Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.

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  • Statement of Media Matters president Angelo Carusone on Sinclair Broadcast Group internal memo

    Memo of Sinclair VP is "totally disconnected from the reality of Sinclair’s programming"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Media Matters President Angelo Carusone released the following statement after Politico reported on an internal memo sent from Sinclair Vice President of News Scott Livingston that attempts to defend the network for requiring local stations to broadcast right-wing opinion packages:

    Sinclair’s defensive memo holds about as much weight as its deceptive “must run” segments. The broadcaster is in damage control mode. And with good reason! Even though Sinclair executives are acting like their takeover of Tribune’s stations is a done deal, it actually hasn’t been finalized yet.

    Sinclair knows that the deal could still far apart, especially given that afraid viewers and employees of Tribune stations all across the country have started to stand up for their local news since Sinclair’s agenda and chicanery were exposed.

    The pushback that Sinclair is getting is well-founded too! Sinclair’s right-wing political agenda is a well-established fact. The company advances its politics by exploiting the trust and confidence that the public still has in local news in order to poison the information landscape with bias and pro-Trump propaganda from the bottom up.

    Mr. Livingston’s memo is totally disconnected from the reality of Sinclair’s programming. The company’s intentions are clear, its record is well-established, and no amount of internal memos will correct for its bias and agenda.

    Sinclair Broadcast Group, the country's largest operator of local television stations, has announced that it will buy Tribune Media, which runs news stations located in critical swing state cities including Indianapolis, Des Moines, Philadelphia, Chicago and Miami, among others. Sinclair and its affiliates have a history of airing conservative-leaning reporting and commentary, and its executives have donated to Republicans and Republican causes.

    More Americans trust their local news stations more than national news and cable pundits. Now these local news viewers are increasingly and unsuspectingly faced with state run-style propaganda from Sinclair-owned stations. Precisely because viewers aren’t on their guard when they watch local news,  local news outlets are a powerful delivery mechanism for pernicious misinformation and false narratives -- and Sinclair is taking advantage of that.

    Sinclair’s expanding media footprint -- rife with pro-Trump talking points presented by Trump-tied personalities in “must run” commentaries  -- is dangerous to our national discourse. The company’s ongoing relationship with the Trump administration is just as dangerous as its coverage, including a deal struck during the election for “more access to Trump” in exchange for “straighter coverage.” With the Sinclair-Tribune merger imminent, local news stations around the country -- especially in battleground states -- are about to become more Fox News-like.

    For the millions of Americans who get their news through local programming, vigilance is key. If your local news station is owned by Sinclair, don’t be fooled by the conservative lies the network will try to pass off as “balanced” or run-of-the-mill commentary. It’s propaganda and should be called out as such.

  • A short history of the right-wing politics of Sinclair Broadcasting

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Sinclair Broadcast Group, the country's largest operator of local television stations, is in the process of buying Tribune Media. Sinclair and its affiliates have a history of airing conservative-leaning reporting and commentary, and its executives have donated to Republicans and Republican causes. The company also has ties to President Donald Trump and his administration, covered him very favorably during his presidential campaign, and hired one of his former aides as an analyst.

  • Don’t be fooled: Sinclair is trying to bring the Fox News model to your local news station 

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    According to Sinclair Broadcasting Group, it's doing a service to its viewers by requiring the many local TV news stations it owns to air unabashedly pro-Trump propaganda on a regular basis.  

    The local TV news giant has been pushing a right-wing slant on local television stations across the country for years. Owned by the Smiths, a family of longtime Republican donors who have all the ambition of News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch but a much lower profile, Sinclair has mostly flown under the radar. But following the election of President Donald Trump, the network has begun adopting the playbook Roger Ailes used to turn Fox News into a conservative media goliath.

