Sinclair Broadcast Group, the largest owner and operator of local TV stations in the country, has the potential to wield enormous influence over the midterm elections this fall by distributing frequent GOP-friendly segments to local news stations on the ground in key races.
A number of Sinclair’s 192 local TV stations -- many of which broadcast Sinclair's original news programming -- are located in battleground states for the 2018 and 2020 election cycles; for example, Sinclair controls seven stations broadcasting in Pennsylvania, eight in Michigan, and 13 in Florida. Stations like these are positioned to directly impact races, in part because they enjoy higher levels of trust than other news sources -- and Sinclair has repeatedly demonstrated it’s more than willing to exploit that trust.
The company appears to be increasing the frequency with which it replaces its “must-run” commentary segments with friendly interviews with GOP officials, including some running for re-election this fall. Former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn’s “Bottom Line With Boris” commentary segments -- the most well-known of Sinclair’s “must-run” lineup -- often feature multi-part softball interviews with conservative leaders rather than analysis. This year, Epshteyn has aired interviews with 15 different members of the Trump administration, other members of the Trump inner circle, and Republican congressmen: 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, Department of 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, and Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers Kevin Hassett. DeSantis, McCarthy, and Rooney are all on ballots this year.
And “Bottom Line With Boris,” which typically airs on an estimated 100 local news stations nationwide, has already discussed the 2018 or 2020 election seasons at least 12 times. Epshteyn has so far repeatedly encouraged Republicans to stick to pro-Trump messaging in upcoming elections, hyped GOP chances in key midterm races, and dismissed early signs pointing to the possibility of substantial Democratic wins. Other Sinclair staple “must-run” segments, like the Terrorism Alert Desk, work to reinforce right-wing and xenophobic ideologies in potential voters.
Sinclair's recent attempt to expand into more major media markets by acquiring Tribune stations may have fallen through, but the company is still poised to impact key races this fall with news programming like this. Media Matters has identified 10 areas across the country that could be particularly vulnerable to Sinclair’s right-wing machinations ahead of the November midterms.
- Fresno, CA
- West Palm Beach, FL
- Cedar Rapids, IA
- Greensboro and Winston-Salem, NC
- Las Vegas, NV
- Syracuse, NY
- Pittsburgh, PA
- El Paso and San Antonio, TX
- Salt Lake City, UT
- Seattle, WA
Sinclair owns and operates three local stations in the Fresno area: KMPH (Fox 26), KFRE (CW 59), and KMPH-CD, which rebroadcasts Fox 26 to different parts of the local media market. Fox 26 regularly airs Sinclair “must-run” content, including Epshteyn’s segments, and CW 59 likely does as well (its newscasts aren’t available for Media Matters to review, but it rebroadcasts some news programming from Fox 26). The Fresno media market covers parts of California’s 21st Congressional District (CA-21). The CA-21 race, between incumbent Republican Rep. David Valadao and Democratic challenger TJ Cox, has been targeted by both major national parties.
Sinclair owns and operates four local TV stations in the West Palm Beach area: WPEC (CBS 12), WTVX (The CW West Palm), WWHB (Azteca 48), and WTCN (My15). That means Sinclair controls an estimated one-third of local news stations in the market. CBS 12 regularly airs at least some of Sinclair’s “must-run” segments, and, since The CW West Palm rebroadcasts some of CBS 12’s news programming, it likely does as well (the broadcasts are not available for Media Matters to review). These stations broadcast in parts of Florida’s 18th Congressional District (FL-18). The race for the FL-18 seat, which pits incumbent Republican Rep. Brian Mast against Democratic challenger Lauren Baer, has been targeted by both major national parties.
Sinclair controls nine other stations broadcasting throughout the state, including in Gainesville, Pensacola, and Tallahassee. This means Sinclair could have a noticeable influence over state news coverage as Florida faces toss-up midterms races for governor and U.S. Senate. The high-profile gubernatorial race, which has been labeled “2018’s single most important governor’s race" pits former Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis against Democratic challenger Andrew Gillum, the current mayor of Tallahassee.
For the Senate seat, current Gov. Rick Scott (R) is challenging incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) in what may be “one of the most expensive campaigns in 2018.” To complicate matters, Sinclair’s PAC has contributed to Nelson in the past (though it appears Nelson’s re-election campaign may have returned the most recent donation). Nelson is the ranking member of the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation -- an important committee for Sinclair, since its jurisdiction includes the communications industry. Nelson has said Sinclair lobbied him last year in order to tamp down on potential Democratic opposition to the Tribune deal. But he also led a recent effort by Senate Democrats targeting the Federal Communications Commission’s role in regulating Sinclair's possible expansion.
