Boris Epshteyn | Media Matters for America

Boris Epshteyn

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

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Sinclair edges ever closer to full-blown state media

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    [...]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

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

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

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

    Seriously, just watch this.

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

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

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

  • Here are the right-wing media figures defending Trump’s racist “shithole” comment

    ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT

    During a meeting on immigration policy in the Oval Office, President Donald Trump reportedly questioned the United States’ policy of accepting immigrants from, what he said, were “shithole countries,” such as Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations. In the aftermath of the president’s racist remarks, many in right-wing media rallied around him to defend his comments.

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

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

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

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    UPDATE: 

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

  • A defense of Trump’s unforgivable statements on Charlottesville may be airing on your local news

    Sinclair stations are airing pro-Trump propaganda

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Former aide to President Donald Trump and current administration media shill Boris Epshteyn is now using local television news spots across the country to back Trump in his disgraceful “both sides” treatment of violent neo-Nazism and white supremacy in Charlottesville, VA.

    Epshteyn is the chief political analyst of Sinclair Broadcast Group, a conservative local TV giant that currently owns and operates 173 stations in 33 states and the District of Columbia. He produces several 90-second commentary videos each week, which Sinclair dictates must be aired on all its stations nationwide. There is apparently no required disclosure Epshteyn must make in the segments he produces to inform viewers across the country that they’re hearing commentary from a former Trump staffer, even as his defenses of Trump’s most indefensible moments grow increasingly embarrassing.

    Epshteyn may have reached a new low last night with his take on Trump’s chilling defenses of neo-Nazis and white supremacists who rallied in Charlottesville last weekend.

    On August 11, a white supremacist "Unite the Right" rally kicked off with a tiki torch-wielding mob chanting "Jews will not replace us" on the University of Virginia campus in defense of a Confederate statue. The next day, the large gathering turned violent, when a neo-Nazi drove a car into the crowd of ralliers and counter-protesters, murdering anti-racism activist Heather Heyer. On Saturday, Trump issued a short statement refusing to specifically call out the white supremacists and neo-Nazis behind the rally, instead pointing to blame "on many sides." Following two days of intense criticism, Trump issued a low-energy statement Monday nominally condemning the KKK and white supremacists, then completely undermined that statement in an unhinged Tuesday press conference where he returned to pinning blame on "both sides," and claimed that there were "very fine people" included among the white supremacists.

    And yet, Epshteyn’s segment begins, “The sky is blue. Does the president have to repeat that fact day-in and day-out for us to believe it? No, he does not.”

    The “Bottom Line with Boris” segment completely ignores Trump’s statements on Charlottesville aside from his Teleprompter-dependent, hostage video from the White House on Monday afternoon in which he finally specifically condemned neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups. Epshteyn did not acknowledge Trump’s initial comments about the rally, in which he referred to violence “on many sides,” nor did he acknowledge Trump’s Tuesday press conference in which he gave “white supremacists an unequivocal boost.”  

    Epshteyn ends the segment with a personal note, explaining that he is Jewish and thus knows that Trump is not anti-Semitic. This analysis, however, does not account for years of Trump’s public footsie with prominent white nationalists and anti-Semites, including former KKK grand wizard David Duke.

    Sinclair’s other two right-wing “must-run” commentary segments -- “Behind the Headlines” with Mark Hyman and the “Terrorism Alert Desk” -- have yet to address the terror in Charlottesville. (Here are the “Terrorism Alert Desk” segments that ran on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday on Sinclair-owned Virginia station WSET.)  

    Local TV news viewers from Maine to Utah -- including some in Charlottesville’s backyard -- may have seen this segment last night or this morning as they turned to their local station for the news of the day. Folks in other cities and states across the country are also watching, waiting to hear if Sinclair will soon own their local TV station and extend the reach of its Trump apologism to Chicago or New Orleans, too.

  • Administration officials proved their loyalty by pushing lies and propaganda about voting

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Officials in President Donald Trump’s administration and those who worked for his presidential campaign took to broadcast and cable news over the past year to spread lies and propaganda about voting, often defending Trump’s debunked claims about massive noncitizen voting and widespread voter fraud.

