Boris Epshteyn | Page 3 | Media Matters for America

Boris Epshteyn

Tags ››› Boris Epshteyn
  • Right-wing media are rallying to defend the Trump administration’s inhumane separation of families at the border 

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT & NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Trump administration is separating immigrant children from their parents or legal guardians after they cross the border, with at least 2,000 children taken from their parents since April 19. The administration’s merciless and inhumane policy has spurred numerous heartbreaking stories, including reports of a breastfeeding baby who was ripped from her mother, a Honduran father separated from his family who took his own life, and children who are held in cages alongside strangers. Yet right-wing media figures have been quick to defend the policy and dismiss its inherent cruelty:

    • Breitbart editor-at-large Joel Pollak justified separating families at the border, saying the Border Patrol facilities are "better than what they had." Pollak also claimed that ICE taking children from their parents and putting them in detention facilities is “just about caring for the kids.”

    • Right-wing troll Dinesh D’Souza, who recently received a pardon from President Donald Trump, questioned whether immigrant parents are “the ones choosing to separate their families.”

    • Fox's Pete Hegseth defended the separations because the children get food and "soccer and video games." Hegseth also called images of detained children “quite compassionate,” and said the policy was “defensible.”

    • Fox News’ Trish Regan argued that Trump is showing asylum-seeking families "tough love" by taking children away from their parents.

    • Fox contributor Tammy Bruce called for White House press briefings to end after reporters confronted White House press secretary Sarah Sanders about the separation of families.

    • Fox's Jesse Watters argued that the White House should "start ripping press passes away" from reporters who ask about families getting separated at the border. Watters also said that “some would say” that separation is “a more humane policy” than detaining the families together.

    • In a series of tweets, Twitter troll Bill Mitchell aggressively defended the policy, accusing the media of focusing on “#FakeNews ‘concentration camps,’” complaining about the money spent to keep the children captive, suggested that many of the children are “not with their families at all - they are with smugglers” (only a very small percentage of cases involve smuggling and often a bona fide relationship between the child and adult is clear), and claiming, “President Trump is PROTECTING these children.”

    • Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade downplayed “the so-called separation of kids and parents” at the border, arguing that the Democrats are using it to distract from the Justice Department inspector general’s report on the handling of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email server and the Singapore Summit between Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

    • Fox’s Ainsley Earhardt said that families are “choosing to be separated” by showing up at the border. She also argued that “you can't even really blame an administration” for the separation policy.

    • Her fellow Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy said that “the part that is troubling” is not children being ripped from their parents, but the parents choosing to come to the United States in the first place. Doocy also argued that the cages some children are being housed in shouldn’t be called “cages” because rather they are “walls [built] out of chain link fences," and he defended family separation by suggesting the U.S. government spends a lot of money to “make sure that those kids wind up with all that stuff” that detention facilities offer.

    • Fox & Friends repeated or referenced Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s lies about family separation throughout the June 18 broadcast. Nielsen initially claimed that separation wasn’t happening -- it is.

    • Right-wing troll Mike Cernovich said that Trump was “keeping [children] safe in dorms,” and he accused former President Barack Obama of giving children “to human traffickers.”

    • Fox host and Trump lackey Sean Hannity claimed that the policy of separation “took place in previous administrations” (neither the Obama nor the Bush administration separated families as a matter of policy). Hannity also accused the media of having an “obsession” with the “so-called policy of separating illegal immigrant families.”    

    • Fox’s Laura Ingraham called the “outrage” over the separation policy “hilarious,” complained about watching “our country try to contort itself into other peoples' cultures,” and excused the separations because the children have “entertainment, sports, tutoring, medical, dental, four meals a day, and clean, decent housing” even though their “parents irresponsibly tried to bring them across the border illegally.” On her Fox show, Ingraham called the administration’s child detention centers “essentially summer camps” and compared them to “boarding schools.”

    • Sinclair's Boris Epshteyn choose not to editorialize on the cruelty of family separation itself, instead attacking the "discourse" around separation policy and claiming it is what's wrong with Democrats and media.

    • Right-wing columnist Ann Coulter warned the president not to fall for “these child actors weeping and crying on” cable news.

    • Radio host Rush Limbaugh called the outrage over family separation “an entirely manufactured crisis” and claimed “it happened during the Obama administration” too (it didn’t).  

    • One America News Network correspondent and internet troll Jack Posobiec defended the policy by fearmongering that children crossing the border could be with traffickers as opposed to family members. There is clear evidence of the relationship between many of the children in detention and the adult that accompanied them.

