Sinclair says such discussions are a “significant public interest benefit” for stations it buys
Last night, Sinclair Broadcast Group station WJLA hosted a “town hall” discussion on "youth & morality" featuring morally bankrupt media personality Armstrong Williams, young conservative talking heads Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens, a campus carry activist, and a Daily Caller reporter (among others) -- and Sinclair wants you to believe it’s for the public good.
The town hall was branded as both an episode of Sinclair-linked commentator Armstrong Williams’ show and a part of Sinclair’s ongoing town hall discussion series. The town hall does not appear to have yet aired on WJLA and it’s not clear if it has aired or will air on the WJLA-operated local Washington, D.C., cable channel News Channel 8, but it’s posted in full on WJLA’s website.
Sinclair touts its “Your Voice, Your Future” local town halls as a public service and an opportunity to “alert, inform, empower and engage our audience.” Here’s a quick clip to give you an idea of how that went:
Though the panel was titled “Youth & Morality,” it was advertised as largely focusing on one study that showed dwindling millennial identification with Christianity, which WJLA characterized as a sign of “unprecedented moral decline.” The panel discussion was filmed at the Museum of the Bible.
Two minutes into the town hall, host Armstrong Williams asked the audience to raise their hands if they believe in God. (Williams also asked for audience members to raise their hands if they were atheist; one person did and panelists grimaced.) Williams’ first question for the panelists followed from there: “Can you be moral and good and not believe in God?” (Most of the panelists agreed that it was possible but not as easy.) Within eight minutes, panelists were equating “objective truth” with a belief in a Christian god and arguing that the inability to identify objective truths was “cultural Marxist.”
At one point during a commercial break, Williams can be heard joking on a live mic, “Don’t fall asleep on me!” The panel returned from that break to listen to Charlie Kirk talk about “the distinction between Christianity and other religions.”
The town hall was hosted by conservative pundit Armstrong Williams, who has significant ties to Sinclair. Williams hosts a weekly show that airs on the Sinclair-owned News Channel 8 in the D.C. area and is syndicated on other Sinclair local TV stations across the country. Williams also owns several local TV stations through his holding company, Howard Stirk Holdings, which in turn sends business back to Sinclair through operations agreements.
Williams is a close confidante of Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Ben Carson, even doing public relations work on behalf of Carson while continuing to also work as a media figure. (He also served as a Carson presidential campaign adviser while maintaining his weekly hosting duties.) Recently, Williams has aligned himself with other members of the Trump administration, joining Sinclair CEO David Smith in meeting with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai -- who was then a commissioner -- to advocate for pro-industry policies the day before Trump’s inauguration. About two months later, Williams hosted Pai on his show for a friendly interview.
Back in 2005, Williams used an earlier version of his syndicated show to promote Bush administration education policies, failing to note he was paid $240,000 by the administration to do so. The Government Accountability Office subsequently found that the Bush Department of Education had violated federal laws about covert government propaganda by paying Williams for the promotion.
Williams has also settled at least two sexual harassment suits -- one in 1997 involving reports that he “repeatedly kissed and fondled” a former producer for his now-defunct radio show over the course of nearly two years, and another in 2017 alleging that he groped and sought sexual favors from a former employee and later retaliated against the man.
During the panel, Williams talked about his daily prayer routine and decision not to “use profane language” at work because he is the “moral leader” in his office.
The panel featured eight participants in addition to Williams, the majority of whom were young conservative media figures who fall at various points on the spectrum from extreme or blatantly racist to embarrassing or just boring.
TPUSA’s Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens both participated in parts of the town hall. Frequent Fox News guest and conservative “boy wonder” Kirk is the founder of TPUSA, a group best known for a misguided 2017 protest in which its members wore adult diapers to “trigger the libs,” but whose stated mission is to “identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government.” Kirk, Owens, and TPUSA frequently fearmonger about suppression of conservative speech on college campuses while themselves leading a McCarthyist doxxing effort against liberal professors. Meanwhile, TPUSA has defended at least one professor with ties to a white nationalist group and several of its leading members have been outed for expressing patently racist sentiments, e.g. the group’s former national field director making the statement “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE.”
Owens, TPUSA’s communications director, is another Fox News regular and “a far-right vlogger and conspiracy theorist” who has lately garnered media attention after rapper Kanye West praised “the way Candace Owens thinks.” Owens gained attention from far-right MAGA trolls after she posted a video in the wake of the deadly Charlottesville, VA, “Unite the Right” rally in which she dismissed white supremacy as a narrative pushed by the media, leading to her appearance on conspiracy theory outlet Infowars. Owens has also called for all DREAMers to be deported and has argued that immigrants directly harm the black community.
