aired on KRNV (NBC 4) in Reno, Nevada:
The fifth “must-run” segment, featuring Hatch, aired on August 7 and August 8. The segment included an interview excerpt in which Hatch praises Kavanaugh extensively, saying, “I'm very high on him. He's a very fine man. He's lived a very good, exemplary life. His whole life has been devoted to the law. He's straightforward. He's honest.” Epshteyn ended the segment by saying, “Let’s hope that Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed as quickly as possible” in spite of “senseless obstruction from many Democrats.”
Here is the full segment, as aired on WEAR (ABC 3) in Pensacola, Florida:
The sixth and most recent “must-run” segment aired from August 24 through August 27. In the clip, Epshteyn responded to calls from Senate Democrats to delay Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing after the president’s former lawyer Michael Cohen plead guilty to several crimes, including campaign finance violations that implicate the president. He argued that “Democrats have no tangible reason to oppose this highly qualified pick” and joked, “What’s next? Senate Democrats will try to block the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh because they don’t like the weather?” Epshteyn also absurdly lamented that Kavanaugh’s confirmation process was “the equivalent of being invited to interview for a job that you are highly qualified for but you’re being kept waiting in the lobby of the office building until some of the board members finish shouting about how much they wished that their cousin was up for the job instead.”
Here is the full segment, as aired on WHP (CBS 21) in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania:
Pence: “It is striking to me some days when I see the way the media is critical of this president”
Sinclair Broadcast Group’s latest “must-run” segment is basically just a platform for Vice President Mike Pence to list what he thinks are the Trump administration’s accomplishments and passively whine about media being too “critical.”
The latest “Bottom Line With Boris” segment, posted online today, is another excerpt from Sinclair chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn’s recent exclusive interview with Pence. The roughly 90-second segment is mostly Pence just listing what he calls the administration’s “record of success." Epshteyn does not ask a question in the clip, but does nod along in agreement.
BORIS EPSHTEYN: The relationship between the White House and most of the media is anything but productive. I recently sat down with Vice President Mike Pence to discuss how the administration is treated by the press. Here’s what he said.
[BEGIN INTERVIEW CLIP]
MIKE PENCE: You know, I've always said that if you're in public life, criticism comes with the territory. But I have to tell you, it is striking to me some days when I see the way the media is critical of this president. I mean, think of what we've accomplished in just a year and a half. We’re rebuilding our military. We’ve strengthened international alliances. NATO is now contributing more than ever before to our common defense. The president stood strong against the regime in North Korea and now North Korea is no longer testing ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons and has come to the peace table. At home, the president's cut taxes across the board, rolled back federal regulation and the economy has taken off, and we've been appointing strong conservatives to our courts at every level. It is a record of success that is benefiting everyday Americans, creating jobs and opportunities. And yet it seems like there's a preoccupation by some in the media -- not all -- to always focus on the negative or always focus on criticism.
[END INTERVIEW CLIP]
EPSHTEYN: Here’s the bottom line: The Trump administration has to focus on continuing to achieve success for the American people. And that way, the results will speak for themselves. It is then the responsibility of the press to report the facts to people at home.
This is the latest entry in Sinclair’s conservative programming playbook, which mirrors former CEO Roger Ailes’ propaganda strategy at Fox News for decades -- to convince the audience that one conservative outlet is the only source they can trust for news. Sinclair’s message is particularly dangerous because of the company’s numerous direct ties to the Trump administration and its ability to reach unsuspecting local news viewers across the country by co-opting the trustworthiness of actual local reporters. In one extreme example, this spring, Sinclair required local anchors at its news stations to narrate promotional segments decrying “biased and false news” in Trumpian terms.
Epshteyn has frequently claimed the media is biased against Trump and attacked specific outlets and reporters -- in particular, CNN. He has also interviewed GOP officials about purported “media bias” in the past, including White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Texas Rep. Lamar Smith. And in one of the first “must-run” segments Epshteyn hosted, in June 2017, he argued that regular White House press briefings had become “a circus and a distraction.”
Pence on corporation-friendly tax cuts: “President Trump has been delivering on his promise: to cut taxes for working families”
Vice President Mike Pence has joined a growing list of Trump administration officials benefiting from softball interviews with Sinclair Broadcast Group.
