In contrast to many other television stations in the state, four Sinclair Broadcast Group stations that broadcast in Georgia mostly failed in recent news coverage to mention Georgia Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s involvement in the insider trading scandal that has engulfed the Senate.
Multiple news outlets reported in mid-March that Loeffler and three other senators sold stocks in possible violation of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act soon after the Senate received private briefings on the coronavirus threat. The Hill reported that the sales by Loeffler and her husband -- who is chairman of the New York Stock Exchange -- totaled more than $1.2 million. Loeffler, who is running in a special election this year to keep the Senate seat she was appointed to months earlier, has said that the couple didn’t make the decision to sell themselves and that she was told about the stock sales after they occurred.
The story made headlines again after reports on May 13 that FBI agents seized the phone of one of the other senators, Richard Burr (R-NC), as evidence in a Justice Department investigation into the stock sales. On May 14, Burr told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that he would step down as chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Later that day, Loeffler’s spokesperson announced that the Georgia senator had turned over documents to the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Senate Ethics Committee about her stock sales.
This story should have been major news in Georgia, particularly given the local angle. And it was for many of the state’s television stations -- with the notable exception of Sinclair-owned stations. An iQ media search for mentions of Burr between May 13 and 15 found 27 Georgia newscast segments covering the Burr news, 20 of which (74%) mentioned Loeffler. Three Sinclair-owned and -operated stations that broadcast in the state -- WTGS, WFXL, and WTWC -- failed to cover the Burr developments or even mention Loeffler over that time period. A third, WGXA, did mention her name in a May 14 morning news segment about Burr, but then failed to mention her by name in a segment the next morning -- after it was reported that Loeffler turned over documents related to her trades to the DOJ. It did mention that “several Senate members” besides Burr were caught up in the scandal.
Sinclair has been spreading conservative propaganda to television audiences across the U.S. for years. It has acted no differently during the coronavirus pandemic that has already claimed more than 90,000 American lives, whether by pushing misinformation to defend President Donald Trump’s response to the pandemic or covering for a Republican senator who’s facing a tough campaign by downplaying harmful information about her.