    • American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp, a frequent cable news guest, contended that “Obama and Trump have same child protection policy” (they do not).

    • Fox’s David Bossie attempted to shift the blame onto the parents, arguing that “if they don't become criminals, they're not separated.” He also claimed that Trump is just “following the law,” ignoring the reality that separation is a Trump administration policy, not the law.

    • Fox host Tucker Carlson warned his viewers that people speaking up against America detaining children in cages just want to "change your country forever."

    • Chris Bedford, editor-in-chief of the Daily Caller News Foundation, criticized the "hyperbole" over family separation and child detention.

    • Drudge Report’s Matt Drudge attempted to paint Latin American children as violent by publishing a photo of children in Azaz, Syria.

    • Turning Point USA spokesperson Candace Owens claimed that “these policies were in place” during the Obama administration (they were not).

    • Townhall’s Kurt Schlichter aggressively defended the policy, suggesting that the U.S. ought to “separate the children and then send them all away” and “in prison (sic) the parents until they serve their sentence then throw them out.”

    • Infowars frontman and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones claimed that separation has been the “standard procedure for decades” when you “pick up a group of a hundred people and you have no idea who the hell they are.” Infowars also claimed that Trump had exposed “the hoax that the US is mistreating migrant children.”

    • The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro fallaciously argued that Trump is simply “enforcing the law on the books.”

    • Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk posted a series of tweets fearmongering about “illegal immigration” and claimed that “all of this happened for 8 years under Obama” (nope).

    • NRATV host Dan Bongino claimed that reporting on the “immigration/children story” is “propaganda, nothing more” and argued that anyone who believed it is “delirious, and should seek professional help.”

    • Radio talk show host Ben Ferguson shared an image on Facebook claiming that policies of separating children from “illegal parents” had been in effect since 2009 and that Democrats just started talking about the issue because “they only care about making Trump look ‘bad.’” The post has been shared over 100,000 times.

    • Conservative commentator Dick Morris claimed that families seeking asylum at the borders were part of a “scam” in which adult immigrants were “abusers” who are using their children as a “battering ram to force their way into the country.” He also said the solution to this problem is to deny asylum to all immigrants who come to the border with a child.

    • Fox New contributor and Townhall Editor Katie Pavlich posted a series of tweets comparing the separation of asylum-seeking families to the separation of children and arrested parents and supporting Sarah Sanders’ claims in which she portrayed “illegal aliens” as criminals who are responsible for separating U.S. families permanently by “committing murder or killing through drunk driving.”

    • Conservative Review TV’s Jon Miller claimed that media are trying to push controversy around separation policies in order to “distract from the disastrous IG report and anything else this president has done that will cause people to vote for him.”

    • Fox News’ Tomi Lahren tweeted that “we owe ILLEGAL immigrants NOTHING,” and suggested that family separation is just one of the “consequences” parents have to accept when they “drag [their] kids over here ILLEGALLY.”

  • Sinclair’s Boris Epshteyn laughably claims that Donald Trump Jr. “is the farthest thing from a racist or anti-Semite”

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In his latest defense of everything Trump, Sinclair Broadcast Group chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn claimed that Donald Trump Jr. “is the farthest thing from a racist or anti-semite” after the president’s son retweeted an anti-Semitic claim by comedian Roseanne Barr. Trump Jr. has promoted bigoted material online, given a radio interview to a white nationalist and anti-Semite, and retweeted a leading anti-Semitic writer.

    Epshteyn is a former aide to President Donald Trump who now hosts “must-run” commentary segments that air on local news broadcasts on Sinclair-owned or -operated stations across the country. His tenure at the White House was brief and rocky.

    His body of work at the White House included a statement he helped write commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day that “set off a furor because it excluded any mention of Jews.” (The White House defended itself by stating -- in a reference to Epshteyn -- that the message was written “with the help of an individual who is both Jewish and the descendent of Holocaust survivors.”) He also gained, as Politico reported, a reputation at all three cable news networks “as someone who is combative and sometimes difficult to work with, even when he arrives at studios as a guest of a network. He has offended people in green rooms with comments they have interpreted as racially insensitive and demeaning.”

    Epshteyn’s analysis at Sinclair has been vapid and serves as little more than pro-Trump propaganda.  

