Sinclair and the midterms: Virginia edition

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

If you live in a midsize city or battleground state, you are now more likely than ever to see pro-Trump propaganda 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.

We’ve already tackled Nevada, Tennessee, New York, and Florida. Now, we’re taking a look at Virginia.

Key 2018 races

  • House: Virginia’s second congressional district (VA-2), which includes easternmost parts of the state around the Chesapeake Bay, was rated “lean Republican” by Cook Political Report as of publication. Republican incumbent Rep. Scott Taylor faces a primary challenger, and several others are seeking the Democratic nomination for the race.
  • House: Virginia’s fifth congressional district (VA-5), spanning a large area in the center of the state, was rated “lean Republican” by Cook Political Report as of publication. Republican incumbent Rep. Tom Garrett faces Democratic challenger Leslie Cockburn, a former journalist.
  • House: Virginia’s seventh congressional district (VA-7), which includes Richmond suburbs and parts of central VA, was rated “lean Republican” by Cook Political Report as of publication. Two Democrats are competing for the nomination to challenge Republican incumbent Rep. David Brat.
  • House: Virginia’s 10th congressional district (VA-10), which includes Washington, D.C.'s western suburbs, was rated a toss-up by Cook Political Report as of publication. Republican incumbent Rep. Barbara Comstock faces a long list of potential challengers in the race, which Politico dubbed one of the “top 10 House races to watch in 2018.”

Sinclair stations in state

WSET (ABC 13) in Lynchburg

WRLH (Fox Richmond) in Richmond

  • Parts of VA-7 are currently served by Sinclair-owned WRLH (Fox Richmond) in nearby Richmond. Sinclair reportedly does not produce Fox Richmond’s regular newscasts; the channel contracts with another local station for news production, so it apparently does not currently air Sinclair’s national “must-run” content.
  • Sinclair has indicated it will sell Fox Richmond if its pending acquisition of Tribune Media stations is approved. The media company would sell the station to Standard Media in order to comply with the Federal Communications Commission’s current media ownership rules. However, Sinclair’s track record suggests the company may continue to operate the station in some capacity through legal loopholes.

WTVZ (MyTVZ) in Norfolk

WJLA (ABC 7) in Washington, D.C.

WLFL and WRDC in Raleigh, NC

  • Some of the southernmost areas in VA-5 are served by the Sinclair-owned and -operated WLFL (The CW 22) and WRDC (MyRDC) based in Raleigh, NC.
  • The CW 22 currently airs newscasts from a non-Sinclair-affiliated local station.
  • MyRDC does not appear to air any local news programming.

Coming soon: WTKR and WGNT in Norfolk, WTVR in Richmond, WDCW in Washington, D.C.

  • Sinclair is set to purchase Richmond-based station WTVR (CBS 6) in its pending acquisition of up to 42 Tribune Media stations. Should the deal go through, Sinclair has indicated it will sell its current Richmond-based station, WRLH Fox Richmond (and presumably keep the newly acquired CBS 6) in order to comply with FCC rules.
  • Sinclair is also set to purchase Tribune stations WTKR (CBS 3) and WGNT (CW) in Norfolk. Its current Norfolk-based station, MyTVZ, does not air local news programming, but if Sinclair develops a local newscast, likely based at the largest station, CBS 3, up to three different channels in the Norfolk area could soon air at least some Sinclair news programming.
  • Sinclair will also acquire WDCW (DCW50) in the Tribune purchase.

What else you need to know

Former WSET (ABC 13) reporter Suri Crowe recounted to BuzzFeed News in April that Sinclair management had insisted she add false balance in news stories about climate change and gun violence. Crowe was reprimanded for refusing to “seed doubt about man-made climate change,” as BuzzFeed put it, and add more conservative “balance” to her stories. She was ultimately forced out in 2017.

Sinclair’s main operations are primarily centralized in the Beltway areas of Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Maryland. Its headquarters are located in Hunt Valley, MD, not far from its flagship station, WBFF (Fox 45), in Baltimore. And at least some of Sinclair’s “must-run” content and weekly news programming is produced at the WJLA studios in Arlington, VA, including the fearmongering “Terrorism Alert Desk” segments, “Bottom Line With Boris” pro-Trump commentary segments, many of the national news packages, and Full Measure.

WJLA (ABC 7) is one of four stations that recently ran an anti-Sinclair ad campaign by progressive consumer watchdog group Allied Progress -- but the station reportedly sandwiched the ad between Sinclair-provided video that characterized it as “hysteria and hype.”

Are there Sinclair stations near you?

Use Media Matters’ interactive map at to learn more.

Graphics by Sarah Wasko.