Sinclair Broadcast Group has been using its local news stations to try to help Republicans in next week’s midterm elections.
A number of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s 192 local TV stations -- many of which broadcast Sinclair's original news programming -- are located in battleground districts and states for the 2018 and 2020 election cycles.
In October, one former Sinclair news director told The New Yorker that the company “purposely went in and bought a whole bunch of stations in mid-America—i.e., Trump kinds of towns. Places where they could have a big influence.” The source added, “I don’t care what your politics are—the bottom line is, they hatched a plan to have an effect on the majority of this country.”
And now that plan may be paying off.
Boris Epshteyn, a former aide to President Donald Trump who may be legally barred from criticizing the president, was hired by Sinclair in 2017. For a chief political analyst, his takes have been notably unoriginal. At best, he regurgitates Trump talking points or touts vague, imaginary bipartisan ideals that involve being nicer to Trump. At worst, he defends the most absurd, racist things Trump does. And this year, he has also been using this platform to essentially campaign for Republicans in November.
Sinclair forces Epshteyn’s commentary on local news viewers who absolutely would not otherwise seek it out. His recurring segment, “Bottom Line With Boris,” airs on an estimated 100 Sinclair-controlled local news stations nationwide -- including in areas with competitive congressional races. He’s used the airtime to talk about the midterms at least 13 times this year and to more broadly make the case for Republican policies countless more.
His segments have mirrored the party leadership’s midterm talking points about Trump and GOP accomplishments. Some segments skipped the usual commentary and instead featured several softball interviews with Trump and five Republican politicians on ballots next week.
Epshteyn has touted Trump and GOP policies as potential reasons to support Republicans in the midterms
Epshteyn has created at least 13 “Bottom Line with Boris” segments this year that explicitly discussed the November midterm elections. Many of them touted so-called Trump and GOP accomplishments as reasons to vote for conservative candidates and keep the Republican Party in the majority.
In June, Sinclair stations aired an Epshteyn segment encouraging Republican candidates to closely align themselves with the president to win midterms races. The next day, it was followed by a segment featuring an excerpt from an interview with Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) in which McCarthy and Epshteyn encouraged voters to elect Republicans in November.
Weeks later, Epshteyn produced a third segment with clips from his interview with McCarthy -- and from one with White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders -- to argue that “by promoting and passing measures that directly address our country’s problems, Republicans will strengthen their chances to keep their majorities in November.”
In August, Epshteyn ran a segment including an excerpt from an interview with Vice President Mike Pence in which Pence made the case for voters to elect Republicans and keep the party’s congressional majority. Epshteyn added, “History does not look kindly on the GOP’s chances in November. However, there have been plenty of achievements for the White House and Republicans in Congress to concentrate on, and give them a real shot to keep control of both houses of Congress.”
Epshteyn has replaced his commentary with easy interviews with Trump, GOP candidates
Instead of typical commentary “must-runs,” Epshteyn has on many occasions opted to run multiple clips from softball interviews he conducted with several Republican candidates for office in November.
In October, he aired three separate “must-run” segments featuring excerpts from his recent interview with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who is running for re-election in a high-profile race against Democratic challenger Rep. Beto O’Rourke. The first segment featured Cruz rambling about an “angry mob that we’re seeing on the left," without a single question from Epshteyn. The other two read like Cruz infomercials -- one touted a bill he recently introduced that would fund the placement of armed police officers in schools and the other featured a GOP talking point about tax cuts that is “widely seen as a partisan ploy to help Republican candidates in the Nov. 6 congressional elections,” according to Reuters. One or more of these segments aired in at least five metropolitan areas across Texas in the month before Election Day.
In September, Epshteyn ran two segments featuring clips from an interview with Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI), who is running for re-election. In one segment, Duffy repeated the same tax cuts talking point designed to boost GOP candidates in the midterms. In the other, Epshteyn and Duffy framed economic growth as the result of conservative policies including deregulation and tax cuts.
In late July and early August, Epshteyn aired two excerpts from an interview with Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL), who is also up for re-election this year. The first was essentially an ad for Rooney’s proposed bill to encourage term limits in Congress by reducing a lawmaker’s salary to $1 after 12 years of service. The second segment was a vague discussion about NAFTA, which ended with Epshteyn saying, “Members of Congress have to work closely with the administration to make sure policies are implemented which put America first.”
In June, Epshteyn aired two “must-run” segments with clips from his interview with Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who also serves as the House majority leader and is up for re-election this fall. In the first, McCarthy listed a string of House Republican accomplishments, with Epshteyn helpfully adding another at one point. Both agreed that these accomplishments ought to be enough to keep the party in the majority after midterms. In the second, McCarthy and Epshteyn talked about so-called anti-conservative bias of tech companies. Epshteyn ran a third segment in July that highlighted part of the McCarthy interview to make the case that Republicans should tout Trump’s “economic and foreign policy achievements” to do well in midterms races.
Back in February, Epshteyn aired two excerpts from an interview with then-Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), who is now running for governor of Florida in a highly competitive race marred by racist rhetoric from DeSantis and others attacking his opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. In the first “must-run” segment, DeSantis and Epshteyn discussed Trump’s proposed dictator-style “military parade.” The second was a fluff piece featuring a mostly uninterrupted monologue by DeSantis about congressional budgeting, followed by Epshteyn summing it up for viewers thusly: “I agree with Congressman DeSantis.”
And in one of the six “Bottom Line with Boris” segments in September that aired clips from an interview with Trump, the president used Sinclair’s platform to ask viewers to vote for Republicans in the midterms:
DONALD TRUMP: We have a great economy. This is possibly the greatest economy our country's ever had. That's why, when it comes to the midterms, I hope people are going to remember us because we need Republicans. And I'm not running, but I am in a way running because, you know, friends of mine and people that have our values and our thoughts, they're running. So, we need a lot of help for the midterms and I think we're going to do well, you know, based on the economy and based on the success.