Boris Epshteyn

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  • A short history of the right-wing politics of Sinclair Broadcasting

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Sinclair Broadcast Group, the country's largest operator of local television stations, is in the process of buying Tribune Media. Sinclair and its affiliates have a history of airing conservative-leaning reporting and commentary, and its executives have donated to Republicans and Republican causes. The company also has ties to President Donald Trump and his administration, covered him very favorably during his presidential campaign, and hired one of his former aides as an analyst.

  • Don’t be fooled: Sinclair is trying to bring the Fox News model to your local news station 

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    According to Sinclair Broadcasting Group, it's doing a service to its viewers by requiring the many local TV news stations it owns to air unabashedly pro-Trump propaganda on a regular basis.  

    The local TV news giant has been pushing a right-wing slant on local television stations across the country for years. Owned by the Smiths, a family of longtime Republican donors who have all the ambition of News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch but a much lower profile, Sinclair has mostly flown under the radar. But following the election of President Donald Trump, the network has begun adopting the playbook Roger Ailes used to turn Fox News into a conservative media goliath.

    Over the last few months, Sinclair has been requiring its stations to run more commentaries from pro-Trump personalities and expanding its reach to greater numbers of unassuming viewers in new local media markets. Now it's defending these clear moves to mimic the aspiring state media over at Fox with warped, brainwash-y logic: The conservative propaganda it pushes on its viewers is necessary because the rest of the media is biased.

    Politico’s Hadas Gold obtained a new internal memo from Sinclair executive Scott Livingston declaring that much of the recent reporting about Sinclair’s moves to expand right-wing local news is “false.”

    In the memo, Livingston said the network’s right-wing commentary segments “provide a viewpoint that often gets lost in the typical national broadcast media dialogue.” His memo closed with an attempt to cast recent criticism of Sinclair as illegitimate and perpetrated by "biased" reporters seeking to "destroy our reputation." On and off-screen, it's Sinclair vs. the world:

    "What we find most troubling in the reporting about our company, by major media outlets (like the New York Times and Washington Post), is the omission of key facts in their stories,” Livingston wrote. "Such omissions suggest the existence of either journalistic incompetency or editorial bias. We do not believe these journalists are incompetent, so we are left to conclude that they are biased.

    "We are proud to offer a range of perspectives, both conservative and liberal --- to our consumers -- -on our Sinclair broadcast stations each day. It is unfortunate that so many of our competitors do not provide the same marketplace of ideas,” he continued. "Our commitment is to tracking the truth, providing context and perspective in our reporting and serving our communities with valuable and, at times, life-saving information. We value our viewers and our journalists who work hard each day to serve the communities in which they live -- -all across this great country. It’s concerning and troubling that so many once trusted news organizations continue to push false narratives with an agenda to destroy our reputation and discredit the great journalism across our company.”

    Like Ailes before him, Livingston hopes that he can garner ratings by presenting his network as “fair and balanced” in opposition to the mainstream press. But here are the undeniable, troubling facts about the direction Sinclair is taking:

    • Months after hiring former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn as its chief political analyst, Sinclair announced it would be increasing the number of times per week that Epshteyn’s right-wing commentary segment, “Bottom Line with Boris,” must air on its local stations. Media critic David Zurawik has described these segments as “as close to classic propaganda as I think I have seen” over his 30-year career.
    • “Bottom Line with Boris” is one of three regular Sinclair segments considered to be “must run” content, meaning that all Sinclair stations are required to air them. The other two segments are “Behind the Headlines” with conservative commentator Mark Hyman and a fearmongering “terrorism alert desk.” The practice has raised concerns from experts and employees at local Sinclair stations.
    • Sinclair is currently seeking to acquire Tribune Media for $3.9 billion, a move that would make Sinclair the largest provider of local television news in the country. The potential acquisition, by the way, is possible only because of a Trump administration move to roll back Obama-era consumer regulations.

    It’s clear that Sinclair is attempting to push an increasingly skewed view of the news to an ever-expanding audience in regions across the country. And this isn’t Livingston’s first time lashing out at non-Sinclair outlets. Back in March, Livingston set this tone by narrating a strange “must run” segment warning viewers about “biased and false news” from “members of the national media.”

    The “must run” segments are not just run-of-the-mill conservative “commentary”

    While Livingston is trying to pass off the must-run segments as merely conservative commentary, there’s no doubt that the Epshteyn and Hyman segments are straight-up propaganda. In recent weeks, neither commentator seems to have aired a segment touching on possible collusion between members of the Trump camp and Russia, despite frequent bombshells on the top story. (In June, Hyman's take on Russian meddling in the election was: "We do it. Russians do it. Everyone does it. Meddling in another nation's democratic elections is actually routine behavior.") They’ve also had little to say about the dangerously inept Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, a major news story and a Trump administration priority gone wrong. (Epshteyn’s most recent segment, as of publication, is a confused critique of net neutrality. Hyman’s is about why raising the minimum wage in Seattle is bad.)