    Over the last few months, Sinclair has been requiring its stations to run more commentaries from pro-Trump personalities and expanding its reach to greater numbers of unassuming viewers in new local media markets. Now it's defending these clear moves to mimic the aspiring state media over at Fox with warped, brainwash-y logic: The conservative propaganda it pushes on its viewers is necessary because the rest of the media is biased.

    Politico’s Hadas Gold obtained a new internal memo from Sinclair executive Scott Livingston declaring that much of the recent reporting about Sinclair’s moves to expand right-wing local news is “false.”

    In the memo, Livingston said the network’s right-wing commentary segments “provide a viewpoint that often gets lost in the typical national broadcast media dialogue.” His memo closed with an attempt to cast recent criticism of Sinclair as illegitimate and perpetrated by "biased" reporters seeking to "destroy our reputation." On and off-screen, it's Sinclair vs. the world:

    "What we find most troubling in the reporting about our company, by major media outlets (like the New York Times and Washington Post), is the omission of key facts in their stories,” Livingston wrote. "Such omissions suggest the existence of either journalistic incompetency or editorial bias. We do not believe these journalists are incompetent, so we are left to conclude that they are biased.

    "We are proud to offer a range of perspectives, both conservative and liberal --- to our consumers -- -on our Sinclair broadcast stations each day. It is unfortunate that so many of our competitors do not provide the same marketplace of ideas,” he continued. "Our commitment is to tracking the truth, providing context and perspective in our reporting and serving our communities with valuable and, at times, life-saving information. We value our viewers and our journalists who work hard each day to serve the communities in which they live -- -all across this great country. It’s concerning and troubling that so many once trusted news organizations continue to push false narratives with an agenda to destroy our reputation and discredit the great journalism across our company.”

    Like Ailes before him, Livingston hopes that he can garner ratings by presenting his network as “fair and balanced” in opposition to the mainstream press. But here are the undeniable, troubling facts about the direction Sinclair is taking:

    • Months after hiring former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn as its chief political analyst, Sinclair announced it would be increasing the number of times per week that Epshteyn’s right-wing commentary segment, “Bottom Line with Boris,” must air on its local stations. Media critic David Zurawik has described these segments as “as close to classic propaganda as I think I have seen” over his 30-year career.
    • “Bottom Line with Boris” is one of three regular Sinclair segments considered to be “must run” content, meaning that all Sinclair stations are required to air them. The other two segments are “Behind the Headlines” with conservative commentator Mark Hyman and a fearmongering “terrorism alert desk.” The practice has raised concerns from experts and employees at local Sinclair stations.
    • Sinclair is currently seeking to acquire Tribune Media for $3.9 billion, a move that would make Sinclair the largest provider of local television news in the country. The potential acquisition, by the way, is possible only because of a Trump administration move to roll back Obama-era consumer regulations.

    It’s clear that Sinclair is attempting to push an increasingly skewed view of the news to an ever-expanding audience in regions across the country. And this isn’t Livingston’s first time lashing out at non-Sinclair outlets. Back in March, Livingston set this tone by narrating a strange “must run” segment warning viewers about “biased and false news” from “members of the national media.”

    The “must run” segments are not just run-of-the-mill conservative “commentary”

    While Livingston is trying to pass off the must-run segments as merely conservative commentary, there’s no doubt that the Epshteyn and Hyman segments are straight-up propaganda. In recent weeks, neither commentator seems to have aired a segment touching on possible collusion between members of the Trump camp and Russia, despite frequent bombshells on the top story. (In June, Hyman's take on Russian meddling in the election was: "We do it. Russians do it. Everyone does it. Meddling in another nation's democratic elections is actually routine behavior.") They’ve also had little to say about the dangerously inept Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, a major news story and a Trump administration priority gone wrong. (Epshteyn’s most recent segment, as of publication, is a confused critique of net neutrality. Hyman’s is about why raising the minimum wage in Seattle is bad.)