    On May 29, Epshteyn defended Donald Trump Jr. after he retweeted Barr’s false smear that philanthropist (and prior Media Matters donor) George Soros “is a nazi who turned in his fellow Jews 2 be murdered.” That claim from Barr, who is Jewish, has long been part of an anti-Semitic smear campaign against Soros.

    The New York Post’s gossip section Page Six wrote up Trump Jr.’s retweets with the headline “Donald Trump Jr. retweeted Roseanne Barr’s racist tweets.” Trump Jr. responded by claiming, “They know full well that I did not RT anything that was anti-semitic, but I guess facts don’t matter when you’re a dishonest, clickbait rag.” Epshteyn responded by tweeting that Trump Jr. is “the farthest thing” from a racist or an anti-Semite:

    But in reality, Trump Jr. has, as Vox.com’s Libby Nelson put it, “a white supremacist problem.”

    In March 2016, Trump Jr. gave an interview to James Edwards, a white nationalist and anti-Semite. The interview aired on the Liberty RoundTable, which is hosted by Edwards’ syndicator, Sam Bushman. Edwards appeared on the program as a guest and questioner. During that interview, Trump Jr. agreed with Edwards that the media is "the enforcer of political correctness."

    In August 2016, Trump Jr. retweeted anti-Semitic writer Kevin MacDonald, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has described as “the neo-Nazi movement's favorite academic.” According to SPLC, “MacDonald published a trilogy that supposedly ‘proves’ that Jews are genetically driven to destroy Western societies.”

    In September 2016, as The Washington Post noted, Trump Jr. posted an image celebrating “Pepe the Frog, a symbol that has been co-opted by white supremacists and nationalists.”

    In September 2016, Trump Jr. told a radio program that the media had been letting then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton “slide” on everything and “if Republicans were doing that, they'd be warming up the gas chamber right now.” The Anti-Defamation League criticized Trump Jr. for his “trivialization of the Holocaust and gas chambers” (Trump Jr. claimed he was referring to capital punishment).

    In September 2016, as Talking Points Memo wrote, “Trump Jr. borrowed an analogy popular among anti-immigrant activists and white nationalists for his meme likening Syrian refugees to poisoned Skittles.”

    Unsurprisingly, neo-Nazis hailed Trump Jr. during the campaign for his efforts.

    Following the campaign, Trump Jr. has continued to embrace the far-right.

  • Former Sinclair TV reporter: “Anything that went against anything that corporate wanted was just shot down.”

    Veteran reporter Suri Crowe details to BuzzFeed how Sinclair management insisted on false balance in news stories about climate and guns

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Former Sinclair reporter Suri Crowe provided BuzzFeed with a detailed account of how Sinclair Broadcast Group’s far-right agenda has affected local news coverage of stories from climate change to gun safety.

    Sinclair is the largest TV station owner and operator in the country, with about 190 stations, including affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC, that reach approximately 38 percent of American homes. The conservative media company is awaiting final approval of its $3.9 billion bid to buy Tribune Media, which owns 42 TV stations, including in the major markets of Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York.

    Media Matters has documented Sinclair’s rapid growth and its alliance with the Trump campaign and administration. If Sinclair completes its planned purchase of Tribune, the company’s right-wing bias and disregard for journalistic ethics could inform what 72 percent of American households see on their local news. Its reach is already so pervasive, Media Matters created a tool to inform viewers about the stations near them that Sinclair now owns or could soon acquire.

    Sinclair takes an aggressive approach to ensuring local viewers are exposed to the company’s agenda, Media Matters has found. It forces local stations to air corporate-mandated “must-runs,” which include segments from the company’s chief political analyst, and former aide to President Donald Trump, Boris Epshteyn.

    Crowe’s account to BuzzFeed about her time at WSET-TV, an ABC-affiliated station owned by Sinclair, provides an in-depth look at how local station operators can undermine or quash stories that run counter to the conservative ideological agenda of the company’s owners and executives. 

    Beginning in 2015, the veteran reporter was reprimanded by news directors who insisted her stories on climate change and gun legislation include more “balance.” Crowe, who won a Virginias Associated Press Broadcasters award in 2016, was ultimately forced out of her job in 2017.

    From BuzzFeed:

    Sinclair Broadcast Group executives reprimanded and ultimately ousted a local news reporter who refused to seed doubt about man-made climate change and “balance” her stories in a more conservative direction.

    [...]

    In one 2015 instance, the former news director of WSET-TV in Lynchburg, Virginia, Len Stevens, criticized reporter Suri Crowe because she “clearly laid out the argument that human activities cause global warming, but had nothing from the side that questions the science behind such claims and points to more natural causes for such warming.”

