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  • Sinclair brings Betsy DeVos and the education privatization echo chamber to local news

    DeVos’ softball interview with Sinclair’s Boris Epshteyn promotes an extreme agenda, and it’s airing on local news stations across the country

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is the latest member of President Donald Trump’s inner circle to use the ready-made platform at conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group as an infomercial for the president’s agenda -- this time, to promote education privatization.

    DeVos filmed a softball interview with Sinclair chief political analyst (and former Trump aide) Boris Epshteyn that began airing on January 24 on local news stations across the country. In the portion of the interview aired so far, the education secretary promotes National School Choice Week:

    But National School Choice Week is not as innocuous as its name might suggest. In fact, it’s a public relations campaign (and a group) funded overwhelmingly by the Gleason Family Foundation, the secretive private family foundation of a machine tool manufacturing company. The foundation supports many other pro-privatization and anti-union groups, including a number of Koch-affiliated libertarian think tanks that push union-busting “right-to-work” legislation.

    National School Choice Week is designed to promote a handful of policies that would privatize various aspects of the public education system, including vouchers and privately operated, for-profit, and online charter schools. It’s no coincidence that these specific policies are the best options for wealthy individuals or massive corporations that want to cash in on students -- or that these same policies are supported by more openly right-wing groups underwritten by corporate billionaires, such as the Koch-affiliated American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and State Policy Network think tanks. DeVos’ own family foundation has frequently donated to other dark-money groups associated with National School Choice Week in the past, and National School Choice Week’s current president used to work with DeVos at her pro-voucher lobbying group American Federation for Children.

    The whole operation illustrates the corporate dark-money echo chamber that wealthy conservatives have created to support education policies they can use for profit at the expense of the vulnerable. Research shows that the programs these types of policies support -- for-profit models that aren’t beholden to some traditional public school regulations and don’t have unionized workforces -- are most harmful to students belonging to already oppressed communities.

    DeVos’ Sinclair appearance contributes further to the conservative goal of cloaking these efforts in the language of “choice” and “innovation.” It’s not just an embarrassingly soft interview with a pro-Trump outlet; it’s dangerous for local viewers.

    As of this morning, it’s already aired on at least 35 local news stations in 22 states.

  • EPA nominee Andrew Wheeler is gaming the media ahead of his confirmation hearing

    Wheeler is looking increasingly like Scott Pruitt in his dealings with the press

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Andrew Wheeler, nominated by President Donald Trump on January 9 to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is increasingly following the aggressive media playbook of his predecessor, Scott Pruitt.

    Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, assumed the role of acting EPA administrator in July, after Pruitt got himself booted. He has continued Pruitt's work of rolling back major environmental regulations, a fact that has been well-reported. Less well-known is that Wheeler has also been following in Pruitt's footsteps in dealing with the press.

    Wheeler's EPA press team attacks journalists and media outlets

    The scandal-prone Pruitt had an extremely contentious relationship with the media. His press office retaliated against specific reporters whose stories it didn't like and even attacked them by name in press releases, among other antagonistic moves.

    When Wheeler took the helm, many reporters looked forward to a change in approach. E&E News published a story about the differences between the two EPA leaders in July under the headline "'Night and day' as Wheeler opens doors to press."

    But in the last few months, the EPA press office has returned to some of the same combative tactics used during the Pruitt era. An October 30 press release was headlined, "EPA Sets the Record Straight After Being Misrepresented in Press." Two days later, it got more aggressive with a press release titled "Fact Checking Seven Falsehoods in CNN’s Report." From an E&E News article published in mid-November:

    The [EPA press shop's] combative approach calmed a bit when acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler took over for Scott Pruitt, who resigned over the summer, but now it appears to be intensifying again.

    The agency's actions have been scrutinized in the press in recent weeks, and the public affairs shop has been hitting back.

    Bobby Magill, president of the Society of Environmental Journalists, said the agency seems to be returning to its war-room-style tactics under Pruitt.

    "It looks to me like they're sort of returning to form," Magill said. "This suggests that they are returning to their previous press strategy under Scott Pruitt."

    Wheeler may start feeling even more antagonistic toward the press in the coming months. On December 26, a federal judge ordered the EPA to release roughly 20,000 emails exchanged between industry groups and high-level political appointees at the agency, including Wheeler, after the Sierra Club sued to gain access to the records under the Freedom of Information Act. Similar records requests from the Sierra Club during Pruitt's tenure helped lead to his forced resignation; the group made the emails available to reporters, which led to the publication of many embarrassing articles about Pruitt.

    Wheeler favors right-wing media for his televised interviews

    Pruitt heavily favored Fox News and other right-wing media outlets, giving them far more interviews than mainstream news organizations.

    Wheeler exhibits similar preferences. All four of the TV interviews we've seen him give since becoming acting administrator at the EPA have been with right-wing outlets.

    The first went to the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group. Boris Epshteyn, Sinclair's chief political analyst and a former Trump aide, asked no hard questions and gave Wheeler a platform to make specious claims about automobile fuel economy. Wheeler's second TV interview was with Fox News, the third was with the Fox Business Network, and the fourth went to a Sinclair national correspondent, and those interviewers all went easy on him too.

    Wheeler is getting cozy with the right-wing Daily Caller

    Pruitt and his press office had a remarkably friendly relationship with The Daily Caller, a far-right online publication started by Fox News personality Tucker Carlson, funded by Charles Koch, and sustained through sketchy tax dealings. During Pruitt's tenure, the EPA press office issued a policy statement by sending out a press release that pointed to an interview Pruitt gave to The Daily Caller, while the right-wing outlet frequently defended Pruitt against accusations of wrongdoing, sometimes with "scoops" and "exclusives" based on information that appeared to have been leaked to the outlet by EPA sources.

    Late last year, Wheeler revealed his own affinity for The Daily Caller. After he was criticized for spreading a false attack on the National Climate Assessment, a major government report on climate change, the EPA issued a press release that tried to defend Wheeler by directly citing a Daily Caller article. For its part, The Daily Caller regularly publishes articles defending Wheeler and the actions of his EPA.

    Wheeler embraces right-wing outlets and slams mainstream media via his Twitter account

    Like his predecessor, Wheeler has a fondness for right-wing media outlets and personalities, but he has exhibited that preference in a way that Pruitt never did -- via his personal Twitter account. Or at least he did until a few weeks ago, when Wheeler protected his account to hide his tweets from the public. (Wheeler still has a publicly viewable official Twitter account.) But journalists and activists had made note of many of the controversial tweets from his personal account before he deleted individual ones and then made the whole account private.

    The Daily Beast reported last year on one troubling tweet:

    In August 2016, Wheeler publicly defended alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous after the latter was banned from Twitter for encouraging users to harass actress Leslie Jones. In a now-deleted tweet, the lobbyist linked to a six-minute video, “The Truth About Milo,” produced by InfoWars editor-at-large and noted conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, in which Watson posited that conservatives might be “banned from using the internet altogether if they trigger your butthurt.”

    Wheeler has amplified at least two tweets from Fox News' Brit Hume that bashed major newspapers. In December, Wheeler "liked" a Hume tweet that linked to a Wall Street Journal editorial criticizing The Washington Post for alleged anti-Trump bias. In October, he retweeted another Hume tweet that criticized The New York Times and linked to an article in the conservative National Review.

    Wheeler has also "liked" a number of tweets from other right-wing figures who criticized mainstream media outlets, including:

    • a Donald Trump Jr. tweet linking to The Daily Caller and mocking CNN
    • a tweet from frequent Fox guest and former NRATV host Dan Bongino that slammed MSNBC
    • a tweet from libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin that bashed HuffPost

    Wheeler promotes climate denial and racist memes via his Twitter account

    Like Pruitt, Wheeler also casts doubt on well-established climate science -- another view he has expressed through his Twitter account.