    At its very worst, the Sinclair “must run” strategy also attempts to drive a wedge between local audiences and the facts. Both Epshteyn and Hyman have found time to produce several segments each since Trump’s inauguration attacking mainstream media outlets in a direct echo of both their employer’s rhetoric and Trump administration talking points. Epshteyn even cheered Trump’s threat to scale back White House press briefings last month, calling the briefings “a circus and a distraction.”

    And at its very, very worst, Sinclair is sneaking the very lowest in fringe, far-right commentary into the living rooms of unsuspecting Americans who did not sign up for it. The most devastating example is this must-run segment from April, in which Mark Hyman alludes to the heinous far-right conspiracy theory about the death of DNC staffer Seth Rich.

    The Hyman and Epshteyn segments are doing the dirty work of pushing Sinclair’s openly pro-Trump agenda and anti-media propaganda efforts to unknowing local television viewers on the regular.

  • The Daily Beast details how Circa, a Sinclair Broadcast Group subsidiary, rebuilt itself as a pro-Trump outlet

    Media Matters' Angelo Carusone explains Sinclair and Circa's "insidious" positioning in the "conservative media echo chamber": "They understood that they had to have a veneer of journalism for their political content"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A report from The Daily Beast explained how the right-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group “remade Circa [News] in its own image.” According to the article, Circa now "is considered ... friendly to the Trump White House" and even has something of a "robust partnership" with Trump sycophant Sean Hannity.  

    In 2015, Sinclair bought Circa, which The Wall Street Journal described at the time as a “defunct mobile news site.” Sinclair has a history of pushing right-wing commentary that has been compared to “propaganda” and of selectively omitting stories that don’t fit its agenda. White House senior adviser Jared Kushner reportedly “struck a deal” with Sinclair during the campaign to “secure better media coverage” for then-candidate Donald Trump in exchange for “more access to Trump and the campaign.” Additionally, Sinclair has also made a series of conservative hires, including discredited former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson and former Trump White House aide Boris Epshteyn. Just this week, Sinclair announced it would be tripling the number of segments featuring Epshteyn that are sent to stations as “must-run” packages -- a typical practice for the company.

    And as The Daily Beast pointed out, Harvard’s Nieman Lab found that since Circa relaunched under Sinclair, there has been “a tendency for its stories to be picked up by Fox News.” As the Nieman Lab piece noted, Circa national security correspondent Sara Carter “appeared on [Fox News’] Hannity 11 times in March, six times in April, five times in May, and 12 times in June.” Additionally, The Daily Beast reported, Trump’s personal attorney “was planning to use the site to counter all the damaging stories in the legacy media surrounding Don Jr.’s Russia/email debacle.”

    Media Matters President Angelo Carusone told The Daily Beast that Circa is part of the “conservative media echo chamber” and “Trump sycophants are now using that brand in order to promote what’s supposed to original reporting but aligns very closely with Trump’s agenda.” From the July 12 Daily Beast report:

    [P]ress critic Angelo Carusone, president of the liberal-leaning watchdog group Media Matters, said that unlike conservative-leaning outlets of years past, Circa News cleverly presents itself as a straight-down-the-middle news site whose ideologically driven content is subtly masked.

    “What’s different about Circa and Sinclair as well is the way in which they position themselves in the conservative media echo chamber,” Carusone told The Daily Beast. “It’s so insidious. They understood that they had to have a veneer of journalism for their political content… They’re building up this veneer of credibility the way they’re positioning themselves to appeal to disaffected millennials.”

    [...]

    “They’re using a clean brand that doesn’t really have any baggage affiliated with it,” Carusone said. “It’s hollowed out, and they fill it not just with conservative misinformation but, in this case, Trump sycophants are now using that brand in order to promote what’s supposed to original reporting but aligns very closely with Trump’s agenda.”

    UPDATE: The block quote in this piece has been edited for brevity. 