    Before and after the election, Trump repeatedly hyped debunked theories that widespread voter fraud and massive noncitizen voting “rigged” the election against him and cost him the popular vote. Given the president’s affection for his staunchest cable news defenders, his “TV addiction,” and his desire for loyalty, it makes sense that those seeking to curry favor with Trump took to TV to hype lies about voting. According to a Media Matters analysis of broadcast morning and nightly news as well as prime-time cable news, at least 11 different Trump loyalists made television appearances, often on Fox News, in which they misinformed viewers about voter fraud nearly 120 times:

    • Ben Carson, who now serves as Trump’s secretary for housing and urban development, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news twice from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those two appearances, Carson made two statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made one statement falsely alleging that voter ID laws do not suppress minority turnout in elections.

    • Boris Epshteyn, who previously served as one of Trump’s press officers, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news three times from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those three appearances, Epshteyn made four statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made two statements falsely alleging that there is massive noncitizen voting. Additionally, Epshteyn made two statements falsely claiming that voter ID laws prevent voter fraud and one statement falsely claiming that voter ID laws do not suppress minority turnout in elections.

    • Corey Lewandowski, who previously served as Trump’s campaign manager, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news four times from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those four appearances, Lewandowski made 10 statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made four statements baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud.

    • J. Christian Adams, who now serves on Trump’s election integrity commission, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news twice from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those two appearances, Adams made six statements falsely alleging that there is massive noncitizen voting. He also made two statements baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud.

    • Jason Miller, who previously served as a senior communications adviser on Trump’s campaign, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news three times from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those three appearances, Miller made seven statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made one statement falsely alleging that there is massive noncitizen voting and two statements baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud.

    • Jeff Sessions, who now serves as Trump’s attorney general, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news twice from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those two appearances, Sessions made three statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made two statements falsely alleging that there is massive noncitizen voting and one statement falsely claiming that voter ID laws prevent voter fraud.

    • Kellyanne Conway, who now serves as Trump’s senior counselor, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news 11 times from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those 11 appearances, Conway made 13 statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. She also made four statements falsely alleging that there is massive noncitizen voting and two statements baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud.

    • Kris Kobach, who now serves as vice chair of Trump’s election integrity commission, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news four times from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those four appearances, Kobach made 12 statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made seven statements falsely alleging that there is massive noncitizen voting and one statement baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud. Additionally, Kobach made one statement falsely claiming that voter ID laws prevent voter fraud and four statements falsely claiming that voter ID laws do not suppress minority turnout in elections.

    • Michael Cohen, who served as a surrogate during the presidential campaign, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news once from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. During his appearance, Cohen made six statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made three statements baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud.

    • Mike Pence, who now serves as Trump’s vice president, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news four times from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. Over those four appearances, Pence made 12 statements falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud (but also one statement correctly stating that widespread voter fraud does not exist). He also made two statements baselessly conflating voter registration inaccuracies with voter fraud.

    • Mike Pompeo, who now serves as Trump’s CIA director, appeared on prime-time cable news and broadcast news once from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, to discuss voting. During his appearance, Pompeo made one statement falsely claiming that there is widespread voter fraud. He also made one statement falsely claiming that voter ID laws prevent voter fraud.

    Methodology

    Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts for evening cable news programs and broadcast morning news and evening newscasts from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017. We included the following programs in the data: ABC’s Good Morning America and World News Tonight, CBS’ CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News, NBC’s Today and NBC Nightly News, CNN’s The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, and CNN Tonight, Fox News’ The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren*, On the Record with Brit Hume*, Tucker Carlson Tonight*, First 100 Days*, The Story*, The O’Reilly Factor*, The Kelly File*, and Hannity, and MSNBC’s Meet the Press Daily, For the Record with Greta*, Hardball with Chris Matthews, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell. Due to the substantial reorganization of Fox News’ programming during the study period, programs that were either added or removed from the network during the study period are marked with an asterisk. During the study period, Greta Van Susteren moved to MSNBC and began hosting a program there; unlike with the network’s previous 6 p.m. programming, the transcripts for this program were included in the Nexis database, and thus were included.

    For this study, Media Matters included only those segments where the stated topic of conversation was voting rights or issues related to voting, or where “substantial discussion” of these topics occurred. We defined “substantial discussion” as that where two or more speakers had at least one direct exchange on the topic. Host monologues were also included only when the speaker made two independent mentions of voting or voting rights within the same segment. We did not include statements made in news or video clips in edited news packages except those made by a network correspondent. If news packages aired more than once, Media Matters coded only the first unique appearance. Similarly, if a live event -- such as a town hall or public forum -- was held during regularly scheduled programming, these segments were also excluded because the participants were not network or media guests.