    In a 2015 tweet, Wheeler praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'” The essay criticized mainstream media outlets and scientific journals that have reported on climate change:

    Of course, we don’t have good data or sound arguments for decarbonizing our energy supply. But it sounds like we do. If you read Scientific American, Science, Nature, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and you take them at face value, you would have to agree that there is a strong likelihood that serious climate change is real and that decarbonization or geo-engineering are our only hopes. ... These are the people promoting a myth that has become deeply ingrained in our society.

    In 2011, Wheeler tweeted a link to a post on the climate-denial blog JunkScience.com. The post, written by the site's founder and longtime climate denier Steve Milloy, argued that information from the American Lung Association should not be trusted because the organization "is bought-and-paid-for by the EPA." Wheeler also retweeted a Milloy tweet from 2015 that took a shot at HuffPost founder Arianna Huffington. And in 2009, Wheeler sent two tweets linking to climate-denying blog posts.

    HuffPost's Alexander Kaufman has reported on how Wheeler used his social media accounts to endorse or promote other unsavory views:

    [Wheeler] repeatedly engaged with incendiary, partisan content on his personal Facebook and Twitter accounts over the past five years. The online activity included liking a racist image of former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on Facebook and retweeting an infamous “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist.

    Wheeler is turning back to major mainstream newspapers as he faces confirmation hearing

    Though Wheeler has shown a preference for right-wing media in TV interviews and on Twitter, he has also given a number of interviews to mainstream newspapers, wire services, and D.C. publications. In July, after it was announced that he would serve as acting EPA administrator, Wheeler gave interviews to The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, USA Today, and The New York Times.

    The pace of his interviews with print outlets slowed down after his first month in office, but then ramped back up in November around the time that Trump announced his intention to nominate Wheeler to permanently fill the top EPA spot. On November 16, Wheeler gave another interview to The New York Times, and then two weeks later sat for a live-streamed interview with The Washington Post. In December, he gave another interview to The Wall Street Journal and then one to The Hill.

    Granting interviews to major newspapers seems to be part of Wheeler's strategy to paint himself with a gloss of mainstream respectability before his Senate confirmation hearing, which is scheduled for January 16. Meanwhile, some of his more partisan views are now out of sight in that locked Twitter account, including insults lobbed at those very same newspapers. 

  • Sinclair had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year and it has only itself to blame

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Sinclair Broadcast Group began 2018 hoping to finalize a massive deal that would cement its place as the country’s largest owner and operator of local TV stations, after having more or less weathered a few bad news cycles about its obvious conservative bent. But the local TV news giant is ending the year with arguably higher negative name recognition than ever before and with its proposed acquisition of 42 more stations rejected. In fact, one of its most formidable competitors is now aiming to knock Sinclair out of that top spot. And Sinclair has only itself to blame.

    Sinclair saw a huge spike in public criticism following the launch of a controversial anchor-read, Trumpian “must-run.”

    In March, Sinclair news stations across the country began airing “must-run” promotional segments in which local anchors read from a script that seemed to mirror President Donald Trump’s rhetoric by criticizing other media outlets for so-called bias.

    Some Sinclair employees were so unnerved by the script that they anonymously leaked it to CNN’s Brian Stelter weeks before the segments ran. Timothy Burke, then a video editor at Deadspin, quickly compiled clips of reporters at various stations reading from the shared script, and the resulting video supercut went viral.

    As of publication, the Deadspin video has more than 9 million views. Media Matters additionally documented 66 Sinclair stations nationwide airing the scripted segments. Widespread media coverage of the segments culminated with Trump himself tweeting multiple times in Sinclair’s defense. Sinclair employees continued to speak out about the “must-run” promos, saying they felt their employer was using their local credibility to advance an agenda, and professional groups condemned Sinclair’s tactics. A few employees and stations even refused to participate in the promo campaign.

    In an attempt at damage control, Sinclair executives emailed with reporters and circulated internal documents suggesting that coverage of the promotional segments was itself biased, attacking CNN specifically. The company also trotted out its chief political analyst, Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump aide, to deflect criticism of the promos in an odd second “must-run” segment.

    Sinclair’s chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn isn’t bringing in a loyal audience, but he has sparked several news cycles of outrage over his segments.

    Epshteyn caused numerous problems for his employer this year, producing “must-run” commentary segments that ranged from lackluster to embarrassing to -- on several occasions -- deeply offensive. This year, he drew public ire for using his Sinclair platform to:

    • defend Trump’s racist diatribe calling Haiti, El Salvador, and unspecified African nations “shithole countries”;
    • attempt to minimize the cruelty of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” family separation and child detention policies at the southern border;
    • exploit the murder of a young woman in Iowa to attack immigrants;
    • defend tear-gassing families seeking asylum; and
    • back conspiracy theorist and anti-Muslim extremist Laura Loomer.

    After the tear-gas defense in November, Sinclair had to issue multiple statements, at first distancing itself from Epshteyn’s views but then pivoting to saying that the segment had been “drastically and intentionally mischaracterized.” (It was not; Media Matters broke the story and included a full video and transcript.) A couple of media advocacy groups also expressed concern about the segment, with nonpartisan group Free Press even calling on Sinclair to fire Epshteyn.

    When he wasn’t forcing his employer to do damage control over his anti-immigrant commentary, Epshteyn was continuing to cultivate an embarrassingly miniscule audience and land pointless interviews with Trump officials, including the president himself. To give an idea of just how doting these interviews were, I documented the totality of the questions or comments Epshteyn made over the course of six “must-run” segments featuring portions of an interview with Trump. About half were some version of “sure” or “right.”

    This makes sense, of course, because another big problem for Sinclair this year was the news that Epshteyn may in fact be legally barred from criticizing the president. Epshteyn admitted in September that he had signed a nondisparagement agreement while working on the Trump campaign in 2016. As The Washington Post noted, “Epshteyn regularly discloses to viewers his former roles with Trump but hasn’t mentioned that he signed a nondisparagement agreement while he was with the campaign. Asked for comment, Epshteyn declined to address the issue directly.”

    A Sinclair host in St. Louis resigned after aiming abusive language at a Parkland school shooting survivor. 

    While Sinclair regularly inserts its clearly conservative national commentary and reporting segments into local newscasts, the vast majority of employees at Sinclair-controlled stations are just legitimate journalists trying to do their jobs. At the Sinclair station in St. Louis, MO, however, that was not the case. The station, KDNL ABC 30, didn’t offer any typical local newscasts; instead, three times a day it aired a commentary program hosted by local conservative radio host Jamie Allman. At least, until April it did.

    On March 26, Allman sent a threatening tweet about David Hogg, a teenage gun safety activist who survived the February mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. In the tweet, Allman wrote that he wanted to “ram a hot poker up David Hogg’s ass.” After the St. Louis alt-weekly the Riverfront Times reported on the Hogg tweet, some advertisers pulled their spots from his radio show and a state lawmaker called for a boycott. Within days, Allman had resigned and his KDNL show was cancelled.

    This entire story was an unforced error on Sinclair’s part. It was not the first time Allman had tweeted abusive or unhinged things before or after he was hired to host the Sinclair show -- including a string of abusive tweets he sent to me after Media Matters published a report about him last year. More than eight months later, KDNL still does not appear to air any daily local news programming.

    Sinclair attempted to put a thumb on the scales for midterms, but it didn’t really pay off.

    Though Sinclair has quietly (and sometimes not-so-quietly) engaged in openly partisan activities in the past, the company’s conservative point of view was on particular display during this year’s midterm elections. Early on in the year, Sinclair began soliciting contributions from upper-level employees for its political action committee (PAC). In keeping with its past efforts, the PAC donated overwhelmingly to Republicans. Sinclair executives personally gave to candidates including racist ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio and Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT), who is known primarily for body-slamming a reporter. And Epshteyn helped New York Republican congressional candidate Naomi Levin raise money over the summer, promoting her campaign donation link on Twitter.

    Epshteyn’s segments increasingly forewent commentary altogether in the lead-up to the elections, instead excerpting softball interviews that essentially served as infomercials for White House and Republican Party officials and their policies. Over the course of the year, Epshteyn segments included excerpts of interviews with at least five Republicans on November’s ballots, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. In many cases, the interviews ran in the states and cities these lawmakers were hoping to represent after November or worked to lay the groundwork for Trump in communities that could be pivotal in the 2020 presidential election.