  • How Sinclair Broadcasting purchasing Tribune Media could help Trump get re-elected

    Blog ››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH & JOHN KERR

    Local TV news conglomerate Sinclair Broadcast Group is purchasing Tribune Media Group. Sinclair and its affiliates have a history of airing far-right reporting and commentary, its executives have donated to Republicans, and Sinclair even hired former Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn as its chief political analyst. With all the Tribune media stations that are located in big cities and swing states, Donald Trump’s re-election campaign is about to get a big boost:

  • Sinclair owned station in Montana won't air recording of Gianforte assault

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Local Montana station KECI has not aired the audio recording of Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte’s alleged assault on Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. The station is owned by Sinclair Broadcasting Group, the country’s largest operator of local television stations.

    HuffPost first reported the lack of coverage from KECI on May 25 following widespread condemnation of Gianforte’s actions. KECI belongs to Sinclair Broadcasting Group, a pro-GOP media conglomerate that has a long history of relying exclusively on conservative leaning reporting and commentary. Sinclair recently entered into an agreement to purchase Tribune Media Group, which owns 42 television stations in 33 markets. Sinclair’s reporting has heavily favored Donald Trump and recently hired one of his former aides as a political analyst. From the May 25 HuffPost report:

    If Montana residents tuned into the local news Wednesday night on NBC affiliate KECI, they wouldn’t have heard an audio recording of Republican House candidate Greg Gianforte attacking Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, even as it got widespread airplay on national television and online.

    “NBC Montana takes pride in reporting only verifiable facts from independent, reliable sources, officials and documents, regardless of what is reported by other media outlets,” anchor Laurel Staples explained to the 10 p.m. audience. (A similar statement appeared in KECI’s online reports).

    Earlier that evening, The Guardian posted a recording in which Jacobs is heard asking Gianforte a question about health care policy right before the candidate snaps. Jacobs’ recording, which contradicted claims by Gianforte’s campaign that the “liberal journalist” was the aggressor, quickly became a key part of the unfolding story.

    Before the night was over, Gianforte ― squaring off Thursday against Democrat Rob Quist in a special House election ― had been charged with misdemeanor assault.

    KECI’s coverage ― or lack thereof ― drew attention on Twitter in part because the station was recently bought by Sinclair Broadcast Group, which has a history of boosting Republican candidates. The conservative-leaning media company owns 173 outlets nationwide and is poised to add dozens.

  • Experts and Tribune Media unions raise concerns about Sinclair’s history of pushing conservative “propaganda”

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP


    Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

    Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s recent purchase of Tribune Media is drawing serious concern from Tribune employees and their union leadership, as well as broadcasting experts who fear the company will continue its long history of aggressively slanting local news coverage to the right.

    Sinclair, now the nation’s largest owner of local television stations, announced earlier this month it will acquire more than 42 stations from Tribune Media, which will make the company more politically powerful than ever.

    The purchase includes stations in numerous markets in key swing states, and also includes three of the biggest independent news stations in the country in the three largest markets: WPIX in New York City, WGN in Chicago, and KTLA in Los Angeles. All three have strong news operations, while WGN also includes WGN America, a super cable station that serves many markets. (Some observers have speculated that Sinclair could try to turn WGN America into a Fox News competitor.)

    Sinclair's well-established pattern of using its stations to boost Republicans politically was on display during the 2016 election, when the company reportedly cut a deal with the Trump campaign for increased access in exchange for more Trump-friendly coverage. (The recent Tribune purchase was made possible thanks to Trump’s FCC commissioner rolling back a regulation designed to prevent excessive media consolidation.)

    Bob Daraio, a local representative for the NewsGuild of New York CWA Local 31003 -- which represents most WPIX writers and producers -- told Media Matters that Sinclair’s pattern of influencing coverage is worrisome to many of the union’s members.

    “Sinclair is a very right-wing, conservative, almost alt-right in their political beliefs,” Daraio said. “This brings a concern about objectivity. The fewer companies that own media outlets, the less diversity in the point of view that viewers get to see.”

