Conservative local news giant Sinclair Broadcast Group is now pushing its local news stations to air what amounts to an unofficial ad for the Trump 2020 campaign.
The local news behemoth currently employs two commentators -- one pro-Trump and one liberal -- who each produce a “must-run” commentary segment on a near-daily basis. The segments are distributed to Sinclair’s local news stations across the country, and the stations are required to air them within a certain period of time, typically during a local newscast. The June 19 commentary segments from Boris Epshteyn and Ameshia Cross tackled President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign launch ploy in Orlando.
Epshteyn, who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign and may have signed a nondisparagement agreement during that time that would prevent him from criticizing the president, delivered a 90-second segment that could just as easily have been produced by the Trump campaign itself.
In the segment, Epshteyn praises crowd sizes at Trump’s rallies and “unprecedented social media engagement” from Trump supporters, and encourages the president’s campaign to “ride the wind of his accomplishments to reelection.”
BORIS EPSHTEYN: Well, it’s official. President Trump has launched his 2020 reelection campaign. The energy behind President Trump and his “America First” movement is palpable, and if I’m a Democrat running in 2020, I am worried about my chances. That energy is quantifiable in the crowds that fill up massive stadiums. You see it on display when lines begin to form days in advance of Trump rallies. You see the energy in the unprecedented social media engagement for President Trump. You also see it in fundraising, where, according to reports, President Trump raised more in his first day running than any Democratic candidate did in their first three months.
Democrats have struggled to find a candidate who is able to hit these notes. Democratic candidates from Mayor Bill de Blasio to Sen. Kamala Harris and even the front-runner, former Vice President Joe Biden, are failing to fill crowds or garner supporter reactions. On the other hand, the sitting president is treated like a rock star by his base.
President Trump’s strategy is simple: Keep the energy and motivation high, focus on several key issues, and ride the wind of his accomplishments to reelection. Here’s the bottom line: The advantages of incumbency and a successful first term are on full display for President Trump so far this cycle. While Democrats struggle to differentiate from one another, President Trump is proving that the GOP’s amp goes up to 11.
As of this morning, Epshteyn’s “must-run” segment has already aired on at least 42 Sinclair-controlled local news stations in 26 states and the District of Columbia, according to the iQ media database.
For more than a year, Epshteyn was the only Sinclair personality creating “must-run” commentary segments for the broadcaster to send to its stations. In February, Sinclair added commentator Ameshia Cross to its lineup to produce segments on the same topics from a more liberal perspective. The two segments -- Epshteyn’s Bottom Line with Boris and Cross’ Cross Point -- typically air during the same local newscasts on a given station. Cross’ segment about the reelection campaign focused on Trump’s attacks on media, Democratic candidates, and Hillary Clinton during the rally.
Sinclair’s programming decisions and executive leadership tilted strongly in favor of the Trump campaign in 2016, and the close connections between the Trump administration and the broadcasting company have seemingly only strengthened in the time since. The president himself, along with numerous cabinet members and other individuals circulating in his inner circle, have made appearances on Sinclair programming and granted exclusive interviews to Sinclair hosts and reporters -- including with openly conservative personalities like Epshteyn and former Fox News host Eric Bolling.
Epshteyn similarly used many of his “must-runs” to essentially campaign for Republicans in the year leading up to the 2018 midterms; some of his segments even skipped the usual commentary altogether and simply featured softball interviews with GOP candidates. Sinclair’s past election efforts are particularly notable because the nearly 200 stations it owns or operates are mostly concentrated in mid-sized cities and battleground states.