    The resulting 561 segments were then coded for the mention of one or more of four general topics of conversation: logistical barriers to voting on the state level, the election, legal issues, and gerrymandering. Segments were also coded for the number of accurate or inaccurate statements each speaker made about six topics: widespread voter fraud, massive noncitizen voting, voter ID laws, voter registration inaccuracies, early voting, and gerrymandering. The statements coded for were:

    • There is widespread voter fraud (inaccurate).

    • Widespread voter fraud does not exist (accurate).

    • There is massive noncitizen voting (inaccurate).

    • Massive noncitizen voting does not exist (accurate).

    • Voter ID laws are useful to fight voter fraud (inaccurate).

    • Voter ID laws would do little combat voter fraud (accurate).

    • Voter ID laws do not affect voter turnout (inaccurate).

    • Voter ID laws disenfranchise voters, especially minority voters (accurate).

    • Voter registration inaccuracies lead to voter fraud (inaccurate).

    • Voter registration inaccuracies are different from voter fraud (accurate).

    • Early voting leaves elections more susceptible to voter fraud (inaccurate).

    • Early voting does not leave elections more susceptible to voter fraud (accurate).

    • Gerrymandering has not contributed to an outsized Republican majority on a federal and state level (inaccurate).

    • Gerrymandering has contributed to an outsized Republican majority on a federal and state level (accurate).

  • Pro-Trump outlet Sinclair is turning local news into Trump TV. Here's what it looks like.

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Local television news giant Sinclair Broadcast Group has been making headlines in recent weeks as it seeks to both double down on its requirement that its stations run mandated conservative commentary segments and vastly expand its reach into new major cities across the United States.  

    Plenty of recent major profiles of Sinclair have discussed its unusual tactic of designating certain conservative commentary segments it produces in its national studios as “must-runs,” meaning that every Sinclair-owned local television news station -- all 173, across 33 states and the District of Columbia -- is required to air them. The Sinclair brand has been openly right-wing for decades, causing controversy when executives similarly mandated the airing of an anti-John Kerry documentary and chose not to run a Nightline episode they viewed as critical of George W. Bush in the early 2000s.

    The latest Sinclair profiles often focus on the “Bottom Line with Boris” segments starring former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn, who is now employed as Sinclair’s chief political analyst. Epshteyn has been producing 60- to 90-second commentary segments several times a week since Sinclair hired him in April. Last month, Sinclair announced it would be upping Epshteyn’s segments from airing three times per week to nine.

    Employees at Sinclair stations across the country, from Seattle, WA, to Washington, D.C., are expressing concerns about the clearly conservative must-run segments pushed by Sinclair executives. 

    Anchors at individual local news stations owned by Sinclair are seemingly not required to introduce the segments in any particular way before running them; in fact, employees at at least one station have said they try to run the segments along with commercials “so they blend in with paid spots.” The on-air segments themselves have no built-in disclosure that Epshteyn was until recently employed by the same White House he now regularly lavishes with on-air praise (online versions of his commentary note his White House connection). Viewers also might not know that Sinclair’s efforts to expand to new cities across the country and corner the markets in mid-sized cities in battleground states are possible only because of the deregulatory efforts of the administration Epshteyn loves so dearly.

    Sinclair is empowering Epshteyn to broadcast regular segments effusively praising his former employer to local TV news viewers across the country who aren’t signing up to watch garbled propaganda every evening. His segments often seem to lazily tow the administration’s line on a given news story, when they bother to address a story at all -- sometimes his segments are glaringly focused on subjects that have nothing to do with whatever embarrassing headlines Trump is making that day.

    There are a few key examples of Epshteyn’s propaganda you may have already seen, like the video from June in which he mirrored the Trump administration’s war on the press by declaring the White House press briefing “a circus and a distraction,” or last weekend’s jaw-droppingly ill-timed defense of 10-day White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci.

    But these aren’t isolated examples. Here are five other “Bottom Line with Boris” segments that your aunt in Cedar Rapids may have unwittingly watched. Judge for yourself.

    Trump’s trade policies are good and so is “America first” as a slogan!

    In Epshteyn’s July 14 “Bottom Line with Boris” segment, he defended Trump’s use of the dog-whistle “America First” slogan and asserted that Trump is “strengthening” U.S. trade policy.

    From the beginning of the segment:

    America first. That has been President Trump’s slogan since the campaign, and it continues to be the mantra of the administration when it comes to international trade. What does an “America First” trade policy mean? It means fair trade, smart trade, taking a hard line with our trading partners, including our closest allies.