    [...]

    Crowe told BuzzFeed News that before the October 2015 climate change segment aired, she was ordered by Stevens to include Donald Trump’s opinion on the matter. “When I instructed you to balance the story, by including some of [the] other argument, you insisted there was no need to add such balance to the story,” he wrote in her Jan. 22, 2016, performance review.

    A veteran reporter who has worked at news stations in Texas and Virginia, Crowe said she viewed the story as environmental — not two-sided or political. “I was always covering the flu. I don’t remember a time when for balance I went out to a group of 20 people who are nutjobs that say flu shots kill,” she told BuzzFeed News. The scientific consensus is that climate change is real and humans are largely to blame, but Crowe ultimately read the updated, “balanced” script on air. “That was the moment where I realized how things were going to go there,” she said.

    [...]

    “Your story on proposed gun legislation was not balanced,” Stevens wrote in Crowe’s performance review. “You wrote of the proposed gun restrictions, ‘Sounds like a good idea, right? Well, not to those in charge of passing new gun laws.’ And that tone is carried throughout the story. Another line: ‘Several polls show the majority of Virginians are in favor of tighter restrictions on gun purchases... But Republican lawmakers in Richmond... won’t go for it.’”

    On another gun story about the state attorney general’s decision to revoke a reciprocity agreement with other states for concealed carry permits, Stevens wrote that the sum total Crowe offered the other side was a single sentence: “The NRA on the other hand released a statement condemning the attorney general’s decision.” Stevens added that Crowe “had access to the press release sent by the NRA, yet included nothing from the actual statement... This kind of approach damages our reputation as a fair and balanced news organization.”

  • Sinclair and the midterms: Nevada edition

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    If you live in a midsize city or battleground state, you are now more likely than ever to see propaganda bolstering President Donald Trump and conservative spin on your local news -- just in time for the 2018 election season -- thanks to conservative media giant Sinclair Broadcast Group.

    Media Matters has identified communities that will see competitive congressional midterm races and that have Sinclair-owned or -operated news stations. Many Sinclair stations are already airing national news programming with a conservative slant, and they will be ramping up coverage of their local races.

    First, we’re looking at Nevada.

    Key 2018 races

    • Senate: The contest between incumbent Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Democrat challenger Rep. Jacky Rosen is rated a toss-up by Cook Political Report as of publication.
    • House: Nevada’s third congressional district (NV-3) south of Las Vegas is an open race rated as “lean Democratic” by Cook Political Report as of publication.  
    • Governor: Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) is not eligible to run in 2018. The election is thus an open race, and it was rated a toss-up by Cook Political Report as of publication.  

    Sinclair stations in state

    KSNV (NBC 3) and KVCW (The CW) in Las Vegas

    KRXI (Fox 11), KRNV (NBC News 4) and KAME (My21) in Reno

    • Sinclair owns and operates KRXI (Fox 11). A Media Matters search of the iQ media database found that Fox 11 aired the scripted promotional segment narrated by Bill Frankmore and Melissa Carlson at least six times between March 23 and March 30.
    • Sinclair also provides operations support for two other stations in Reno, KRNV (NBC News 4) and KAME (a MyNetwork affiliate branded as My21), through shared service agreements. All three Reno stations also share a studio space, and My21 does not appear to have its own website, instead posting its schedule on the Fox 11 site.

    KENV in Elko

    • KENV is licensed to serve Elko -- considered part of the Salt Lake City, UT, media market -- but serves as a semi-satellite to KRNV in Reno, meaning that it airs some of the same news programs but may have different branding. It also shares a studio space with KRXI, KRNV, and KAME in Reno. 

    What else you need to know

    Sinclair’s political action committee gave $1,500 to Heller’s re-election campaign committee in September 2015. Heller serves on the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, including on its subcommittee related to communications and technology -- an important subcommittee for Sinclair.

    In January and February press releases, Heller touted Sinclair, among other businesses, for giving “their employees special bonuses and raises” after the passage of the Trump/GOP tax law.

    Here’s footage of NBC 3 airing a March “Bottom Line with Boris” segment in which former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn downplayed a potential Democrat wave in 2018 midterms:

    Are there Sinclair stations near you?

    Use Media Matters’ interactive map at FindSinclair.com to learn more.

    Graphics by Sarah Wasko. 

    UPDATE: This post has been updated to include the Nevada gubernatorial race. 

