Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ
Thanks to the deregulatory efforts of President Donald Trump’s Federal Communications Committee, the right-wing Sinclair Broadcast Group announced today that it will purchase dozens of televisions stations across the country, allowing the company to spread its conservative programming to new markets and consolidate the ownership of broadcast stations in fewer hands.
Sinclair has entered into an agreement to purchase Tribune Media Group, which owns 42 television stations in 33 markets, along with cable, digital, and real estate assets, according to a press release from the companies. Given Sinclair’s existing slate of 173 television stations in 81 markets and its national news operation, the combined broadcast company will become the largest provider of local TV news in the country.
The move comes at an opportune time if Sinclair hopes to capitalize on recent shakeups at Fox News, with some speculating that the company could even hire Bill O’Reilly in an effort to build a conservative rival to that network.
The purchase would have been impossible if Trump’s newly appointed FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, had not rolled back a key Obama administration regulation that had prevented Sinclair from further expansion. Pai’s actions will allow a stalwart conservative media mogul to acquire more power.
Sinclair is helmed by longtime chairman David Smith, the son of the network’s founder, who with his family has heavily funded Republican causes. Smith has wielded his media company in support of his conservative ideology, using the stations “to advance a mostly right-leaning agenda since the presidency of George W. Bush,” according to The New York Times.
Indeed, every presidential election since that era has featured at least one controversy involving Sinclair’s open support for the Republican nominee.
In 2004, the network ordered its stations to pre-empt regular programming in order to broadcast a documentary that smeared Sen. John Kerry’s (D-MA) war record. Following a massive grass-roots advertiser boycott, Sinclair backed off its original plan, instead airing a 30-minute special that featured portions of the documentary.
In 2008, in the swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, Sinclair aired a conservative group’s advertisement linking then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) to Weather Underground founder Bill Ayers. CNN and Fox News both declined to run the ad.
In 2012, the network was back in the spotlight after its stations in Florida and Ohio ran an election special that predominantly smeared Obama.
And in late 2016, Sinclair reportedly agreed to broadcast its “Trump interviews across the country without commentary” using its “television stations across the country in many swing states” in a deal with the Trump campaign for more access. Sinclair ended up with 15 “exclusive” interviews with Trump, “including 11 during the final three months of the campaign in critical states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio,” and 20 more with top Trump surrogates. In addition, “news stories and features favorable to Trump or that challenged Clinton were distributed to Sinclair stations on a ‘must-run’ basis,” according to The Washington Post.
Sinclair has also garnered attention for “its refusal to broadcast an episode of ‘Nightline’ devoted to reciting the names of every member of the military killed in action in Iraq” and for “instruct[ing] anchors to read statements supporting Mr. Bush and his administration’s efforts to fight terrorism” following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Sinclair’s original news and public-affairs programming has featured several prominent conservative reporters and commentators. These include Mark Hyman, a top Sinclair executive and conspiracy theorist who provides right-wing commentary for the network; Armstrong Williams, a top advisor to Ben Carson’s presidential campaign who is best known for having received payments from the Bush administration to promote its policies without disclosing that detail in his media commentary; former Trump White House aide Boris Epshteyn; and Sharyl Attkisson, a former CBS News reporter with a lengthy record of shoddy, inaccurate reporting who has pushed a bizarre conspiracy theory that the government hacked her home electronics. The company will also distribute a TV show from the conservative website DailyMail.com.
Sinclair’s conservative programming bent has a lot of impact because of the concentration of its stations in presidential swing states. The Tribune purchase will give the network more influence, as Tribune’s television portfolio includes stations in states with high political value, like Pennsylvania, Florida, Colorado, North Carolina, Virginia, Iowa, and Ohio.
When Trump seeks re-election in 2020, he will be able to count on the support of a massive network of television stations helmed by a conservative who owes his company’s latest growth to the president.