On July 24, part of Pence’s sit-down interview with Sinclair chief political analyst and former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn was shared online.
In this latest “Bottom Line With Boris” segment, Epshteyn and Pence discuss how “President Trump has been delivering on his promise: to cut taxes for working families and businesses” thanks to the Republican tax overhaul known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. In reality, the legislation predominantly benefited large corporations, and wages have actually fallen by 1.8 percent since the cuts were enacted. Epshteyn does not mention this in the segment, but rather asks the sorts of vague questions that set Pence up to use the interview as an infomercial for Trump and the Republican party.
Here is a full transcript and video.
BORIS EPSHTEYN: I joined Vice President Mike Pence on his trip to Philadelphia this week. He focused on tax reform. Here’s what he had to say.
MIKE PENCE: As you look at this economy, confidence is back, jobs are coming back. In a real sense, America is back, and it’s because President Trump has been delivering on his promise: to cut taxes for working families and businesses.
EPSHTEYN: Where do you see the job market going in the next six months, a year, two years?
PENCE: Well, 3.7 million new jobs is an extraordinary amount of progress, but the fact of the matter is there [are] still many Americans that are on the sidelines. But the encouraging news, Boris, is that in the last month the unemployment number nationally ticked up a little bit.
PENCE: But that was because more Americans were now looking for jobs across the country. And so making sure that we continue to make these tax cuts permanent, that we continue to roll back red tape, but that we also make sure that Americans who are now looking for work have the training, the vocational education, and the skills to fill those good-paying jobs that are open now.
EPSHTEYN: You’re criss-crossing the country ahead of the midterms. So important. How vital of a role is tax reform playing in your message while you’re out there?
PENCE: To continue to move the nation forward, we’ve got to have partners. We’ve got to have renewed Republican majorities in the House and in the Senate that will work with us as we drive for more tax reform, roll back more federal red tape, and have an energy policy that puts America first. So we’re out there telling the story and it’s a great story to tell.
[END OF INTERVIEW CLIP]
EPSHTEYN: Here's the bottom line: The historic tax cuts signed by President Trump into law in December are going to continue to be a key agenda item for the Republican Party heading into November. Expect to hear a lot about the tax cuts on the campaign trail throughout the country.
This interview segment will now air as “must-run” content on more than 100 Sinclair-owned and -operated local TV news stations across the country. As of publication, a Media Matters search of the iQ media database shows the segment has already aired in at least 20 states. There will be at least one more excerpt from the interview released as an additional segment in the coming days -- according to Epshteyn’s newsletter, the next Pence segment will focus on Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
The fawning Pence interview is just the latest entry in a long list of friendly connections between Sinclair and the Trump inner circle. Sinclair has previously aired softball segments with at least six other administration officials, as well as Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Hours after the Pence segment was first posted online, President Donald Trump tweeted a defense of Sinclair, signaling displeasure with a recent and surprising Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision to send Sinclair’s proposed acquisition of Tribune Media to its likely doom. Trump tweeted that an even larger Sinclair “would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People.” Had the deal been approved, pro-Trump propaganda like these interviews would have reached more than seven in 10 American TV households.
Frederick Smith, a senior executive at Sinclair Broadcast Group, recently donated $1,000 to Arizona Republican Joe Arpaio’s Senate campaign.
Sinclair is a massive right-wing media corporation that owns or operates nearly 200 local television stations across the country. It’s known for injecting right-wing spin and propaganda into broadcasts, including through its infamous “must-run” segments. The Federal Communications Commission recently decided the company's proposed acquisition of Tribune Media needs greater legal scrutiny, citing potential "misrepresentation" by Sinclair due to its reliance on legal maneuvers to skirt station ownership limits.
Arpaio was previously the sheriff of Maricopa County, AZ, before losing re-election in 2016. The ACLU documented that he oversaw "discriminatory conduct, including his office’s cruel and inhumane treatment of detainees and its practice of illegally detaining people based on their perceived immigration status and discriminating against Latinos in traffic stops."