    CNN is biased against Trump!

    In Epshteyn’s June 28 “Bottom Line with Boris” segment, he focused on echoing Trump’s talking points casting CNN as biased and pushing a highly misleading (and embarrassing) video of a CNN medical producer discussing the network’s political coverage from right-wing video artist James O’Keefe.

    Epshteyn concluded that CNN was “struggling” to report on the facts writ large:

    It’s also important to further focus on CNN’s digital presence. The network’s website is supposed to be delivering news. However, it is dominated by opinion-based headlines and articles with more commentary than impartial fact. The bottom line is this: CNN, along with other cable news networks, is struggling to stick to the facts and to be impartial in covering politics in general and this president specifically.

    States should cooperate with Trump’s “voter fraud” commission!

    In Epshteyn’s July 5 “Bottom Line with Boris” segment, he encouraged states to cooperate with the Trump administration’s bogus voter fraud commission, which experts have said could actually be used to suppress legal votes.

    Epshteyn concluded:

    The extent of voter fraud in our elections has been hotly debated between the left and the right. The president's commission has been established to come up with a factual, impartial answer to that question. The states should do everything within their power to cooperate with the commission, and that’s the bottom line.

    Trump's Department of Veteran Affairs is crushing it!

    In Epshteyn’s July 11 “Bottom Line with Boris” segment, he celebrated the Department of Veteran Affairs’ report that it had fired numerous employees, declaring that Trump was “not wasting any time cleaning up the department” and was “delivering on those campaign promises.”

    Epshteyn concluded:

    The president made veterans issues a focal point of his campaign and his administration is now delivering on those campaign promises. We have to honor our veterans. We owe them proper treatment. Both the structure and substance of care of our veterans have to improve dramatically. The VA is unquestionably taking steps in the right direction. The bottom line is as long as Secretary [David] Shulkin and his department continue down this road, the VA will regain the trust of the American people and our veterans will receive the care they duly deserve.

    Don’t trust any national media to report on James Comey!  

    In Epshteyn’s June 11 “Bottom Line with Boris” segment, he covered former FBI director James Comey’s testimony before Congress on June 9. Epshteyn’s commentary did not focus on the substance of the hearing, but rather on three aspects Epshteyn says the “national media” failed to cover, including its own “inaccurate” reporting on Russia.

    Epshteyn’s concluded that viewers “learned much more about the president’s opponents and his critics” during the hearing than about anything related to Trump. OK.

  • Sinclair’s Boris Epshteyn celebrates Anthony Scaramucci’s “new approach” and “fresh perspective” for Trump’s White House

    Scaramucci, one day earlier: “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock”

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Update: Just days after Sinclair Broadcast Group's chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn released a commentary segment lauding Anthony Scaramucci's new approach as White House communications director, The New York Times reported that President Donald Trump had removed Scaramucci from the role. 


    Former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn’s latest “must-run” commentary segment for Sinclair Broadcast Group proves that President Donald Trump’s clumsy damage control will be televised on local TV news stations nationwide -- whether viewers like it or not.

    On July 27, The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza published a profanity-laced, on-the-record interview with Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director, in which the latter savaged his new White House colleagues. The following day, without mentioning the firestorm Scaramucci’s viral interview had caused, Epshteyn posted a new video commentary celebrating Scaramucci’s “fresh perspective” and pushing generic propagandistic talking points about the predicted success of the new White House communications strategy.

    Here is the entire transcript of the 86-second clip, via Sinclair-owned Washington, D.C. station WJLA:

    Changes are afoot in the White House communications department.

    It may be hard to keep track of who’s in, who’s out – and more importantly, what this means for the American people.

    Let’s break it down.

    The president wanted to bring in a fresh perspective to help manage and communicate the White House's message.

    The reins over communications are now totally in the hands of Anthony Scaramucci, the new communications director. He is going to report directly to the president. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has been promoted to press secretary after having been the principal deputy.

    I know Anthony personally; he is a good friend. He is unquestionably passionate and direct -- that’s been pretty obvious. He also has a high level of respect for media, having been a part of it himself.

    The reason his appointment matters is that there is going to be a new approach to dealing with the media from the White House.

    Anthony has already made two key promises:

    First, cameras are on for the daily press briefing. Get ready to see more of those pointed exchanges between the White House and the press.