    While many of the Republican candidates specifically supported by Sinclair on or off air coasted to victories in safely red areas, others saw surprisingly stiff competition and extremely close races. And as the true extent of the November “blue wave” was revealed, it seems the company’s larger strategy of promoting conservative views in swing districts didn’t quite pay off.

    Sinclair mishandled its proposal to acquire 42 new stations, and the FCC slow-tracked the potential deal until Tribune pulled out.

    Sinclair headed into 2018 expecting to close on its proposed deal to acquire Tribune Media’s 42 local news stations. That plan required approval from the Trump Department of Justice and Federal Communications Commission (FCC), but the agency had already made several regulatory moves to help the broadcasting company. The acquisition would have cemented Sinclair as the nation’s largest owner and operator of local TV stations and allowed the company to effectively control large portions of some local media markets, enter into the country’s largest markets for the first time, and reach more than 70 percent of U.S. television households.

    Instead, in July, the FCC surprised experts by deciding to slow-track the deal, citing a handful of potential station divestments about which commissioners believed Sinclair has purposely misled them. Instead of approving the acquisition outright, the commission elected to send the proposal to an administrative judge, which has been a death blow to similar deals in the past. More details emerged when the hearing designation order was made public, including allegations that Sinclair had shown a “lack of candor” in its communications about the deal with the FCC. A few weeks later, on August 9, Tribune called off the merger.

    The trouble for Sinclair didn’t end there, either. Tribune also filed a lawsuit against Sinclair for “breach of contract,” arguing that company representatives had recklessly endangered the deal by intentionally misrepresenting some of the proposed station divestments. The order also alleged further specifics about Sinclair’s “belligerent” conduct throughout the federal approval process for the deal, saying Sinclair “fought, threatened, insulted, and misled regulators” at the Department of Justice.

    What’s next for Sinclair?

    For one: Many of Sinclair’s regulatory issues stemming from the shuttered Tribune deal have yet to be resolved and will follow the broadcasting company into the new year. Since the FCC singled out the deal proposal for review due to potential “misrepresentation or lack of candor” by Sinclair, the unresolved allegation of misbehavior has been a dark cloud over the company. It’s something regulators at the FCC will have to consider as they contemplate renewing Sinclair’s public broadcasting licenses for its large number of stations -- and that could be happening sooner than expected. Last month, the American Cable Association filed a petition asking the FCC to conduct an early license renewal process for four of Sinclair’s stations so it can “resolve the serious charges it leveled against Sinclair.”

    Even with this potential hurdle looming, Sinclair doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. It still controls about 190 local news stations, and the company is reportedly already pursuing other ways to expand. Earlier this month, Fox Business reported that Sinclair is planning to make a bid for Fox’s regional sports networks. The company could also take advantage of any good graces it still has with the FCC to advocate for further industry deregulation during the commission’s periodic review of its broadcast ownership rules next year.

    After a high-profile year, Sinclair seems likely to really embrace its public image as an openly conservative media company. It’s already taking steps in that direction by continuing to offer Trump administration and Republican officials an easy interview platform, hosting a town hall with right-wing darlings Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens, and enlisting former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka to host a special program decrying socialism. It’s also been courting former Fox News figures -- including BlazeTV personality Eric Bolling, who left Fox News last year after colleagues reported that he sent them sexually graphic pictures and who now appears to be partnering with Sinclair in some capacity. It’s unclear what projects Sinclair may have in the works for these former Fox personalities, but they could make appearances on a rival network (though that’s not as likely without the Tribune assets) or on Sinclair’s new streaming app, STIRR, which is set to launch in the new year and could compete with Fox’s new Fox Nation platform.

    One thing about Sinclair’s immediate future seems particularly certain, though: It’s going to keep up its harmful tactics. There will be more offensive “must-run” segments, and probably more brain-washy promotions in the spring, and definitely more blatant agenda-pushing with the Trump administration. The company has shown little desire to change behavior or admit when it’s done something morally objectionable so far. Why would it start now?

  • If Sinclair really didn't endorse Boris Epshteyn's commentary, the company wouldn't force its local news stations to air it

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Earlier this week, local news stations controlled by the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group aired a segment defending the use of tear gas on children and families traveling with a migrant caravan near the U.S.-Mexico border. Last night, the broadcast company finally issued a tepid statement, but there’s plenty more that Sinclair still needs to address.

    On November 26, Sinclair-owned and -operated local news stations across the country began airing a two-minute segment in which former aide to President Donald Trump and Sinclair chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn defended the use of tear gas and pepper balls on members of a Honduran migrant caravan attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego, CA. The crowd hit with tear gas included children. Epshteyn also characterized the group of migrants as “attempting to storm” the border in an “attempted invasion of our country.”

    This segment has since aired, often spliced into local news coverage, on Sinclair-controlled local news stations in at least 26 states, according to the iQ media database. Media Matters estimates that the segment aired on roughly 100 Sinclair news stations as part of the company’s infamous “must-run” lineup.

    News outlets ranging from the local to the national, in print and online, covered the rightful public outrage generated by Epshteyn's comments. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists released a statement saying that it’s reconsidering its professional relationship with Sinclair.

    This is what the broadcasting giant said in a series of tweets: 

    We'd like to take a moment and address some concerns regarding a commentary segment by @borisep that was aired on Sinclair stations this week. The opinions expressed in this segment do not reflect the views of Sinclair Broadcast Group. When Boris’s segments are aired on our stations, they are labeled clearly as commentary. We also offer our stations reporting from the Beltway and beyond that are not partisan or bias (sic) in any way. If you have any concerns about any of our content, we genuinely want to hear from you: https://wjla.com/content-concerns …. Above all, we are committed to fair, unbiased journalism across our stations nationwide and are truly honored to serve our communities. Local news always comes first. 

    There is no press release version on Sinclair’s website as of publication. Given the massive amount of attention the tear gas segment provoked, this statement is almost certainly a response to it -- but it's impossible to say, because it doesn't mention anything about the content of the segment in question. The words “tear gas” and “children” are nowhere to be found. Neither are words like “sorry,” “apology,” or “consequences.”

    Instead, the broadcasting giant is attempting to distance itself from its own employee. To be clear, Sinclair’s actions have proved that that distance simply does not exist.

    Sinclair hired Epshteyn fresh off his stint in the Trump White House last year and quickly invested in his regular “must-run” segments -- upping the frequency with which the segments are aired on local stations, rolling out a daily newsletter, hiring a producer (also an ex-Trump staffer) to work with Epshteyn, and sticking by him as he’s defended some of Trump’s worst, most racist moments.

    Epshteyn is currently creating new “must-run” segments for Sinclair about five days a week. This segment defending deploying tear gas on migrant families isn’t the first or last time Epshteyn has used his Sinclair platform to defend the indefensible with no clear consequences.

    In fact, the day after Epshteyn’s tear gas defense began airing, he was out with a new segment defending conspiracy theorist and anti-Muslim extremist Laura Loomer.

    Earlier this year, Sinclair stations ran a segment from Epshteyn minimizing the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of separating families and detaining children at the border.

    In January, an Epshteyn segment attempted to dismiss Trump’s reported reference to Haiti, El Salvador, and unspecified African nations as “shithole countries,” arguing that media had simply overblown some “salty language” from the president.

    And in August 2017, Epshteyn produced a “must-run” segment backing Trump in his “both sides” statements about a neo-Nazi protest in Charlottesville, VA, in which a white supremacist killed peaceful counterprotester Heather Heyer.

    Media Matters has documented plenty more examples, too.

    What’s more, there should be no reason for Sinclair to stick with Epshteyn in spite of all the unforced errors and grief he’s brought his employer. His “commentary” has no natural audience, which is probably why Sinclair has to force its stations to air these segments in the first place.

    And Sinclair is currently facing the possibility it will have to prove to the Federal Communications Commission that it still has the “basic character qualifications” to hold public broadcasting licenses. Running regular segments that defend cruelty and violence against specific groups of people probably doesn’t help its case.

