An article published in Variety magazine highlighted Sinclair Broadcast Group’s practice of using “must-run” commentary segments to inject “conservative tilt” into a myriad of Sinclair-owned local news stations across the United States.
Sinclair and its affiliates have a long history of broadcasting reports and commentary that feature a distinct conservative slant, and over the last few months, Sinclair has required its stations to run commentary segments from pro-Trump personalities. If Sinclair’s recent bid to purchase Tribune Media company is successful, it will be able to foist these segments on 42 additional local stations across the country. Tribune Media employees and their union leadership have already expressed concerns about Sinclair’s tendency to pepper its news coverage with right-wing opinions. There is even speculation that the network is considering hiring Fox News spin masters Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly (who recently left Fox News amid reports of sexual harassment).
As Variety reported, Sinclair “has drawn more and more fire from critics” who have chided the network’s policy of airing “must-run” conservative commentary segments on Sinclair-owned local news stations. The article also noted that the inclusion of former Trump strategist Boris Epshteyn’s “Bottom Line With Boris” commentary -- in which Epshteyn has thus far “unfailingly supported his ex-boss” -- in Sinclair’s “must-run” programming runs counter to the typical “down-the-middle approach” local news outlets usually take on national issues. As Media Matters President Angelo Carusone told Variety, with these segments, Sinclair is “exploiting and weaponizing the fact that people don’t expect their local news to be partisan”:
It’s hardly surprising that Sinclair would face speculation over its plans for the future. The company is already the nation’s largest owner of TV stations, and it will grow to unprecedented size if the FCC approves the Tribune acquisition. And Sinclair has drawn more and more fire from critics — notably HBO’s John Oliver — for the increasingly conservative tilt to its local newscasts through “must-run” commentary segments and coverage decisions mandated at the corporate level.
Sinclair has generated controversy by mandating all of its stations run Epshteyn’s nine-times-weekly “Bottom Line With Boris” commentary segments. The former Trump strategist has unfailingly supported his ex-boss in virtually all of his two-minute segments to date: praising Trump’s “America First” trade policy, saluting his efforts to reform the Veterans Administration, crediting Trump for fueling job growth and chiding state leaders for balking at the administration’s request for voter registration data as part of its voter fraud investigation.
Viewers who tune in to Fox News or MSNBC likely expect to get a partisan slant on the headlines at least in some programs. But local TV news has typically had a down-the-middle approach, especially on national issues. Were Epshteyn to appear as a commentator on a cable news channel, his partisan affiliation would be identified. That’s not the case on air at Sinclair; Epshteyn’s previous work for Trump is disclosed only in the online postings of his commentaries on Sinclair station websites.
“They’re really trying to warp the worldview and the narrative that their audience is receiving from their newscasts, and it’s being warped by a source that [the audience] would otherwise trust,” says Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, a liberal-leaning watchdog organization that has been a vocal critic of Sinclair for years. “I think it’s exploiting and weaponizing the fact that people don’t expect their local news to be partisan.”