  • Sinclair is flooding local news with pro-Trump propaganda. Find out if it owns a station near you.

    Blog ››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH & MILES LE

    President Donald Trump has a secret weapon that might just ensure his re-election. Sinclair Broadcast Group is a Trump-friendly media company that is notorious for pushing right-wing propaganda. The company already owns or operates more than 190 local stations across the country and is close to acquiring Tribune Media. With this merger, Sinclair would be able to reach more than 70 percent of American TV households that have a TV.

    Media Matters is now launching FindSinclair.com so you can find out if Sinclair controls a local news station near you. FindSinclair.com has information on Sinclair stations across the country, resources about the company, and an interactive map that can show you if it owns or operates one of your local stations.

    Video by Dayanita Ramesh, Miles Le, and Sarah Wasko

  • Sinclair's Boris Epshteyn defends his commentary and compares himself to a doctor in a “must-run” segment

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Sinclair Broadcast Group is defending itself with a brand-new “must-run” segment amid public backlash over a series of eerily similar anti-media promotional segments that Sinclair instructed its local news anchors to produce, packaging it as an “anchor delivered journalistic responsibility message.”

    In March, CNN’s Brian Stelter obtained internal documents Sinclair sent to its local TV news stations requiring them to film and air short promotional segments decrying “biased and false news” and accusing unnamed mainstream media figures of bias -- an echo of President Donald Trump’s frequent attacks on the press. The ads began airing on March 23, and days later, Deadspin’s Timothy Burke edited many of the similar segments into an creepy viral video that made Sinclair’s propagandistic intentions all too clear.

    Widespread coverage of the segments culminated earlier this week when cable news programs started discussing the videos, likely leading to Trump himself tweeting multiple times in Sinclair’s defense.

    Sinclair employees are speaking out in frustration, saying they felt the scripted segments “advanced the company’s agenda at the expense of their own credibility.” Company executives are now defending themselves too -- largely by attempting to redirect the conversation to the credibility of other news organizations. Sinclair CEO David Smith told New York magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi that print media writ large is “so left wing as to be meaningless dribble” and has “no credibility.” (Smith has attacked other media outlets in the past, echoing similar tactics used by Roger Ailes at Fox News to drive a wedge between viewers and other sources of information.)

    In a lengthy internal document that Stelter obtained this week, Sinclair leadership asserted that critical coverage of Sinclair was “misleading” and “often defamatory” and called the scripted segments a “well-researched journalistic initiative.”  

    Sinclair’s chief political analyst, former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn, is also defending Sinclair with a combination of similar attacks on other news outlets (specifically and tellingly against CNN, the outlet that broke the story of Sinclair’s latest scripted segments) and gaslight-y, vague arguments against media bias. In his morning newsletter, Epshteyn wrote, “I sincerely hope those bashing the message read by Sinclair station anchors are not really, as it seems, on the side of bias and false news.”

    Now Sinclair is returning to its local news airwaves to escalate its defense. Rather than hear updates about local school board meetings or community events, audiences tuning into Sinclair-owned or -operated stations across the country will instead be treated to this diatribe from Epshteyn. He doesn't address the scripted segments, but rather focuses on defending his own commentary segments:

    BORIS EPSHTEYN: I want to talk to you about my job. I am in the analysis, opinion and commentary business. Yes, I worked for President Trump during the 2016 campaign. I worked on the inaugural and I was at the White House. I was also on the McCain campaign in 2008 and was a surrogate for the Romney campaign in 2012. Some critics would have you believe that my experience somehow disqualifies me from providing you with my analysis and commentary.

    But here’s a question: Wouldn’t you want someone talking to you about politics only if he had actually worked in politics and knew the people he was talking about? I know that I would want someone giving opinions about medicine only if they were an actual doctor. In terms of my analysis playing during your local news, as you see, my segments are very clearly marked as commentary. The same cannot be said for cable and broadcast news hosts who inject their opinions and bias into news coverage all the time without drawing any lines between them.

    Here is the bottom line: I am proud to be the chief political analyst at Sinclair. My goal with every segment is to tell you facts which you may not already know and then my take on those facts. I am thrilled to keep sharing the truth and my perspective with you, day in and day out. Thank you for tuning in.