In 2017, as The Washington Post wrote, Arpaio was convicted of "criminal contempt of court for ignoring a judge’s order to stop detaining people because he merely suspected them of being undocumented immigrants. U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton wrote that Arpaio had shown a 'flagrant disregard' for the court’s command and that his attempt to pin the conduct on those who worked for him rang hollow." President Donald Trump pardoned Arpaio shortly afterward.
Arpaio is now running as a Republican for Arizona’s open U.S. Senate seat. In January, as Media Matters documented, Arpaio gave an interview to the anti-Semitic publication American Free Press to promote his candidacy. Arpaio had also given interviews to the outlet in prior years.
Smith donated $1,000 to Arpaio’s Senate campaign on May 23, according to Arpaio’s most recent Federal Election Commission filing. Like Sinclair’s political action committee, Smith has largely donated to Republicans this election cycle. As Politico reported, Smith also donated $1,000 last year to “Rep. Greg Gianforte's campaign the day after the Montana Republican was charged with assaulting a reporter.” The Guardian reported in April that Robert E. Smith, who is Frederick Smith’s brother and a member of Sinclair’s board of directors, donated the maximum amount of $5,400 to Gianforte's campaign.
Sinclair did not respond to a request for comment.
FCC signals it will slow-track the merger, citing Sinclair’s practice of using legal loopholes to skirt ownership rules
On July 16, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai issued a statement saying he had “serious concerns” about the pending acquisition of Tribune Media by conservative local TV giant Sinclair Broadcast Group. The statement said the FCC would not be able to approve the acquisition outright and Pai will recommend that the matter be sent to an administrative law judge -- a move, according to Politico, that is “often viewed as a deal-killer.”
In the July 16 statement, Pai cited evidence that “certain station divestitures that have been proposed to the FCC would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law.” In other words, the FCC can’t approve the deal because Sinclair would be breaking the law -- and doing it so blatantly that even Pai, a Trump appointee who’s currently being investigated for leading the FCC in deregulation efforts that suspiciously benefit Sinclair, couldn’t turn the other way.
In fact, the company outlined in its final proposal to the FCC exactly how it would use legal loopholes to continue controlling stations in practice that it would legally be required to sell. It identified at least four local TV stations it was planning to sell, while simultaneously entering into agreements to continue controlling certain services and marketing for those stations -- WGN in Chicago, IL; KUNS in Seattle, WA; KAUT in Oklahoma City, OK; and KMYU in Salt Lake City, UT. It was planning to sell WGN to a newly formed company run by a Sinclair business partner, and to sell the other three to Sinclair-affiliated conservative pundit Armstrong Williams for well below market price. (Two additional stations, KDAF in Dallas, TX, and KIAH in Houston, TX, were going to be sold to another company affiliated with Sinclair, Cunningham Broadcasting.)
These legal maneuvers are commonly known as “sidecar” agreements, and Sinclair is notorious for using them in a manner that’s been described as bordering on “regulatory fraud.” Basically, when Sinclair bumps up against an ownership cap in a local market, it sells one of its stations to nominally fall below the cap. Then it uses “sidecar” agreements -- sometimes known as shared service agreements, joint sales agreements, or local marketing agreements -- to keep operating the station anyway.
For example, Sinclair doesn’t actually own any local TV stations in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area of Pennsylvania -- but it still controls some content and/or handles operations at three stations there (WOLF, WSWB, and WQMY). And because of Sinclair’s complicated web of agreements, one of those Wilkes-Barre stations (WOLF) is sharing news anchors with two other Sinclair stations in entirely different states.
According to Reuters, Pai's draft order to send the acquisition to a hearing goes so far as to cite potential "deception" by Sinclair in pursuing these kinds of legal arrangements. It’s unclear if the order for a hearing will definitely end Sinclair’s bid -- but it is a damning, if incredibly belated, recognition of the blatantly absurd regulatory tricks the company regularly employs to get its way.
On July 12, 2018, activist groups gathered outside the Federal Communications Commission building in Washington, D.C., to deliver over 600,000 petitions demanding that the unprecedented acquisition of Tribune Media by conservative local TV giant Sinclair Broadcast Group not go through.
Video shot by John Kerr