During the town hall discussion, Owens lamented that conservatives were allowing themselves to be “silenced by liberal outrage” and said that younger conservatives and Christians ought to “punch back.”
The Daily Caller’s Amber Athey also participated in the discussion. The Daily Caller is Tucker Carlson’s sexist and racist brainchild, which frequently dabbles in anti-Semitism, anti-trans rhetoric, far-right conspiracy theories, and celebrity bikini photo slideshows, and makes light of sexual assault. Athey herself has tweeted anti-Semitic jokes, and repeatedly used the slurs “fag” and ”faggot,” and, in one case, “nigga$.” (Athey has since deleted the tweets, but they are available via archive.is.)
During the town hall discussion, Athey complained, “There are a lot of ideas on college campuses that -- if they’re conservative or they’re religious, they’re considered taboo and you’re not allowed to say it. Otherwise you’re considered a bigot.”
Town hall participant Antonia Okafor describes herself as “one of the country’s foremost advocates of concealed carry on campus” and has previously appeared in NRA media. Okafor makes regular media appearances pushing NRA-backed myths about campus carry, arguing that carrying concealed firearms would make young black women safer. In reality, the presence of firearms in domestic violence situations, for example, puts women’s lives -- and especially black women’s lives -- at significantly greater risk. And household gun ownership in general only increases the risk of death due to homicide, suicide, or accident; Okafor’s agenda would put women in greater danger.
Rounding out the participant list are right-wing media figures Jason Russell, an editor at the conservative Washington Examiner, and Shermichael Singleton, an aspiring conservative pundit who briefly worked at Carson’s HUD before he was fired for anti-Trump writings. Preacher and lobbyist Quadricos Driskell and American Legislative Exchange Council-affiliated conservative attorney Shelby Emmett also participated.
Sinclair has used its “Your Voice, Your Future” town halls -- also the platform former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka used to decry “black African gun crime” last fall -- to argue that Sinclair-owned and -operated local TV stations are providing greater services to the public. In one Federal Communications Commission (FCC) filing, Sinclair pointed to the discussion series as evidence that its planned acquisition of Tribune Media would create a “significant public interest benefit.”
The FCC is currently reviewing the Sinclair-Tribune deal specifically to ensure it would benefit the public and has signaled it will make a decision following a comment period that ends on July 12.
Eric Hananoki contributed research to this post.
Trump adviser Kris Kobach recently used the number to demonize undocumented immigrants as dangerous criminals
A fake statistic about undocumented immigrants dominating “most wanted” lists hit its zenith last month when Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach used it in a Breitbart.com column. Variations of that statistic have appeared in countless media outlets since 2006 to demonize undocumented immigrants as dangerous, Media Matters found.
In his column, Kobach claimed that “75 percent of those on the most wanted criminals lists in Los Angeles, Phoenix and Albuquerque are illegal aliens.” That's a made-up number. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2009 -- when the statistic was previously making the rounds -- that Los Angeles Police Department “officers confirmed” that the statistic is fabricated. A spokesperson for the Phoenix Police Department similarly told Media Matters that the statistic did not come from its department.
The overall premise that undocumented immigrants are more dangerous than those born in the United States is also false. The New York Times reported that “several studies, over many years, have concluded that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States. And experts say the available evidence does not support the idea that undocumented immigrants commit a disproportionate share of crime.”
As with much of the fake information passed around the internet, it’s difficult to track the origins of the “most wanted” claim. The number appears to have started appearing on the internet around spring 2006 and originally just included Los Angeles. In April 2007, The Arizona Republic reported that the statistic is wrong and part of a “widely circulated e-mail.” It has also appeared all over the internet, including on message boards and comment sections.
But the number’s spread has also been fueled by its appearance in media outlets in the past decade.
Variations of the "most wanted" claim have appeared in numerous conservative op-eds, including in national outlets like The Blaze (Jennifer Kerns), Infowars (Chuck Baldwin), Human Events and FrontPageMagazine.com (Don Feder), and Newsmax (Pat Boone, Jim Meyers, and Armstrong Williams). And it’s appeared in op-eds in local outlets such as the Sierra Vista Herald, West Hawaii Today, and Lexington Herald Leader, as well as in letters to the editor in papers in places like Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.