  • The hack gap and Conor Lamb’s victory

    Conservatives use flagrantly false arguments to shift the debate in their favor

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On Tuesday night, with Democratic candidate Conor Lamb nursing a narrow lead over Republican Rick Saccone in a special election for a deep-red congressional district that Donald Trump won by nearly 20 points in 2016, CNN political commentator Michael Smerconish noted that the fact that the race was even close should set off alarm bells for the Republican Party. “I think it’s hard to spin,” Smerconish commented. “I really don’t know what the argument will be on behalf of Republicans and the White House come tomorrow.”

    Moments later, Jason Miller, a former Trump campaign aide who now provides pro-Trump spin as a CNN commentator, filled the gap, claiming that “one of the things that Trump supporters will point out is the fact that Saccone was down by five points” before Trump spoke at a rally in the district over the weekend, “and then afterwards, this thing is dead even.” “It's because of President Trump that he even got this close,” he added.

    “Perhaps it's because of President Trump that he started as far behind as he was,” Smerconish replied. “No, Trump boosted him. That logic doesn't work,” Miller said. Smerconish was left shaking his head in apparent disbelief that a pundit could try to argue the apparent loss of a congressional seat that shouldn’t have been on the table was somehow a sign of the president’s strength.

    As it became more clear that Lamb had won the race, pro-Trump commentators like Fox’s Steve Doocy and Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Boris Epshteyn similarly argued that Trump had been a net benefit to Saccone. That became the official position of the GOP, with Republican National Committee spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany arguing on Fox that Trump was the “closer” in the race.

    Conservative pundits and Republican politicians got on the same page in saying that Lamb, in the words of Doocy, “ran as a Republican and won,” an obviously tendentious argument that ignores both a host of progressive positions the Democrat staked out over the course of the campaign and the prior GOP messaging that Lamb was a liberal in the mold of Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

    This is a case study in what center-left commentators have termed the “hack gap.” Conservative elites are willing to adopt shamelessly false positions for political gain, while liberal elites are largely bound by objective reality and thus are willing to publicly acknowledge when, say, former President Barack Obama performs poorly during a debate. The resulting asymmetry skews the debate in ways that tend to favor conservatives. This disparity occurs in everything from baldly partisan punditry to the Republican Party’s extreme policy stands.

    In the case of the Pennsylvania primary, press coverage that might otherwise be devoted to the catastrophic results for Republicans instead revolves in part on whether the conservative response is accurate. Some journalists point out the flaws in the right-wing argument, while others, like MSNBC’s Brian Williams, who claimed last night that Lamb “was a Democrat really in title only,” get spun. But either way, as a result of introducing nonsense into the discussion, conservatives are on a better footing than they would be otherwise.

    The hack gap has been more obvious since Trump’s rise to the top of the Republican Party: The president’s constant stream of lies and fabrications and his racist, authoritarian, cruel, and bizarre behavior require sycophantic pundits and White House spokespeople alike to go to new lengths to excuse his every move. When Jeffrey Lord is using a CNN platform to call Trump the “Martin Luther King of health care” or describe former FBI Director James Comey as a “nut job,” it’s easy to see that something is deeply wrong.

    But the phenomenon is not new. Indeed, for decades, modern conservative policy orthodoxy has been built on a series of disproven contentions -- like the validity of supply-side economics and the illegitimacy of climate change -- that are broadly rejected by center-right parties in the rest of the developed world. And thus we see, for example, the same pundit arguing in the early 1990s that President Bill Clinton’s tax increases would hurt the economy, then alternately crediting Ronald Reagan for the resulting strong economy and blaming Clinton when it stalled, demanding more tax cuts in the early 2000s, and spending 2007 and 2008 arguing that there was no housing bubble and claiming talk of a recession was fanciful. Because conservative pundits are punished only for apostasy, this series of inaccurate predictions did little damage to his stature.

    Yesterday, Trump named that pundit, Larry Kudlow, his top economic adviser.

  • Sinclair's Boris Epshteyn: A pro-Trump Republican struggling in Pennsylvania is actually good news for Trump

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Boris Epshteyn, Sinclair Broadcast Group’s chief shill for President Donald Trump, was definitely not worried about the special election in Pennsylvania yesterday, and he is not worried now that the results remain too close to call. In the alternate universe Sinclair and Epshteyn promote to local news viewers across the country, the brewing upset is actually good for Republicans and Trump.

    Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district, which voted for Trump by a 20-point margin in 2016, held a special election last night to replace former Republican Rep. Tim Murphy, who resigned last year. The race should have been an easy win for the GOP in a reliably red district, but as of publication, it remains officially "too close to call," with Democrat Conor Lamb leading Republican Rick Saccone by a tiny margin.