    I can think of only three possibilities for why Sinclair continues to employ Epshteyn as its chief political analyst.

    The first is the access-above-all-else argument. Epshteyn often uses his commentary segments to interview Trump administration and GOP officials, including the president himself. If Epshteyn used those interviews to ask thoughtful, tough questions and to break news, that would absolutely be a reason to keep him on staff. But he does not. Instead, those softball interviews essentially serve as infomercials for Trump and the Republican Party. Epshteyn typically just nods along in agreement with whatever his interview subjects say. In fact, he may be legally barred from criticizing the president because of his work on the Trump campaign.

    The second potential reason is that hiring Epshteyn was a major investment that Sinclair hasn’t or can’t give up on, perhaps a contract that can’t be easily broken.

    And the third is that those in charge at Sinclair Broadcast Group -- -- which has a long history of meddling in elections in favor of Republicans, has plenty of other ties to the Trump administration, and is owned by an openly and vocally conservative family -- do, in fact, hold the same indefensible views as Epshteyn. It's probably why they hired him in the first place. 

  • Sinclair’s latest “must-run” defends tear-gassing migrant children, warns of an "attempted invasion”

    Sinclair’s Boris Epshteyn: “The fact of the matter is that this is an attempted invasion of our country. Period.”

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    The Trump administration has again unleashed particular cruelty and violence on Central American immigrants, and the pro-Trump local media giant Sinclair Broadcast Group is rushing to defend it.

    On November 25, a group of Central American migrants traveling in a caravan approached the U.S.-Mexico border, “prompting federal authorities to launch tear gas in an apparent attempt to get the group to disperse,” The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. According to federal officials, some members of the caravan “threw projectiles at Customs and Border Protection personnel and multiple agents were hit with rocks.” U.S. forces launched pepper balls and tear gas canisters at the crowd, which included children.

    On November 26, Sinclair chief political analyst and former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn released a new “must-run” segment for the company that defended the use of tear gas on these families and attempted to stoke fear, saying the group of migrants is "attempting to storm" the border in an “attempted invasion of our country." 

    BORIS EPSHTEYN (HOST): The migrant crisis on our southern border has greatly escalated. This past weekend, the United States was forced to temporarily close a major point of entry in San Diego, California, in response to hundreds of migrants attempting to storm the U.S.-Mexico border in hopes of claiming asylum. Dozens of migrants attacked U.S. border enforcement by throwing rocks and bottles. Ultimately, American authorities had to use tear gas to stop the attacks.

    Some on the left, such as Democrat Congresswoman Maxine Waters, were immediately up in arms about our president and his team standing up for our men and women in uniform and for our national security. The fact of the matter is that this is an attempted invasion of our country. Period. Our border must remain intact and secure. It is not a partisan position to believe that our immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed. However, it unfortunately appears that there are many on the left who believe it is wrong to defend our country and abide by the rule of law. I would bet that many of those same people live behind walls and locked doors but do not want to afford the same benefit to our country as a whole.

    Here’s the bottom line: The notion that a caravan of migrants can be allowed to break through our borders is ludicrous and dangerous. The United States of America should not and cannot be intimidated by those willing to use force to get into our country illegally.

    This segment will now be forcibly aired, often spliced into local news coverage, on an estimated 100 Sinclair-owned or -operated news stations throughout the country as part of the media giant’s infamous “must-run” lineup. According to the iQ media database, the segment has already aired on stations in at least 24 states.

    In his previous Sinclair segments, Epshteyn has defended some of the most violent and racist actions of the Trump administration.

    Just to name a couple: Earlier this year, Sinclair stations ran a segment from Epshteyn minimizing the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of separating families and detaining children at the border. And in August 2017, Epshteyn produced a “must-run” segment backing Trump in his “both sides” treatment of violent neo-Nazism in Charlottesville, VA.

  • What you need to know about EPA nominee Andrew Wheeler and the media

    Wheeler mimics Scott Pruitt's press strategy ahead of his Senate confirmation hearings

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Note: An updated version of this post was published here on January 10, 2019. 

    Andrew Wheeler, President Donald Trump's soon-to-be nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is more like his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, than most people realize -- particularly when it comes to his interactions with the media.

    It's well-known that Wheeler, who took over as acting administrator of the EPA after Pruitt resigned in July, has continued Pruitt's work of rolling back major environmental regulations. That was no surprise; Wheeler formerly worked as a lobbyist for coal, natural gas, chemical, and utility companies, and as an aide to Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the Senate's most recalcitrant climate denier.

    Wheeler does, however, have a reputation as a more behind-the-scenes, businesslike administrator than the scandal-plagued Pruitt. New York Times reporter Lisa Friedman recently described the acting EPA chief as having a "low-key, under-the-radar style, even as he has worked diligently and methodically to advance Mr. Trump’s deregulatory agenda."

    But Wheeler is now following in Pruitt's footsteps in many of his dealings with journalists and the press.

    Wheeler's EPA press office attacks journalists and media outlets

    Pruitt had a remarkably contentious relationship with the media. His press office retaliated against specific reporters whose stories it didn't like and attacked them by name in press releases, among other aggressive moves.

    When Wheeler took over, many reporters noticed and welcomed a change in approach. E&E News published a story about the differences in July under the headline "'Night and day' as Wheeler opens doors to press."

    But in recent weeks, the EPA press office has returned to some of the same combative tactics employed during the Pruitt era. On October 30, it published a press release headlined "EPA Sets the Record Straight After Being Misrepresented in Press." Two days later, it got more aggressive with a press release titled "Fact Checking Seven Falsehoods in CNN’s Report."

    From an E&E News article published last week:

    The [EPA press shop's] combative approach calmed a bit when acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler took over for Scott Pruitt, who resigned over the summer, but now it appears to be intensifying again.

    ...

    The agency's actions have been scrutinized in the press in recent weeks, and the public affairs shop has been hitting back.

    ...

    Bobby Magill, president of the Society of Environmental Journalists, said the agency seems to be returning to its war-room-style tactics under Pruitt.

    "It looks to me like they're sort of returning to form," Magill said. "This suggests that they are returning to their previous press strategy under Scott Pruitt."

    Wheeler favors right-wing media for his televised interviews

    Pruitt heavily favored Fox News and other right-wing media outlets, giving them far more interviews than mainstream news organizations.

    Wheeler exhibits similar preferences. All four of the TV interviews we've seen him give since becoming acting administrator at the EPA have been with right-wing outlets.

    The first went to the conservative Sinclair TV conglomerate. Boris Epshteyn, Sinclair's chief political analyst and a former Trump aide, asked no hard questions and gave Wheeler a platform to make specious claims about automobile fuel economy. Wheeler's second TV interview was with Fox News, the third was with the Fox Business Network, and the fourth went to a Sinclair national correspondent.

    Wheeler embraces right-wing outlets and bashes mainstream media via his Twitter account

    Like his predecessor, Wheeler has a fondness for right-wing media outlets and personalities, but he's exhibited that in a way that Pruitt never did -- via his personal Twitter account.

    The Daily Beast's Scott Bixby reported earlier this year on one noteworthy example:

    In August 2016, Wheeler publicly defended alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous after the latter was banned from Twitter for encouraging users to harass actress Leslie Jones. In a now-deleted tweet, the lobbyist linked to a six-minute video, “The Truth About Milo,” produced by InfoWars editor-at-large and noted conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, in which Watson posited that conservatives might be “banned from using the internet altogether if they trigger your butthurt.”

    Wheeler recently retweeted Fox's Brit Hume when he criticized The New York Times and linked to an article in the conservative National Review. Wheeler has also liked a number of tweets from right-wing figures who criticized mainstream media outlets, including:

    • a Donald Trump Jr. tweet linking to The Daily Caller and mocking CNN
    • a tweet from frequent Fox guest and NRATV host Dan Bongino that slammed MSNBC
    • a tweet from libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin that bashed HuffPost

    Wheeler promotes climate denial and racist memes via his Twitter account

    Like Pruitt, Wheeler also casts doubt on well-established climate science -- another view he has expressed through his Twitter account.