    Second, the White House comms shop will enable the president to speak directly to you, through all mediums, even more than in the past. This will allow for the president’s words to cut through any spin or interpretation and go right to the people.

    The bottom line is this: There is not always agreement between the White House and those covering them; that is impossible. What these changes do signal, however, is there will now be a better working relationship between the White House and the press. This will hopefully result in us getting more thorough, and real, information on the issues that actually matter to our daily lives – such as jobs, health care and taxes.

    If you can’t choose just one sentence from this blatant pro-Trump propaganda to label as the worst, don’t worry -- the actual worst part about any of Epshteyn’s videos is what’s happening off-camera.

    Sinclair’s openly pro-Trump corporate offices mandate that every “Bottom Line with Boris” segment run on all of its 173 television news stations in 33 states and the District of Columbia. Anchors at individual local news stations owned by Sinclair are seemingly not required to introduce the segments in any particular way before running them -- employees at at least one station have said they try to run the segments along with commercials “so they blend in with paid spots.” This means that, unlike the online transcript at WJLA’s website, the segments themselves have no built-in disclosure that Epshteyn was until recently employed by the same White House he now regularly lavishes with on-air praise.

    Epshteyn has been producing 60- to 90-second commentary segments several times a week since he joined Sinclair as its chief political analyst in April. Earlier in July, Sinclair announced it would be upping Epshteyn’s segments from airing three times per week to nine times per week.

  • Variety: Sinclair adds "conservative tilt" to local news by forcing stations to run right-leaning segments

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    An article published in Variety magazine highlighted Sinclair Broadcast Group’s practice of using “must-run” commentary segments to inject “conservative tilt” into a myriad of Sinclair-owned local news stations across the United States.

    Sinclair and its affiliates have a long history of broadcasting reports and commentary that feature a distinct conservative slant, and over the last few months, Sinclair has required its stations to run commentary segments from pro-Trump personalities. If Sinclair’s recent bid to purchase Tribune Media company is successful, it will be able to foist these segments on 42 additional local stations across the country. Tribune Media employees and their union leadership have already expressed concerns about Sinclair’s tendency to pepper its news coverage with right-wing opinions. There is even speculation that the network is considering hiring Fox News spin masters Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly (who recently left Fox News amid reports of sexual harassment).

    As Variety reported, Sinclair “has drawn more and more fire from critics” who have chided the network’s policy of airing “must-run” conservative commentary segments on Sinclair-owned local news stations. The article also noted that the inclusion of former Trump strategist Boris Epshteyn’s “Bottom Line With Boris” commentary -- in which Epshteyn has thus far “unfailingly supported his ex-boss” -- in Sinclair’s “must-run” programming runs counter to the typical “down-the-middle approach” local news outlets usually take on national issues. As Media Matters President Angelo Carusone told Variety, with these segments, Sinclair is “exploiting and weaponizing the fact that people don’t expect their local news to be partisan”:

    It’s hardly surprising that Sinclair would face speculation over its plans for the future. The company is already the nation’s largest owner of TV stations, and it will grow to unprecedented size if the FCC approves the Tribune acquisition. And Sinclair has drawn more and more fire from critics — notably HBO’s John Oliver — for the increasingly conservative tilt to its local newscasts through “must-run” commentary segments and coverage decisions mandated at the corporate level.

    [...]

    Sinclair has generated controversy by mandating all of its stations run Epshteyn’s nine-times-weekly “Bottom Line With Boris” commentary segments. The former Trump strategist has unfailingly supported his ex-boss in virtually all of his two-minute segments to date: praising Trump’s “America First” trade policy, saluting his efforts to reform the Veterans Administration, crediting Trump for fueling job growth and chiding state leaders for balking at the administration’s request for voter registration data as part of its voter fraud investigation.

    [...]

    Viewers who tune in to Fox News or MSNBC likely expect to get a partisan slant on the headlines at least in some programs. But local TV news has typically had a down-the-middle approach, especially on national issues. Were Epshteyn to appear as a commentator on a cable news channel, his partisan affiliation would be identified. That’s not the case on air at Sinclair; Epshteyn’s previous work for Trump is disclosed only in the online postings of his commentaries on Sinclair station websites.

    “They’re really trying to warp the worldview and the narrative that their audience is receiving from their newscasts, and it’s being warped by a source that [the audience] would otherwise trust,” says Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, a liberal-leaning watchdog organization that has been a vocal critic of Sinclair for years. “I think it’s exploiting and weaponizing the fact that people don’t expect their local news to be partisan.”