    But Boris Epshteyn, the No. 1 Trump propagandist at conservative local TV news giant Sinclair Broadcast Group and a former Trump aide, thinks that this outcome is somehow good for Republicans and doesn’t reflect poorly on Trump -- and he wants local news audiences to see it the same way.

    Epshteyn kicked off election day with a pre-emptively dismissive note in his morning email newsletter, arguing, “An election in one district in Pennsylvania in March does not indicate how the rest of that state, let alone the country, is going to vote in November.”

    As the results were coming in last night, Epshteyn took to Twitter to declare the close race “already a good result for the Republican Party” and ask, “Where is that Democrat passion everyone is talking about?” His tweets quickly met the fate of many scorching takes: a high ratio of mocking replies from other users.

    (Epshteyn attributed the mass mocking of his election analysis to “triggered” liberals upset that he was “hitting a nerve and calling it right.”)

    This morning, Epshteyn continued his attempts to spin the Pennsylvania results with a quick note in his newsletter to tell his fans that the election is just not a big deal:


    Breakfast with Boris newsletter

    Epshteyn also promoted his live appearances this morning on several Sinclair stations in Maryland, Ohio, Florida, and even Pennsylvania to talk about the results. They were even worse. In his morning spot on WBFF/Fox 45, Sinclair’s flagship station in Baltimore, he argued that Saccone had actually benefited from a “Trump bump” because the race was too close to call instead of a blowout for Lamb:

    BORIS EPSHTEYN: Saccone was down by about six points going into the final weekend. Now it’s tied. I don’t see how this is a negative for the Republicans. I see it as a positive.

    TOM RODGERS (ANCHOR): Well, everyone keeps going -- saying, “Well, look, Trump won it by 20 points.” So because Trump was campaigning for him --

    EPSHTEYN: Sure.

    RODGERS: -- do you see the connection there that says maybe Trump hurt him? Or do you see it that Trump helped him with the election when we’re looking at Saccone’s votes?

    EPSHTEYN: Well, the president really made one true appearance where he endorsed and helped Saccone. Overall, you’re right. Saccone was down by six points, the president came in, now it’s tied. You’re seeing a Trump bump of about six points. But it’s very different from having Donald Trump on the ballot in 2016 to now having a special election where he’s not on the ballot and made one appearance. The two are not the same at all.

    Epshteyn has now also released online a "must-run" segment focused on the Pennsylvania special election. In the clip, he argues that the race is "not necessarily" any "indication of a Democrat wave for the midterms in November," and reminds viewers that "the president was not on the ballot."

    Many may have missed Epshteyn’s weird, transparently pro-Trump defenses of the election outcome so far -- especially considering what little interest the public seems to have in his takes. But his latest Trump propaganda missive will be force-fed to viewers across the country now, as Sinclair mandates that all its news stations air Epshteyn’s desperate spin.

  • There is no audience for Boris Epshteyn's pro-Trump propaganda, so Sinclair forces it on people

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    For nearly a year now, Sinclair Broadcast Group has been mandating that its local news stations air commentary segments from former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn. It’s essentially force-feeding local audiences Trump propaganda between community news and weather -- and the numbers show no one would watch it otherwise.

    Sinclair is a corporate giant that owns or operates around 190 local TV news stations across the country, and it’s been quietly forcing its stations to air nationally produced right-wing spin for years. But when it hired Epshteyn, fresh from a stint in the Trump administration, to serve as its “chief political analyst,” it was only a matter of time before everyone was paying attention. Numerous media and business reporters highlighted Sinclair’s twofold plan for growing local right-wing news: using the company’s still-pending acquisition of Tribune Media stations to further expand its reach across the country (with its potentially unethical relationship with the Trump administration and its appointees paving the way), and hiring Epshteyn as a new, Trump-aligned star for “must-run” national segments.

    After I spent the last 11 months in the Sinclair rabbit hole with these reporters, one thing has become awkwardly, painfully obvious to me: Sinclair is forcing its stations to run Epshteyn’s segments because no one cares otherwise. There is no organic audience actively seeking out his pro-Trump commentary.

    At the time it hired Epshteyn, Sinclair touted its new analyst as providing “unique perspective to the political conversation” that would “better inform and empower our viewers.” It also made the decision months later to up his airtime, though the company declined to say why.

    I watch each new “Bottom Line with Boris” must-run segment on his YouTube channel, usually shortly after it’s posted. On YouTube, I alone account for a not-insignificant portion of his total viewership, which is usually less than 50.