    In a 2015 tweet, Wheeler praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'” The essay criticized mainstream media outlets and scientific journals that have reported on climate change:

    Of course, we don’t have good data or sound arguments for decarbonizing our energy supply. But it sounds like we do. If you read Scientific American, Science, Nature, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and you take them at face value, you would have to agree that there is a strong likelihood that serious climate change is real and that decarbonization or geo-engineering are our only hopes. ... These are the people promoting a myth that has become deeply ingrained in our society.

    In 2011, Wheeler tweeted a link to a post on the climate-denial blog JunkScience.com. The post, written by the site's founder and longtime climate denier Steve Milloy, argued that information from the American Lung Association should not be trusted because the organization "is bought-and-paid-for by the EPA." Wheeler also retweeted a Milloy tweet from 2015 that took a shot at HuffPost founder Arianna Huffington. And in 2009, Wheeler sent two tweets linking to climate-denying blog posts.

    As HuffPost's Alexander Kaufman reported last month, Wheeler has also used his social media accounts to endorse or promote other troubling views:

    Andrew Wheeler, the acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, repeatedly engaged with inflammatory content on his personal Facebook and Twitter accounts over the past five years, including some in the past month.

    The previously-unreported interactions include liking a racist image of former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama on Facebook and retweeting an infamous “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist.

    Wheeler now turns back to major mainstream newspapers as he faces confirmation fight

    Though Wheeler has shown a preference for right-wing media when he does TV interviews, he has given a number of interviews to mainstream newspapers and wire services. In July, after it was announced that he would serve as acting EPA administrator, Wheeler gave substantive interviews to The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, USA Today, and The New York Times.

    The pace of his interviews with print outlets slowed down after his first month in office, but Wheeler now appears to be ramping it back up -- just as he's about to begin the process of trying to earn Senate confirmation.

    On November 16, hours before Trump announced that he would nominate Wheeler to officially fill the top EPA spot, Wheeler sat down for an interview with New York Times reporter Lisa Friedman. And Wheeler is scheduled to do a live-streamed interview with Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin on November 28.

    Wheeler may want to present himself as a mainstream moderate rather than a right-wing partisan as he tries to win over senators, and turning to major mainstream newspapers could be part of his strategy. But that would also present an opportunity for environmental journalists to ask tough questions and push him off his well-rehearsed talking points before confirmation hearings begin. We'll be looking to Eilperin to kick that process off next week.  

  • Sinclair is already gearing up for Trump 2020 

    New “must-run” segment airing a week after midterms boosts Trump and dismisses Democratic chances in 2020

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Less than one week after the 2018 midterm elections, Sinclair Broadcast Group is already pushing “must-run” segments minimizing Democratic chances in 2020 and boosting President Donald Trump’s re-election bid.

    A new “must-run” commentary segment about the 2020 elections began airing on Sinclair’s local stations on November 12. It’s part of Sinclair’s ongoing series called “Bottom Line with Boris,” which features chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn. Epshteyn worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign and may have signed a nondisparagement agreement during that time that would prevent him from criticizing the president.

    In the segment, Epshteyn tells viewers that the Democratic Party has “too many competing messages and varying factions” that will prevent “a clear path to victory in their primaries." He cited eight potential 2020 contenders for the Democratic nomination, ranging from party members like Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who supposedly wants to take the party in "a radical direction of open borders and single-payer health care," to "centrist, pro-business old guard" like former Vice President Joe Biden. Epshteyn said that the Republican Party is very united behind Trump, whom he called a “very formidable candidate” and an “active and strong campaigner.”

    With the 2018 midterms behind us, the country now turns toward the 2020 election cycle, including what is sure to be a hotly contested re-election race for President Trump.

    President Trump will continue to be an active and strong campaigner. Potential Democrat candidates, like Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris, want to take their party in a radical direction of open borders and single-payer health care.

    Other rumored candidates, such as former Vice President Joe Biden and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, represent the centrist, pro-business old guard of the Democrat Party. There’s also a chance that Democrats go local and nominate a former young mayor in either Mitch Landrieu from New Orleans or Eric Garcetti from Los Angeles.

    Headed into 2020 you'll hear a lot about how the GOP is equally as divided as Democrats. Ignore that. The president’s approval rating is at about 90 percent among Republicans. The “Never Trump” movement is now largely a figment of imagination perpetuated by the flood of former Republican operatives who are paid to make frequent appearances on the networks so they can bash the president and the Republican Party.

    Here's the bottom line: Right now, there are too many competing messages and varying factions vying for the Democratic nomination for there to be a clear path to victory in their primaries. Democrat candidates will have to declare their intentions very soon. It will be interesting to see which direction their party chooses to take in trying to defeat a very formidable candidate, and unquestionably the leader of the Republican Party, in President Trump.

    Epshteyn also teased in his morning newsletter another “must-run” to be released later today, which will focus on “a potential 2020 presidential run for Hillary Clinton.” Both of these segments will air on an estimated 100 local TV stations nationwide, including in major battleground states.

    Epshteyn’s -- and his employer’s -- early shift to 2020 makes perfect sense, since he spent the year leading up to the 2018 elections using his platform to essentially campaign for Republicans. In his “Bottom Line With Boris” segments, he focused specifically on the midterms at least 13 times this year and more broadly made the case for Republican policies countless others. Some segments skipped the usual commentary altogether, instead featuring excerpts from softball interviews he conducted with Trump and five Republican politicians on ballots last week, including Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis and newly re-elected Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

    Taking into account Sinclair’s yearlong effort to put its thumb on the scales in 2018 along with its longer history of political meddling during election seasons, local news viewers should unfortunately expect more Trump 2020 messaging on Sinclair stations for the next two years.

  • Right-wing media are celebrating the election of far-right extremist Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil and comparing him to Trump

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT & COURTNEY HAGLE


    Media Matters / Melissa Joskow

    On October 28, far-right Brazilian Congress member Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil. Bolsonaro has repeatedly embraced authoritarianism, and he has a history of espousing misogynistic, racist, anti-LGBTQ, and other extremist rhetoric. Right-wing media are celebrating his victory and high poll numbers by cheering on his proposed policies and highlighting the similarities between Bolsonaro and President Donald Trump:

    • Fox’s Laura Ingraham said Brazilians are “looking at Bolsonaro as someone who’s more like Trump, who’s going to get back to the basics on the economy. And I bet Bolsonaro and Trump form a very productive relationship trade-wise -- watch the trade deal that’s going to come out of this Bolsonaro-Trump relationship.”
    • During the October 29 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade said Brazilians “wanted to bring in someone from the outside who spent very little of his own money in order to win.” Fox’s Rob Schmitt added that Brazilians wanted “change,” and “got it,” with “the Trump of the tropics.”
    • Fox’s national security and foreign affairs expert Walid Phares celebrated Bolsonaro on Fox Business Network, claiming, “He’s going to go anti-terrorism, anti-smuggling, he's going to reform the economy, and he made a statement that he is going to be a partner with the United States against those extremists and also helping us with the issues of the migrants.”
    • Sinclair’s Boris Epshteyn boasted in his morning newsletter that “President Trump’s country - first policies are becoming more popular around the globe” and expressed his hope that “the positions shared by these two leaders will result in a strong and mutually beneficial relationship between the U.S. and Brazil.”
    • Hugh Hewitt shared an article about Bolsonaro’s win and tweeted: “Brazil deregulated will work with Columbia Mexico U.S. for a booming hemisphere”
    • In The Gateway Pundit, Jim Hoft wrote that “Anti-Communist ‘Trump of the Tropics’” Bolsonaro won the election and complained that Reuters “calls Bolsonaro ‘far right’ because he openly opposes communism.”
    • Pamela Geller wrote that Bolsonaro’s ascent to power is “similar to what the United States experienced with President Trump. Bolsonaro has been called ‘Brazil’s Trump’ due to his nationalistic policies and his tough stance on crime.” Geller also criticized the media’s coverage of Bolsonaro as a “far-right politician,” drawing comparisons between the media’s treatment of him and Trump.
    • The Daily Caller’s Jason Hopkins praised “Trump of the Tropics” Bolsonaro’s tough stance on crime and free-market economic reforms, arguing that his support comes not from “establishment figures and those in the American left-wing media,” but from “Brazilian citizens who wanted change.”
    • Far-right troll Mike Cernovich complained that “many Brazilian friends have told me Bolsonaro is being lied about in the media,” repeatedly claimed Bolsonaro is not “far right,” and argued, “The far left is being rejected worldwide. … The Brazilian people voted for change.”
    • Far-right agitator Katie Hopkins noted Bolsonaro’s victory alongside an anti-Islam image, and she added that she is “bloody loving the rise of the right.”

