President Donald Trump and his administration have weakened the United States Postal Service, enacting policies leading to slower mail delivery ahead of a presidential election in which mail-in voting will be heavily used. But Sinclair’s national reporters repeatedly failed to mention the administration’s efforts in at least six segments covering -- and in two cases advancing -- the president’s false attacks on the integrity and efficacy of voting by mail.
On August 5, one of Sinclair’s reporters finally reported on Trump’s efforts to undermine the Postal Service -- six weeks after the first Sinclair report covering his attacks on mail-in voting.
Trump and his administration have repeatedly undermined the Postal Service, which will likely cause increased mail-in voting delays
- Trump has said he’d refuse financial support for the Postal Service unless it drastically raises package prices, which could devastate its finances. The Washington Post reported on June 15 that “Trump has called the Postal Service ‘a joke’ and said he would not support a financial lifeline unless the agency quadrupled package prices, a move that experts say would devastate its finances by pricing out major package shippers and forcing them to enlarge their own distribution networks.”
- The Trump administration prevented the Postal Service for months from accessing $10 billion in coronavirus relief. New York magazine reported: “The CARES Act authorized the USPS to borrow $10 billion from the Treasury Department, but that money was held hostage for months as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Trump demanded concessions. Trump said rates would need to be quadrupled, and Mnuchin reportedly fought for control of top-level USPS decisions. Just last week, the terms of the loan were finalized, with the USPS agreeing to disclose the details of some of its most lucrative contracts to the Treasury Department in exchange for the lifeline.”
- Trump’s newly appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy launched a program that delayed mail delivery by at least one day. The Intercept reported that a Postal Service pilot program, which began on July 25, “tries to get letter carriers “out to deliver mail more quickly in the morning by prohibiting them from sorting any mail in their offices” before starting their delivery routes. The report stated that this “could delay mail from getting to its final destination by at least one day, if not longer,” and that postal workers “were alarmed and shocked by these new dictates, which appeared to directly undermine a core value of their work.”
- DeJoy’s other policies “have resulted in at least a two-day delay in scattered parts of the country, even for express mail.” The Post reported that policies DeJoy instituted include “prohibiting overtime pay, shutting down sorting machines early and requiring letter carriers to leave mail behind when necessary to avoid extra trips or late delivery on routes.” According to the Post, these policies “have resulted in at least a two-day delay in scattered parts of the country, even for express mail, according to multiple postal workers and union leaders. Letter carriers are manually sorting more mail, adding to the delivery time. Bins of mail ready for delivery are sitting in post offices because of scheduling and route changes. And without the ability to work overtime, workers say the logjam is worsening without an end in sight.”
- Postal workers are worried that the mail delays “are the result of a political effort to undermine absentee voting.” The Post further reported that as Trump “ramps up his unfounded attacks on mail balloting as being susceptible to widespread fraud, postal employees and union officials say the changes implemented by Trump fundraiser-turned-postmaster general Louis DeJoy are contributing to a growing perception that mail delays are the result of a political effort to undermine absentee voting.” One postal worker union leader told the Post, “I’m actually terrified to see election season under the new procedure.” Another postal worker said, “I’m a little frightened. By the time political season rolls around, I shudder to think what it’s going to look like.” A third postal worker told the Post: “If they keep this up until the election, there’s no telling how many days-worth of delays there could be. I mean, we’ll be delivering political mail days after the election.”
Watchdog groups Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and Common Cause Wisconsin have called for a Senate investigation into the actions DeJoy has taken since he took over the Postal Service. In a letter to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), chairman of the committee which oversees the Postal Service, they stated: “In his first month on the job, the postmaster general has already taken steps that could undermine efficient voting by mail in November.” The letter also asked Johnson to hold oversight hearings on DeJoy’s “possible voter suppression tactics.” And Wendy Fields of Democracy Initiative, a voting and civil rights coalition organization, told The New York Times that Trump is “deliberately orchestrating suppression and using the post office as a tool to do it.”
Sinclair’s national news personalities failed to mention Trump’s attacks on the Postal Service in their coverage
Sinclair’s national reporting team has repeatedly covered, and in some cases supported, Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting. But all these segments have failed to mention Trump’s sabotage of the Postal Service.