In a July 2015 post on his now-defunct website, former talk show host Jason Lewis -- currently a Republican U.S. congressman representing Minnesota -- used the statistic to defend President Donald Trump.
The number also appeared in an August 24 Washington Examiner piece by conservative pundit Jennifer Kerns, who had previously used it in The Blaze. Kerns, who did not respond to a request for comment, worked on Fox News’ presidential debate coverage and for various Republican causes over the years.
Media Matters contacted the Examiner, which looked into the piece and found that it contained several statistics, including the “most wanted” number, that couldn’t be verified. The publication subsequently removed the offending paragraphs and added the following corrections note:
Corrections: The original version of this piece claimed that FBI statistics showed 95 percent of arrest warrants issued in Los Angeles are for illegal immigrants, that 75 percent percent of those on the "most wanted" list in Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Albuquerque, N.M. were illegal immigrants, and that 53 percent of burglaries in California, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and Texas were committed by illegal aliens. None of those claims could be verified using FBI data.
The piece also claimed that a United Nations report found that 97 percent of illegal immigrants in the U.S. entered via the southern border. That report could not be located.
The piece also claimed that 25 percent of inmates in California prisons were Mexican nationals. The report linked to actually says 12.7 percent of the California prison population is made up of illegal aliens.
Kris Kobach’s use of the number in an October 24 Breitbart.com piece is perhaps the most notable given his influence on President Trump and today’s immigration debate. As the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School noted, Kobach “has been a key architect behind many of the nation’s anti-voter and anti-immigration policies,” including “Arizona’s controversial 2010 ‘show me your papers’ law,” and serves as an advisor to President Donald Trump and as the vice chair of the so-called Presidential Commission on Election Integrity.
Kobach sourced the statistic to a 2013 ConstitutionParty.com piece by Peter B. Gemma; the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that Gemma is a white nationalist who has reportedly been “part of the American Holocaust denial movement.”
Kobach's piece -- which has gone uncorrected despite inquires to his office and Breitbart.com -- unfortunately indicates that the zombie statistic will live on. On its Facebook page, Breitbart used Kobach’s column to create the following “fact”:
That Facebook post and Kobach’s piece have been shared thousands of times so far.
Thanks to the deregulatory efforts of President Donald Trump’s Federal Communications Committee, the right-wing Sinclair Broadcast Group announced today that it will purchase dozens of televisions stations across the country, allowing the company to spread its conservative programming to new markets and consolidate the ownership of broadcast stations in fewer hands.
Sinclair has entered into an agreement to purchase Tribune Media Group, which owns 42 television stations in 33 markets, along with cable, digital, and real estate assets, according to a press release from the companies. Given Sinclair’s existing slate of 173 television stations in 81 markets and its national news operation, the combined broadcast company will become the largest provider of local TV news in the country.
The move comes at an opportune time if Sinclair hopes to capitalize on recent shakeups at Fox News, with some speculating that the company could even hire Bill O’Reilly in an effort to build a conservative rival to that network.
The purchase would have been impossible if Trump’s newly appointed FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, had not rolled back a key Obama administration regulation that had prevented Sinclair from further expansion. Pai’s actions will allow a stalwart conservative media mogul to acquire more power.
Sinclair is helmed by longtime chairman David Smith, the son of the network’s founder, who with his family has heavily funded Republican causes. Smith has wielded his media company in support of his conservative ideology, using the stations “to advance a mostly right-leaning agenda since the presidency of George W. Bush,” according to The New York Times.
Indeed, every presidential election since that era has featured at least one controversy involving Sinclair’s open support for the Republican nominee.
In 2004, the network ordered its stations to pre-empt regular programming in order to broadcast a documentary that smeared Sen. John Kerry’s (D-MA) war record. Following a massive grass-roots advertiser boycott, Sinclair backed off its original plan, instead airing a 30-minute special that featured portions of the documentary.
In 2008, in the swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, Sinclair aired a conservative group’s advertisement linking then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) to Weather Underground founder Bill Ayers. CNN and Fox News both declined to run the ad.
In 2012, the network was back in the spotlight after its stations in Florida and Ohio ran an election special that predominantly smeared Obama.