    At its very worst, the Sinclair “must run” strategy also attempts to drive a wedge between local audiences and the facts. Both Epshteyn and Hyman have found time to produce several segments each since Trump’s inauguration attacking mainstream media outlets in a direct echo of both their employer’s rhetoric and Trump administration talking points. Epshteyn even cheered Trump’s threat to scale back White House press briefings last month, calling the briefings “a circus and a distraction.”

    And at its very, very worst, Sinclair is sneaking the very lowest in fringe, far-right commentary into the living rooms of unsuspecting Americans who did not sign up for it. The most devastating example is this must-run segment from April, in which Mark Hyman alludes to the heinous far-right conspiracy theory about the death of DNC staffer Seth Rich.

    The Hyman and Epshteyn segments are doing the dirty work of pushing Sinclair’s openly pro-Trump agenda and anti-media propaganda efforts to unknowing local television viewers on the regular.

  • How Sinclair Broadcasting purchasing Tribune Media could help Trump get re-elected

    Blog ››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH & JOHN KERR

    Local TV news conglomerate Sinclair Broadcast Group is purchasing Tribune Media Group. Sinclair and its affiliates have a history of airing far-right reporting and commentary, its executives have donated to Republicans, and Sinclair even hired former Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn as its chief political analyst. With all the Tribune media stations that are located in big cities and swing states, Donald Trump’s re-election campaign is about to get a big boost:

  • The Trump Administration Just Helped A Pro-Trump Media Empire Grow

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    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.

  • Sinclair Broadcast Group Deepens Its Trump Administration Ties With Boris Epshteyn Hire

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group’s announcement that it hired former White House aide Boris Epshteyn as its chief political analyst suggests a move to deepen its ties with President Donald Trump’s administration.

    During the election Sinclair struck a deal with the Trump campaign for better news coverage and then gave the president a softball question during his second press conference. As Politico reported at the time, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner said in December that Sinclair “struck a deal … during the campaign to try and secure better media coverage” for Trump in exchange for “more access to Trump and the campaign.” In August 2016, Trump debuted a new media strategy which included sitting for an interview with Sinclair..

    During his second press conference as president, Trump called on only two American reporters to ask questions, one of whom was from a Sinclair station (the other one was also from a conservative media outlet). The question was a softball that avoided the main story of the day about former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s possible criminal violation of the Logan Act. This led to criticism from other journalists, including a Fox News reporter.

    A press release highlight Sinclair’s announcement of Epshteyn’s hire as chief political analyst emphasized his short-lived role in the Trump administration and campaign and noted that he "will provide analysis and insight on major political stories":

    Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. (Nasdaq: SBGI) is pleased to announce that Boris Epshteyn, an accomplished commentator and strategist, has joined the company as chief political analyst and will provide analysis and insight on major political stories.

    [...]

    "I am honored and grateful to be joining the distinguished and extremely talented team at Sinclair Broadcast Group," commented Mr. Epshteyn. "I greatly admire Sinclair's mission to provide thoughtful impactful reporting throughout the country. I look forward to contributing my voice to the ongoing dialogue with the American people."

    Mr. Epshteyn most recently served as Special Assistant to The President and Assistant Communications Director for Surrogate Operations for the Executive Office of President Trump. Mr. Epshteyn managed the surrogate operation of the White House and Administration as well as appeared as an on-air spokesman for the Administration. Prior to joining The White House, Mr. Epshteyn served as Communications Director for the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee.

    Mr. Epshteyn was a surrogate and Senior Advisor to the Trump Campaign, where he managed messaging.

  • Pro-Trump Spin On Cable News Goes Off The Rails

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Following several new reports of women alleging Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump had sexually harassed or sexually assaulted them, Trump campaign surrogates’ defenses took a bizarre turn. Here’s what Trump’s surrogates and media allies had to say during news appearances in the last day, which included dismissing the realities of sexual assault and attempting to pivot to old, debunked “scandals.”

  • Media Host Trump Adviser Boris Epshteyn On Russia Without Disclosing His Business Ties

    ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Media outlets have been hosting Donald Trump senior adviser Boris Epshteyn, who has used the platform to defend Russian President Vladimir Putin from criticism and to claim that the Clintons, not Trump, have “been way too cozy with the Russians.” Outlets have failed to disclose during discussions about Russia that Epshteyn has financial ties to the former Soviet Union, which include consulting for “entities doing business in Eastern Europe” and moderating a Russian-sponsored conference on "investment opportunities in Moscow.”