- On June 24, Sinclair national correspondent Kristine Frazao pushed Trump’s baseless attacks on voting by mail and failed to give viewers accurate information about mail-in voting. Frazao’s report included two baseless claims from Trump and one from Hans von Spakovsky of the conservative Heritage Foundation attacking the safety and reliability of voting by mail. Her fact-checking was so inadequate that at least one local news anchor more thoroughly explained the security features of mail-in voting after airing her report. The anchor also pushed back against Trump’s outrageous claim of foreign governments printing ballots -- providing important and necessary context for viewers which Frazao failed to offer. An NPR fact check of the Trump tweet Frazao included in her report had already debunked Trump’s claim two days before Frazao’s report aired. Frazao’s report aired on at least 37 Sinclair-owned or -operated stations in 34 states.
- On July 9, Sinclair senior political anchor Eric Bolling falsely portrayed mail-in voting as prone to fraud during an interview with a former Washington elections official. During the interview, Bolling repeatedly pushed a former Washington secretary of state to validate his claims that fraud is rampant in mail-in voting, asking first, “Tell us about the fraud that could happen,” and then, “Do you not see the opportunity for fraud with mail-in voting?” The interview aired in full or in part on at least 49 Sinclair stations in 38 states. Two of these states, Washington and Oregon, use mail-in voting as their primary method of voting. Bolling’s interview was also available for streaming on many Sinclair stations’ websites.
- A July 10 report from Sinclair national correspondent Ahtra Elnashar covered Trump’s continued attacks on voting by mail, but noted that Trump himself and many senior members of his White House and campaign vote by mail, and the president’s family members are encouraging people to vote this way. Elnashar also included a “warning” from Trump that voting by mail “would cause months of delay for getting results.” Her report included a representative from Heritage Foundation claiming voting by mail “creates all kinds of vulnerabilities that fraudsters can exploit,” but also included a quote from the Brookings Institution’s head of government studies, Darrell West, who said: “There’s very little evidence of fraud. The few cases where it has taken place, people have been prosecuted.” This report aired on at least 51 Sinclair stations in 32 states.
- A July 31 report from Frazao on Trump’s tweet suggesting an unconstitutional delay to the presidential election suggested that his attacks on mail-in voting were causing Republican voters to view the voting method with suspicion. This time Frazao mentioned “plenty of evidence that fraud is rare, and mail-in voting helps Republicans and Democrats equally.” She noted former President Barack Obama’s recent warning about Trump’s “undermining of mail-in voting.” She also mentioned that less Americans support efforts to expand this type of voting than they did two years ago and that it might “possibly [be] stemming from shifting views by Republicans” in light of Trump’s repeated, false attacks. This report from Frazao aired on at least 52 Sinclair stations in 37 states.
- Also on August 3, Elnashar covered Trump’s attempts to differentiate his false attacks on voting by mail from his support for absentee voting. Elnashar reported on Trump’s ridiculous claims, citing first Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) then an elections attorney explaining there’s virtually no difference between mail-in and absentee voting. Elnashar also quoted the attorney saying “voter fraud is rare and does not occur more by mail than it does in person.” Elnarshar’s report aired on at least 46 Sinclair stations in 33 states.
- On August 4, Sinclair chief political correspondent Scott Thuman reported on Trump’s continued attacks on mail-in voting with his threats of executive orders and lawsuits. Thuman covered the concerns from supporters of mail-in voting that the “sheer volume” of mailed ballots “could mean delayed results” and featured plenty of background video of the Postal Service mail trucks and personnel. This report aired on at least 49 Sinclair stations in 32 states and Washington, D.C.
It was only on August 5 that a report from Ahtra Elnashar -- who previously twice reported on Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting -- finally focused on Trump’s efforts to weaken the Postal Service prior to the election. At publication time, Elnashar’s report had run on at least 41 Sinclair stations in 34 states and Washington, D.C.
Elshanar's report was an improvement, but it didn't negate the impacts of the six Sinclair segments that aired on television stations throughout America over a six-week period and failed to mention Trump’s sabotage of the Postal Service. That reporting has done a disservice to Sinclair’s local television audiences. It’s quite possible that many Sinclair viewers are already being impacted by delayed mail service.