    Bolsonaro’s rise followed years of anti-democratic statements from him that can only be read as fascist. An October 28 article in The New York Times compiled some of the Brazilian president-elect’s most extreme comments. When asked in a 1999 interview whether he would shut down Brazil’s Congress, Bolsonaro replied:

    There is no doubt. I would perform a coup on the same day. [Congress] doesn’t work. And I am sure that at least 90 percent of the population would celebrate and applaud because it doesn’t work. The Congress today is useless … lets do the coup already. Let’s go straight to the dictatorship.

    He also appeared to advocate for a violent “civil war” to “do the job that the military regime didn’t do: killing 30,000.” Bolsonaro has repeatedly advocated for torture and threatened earlier this month to jail his political opponents after taking office.

    The Times also reported that Bolsarano once told a fellow lawmaker that he “would not rape [her] because you [she is] not worthy of it.” He has stated that he would not hire women equally, and he referred to having a daughter as a “weakness.” In 2011, he claimed he would “rather his son die in a car accident than be gay,” and two years later he claimed that he would “rather have a son who is an addict than a son who is gay.” Just last year, Bolsonaro implied that Afro-Brazilians are lazy, claiming, “They don’t do anything. They are not even good for procreation.” Bolsonaro has promised to roll back policies meant to protect the environment, and, according to the Times, he claimed the “Amazon is like a child with chickenpox, every dot you see is an indigenous reservation.”

  • Sinclair's recent must-runs were a series of Trump interview excerpts about how great his administration is doing and how unfairly he’s treated

    Trump in must-run: “I am treated less fairly than anybody who's probably ever lived"

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    In perhaps the most egregious example yet of the pro-Trump alternate reality Sinclair Broadcast Group presents to its viewers, six “must-run” commentary segments the media company has created since September 21 have all been excerpts of a softball interview of President Donald Trump conducted by a former Trump aide.

    Amid last week’s overwhelming news, including Professor Christine Blasey Ford’s powerful testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee (and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s blatantly false testimony the same day), Sinclair subjected its local news viewers to a total of six separate “must-run” segments consisting of excerpts from a Trump interview.

    The overwhelming themes of the segments boiled down to: The Trump administration is doing great things, and the left and the liberal media aren’t being fair to Trump. The interviewer, Boris Epshteyn -- a former Trump aide, apparent personal friend of Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., and Sinclair’s chief political analyst -- mostly nodded along or added details in an attempt to back up Trump’s bonkers statements.

    Segment 1: Trump touts Kavanaugh’s “unblemished record” while Epshteyn nods

    The series of six consecutive “must-run” segments -- each of which has now aired on an estimated 100 local news stations across the country -- kicked off on September 21 with a segment focused on what Trump called Kavanaugh’s “unblemished record.” The interview was conducted that day, five days after Ford first shared the details of her account publicly in The Washington Post. In the interview, Trump briefly repeated vague White House talking points about making sure Ford is heard, before saying he believed Kavanaugh would ultimately be confirmed.

    Segment 2: Trump rambles about how everyone says there was “no collusion,” and Epshteyn again just sort of nods

    In the second interview segment, posted on September 24, Epshteyn asked one of just a handful of actual interview questions about Trump’s walk-back on declassifying documents related to the ongoing investigation into Russian collusion during the 2016 presidential election. Trump fumbled through his response, answering mostly by citing different Republican lawmakers who say there was “no collusion.” Epshteyn concluded that Trump is committed to transparency.

    Segment 3: Trump says the current economy could be “the greatest we’ve ever had” and Epshteyn passively nods

    The third segment, from September 25, began with Trump declaring that the current economy “could be the greatest we’ve ever had.” Epshteyn then asked him about renegotiating the NAFTA trade deal in the following extremely unbiased way (emphasis added):

    EPSHTEYN: You mentioned NAFTA. Mexico has already agreed to renegotiate a deal -- something that most people said you couldn't get done. You got that done. Now it's up to Canada. Do you think that Canada, with Justin Trudeau as their leader, will capitulate and join the new deal?
     

    Segment 4: Trump uses the Sinclair platform to tell viewers to vote for Republicans in the midterms

    Epshteyn kicked off the fourth interview segment -- also focused on the economy -- with another very normal and not biased question for his former employer:

    EPSHTEYN: Sir, it’s almost been two years. The economy is roaring. The stock market is way up. Unemployment, way down. GDP growth -- it's much better than anybody expected. What do you think can be done to make sure it's long-term sustainable economic growth?

    The two men then continued to agree with each other about how great the economy is, before Trump told viewers that they ought to vote for Republicans in the midterm elections (emphasis added):

    TRUMP: We have a great economy. This is possibly the greatest economy our country's ever had. That's why, when it comes to the midterms, I hope people are going to remember us because we need Republicans. And I'm not running, but I am in a way running because, you know, friends of mine and people that have our values and our thoughts, they're running. So, we need a lot of help for the midterms and I think we're going to do well, you know, based on the economy and based on the success.
     

    Segment 5: Trump unintelligibly rants about his relationships with North Korea and Iran, while Epshteyn nods along

    In the fifth segment, released on September 27, Trump incoherently discussed relations with North Korea, frequently interrupted by Epshteyn signaling his agreement with everything the president says even though it makes no sense. The one substantive thing Epshteyn said in the entire excerpt was to offer an additional point that backs up Trump’s claim that, with North Korea, “We’re doing a lot of speed. So it’s really coming along well.”

    Segment 6: Trump says he is “treated less fairly than anybody who's probably ever lived” by the media, Epshteyn agrees

    Epshteyn finished off the series of interview must-runs on September 28 with an excerpt that sounded like it was ripped straight from a Trump rally: an almost entirely uninterrupted rant from Trump about how he is “treated less fairly than anybody who’s probably ever lived” by the overwhelming “fake news media.”

    Just watch this, then imagine flipping channels as you make dinner and landing on your local news and this is what’s playing. 

    EPSHTEYN: President Trump feels that he is not treated fairly by most of the media. He spoke about that extensively during our exclusive one-on-one interview.

    [BEGIN INTERVIEW CLIP]

    TRUMP: I am treated less fairly than anybody who's probably ever lived. I almost ask why, you know, what’s the point. We have the best economy we’ve ever had. So many things are going well. You know, the media is really dishonest and reports came out -- even when I do really good stuff, they make it look as bad as possible. And when I do stuff that’s OK, it’s like a disaster.

    EPSHTEYN: Right.

    TRUMP: OK? But when I do things that are really phenomenal, like, as an example, North Korea. We’re doing a phenomenal job in North Korea. We were going to go to war. Before I got in, we would have had a war. We didn’t give anything. We got our hostages back. We got so many different things.

    EPSHTEYN: The remains.

    TRUMP: We got the remains. No more missile testing. No more rocket testing. No more nuclear testing. And I met. And they said, “He met, he met. Therefore he lost.” Because I met. In other words, they couldn’t get anything substantive so they said, “Ah, the fact that” -- now I will say, when it was announced that I was going to meet, until they got their, you know, little dialogue straightened out, they thought it was incredible. But you know, about, within 24 hours --  

    EPSHTEYN. Sure.