And in late 2016, Sinclair reportedly agreed to broadcast its “Trump interviews across the country without commentary” using its “television stations across the country in many swing states” in a deal with the Trump campaign for more access. Sinclair ended up with 15 “exclusive” interviews with Trump, “including 11 during the final three months of the campaign in critical states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio,” and 20 more with top Trump surrogates. In addition, “news stories and features favorable to Trump or that challenged Clinton were distributed to Sinclair stations on a ‘must-run’ basis,” according to The Washington Post.
Sinclair has also garnered attention for “its refusal to broadcast an episode of ‘Nightline’ devoted to reciting the names of every member of the military killed in action in Iraq” and for “instruct[ing] anchors to read statements supporting Mr. Bush and his administration’s efforts to fight terrorism” following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Sinclair’s original news and public-affairs programming has featured several prominent conservative reporters and commentators. These include Mark Hyman, a top Sinclair executive and conspiracy theorist who provides right-wing commentary for the network; Armstrong Williams, a top advisor to Ben Carson’s presidential campaign who is best known for having received payments from the Bush administration to promote its policies without disclosing that detail in his media commentary; former Trump White House aide Boris Epshteyn; and Sharyl Attkisson, a former CBS News reporter with a lengthy record of shoddy, inaccurate reporting who has pushed a bizarre conspiracy theory that the government hacked her home electronics. The company will also distribute a TV show from the conservative website DailyMail.com.
Sinclair’s conservative programming bent has a lot of impact because of the concentration of its stations in presidential swing states. The Tribune purchase will give the network more influence, as Tribune’s television portfolio includes stations in states with high political value, like Pennsylvania, Florida, Colorado, North Carolina, Virginia, Iowa, and Ohio.
When Trump seeks re-election in 2020, he will be able to count on the support of a massive network of television stations helmed by a conservative who owes his company’s latest growth to the president.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) announced that it will hold its “10th annual Hold Their Feet to the Fire radio row broadcast in Washington,” on June 22 and 23. In previous years FAIR has hosted speakers at the event who have used their own radio shows to push anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment. In addition, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has designated FAIR as a hate group whose founder “has expressed his wish that America remain a majority-white population.”
Out At Fox Over 2016 Bid, He's Still On Board At Washington Times, Creators Syndicate
After the publication of this post, David Yontz, managing editor of Creators Syndicate, responded to Media Matters' request for comment about Carson.
Yontz said that though Fox News had cut ties with Carson, Creators will not make a decision until he officially announces his presidential plans.
"Given the Fox thing, I don't think we're concerned about that, but he hasn't officially announced yet, it is looking likely he is going to run. But once he officially announces, we most likely will stop syndicating it, we just have to come up with a solution as to what to do, at that time."
"It is on our radar, we are thinking of solutions once that does happen. As of right now we are going to keep syndicating the column until further notice."
Dr. Ben Carson was reportedly dropped as a Fox News contributor over his apparent plans to run for president. But that prospective 2016 bid, which has included a biographical documentary produced by his business manager, is apparently not enough for the Washington Times or Creators Syndicate to sever relations with the surgeon-turned-political commentator.
Fox News ended its contract with Carson last month shortly before the release of A Breath of Fresh Air, an hour-long documentary that aired on 37 television stations as a paid program in early November. The film was widely viewed as a way to boost Carson's profile for a 2016 Republican presidential bid.
Despite that, Carson is still listed as "founding publisher" on the masthead of the Times' digital magazine, American Currentsee. Creators Syndicate has also kept its arrangement with Carson, distributing his column to newspapers across the country, including the Times.
American Currentsee, which is targeted at "conservative blacks," is overseen by executive editor Armstrong Williams, who is also Carson's business manager and whose production company made the Carson documentary. The digital magazine, which is wildly supportive of Carson, often carries columns from both Carson and Williams. It recently devoted an entire issue to the topic, "Is Ben Carson in? How he could lead, how he could win."
Williams, whose own syndicated column is also carried by the Times, said Carson has not announced for president and until he does he has the right to write as he pleases.
"He's a syndicated columnist, he's not running for president, in fact I don't know anyone who has announced they are running for president, do you? Has anybody on the Democratic or Republican side that has announced for president," Williams said in a phone interview. "You know what, as his business manager, the last thing I want him to do is run for president. But you know what? That's the American way. If you are 35 years old and if you're a U.S. citizen you can make a decision to run and the American people can make a decision on whether you're the best candidate for this country or not."
Neither Creators, which syndicated Carson's most recent piece on December 3, nor The Washington Times have responded to requests for comment.