    YouTube screenshot

    On occasion, one of his segments makes the jump into thousands of views; those are usually the ones I or another media researcher or reporter decided to write about.

    Things are not going much better for Epshteyn on Facebook. He has hosted a handful of Facebook Live sessions, and on more than one occasion, for a moment or two, I’ve been the only person joining him for the ride. I’ve spent collective minutes intently watching, all by myself or with a handful of other random people, as Epshteyn explains his latest video or tries to end the video before someone off camera tells him to keep going.


    Facebook screenshot

    His typical Facebook posts aren’t getting much engagement either. While the videos of his segments sometimes garner a few thousand views each on Facebook, that number is likely higher than the YouTube view counts because of algorithm and platform differences like Facebook’s use of video auto-play in newsfeeds. The videos typically don’t receive high engagement beyond views (i.e., “likes” or comments) and his non-video posts often show similar minimal engagement. And often the comments his posts do manage to garner are from users explaining why they disagree with him -- or more crudely explaining exactly how they feel about Epshteyn or Sinclair.


    Facebook screenshot


    Facebook screenshot

    He doesn’t have fans engaging with him on other social media either. The official Bottom Line with Boris Instagram account has 91 followers as of this publication. He has about 30,000 Twitter followers, but most of his tweets seem to get extremely low engagement for a verified user with his own almost-daily news platform. He also sends out a morning email newsletter every day. I read it; I’m not convinced anyone else does.

    There are a couple theories about why Epshteyn’s political commentary just isn’t landing, and in reality it’s probably some combination of both: His delivery is monotonous and pretty uninspiring, and his opinions are predictable and add nothing original to public conversation.

    Epshteyn’s demeanor as he delivers his commentary to viewers was perhaps best described by HBO's John Oliver last July, when he described Epshteyn as “a rejected extra from The Sopranos in a J.C. Penney's tie whose voice sounds like Sylvester Stallone with a mouthful of bees.” Epshteyn somehow manages to be incredibly boring on screen even though behind the scenes he reportedly terrorized green rooms during his time as a Trump spokesperson.

    Beyond the question of charisma, Epshteyn doesn’t really make any compelling or interesting points. For a chief political analyst, his takes 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 absurd, racist things Trump does. These are not exactly principled positions.

    But the worst part about Epshteyn’s almost-daily segments isn’t his lack of charm or compelling analysis, or their propagandistic nature -- it’s that Sinclair viewers are subjected to his commentary regardless.

    Sinclair is forcibly creating an audience where none exists by requiring its news stations to air Epshteyn’s segments. Even though only about 25 to 50 people seem to care about his commentary enough to seek it out on YouTube, it’s still reaching about 39 percent of U.S. TV households -- and could soon reach an unprecedented 72 percent.

    Propaganda doesn’t work because people genuinely love reading or watching it -- it works when it’s repeated enough to just become an acceptable part of everyday life. Like, for example, when an awkward stranger shouts at you after the local weather every night about what a great job his former boss, the president, is doing.  

  • Sinclair definitely doesn't want anyone to think that Trump's White House is in a state of crisis

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Boris Epshteyn, Sinclair Broadcast Group’s chief political analyst and a former Trump administration aide, would like you to know that everything is fine at the Trump White House -- and if you hear otherwise, blame the media.

    From today’s “must-run” “Bottom Line with Boris” commentary segment, posted with the headline, “Don’t buy into the media’s portrayal of a White House in chaos”:

    BORIS EPSHTEYN: Have there been a lot of staff changes in the Trump White House? Sure. A lot of that is because the president is not a lifelong politician. He did not have scores of people riding his political coattails like almost every other president in recent history. The White House is a tough place to work. I can tell you firsthand that it is a pressure cooker. Is everything always smooth and perfect in this White House? Of course not. But is it at your job? Here’s the bottom line: Just because someone in media says that there’s a meltdown in Washington, D.C., does not make that true. As you’re taking in news and political coverage, do not buy into the hysteria.

    The segment does not delve into exactly what’s caused such widespread reports of an administration in mayhem, nor mention any of the reasons there has been unprecedented staff turnover, such as pressure stemming from an ongoing federal investigation into collusion or reports of serial domestic abuse by a staffer.

    This embarrassing segment will now be forcibly aired, often spliced into 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” lineup.

    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 authoritarian dream of a “military parade” was a good idea.

    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 percent of U.S. television households.

  • 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.