    TRUMP: they said we -- you know, the media’s unbelievably dishonest. And I actually say that the fake news media is truly an enemy of the people. It hurts our country tremendously.

    EPSHTEYN: But the people see through it. Don’t you think?

    TRUMP: And I had a rally last night here where they had thousands and thousands of people. They sent away thousands of people. They couldn’t get into the convention center. And it was really incredible. So I guess the bottom line is they must.

    [END INTERVIEW CLIP]

    EPSHTEYN: Here’s the bottom line: Let’s hope that the press can start concentrating on facts and issues that matter to the American people, and not gossip and innuendo.  
     

    So to recap, Epshteyn secured an interview with a leader of the free world, with excerpts airing on local news stations all over the country. With this opportunity, here is a list of every question or statement Epshteyn uttered throughout the six interview excerpts. They are presented in chronological order:

    • Right.
    • Do you think he will get confirmed in the end?
    • A couple issues on the home front. Let's talk about the declassification of documents. Earlier this week you said you were going to declassify. Now you're saying that you want the inspector general of the Department of Justice to review the documents first. What happened? What's the motivation?
    • Don’t declassify?
    • It’s true.
    • OK. Do you think that in the end the American people should have an eye, have a view into these documents?
    • You mentioned NAFTA. Mexico has already agreed to renegotiate a deal -- something that most people said you couldn't get done. You got that done. Now it's up to Canada. Do you think that Canada, with Justin Trudeau as their leader, will capitulate and join the new deal?
    • Right.
    • Sure.
    • Right.
    • Horrible.
    • Right.
    • Mm-hm.
    • Right.
    • Right.
    • Sir, it’s almost been two years. The economy is roaring. The stock market is way up. Unemployment, way down. GDP growth -- it's much better than anybody expected. What do you think can be done to make sure it's long-term sustainable economic growth?
    • Right.
    • The new normal, right?
    • Mm-hm.
    • Highest wage growth since the start of the recession, in fact.
    • No doubt.
    • Right.
    • Kim Jong Un just actually said to Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, that he's very thankful for the summit and thinks it's the relationship has stabilized in the Korean Peninsula because of your efforts.
    • Mm-hm.
    • Right.
    • Right.
    • The remains.
    • Right.
    • Sure.
    • But the people see through it. Don’t you think?

    The good news: Virtually no one seems to be seeking out these segments on purpose. By all accounts, a new one-on-one interview with direct, potentially newsworthy quotes from the president of the United States is a huge get. And yet, as of publication, each of these interview segments has been watched less than 200 times on Ephsteyn's YouTube channel. Five of the six segments -- all but the segment that Media Matters already wrote about -- have gleaned less than 50 views. (This is embarrassingly typical of Epshteyn’s audience numbers.)

    The bad news: Epshteyn’s lack of an eager audience hasn’t stopped numerous other conservative leaders from giving him “interviews” to exploit his platform, thus beaming their messages to millions of unwitting local news viewers just in time for the midterm elections.

    This year, Epshteyn has aired interviews with seven other members of the Trump administration, eight Republican congressmen, and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. The appearances include: then-Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Vice President Mike Pence, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, Council of Economic Advisers Chair Kevin Hassett, and Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI). DeSantis, McCarthy, Rooney, and Duffy are all on ballots this year.

  • In an interview with Sinclair, Trump touts Kavanaugh’s “unblemished record” and says he thinks he will be confirmed

    Trump sat down for an interview with Sinclair’s chief political analyst, Boris Epshteyn, who has never disagreed with the president in his commentary  

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Sinclair Broadcast Group, the largest owner and operator of local TV stations in the country, regularly broadcasts pro-Trump propaganda segments created by an ex-Trump staffer into the homes of millions of Americans. And now those segments include an interview with President Donald Trump himself, in which he was given a friendly platform to discuss his continued support of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh despite a report that he committed sexual assault.

    The media company’s chief political analyst, Boris Epshteyn, has been producing regular commentary segments, called “Bottom Line With Boris,” for Sinclair for more than a year. Epshteyn had previously worked in the Trump White House on the communications team, after doing stints on the Trump inaugural committee and on the Trump campaign. Epshteyn also served as a Trump media surrogate throughout the campaign and first days of the Trump presidency. Epshteyn is personal friends with the president’s sons Eric and Donald Jr., and he has been spotted at Trump International Hotel multiple times, including with Don Jr. in June. He also may or may not have signed a nondisparagement agreement while he was working on the campaign, which could legally prevent him from criticizing Trump.

    For a chief political analyst, Epshteyn offers takes that are notably unoriginal. At best, he regurgitates Trump talking points or touts some vague, imaginary bipartisan ideals that involve being nicer to Trump. At worst, he defends the most upsetting, racist things Trump does. In fact, in a recent interview on a National Review podcast, Epshteyn could not think of a single issue about which he had disagreed with the Trump administration in any of his commentary segments. What’s more: These segments ultimately air on an estimated 100 TV news stations under Sinclair’s control, exploiting the trust people have in their local news.

    Given the president’s penchant for granting interviews to sycophants, it was only a matter of time before Trump himself made an appearance on "Bottom Line with Boris."

    On September 21, Epshteyn shared the first of what will likely be several must-run segments featuring excerpts from his sit-down with the president. This one is focused on Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court and professor Christine Blasey Ford’s account of sexual assault by Kavanaugh when they were both in high school. In the segment, Trump largely repeats broad White House talking points about making sure Ford is heard, and then pivots to touting Kavanaugh’s “unblemished record.” Trump also says he believes Kavanaugh will ultimately still be confirmed.  

    BORIS EPSHTEYN: The nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is facing last-minute turmoil over allegations that he committed sexual assault decades ago. I spoke with President Trump about this in a one-on-one, exclusive interview. Here’s what he shared.  

    [INTERVIEW CLIP BEGINS]

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I think they’ve been very respectful of Dr. Ford, extremely respectful. I think they’re doing the right thing. They want to give her a voice, if she wants to take it. They’re talking now about timing. It’s already been delayed a week. That’s a long time. This is the U.S. Senate we’re talking about.

    EPSHTEYN: Right.

    TRUMP: I can only say this: Let her speak. But Brett Kavanaugh is one of the finest people you’ll ever meet. I think it’s been extremely hard on him and his family. When I look at what’s happening -- here’s a man with an unblemished record, and to be going through this all of a sudden. So I won’t say anything now. All I’m saying is that -- let it play out. Let her have open voice. And let’s see what happens.

    EPSHTEYN: Do you think he will get confirmed in the end?

    TRUMP: I do. I do. One of the finest judges we have, one of the greatest intellects we have. Top of the line in every way. This is a shame. This is actually a shame.

    [END OF INTERVIEW CLIP]

    EPSHTEYN: Here’s the bottom line: President Trump continues to support Judge Kavanaugh and is confident that he will be confirmed.

    This year, Epshteyn has aired interviews with seven other members of the Trump administration, eight Republican congressmen, and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. The appearances include: then-Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Vice President Mike Pence, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, Council of Economic Advisers Chair Kevin Hassett, and Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI). DeSantis, McCarthy, Rooney, and Duffy are all on ballots this year.

  • Sinclair’s shameful legacy now includes exploiting a woman’s murder to attack immigrants

    Chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn: “Americans such as Mollie Tibbetts … dying at the hands of illegal immigrants is a very real threat”

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    You’d think Sinclair Broadcast Group would lay low for a while and reassess its options after an extremely damaging month. Instead, the conservative media giant will force news stations across the country to air a 90-second segment exploiting the murder of Iowa woman Mollie Tibbetts to echo President Donald Trump’s attacks on immigrants.

    Tibbetts was reported missing last month after she went out for a jog on a country road in Brooklyn, IA. Last week, local law enforcement found Tibbetts’ body and charged Mexican national Cristhian Bahena Rivera, an undocumented immigrant, for her murder.   

    Mollie Tibbetts would have returned to the University of Iowa last week. At a campus vigil, her older brother Jake encouraged everyone in attendance to “make a new friend” in honor of his “goofy” and passionate sister. Tibbetts’ friends have shared memories of the psychology student smiling as she walked through campus. “She was an advocate for mental health and genuinely cared about how people thought,” one friend told the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

    That’s not what the Sinclair segment is about, though.