    “Sinclair’s business model is going into a market, buying multiple stations, moving them all to one facility, and firing three quarters of the staff to get as much work with the fewest employees,” he added. “The concern about this media consolidation is it limits diversity. It also creates a barrier to entry into the business for smaller minority- and women-owned companies.”

    David Twedell is a business representative in charge of broadcast for International Cinematographers Guild Local 600, which represents two Tribune Media stations slated for Sinclair takeovers: KTLA in Los Angeles and WJW in Cleveland

    He said members are concerned about Sinclair’s past actions and how that might affect their work environment.

    “Our employees are very nervous about the situation,” he said. “It is a combination of political influence and that Sinclair is extremely anti-union in dealing with its employees. What is it going to mean? It’s a concern and we will be scheduling a membership meeting to talk about it.”

    Twedell knows Sinclair’s approach well as a representative for two current Sinclair stations, KATU in Portland and KOMO in Seattle.

    Twedell has previously flagged concerns from union members about Sinclair’s practice of creating “must-run” videos with messages that the local stations are required to broadcast. As The Washington Post reported, in a “must-run” video from this March, Sinclair vice president for news Scott Livingston railed against members of the “national media” who “push their own personal bias,” and echoed Trump’s complaints about the mainstream media pushing “fake news stories.” (The New York Times did a larger look at Sinclair's use of conservative "must-run" commentaries last week, including a 2016 video "that suggested in part that voters should not support Hillary Clinton because the Democratic Party was historically pro-slavery.")

    “It is a matter of supreme frustration amongst everyone in the newsroom,” Twedell told Media Matters. “When they have these must-runs dropped into the programming, it definitely affects the credibility of the product, and that is something our people are nervous about.”

    Eric W. Chaudron, executive director of Chicago’s SAG-AFTRA local, which represents most WGN on-air employees, expressed concerns over excessive consolidation. 

    “We are watching the Sinclair/Tribune deal very closely. WGN TV is the flagship station of the Tribune Media Company, and it has always prided itself on locally focused news content. We are especially concerned that WGN TV continues to maintain its reputation as ‘Chicago’s Own’ station,” he said via email. “We have consistently expressed deep concern over the impact of deregulation and media consolidation on those who work in the industry. Moreover, we believe that professional broadcasters must always serve the public interest of maintaining a diversity of opinion and voices in the media.” Chaudron added, “We are encouraged by Sinclair’s statement that it plans to use the acquisition ‘to strengthen [its] commitment to serving local communities.’”

    Broadcasting experts and veterans, meanwhile, offered their own concerns given Sinclair’s history and political agenda.

    “They have an ideological position with news and they promote that in their local stations,” said Mark Effron, a clinical specialist in the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University and a former WPIX vice president of news.                                                   

    He cited Sinclair’s hiring of Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump campaign adviser, as an analyst last month.

    “During the campaign they ran stories that decidedly had a pro-Trump bent to them,” Effron said. “Some of the stations they are taking over have a proud history of reporting. Not only will they be the largest chain in America, but there is a focus and an ideological bent to what they are doing locally. That gives me great concern.”

    Jeff Jarvis, a professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, a former TV Guide editor and BuzzMachine creator, called some of Sinclair’s past actions “overtly propaganda.”

    “Yes, I worry about that,” he said in an interview. “In this case, when it is consolidated under a blatant or subtle ideological bent, I’m worried. It is influencing the world view of local reporting, how national agendas seep into local coverage; immigration, abortion, guns.”

    Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member for broadcast and online at The Poynter Institute, pointed to Sinclair’s decision in 2004 not to air an episode of Nightline that included images and names of Americans who died in the Iraq War on its seven ABC affiliates. The move drew a harsh rebuke from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

    “The Nightline episode was the flag in the ground, a really big shot that they are different. That’s a pretty big deal,” Tompkins said, later adding, “They do have some right-wing leanings, that’s for sure. … One of the telltale signs is if [Sinclair's conservative slant] shows up in the mid-term elections, that may be a chance for them to differentiate themselves.”                                               

    One veteran television reporter at a Tribune Media station who requested anonymity said, “Anytime you’re bought by somebody, you wonder, you worry about what’s coming. You’d rather have the devil you know versus the one you don’t. I’ve read the press clippings about their style, their bent in some markets.”

    A journalist at a separate Tribune Media station said the company's conservative history is a "concern." "You know about them,” the person added.

  • The Trump Administration Just Helped A Pro-Trump Media Empire Grow

    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.

  • The FCC’s Big Giveaway To Pro-Trump Television Broadcasting Groups

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    UPDATE: The FCC has voted to reinstate the "UHF discount," which will "clear the way for Sinclair Broadcasting Group Inc. to purchase Tribune Media Co.," according to the Los Angeles Times

    ORIGINAL POST:

    The Federal Communications Commission is expected to vote tomorrow to ease a media ownership rule that prevents greater consolidation of broadcast television stations. Two of the biggest expected beneficiaries of that decision will be Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Television Stations and the Sinclair Broadcasting Group, both key media allies of President Donald Trump.

    To prevent the consolidation of too much power in too few hands, current rules prohibit “a single entity from owning commercial broadcast television stations that collectively reach more than 39 percent of the total television households in the nation.”

    For more than 30 years, the FCC allowed station owners to count only 50 percent of the potential viewers in the markets where they owned stations that broadcast ultrahigh frequency (UHF) transmissions, rather than their entire potential audience. This “UHF discount” was granted because such transmissions had a more limited range at the time, but the transition to digital transmission eliminated this discrepancy, and in September 2016, the Obama-era FCC repealed that rule.

    But the FCC has new leadership under President Donald Trump -- the president promoted to chairman FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, a fierce opponent of media regulations who opposed eliminating the “UHF discount" -- and today the commission will reportedly act to benefit the media moguls who supported Trump’s election. According to Variety:

    That action, along with the prospect of deregulatory moves by the Republican-controlled FCC, have Wall Street analysts expecting consolidation among major station groups. Sinclair Broadcasting is reportedly eyeing Tribune Media, and other stations groups, like Nexstar, CBS Corp. and Fox Television Stations, seem to have found a sympathetic ear at the agency to their argument that the current regulations diminish investment.

    After Murdoch’s television and newspaper properties gave Trump overwhelmingly positive coverage during the presidential campaign, Trump reportedly asked Murdoch to submit a list of potential FCC chairman nominees during the transition. Murdoch’s media entities have been the president’s biggest cheerleaders over the first months of his administration, and garnered praise and access from Trump in return. Now that cheerleading is getting paid back with dollar signs.

    Through 21st Century Fox, Murdoch currently owns 28 television stations in 17 markets, including in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Houston, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Orlando and Charlotte. His stations reach roughly 37 percent of U.S. television households, just under the FCC’s cap.

    The reinstatement of the “UHF discount” -- which 21st Century Fox has fought for in court -- will give the company more flexibility to purchase additional stations, increasing Murdoch’s grip on the media landscape. That will have a real impact for viewers, as Fox’s broadcast stations often adopt the same conservative talking points and story selection as Fox News.

    Sinclair Broadcasting Group would also benefit from the rule change. Sinclair has drawn scrutiny in the past for its conservative bent, and the company reportedly made a deal with Trump’s campaign in which its journalists received access to Trump in exchange for broadcasting interviews with him without commentary. Earlier this week, Sinclair announced it had hired former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn as its “chief political analyst.”

    As Variety noted, Sinclair is interested in purchasing television stations owned by Tribune Media. But such a deal would “would hinge on existing regulations being relaxed” because Sinclair is near the FCC ownership cap, according to Reuters.

