Update (8/10/22): This piece has been updated with additional examples.
Conservative local TV giant Sinclair Broadcast Group used its weekday national news program, The National Desk, to push messaging from current and former Republican lawmakers and officials in response to the surprise FBI search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida. All of this GOP messaging disparaged the FBI for their warranted search of the former president’s residence.
According to multiple media reports, the FBI’s search of Trump’s home is related to possibly classified documents he illegally took from the White House after he left office in January 2021. Trump had previously turned over some amount of the documents he took, some of which were marked as classified. The Washington Post reported that senior Republican officials “rallied quickly behind Donald Trump’s efforts to discredit the FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago Club, embracing his claims, presented without evidence, that it was a political attack intended to impede Trump’s chances if he runs for president again.” (Some of the same news organizations covering this latest development failed to treat Trump’s document stealing scandal with the gravitas it deserved when the story broke earlier this year.)
Sinclair’s National Desk, which airs on 76 Sinclair-owned or -operated television stations around the country, chose to push these and other baseless GOP narratives attacking the FBI and Department of Justice in its initial coverage of the search. During the nighttime edition of the program on August 8, Sinclair anchor Eugene Ramirez quoted from Trump’s statement calling the FBI’s action “political persecution,” reported that two Republican lawmakers were already calling for investigations into the DOJ, and further quoted Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican National Committee using similar rhetoric.
A second report from Ramirez during the program quoted one of Trump’s sons, Eric, along with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), attacking the FBI search. The program also repeatedly referred to the FBI’s execution of a search warrant as a “raid” both in its spoken coverage and in graphics.
During the opening of the morning edition of The National Desk on August 9, the program aired a clip of former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich uttering the inane statement, “If 30 FBI agents can take over the house of a former president of the United States, and probable candidate for president, what can they do to you?”
Anchor Jan Jeffcoat followed this up minutes later by quoting tweets from multiple Republican officials attacking the FBI and Attorney General Merrick Garland. In a longer segment later in the first hour of the program, Jeffcoat aired tweets and videos from multiple other current and former Republican officials condemning the FBI’s search, and just one tweet from Democratic strategist David Axelrod defending the FBI’s actions.
And in a short reading of the hour’s headlines, Jeffcoat cited “GOP leaders” calling the search “un-American” and that “it infringes on the rights of a former president” and then cited New York Times reporting that the search was related to documents Trump took from the White House in the same breath, as if both narratives have equal basis.
Sinclair continued to push baseless GOP claims about the FBI’s search after Tuesday morning. That evening, Sinclair chief political correspondent Scott Thuman aired multiple Republican statements claiming that the DOJ has been “weaponized” against Trump and suggested that the only way the search would have been non-political is if it was done by a special counsel. According to a transcript search of the Kinetiq video database, Thuman’s segment aired on at least 56 Sinclair stations, and was also re-aired during the nighttime and morning editions of The National Desk.
According to a Media Matters review, at least 15 Sinclair stations also pushed Trump’s framing of the warranted FBI search of his home with its “question of the day,” asking viewers: “Do you believe Trump's claim that he's being politically targeted by the government?”. This is not the first time Sinclair’s “question of the day” has been used to push GOP framing. Just over a year ago, its “question of the day,” which aired on at least 14 stations, was: “Is the January 6 committee about partisan politics?”