    The segment, which will now air on an estimated 100 or more local news stations nationwide, ignores Tibbetts’ family members’ specific wishes for people to not weaponize Mollie's death for anti-immigrant ends. Instead, the Sinclair clip leans on the common racist trope of white women’s sanctity as it adds another disgusting entry to the right-wing media canon of unabashed xenophobic exploitation.

    In the clip, chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn mirrors Trump's rhetoric by referencing “families who have been permanently separated from their children,” a grotesque talking point drawing a comparison to the administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the border. Epshteyn also references the deaths of Kate Steinle and Drew Rosenberg, which right-wing media have exploited to smear immigrants.

    BORIS EPSHTEYN (HOST): Last week, our country collectively mourned the loss of 20-year-old University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts. According to investigators, Tibbetts was followed and murdered by an illegal immigrant while on a run near her Brooklyn, IA, home. Her killer illegally entered our country. He then worked at an Iowa farm for several years after giving them fake identification and breaking through the very system in place to prevent these tragedies from occurring.

    Tibbetts’ murder has brought the debate over immigration reform to the forefront of the American consciousness once again. Republicans like Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley are advocating for stronger immigration laws. Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have focused mostly on scoring political points against our president. In a CNN interview last week, Warren pivoted from sharing her condolences to the Tibbetts family to attacking the administration’s zero-tolerance policy of border enforcement. According to Warren, we should be focusing on the people who, quote, “pose a real threat.”

    Sen. Warren, Americans such as Mollie Tibbetts, Kate Steinle, and Drew Rosenberg dying at the hands of illegal immigrants is a very real threat. Here’s the bottom line: Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Mollie Tibbetts and to all of the families who have been permanently separated from their children due to horrific tragedy such as this. Abolishing ICE and opening our borders are unacceptable solutions to our flawed immigration system.

    Among other offenses, Epshteyn left out a few crucial pieces of context here. Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than their peers born in the U.S. And as writer Jessica Valenti pointed out, “The deadliest demographic for American women isn't immigrants - it's husbands & boyfriends. But the truth about who kills women in this country isn't politically useful.” Women are harassed, abused, and killed every day, simply for daring to exist.

    I have watched every one of the 287 “Bottom Line With Boris” clips available online. He displays untold levels of ignorance and political obtuseness, along with a lack of charisma I cannot accurately convey with words. He has defended Trump’s “both sides” rhetoric about literal murderous Nazis. He has minimized the Trump administration’s abhorrent family separation policy, suggesting media had overblown the issue. He has fearmongered about “chain migration” and devoted multiple segments to attacking protesting NFL players. He has attacked Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) repeatedly, in segments about topics that barely relate to her, for unexplained reasons.

    Now there’s this.

    The fact that this segment will air in homes across the country, unchallenged, decontextualized -- over dinner or breakfast, between the traffic and weather -- is Sinclair’s horrific legacy.

  • Fox News gives soft treatment to EPA chief Andrew Wheeler as he defends admin's new coal-friendly plan

    Fox's Dana Perino invites Wheeler to "reassure [the layperson] that this isn't about giving polluters a pass"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), made his first appearance on Fox News on Tuesday in an interview with host Dana Perino. Wheeler got soft treatment during the interview, just as his disgraced predecessor Scott Pruitt did during most of the numerous interviews he gave to Fox News.

    Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, came on to discuss the Trump administration's proposal to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which was intended to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants and move the nation toward cleaner sources of power. The EPA's proposed replacement plan would drastically reduce emissions standards for coal plants and allow more air pollution, which even the agency expects would lead to 470 to 1,400 premature deaths each year by 2030, as The New York Times reported.

    Perino started the interview by inviting Wheeler to "reassure [the layperson] that this isn't about giving polluters a pass." Later in the interview, she asked Wheeler about the Times article and the estimates of premature deaths, but he dodged the question, and she didn't follow up and press him for an answer.

    The interview with Fox appears to have been Wheeler's second TV interview since taking the helm at EPA on July 9. Wheeler did an interview last week with the TV conglomerate Sinclair, another Trump-friendly, right-wing outlet. The Sinclair interviewer, Boris Epshteyn, asked no hard questions either. After Wheeler's Fox appearance on August 21, he gave what appears to have been his third TV interview -- this time to Fox Business, yet another Trump-friendly network.

    From the August 21 edition of Fox News' The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino:

    DANA PERINO (HOST): Joining me now is acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. It’s good to have you on the program. Tell me how you would explain to the layperson -- I know that this stuff can get very technical -- what you are trying to do and how you would reassure them that this isn't about giving polluters a pass.

    ANDREW WHEELER (ACTING EPA ADMINISTRATOR): Sure. First of all, Dana, thank you for having me on the show today. This is a big day, the unveiling of our Affordable Clean Energy rule. What this rule will do will set guidelines for the states to then work with utilities around the country to make sure that every utility makes reductions on their CO2 emissions going forward. It’s very different from the Obama approach, which was very much a command-and-control approach where they dictated to all the states what they had to do. We’ll actually be working cooperatively with the states on this.

    PERINO: So, the clean air rules over time have been, the states work together and it's all integrated. But for people who say “but air pollution knows no state boundaries,” so doesn't the EPA need to oversee what the states are doing in order to protect people?

    WHEELER: Yes, and we will be. What we’re doing is setting the guidelines, and then the states will then report back to the agency as to how they’re going to implement this and we will then be able to approve their plan. And if we don’t believe that they’ve gone far enough, we can always step in as a backstop to make sure that they are making the reductions that are necessary going forward.

    PERINO: Critics of this move will say that this is a rollback of President Obama's very stringent regulations, but as I recall, Obama’s rule actually never went into place. There was a major lawsuit by 29 states that went to the Supreme Court and it's been stayed. So, what are you actually replacing?

    WHEELER: Exactly. It's not a rollback, it's an overhaul, because the Obama regulations, as you said, never took effect because the Supreme Court did take the unprecedented action of issuing the stay. So what we're doing is we took a close look at the Clean Air Act to make sure that we are within the four corners of the act, that we’re using the laws that Congress gave us, and we’ve moved forward with this new approach, which we believe is legally sound and can be implemented across the country and it will provide protections for all Americans, as well as lower electricity rates. And this is exactly what President Trump asked us to do last year.

    PERINO: Sorry, so if I can get in here -- two of the other pieces of criticism: One, the New York Times article today was about the increase in possible premature deaths due to this new policy, saying that the plan would see between 470 and 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030 because of increased rates of microscopic airborne particulates. The Obama administration would say that obviously its plan was much better than that. I wanted to also ask you about climate change and the administration's position on it, human-caused or not, because one of the criticisms is that in the report that you’ve put forward for this new proposal, climate change doesn’t even come up until page 300. Was that on purpose?

    WHEELER: Well, I do believe that climate change is real and that man does have an impact on climate change. We talk about this in terms of energy efficiency, and energy efficiency you release less CO2, and that’s what we’re providing with this regulation. As far as the New York Times report, this regulation and the Obama approach were both about CO2 reductions. We address particulate matter and the other pollutants under other regulations and those regulations are still in effect. In fact, we just released a report two or three weeks ago showing that our air quality is 73 percent cleaner today than it was in the 1970s, and all of those regulations, the guides to that 73 percent cleaner, are still in effect and will still be working into the future.

    PERINO: One last question for you, we’ll make it a quick one: The lawsuits that are currently underway from the Justice Department against big energy companies that are underway, I think it’s DTE in Michigan -- will those continue to be prosecuted under this new rule?

    WHEELER: Well, there was no prosecution under the previous rule, so those prosecutions were under other regulations.

    PERINO: OK.

    WHEELER: And yes, we will continue to enforce the regulations that are on the books. Absolutely.

    PERINO: All right. Andrew Wheeler, for your first national interview, thank you so much for being here. We appreciate it.

    WHEELER: Thank you, Dana.