    Trump’s FCC is acting to put the control of the media in the hands of ever-fewer corporate giants. And Pai is just getting started.

    Image by Sarah Wasko.

  • Sinclair Broadcast Group Deepens Its Trump Administration Ties With Boris Epshteyn Hire

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group’s announcement that it hired former White House aide Boris Epshteyn as its chief political analyst suggests a move to deepen its ties with President Donald Trump’s administration.

    During the election Sinclair struck a deal with the Trump campaign for better news coverage and then gave the president a softball question during his second press conference. As Politico reported at the time, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner said in December that Sinclair “struck a deal … during the campaign to try and secure better media coverage” for Trump in exchange for “more access to Trump and the campaign.” In August 2016, Trump debuted a new media strategy which included sitting for an interview with Sinclair..

    During his second press conference as president, Trump called on only two American reporters to ask questions, one of whom was from a Sinclair station (the other one was also from a conservative media outlet). The question was a softball that avoided the main story of the day about former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s possible criminal violation of the Logan Act. This led to criticism from other journalists, including a Fox News reporter.

    A press release highlight Sinclair’s announcement of Epshteyn’s hire as chief political analyst emphasized his short-lived role in the Trump administration and campaign and noted that he "will provide analysis and insight on major political stories":

    Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. (Nasdaq: SBGI) is pleased to announce that Boris Epshteyn, an accomplished commentator and strategist, has joined the company as chief political analyst and will provide analysis and insight on major political stories.

    [...]

    "I am honored and grateful to be joining the distinguished and extremely talented team at Sinclair Broadcast Group," commented Mr. Epshteyn. "I greatly admire Sinclair's mission to provide thoughtful impactful reporting throughout the country. I look forward to contributing my voice to the ongoing dialogue with the American people."

    Mr. Epshteyn most recently served as Special Assistant to The President and Assistant Communications Director for Surrogate Operations for the Executive Office of President Trump. Mr. Epshteyn managed the surrogate operation of the White House and Administration as well as appeared as an on-air spokesman for the Administration. Prior to joining The White House, Mr. Epshteyn served as Communications Director for the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee.

    Mr. Epshteyn was a surrogate and Senior Advisor to the Trump Campaign, where he managed messaging.

  • Trump Calls On Only Right-Wing Outlets, Again Avoiding Questions About A Top Adviser Possibly Breaking Federal Law

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    For his second straight press conference, President Donald Trump called on only conservative reporters, this time during a joint presser with the Canadian prime minister. By responding solely to friendly press, Trump avoided answering any questions about reports that national security adviser Michael Flynn may have violated federal law.

    Reporters have been questioning whether Flynn can retain his job after multiple current and former American officials told The New York Times that he discussed lifting Russian sanctions with the country’s ambassador prior to Trump’s inauguration -- a potential violation of the Logan Act, “which prohibits private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments in disputes involving the American government.” Vice President Mike Pence previously denied that Flynn had discussed this topic, but his assurance relied solely on Flynn’s recollection of the conversation.

    During Trump’s February 13 press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, reporters had a chance to ask the president about this pressing issue, but Trump skirted that possibility by calling on only reporters for conservative outlets friendly to Trump -- Scott Thuman of the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s WJLA, the Washington, D.C., affiliate of ABC, and Kaitlan Collins of The Daily Caller, a pro-Trump outlet founded by Trump shill Tucker Carlson.