Sinclair controls two of the top TV stations in Cedar Rapids: KGAN (CBS 2) and KFXA (Fox 28). That means Sinclair controls as much as 50 percent of the news stations in this area, according to advocacy group Allied Progress. The Cedar Rapids media market intersects with the “lean Democratic” race to represent Iowa’s 1st Congressional District (IA-01). The candidates, incumbent Republican Rep. Rod Blum and Democratic challenger Abby Finkenauer, will participate in an October debate hosted by the two Sinclair stations.
Sinclair owns and operates two local stations in the media market covering Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and High Point: WXLV (ABC 45) and WMYV (My48). The market covers parts of North Carolina’s current 13th Congressional District (NC-13). The race to represent that district, between incumbent Republican Rep. Ted Budd and Democratic challenger Kathy Manning, is currently considered “lean Republican” by Cook Political Report and has been targeted by national Democratic Party organizers.
Sinclair owns and operates two TV stations in the Las Vegas media market: KSNV (NBC 3) and KVCW (The CW Las Vegas). NBC 3 regularly airs Sinclair “must-run” segments. Anchors have actually introduced these segments as though they’re part of the newscast (rather than sandwiching them in during commercial time or at times with low viewership, as some other stations have been doing) and the segments have featured NBC 3 branding on the screen. The race to represent Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District (NV-03), just south of Las Vegas, is currently considered “lean Democratic” by Cook Political Report and is being targeted by both major national parties.
Sinclair also operates a handful of stations in the Reno and Elko areas that share some resources with the Las Vegas stations. All together, that means Sinclair has a noticeable presence in both major media markets in the state (along with the neighboring market of Salt Lake City, UT) as Nevada faces contentious statewide midterms races for governor and U.S. Senate. And Sinclair has a clear preference in the Senate race: Its political action committee has given a total of $2,500 to Republican Sen. Dean Heller’s re-election campaign since 2015. 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.
Sinclair controls three TV stations in the Syracuse area of central New York state: WSTM, WTVH, and WSTQ. All three are branded as “CNY Central.” According to one estimate, that means Sinclair controls 67 percent of the news stations in Syracuse. Both WSTM and WTVH air regular “must-run” content including Epshteyn’s segments. These Syracuse stations intersect with the toss-up race for New York’s 22nd Congressional District (NY-22). Democrat Anthony Brindisi is challenging the incumbent Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney, who earlier this year yelled “fake news” in a reporter’s face and blamed the “deep state” for Secretary Carson’s $31,000 furniture scandal. Trump visited the district to campaign for Tenney in August.
Sinclair owns and operates two local stations broadcasting in Pittsburgh: WPGH (Fox 53) and WPNT (branded as 22 The Point). The Pittsburgh market covers parts of Pennsylvania’s newly redrawn 17th Congressional District to the west of the city (PA-17). The close race to represent the new version of PA-17 pits two incumbents from other districts: Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus, who represented the old 12th District, and Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb, who represented the old 18th District.
Sinclair owns and operates two of the top local news stations in El Paso: KDBC (CBS 4) and KFOX (Fox 14). By one estimate, that means Sinclair controls one-third of the news stations in the market. Further southeast, Sinclair also controls three local news stations that serve the communities around San Antonio: KABB (Fox 29), WOAI (NBC 4), and KMYS (The CW 35).
These two groups of Sinclair stations broadcast in different parts of Texas’ massive 23rd Congressional District (TX-23) along the state’s southwest border. The district has been described as “the only true swing district in Texas,” and the current race pits incumbent Republican Rep. Will Hurd against Democratic challenger Gina Ortiz Jones in a close contest. Sinclair’s PAC gave $1,000 to Hurd’s re-election campaign in 2017.
Sinclair controls 10 other stations throughout the state, including in Abilene, Amarillo, Austin, Beaumont, Corpus Christi, and Harlingen. This means Sinclair could have a noticeable influence over state news coverage as Texas sees a surprisingly contentious midterm race for U.S. Senate, pitting incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz against Democratic challenger Rep. Beto O’Rourke.
Sinclair controls four TV stations in the Salt Lake City media market: KJZZ, KUTV (CBS 2), and KMYU (My Utah TV) in Salt Lake City and KENV (NBC 10) in Elko, NV. The Salt Lake City media market covers the entirety of the state of Utah, most notably the state’s 4th Congressional District (UT-04). The close race for that seat, between incumbent Republican Rep. Mia Love and Democrat challenger Ben McAdams, is currently considered “lean Republican” by Cook Political Report and a toss-up by RealClearPolitics.
Sinclair owns and operates two local stations in the Seattle and Tacoma area: KOMO (an ABC affiliate) and KUNS (Univision Seattle). KOMO regularly airs Sinclair “must-runs,” including Epshteyn’s segments. These stations reach parts of Washington’s 8th Congressional District (WA-08) to the east of the city. The race for the district is considered a toss-up by Cook Political Report and has been targeted by both major national parties. It pits Republican Dino Rossi against Democrat Kim Schrier in “one of the closest congressional races in the country.”