Williams claimed that the documentary that led to the termination of Carson's Fox News relationship should not affect Carson's Times connections or those he has with newspapers that run his column through Creators.
"That has to do with the fact that we aired a documentary that I produced and Fox News said it was a conflict with the contract and so we made a decision to air the documentary and they made a decision to cut ties. That was a business decision," he said about the Fox issue.
Armstrong Williams does not understand what "default" means:
I agree; no one wants to default on our debts. But folks, we're in default now. Simply raising the credit limit on your Visa credit card doesn't keep you solvent. It just means you'll have a more difficult time repaying such debts.
Untrue! Being in debt is not the same thing as being in default.
More Armstrong Williams -- just two paragraphs later:
Others, like Rep. Michele Bachmann and Sen. Rand Paul, are steadfast in their refusal to give the Fed any more debt leeway. This begs the question of what, in fact, would happen if we don't raise the ceiling? Contrary to popular belief, the government won't suddenly go into default once the debt ceiling is reached. The fact of the matter is that there is enough cash coming in to pay its commitments for the next several months.
The moral of the story? Armstrong Williams has no idea what he's talking about. He's just tossing around words like "default" and "solvent," along with a flawed analogy or two, in hopes that people think he does. Pay him no attention.
I try not to pay much attention to the annual bleating from conservatives that Christmas isn't accorded sufficient respect. As far as I'm concerned, these paranoid ramblings serve the limited (but useful) purpose of identifying people who are not to be taken seriously. But Armstrong Williams has produced an argument that is so spectacularly dumb -- even by the standards of "war on Christmas" fabulists -- that I can't let it go without response.
Armstrong sets things up with some garden-variety nonsense:
Non-believers have even targeted our language. If you go into a CVS Pharmacy, or a Barnes & Noble, or a Radio Shack, or a Staples (or many others) this Christmas season, you're going to be wished "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."
Note that Williams conflates "don't use our language" with "targeted our language." That is, what Williams describes as non-believers targeting "our" language is simply people choosing not to use that language. But that's nothing more than low-level persecution complex. It's what comes next that is impressively stupid:
The stores claim this change is being carried out in the name of diversity. After all, you wouldn't want to offend a Muslim by wishing him a Merry Christmas. (Try using that same argument to ban "Happy Ramadan!" in Saudi Arabia.)
Here, Williams conflates saying "Happy Holidays" with banning "Merry Christmas," as if Radio Shack will toss him from the store by the scruff of his neck if he wishes a clerk "Merry Christmas" while buying a package of nine-volts. And then, incredibly, he suggests that Americans should be no more sensitive towards religious diversity than Saudi Arabia is. Saudi Arabians would never tolerate someone saying "Happy Holidays" -- so neither should America!
The competition is stiff, but there's very little chance you'll read a dumber passage this week. Sadly, this is becoming a trend among right-wing commentators: In July, Newt Gingrich wrote "There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia."
I'm confused: Do conservatives believe in "American exceptionalism," or do they want America to be more like Saudi Arabia?
Conservative radio host Armstrong Williams criticized vice-presidential debate moderator Gwen Ifill over her upcoming book about African-American political leaders, saying she "should have disclosed" it, and that it is "ultimately impossible" for her not to favor Sen. Barack Obama, because she has a "financial stake" in his winning the presidency. However, beginning in 2003, Williams did not disclose that he received $240,000 in Education Department funds to promote No Child Left Behind. The Government Accountability Office found that the Department of Education's actions constituted "covert propaganda" in violation of the law.
On MSNBC Live, Armstrong Williams said of the New York Times article on Sen. John McCain's relationship with a telecommunications lobbyist, "I think what it does more than anything else, it causes those of us in the media to lose credibility. People begin to question what we print, whether there's any truth to it, whether we do our research." But Williams himself has been embroiled in controversy that undermined his "credibility," reportedly receiving $240,000 from the Bush administration to promote President Bush's No Child Left Behind legislation.
On Hardball, during a discussion of a sexual-harassment lawsuit against Isiah Thomas, Armstrong Williams asserted, "I think sometimes guys use it [the word "bitch"], like, let's say, for Isiah Thomas, if the woman did spurn his advances and if she found him offensive and did not give him the kind of attention that he's accustomed to getting from women, because he's supposed to be the celebrated athlete and not president of the New York Knicks, then he referred to her as a B, because he did not get her way. Still, he's implying here she's a tough broad."