    During the election, Sinclair reportedly struck a deal with the Trump campaign to “secure better media coverage” in exchange for “more access to Trump and the campaign.” Thuman, who is also a political correspondent for conspiracy theorist Sharyl Attkisson’s Full Measure, asked Trump about how his philosophical differences with Trudeau would affect cooperation on trade and terrorism:

    The next question came from Collins, who also failed to ask about Flynn but did question Canada’s security measures surrounding refugees. Her previous work on refugees includes an article about Syrian refugees who she dubbed “Syria-sly hot,” suggesting governors opposed to allowing refugees into the country would change their minds if they saw these women:

    Many journalists criticized the selection of these reporters. Even Fox News’ national security correspondent, Jennifer Griffin, asked if the queries were “planted questions”:

    On CNN, Wolf Blitzer immediately followed the end of the presser by highlighting the lack of questions about Flynn’s future, explaining, “Presumably that’s what the White House wanted.” CNN’s Gloria Borger also questioned whether “they arranged that in advance.”

    The press conference with Trudeau followed a similar one from February 10 featuring Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, where Trump also took questions from only two reporters representing a couple of conservative media tycoon Rupert Murdoch’s media outlets, the New York Post and Fox Business Network. Those reporters likewise avoided asking about Flynn, even though the reporting on his possible violation of the Logan Act had come out the previous day.

  • Trump Campaign Made A Deal With Media Organization For “Straighter Coverage” During Election

    Trump’s Son-In-Law Admits Trump Team “Struck A Deal With Sinclair Broadcast Group”

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Donald Trump’s campaign made a deal with Sinclair Broadcasting Group for more favorable media coverage during the election, adding to the growing lists of conflicts between Trump and the media.

    President-elect Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, a key member of his transition team, “struck a deal with Sinclair Broadcast Group during the campaign to try and secure better media coverage” for Trump in exchange for “more access to Trump and the campaign,” according to Politico.

    On December 16 Politico reported Sinclair Broadcast Group promised Kushner they “would broadcast their Trump interviews across the country without commentary” using their “television stations across the country in many swing states.” Scott Livingston, vice president of news at Sinclair, claimed the deal was aimed at “hear[ing] more directly from candidate on the issue instead of hearing all the spin and all the rhetoric”:

    Donald Trump's campaign struck a deal with Sinclair Broadcast Group during the campaign to try and secure better media coverage, his son-in-law Jared Kushner told business executives Friday in Manhattan.

    Kushner said the agreement with Sinclair, which owns television stations across the country in many swing states and often packages news for their affiliates to run, gave them more access to Trump and the campaign, according to six people who heard his remarks.

    In exchange, Sinclair would broadcast their Trump interviews across the country without commentary, Kushner said. Kushner highlighted that Sinclair, in states like Ohio, reaches a much wider audience — around 250,000 listeners — than networks like CNN, which reach somewhere around 30,000.

    [...]

    “Our promise was to give all candidates an opportunity to voice their position share their position with our viewers. Certainly we presented an opportunity so that Mr. Trump could clearly state his position on the key issues,” Livingston said. “Our commitment to our viewers is to go beyond podium, beyond the rhetoric. We’re all about tracking the truth and telling the truth and that’s typically missing in most political coverage.”

    A Trump spokesman said the deal included the interviews running across every affiliate but that no money was exchanged between the network and the campaign. The spokesman said the campaign also worked with other media outlets that had affiliates, like Hearst, to try and spread their message.

    “It was a standard package, but an extended package, extended story where you’d hear more directly from candidate on the issue instead of hearing all the spin and all the rhetoric,” Livingston said.

    [...]

    Sinclair, a Maryland based company, has been labeled in some reports as a conservative leaning local news network. Local stations in the past have been directed to air “must run” stories produced by Sinclair’s Washington bureau that were generally critical of the Barack Obama administration and offered perspectives primarily from conservative think tanks, the Washington Post reported in 2014.

    During the campaign, Donald Trump’s campaign treated the press with unprecedented hostility. As president-elect, he is using media allies like Fox’s Sean Hannity to build support for keeping the mainstream press out of Trump’s way.

    Kushner’s deal with Sinclair Broadcasting Group, an organization with proven right-wing leanings, reveals yet another way the Trump campaign manipulated national and local media to stem the tide of disastrous coverage from Trump’s myriad scandals.