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  • Get a load of this wild Sinclair town hall discussion on “youth & morality” 

    Sinclair says such discussions are a “significant public interest benefit” for stations it buys

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Last night, Sinclair Broadcast Group station WJLA hosted a “town hall” discussion on "youth & morality" featuring morally bankrupt media personality Armstrong Williams, young conservative talking heads Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens, a campus carry activist, and a Daily Caller reporter (among others) -- and Sinclair wants you to believe it’s for the public good.

    The town hall was branded as both an episode of Sinclair-linked commentator Armstrong Williams’ show and a part of Sinclair’s ongoing town hall discussion series. The town hall does not appear to have yet aired on WJLA and it’s not clear if it has aired or will air on the WJLA-operated local Washington, D.C., cable channel News Channel 8, but it’s posted in full on WJLA’s website.

    Sinclair touts its “Your Voice, Your Future” local town halls as a public service and an opportunity to “alert, inform, empower and engage our audience.” Here’s a quick clip to give you an idea of how that went:

    For this event, “morality” actually meant Christianity specifically

    Though the panel was titled “Youth & Morality,” it was advertised as largely focusing on one study that showed dwindling millennial identification with Christianity, which WJLA characterized as a sign of “unprecedented moral decline.” The panel discussion was filmed at the Museum of the Bible.  

    Two minutes into the town hall, host Armstrong Williams asked the audience to raise their hands if they believe in God. (Williams also asked for audience members to raise their hands if they were atheist; one person did and panelists grimaced.) Williams’ first question for the panelists followed from there: “Can you be moral and good and not believe in God?” (Most of the panelists agreed that it was possible but not as easy.) Within eight minutes, panelists were equating “objective truth” with a belief in a Christian god and arguing that the inability to identify objective truths was “cultural Marxist.”

    At one point during a commercial break, Williams can be heard joking on a live mic, “Don’t fall asleep on me!” The panel returned from that break to listen to Charlie Kirk talk about “the distinction between Christianity and other religions.”  

    The “morality” panel was hosted by the notoriously morally challenged Armstrong Williams

    The town hall was hosted by conservative pundit Armstrong Williams, who has significant ties to Sinclair. Williams hosts a weekly show that airs on the Sinclair-owned News Channel 8 in the D.C. area and is syndicated on other Sinclair local TV stations across the country. Williams also owns several local TV stations through his holding company, Howard Stirk Holdings, which in turn sends business back to Sinclair through operations agreements.

    Williams is a close confidante of Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Ben Carson, even doing public relations work on behalf of Carson while continuing to also work as a media figure. (He also served as a Carson presidential campaign adviser while maintaining his weekly hosting duties.) Recently, Williams has aligned himself with other members of the Trump administration, joining Sinclair CEO David Smith in meeting with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai -- who was then a commissioner -- to advocate for pro-industry policies the day before Trump’s inauguration. About two months later, Williams hosted Pai on his show for a friendly interview.

    Back in 2005, Williams used an earlier version of his syndicated show to promote Bush administration education policies, failing to note he was paid $240,000 by the administration to do so. The Government Accountability Office subsequently found that the Bush Department of Education had violated federal laws about covert government propaganda by paying Williams for the promotion.

    Williams has also settled at least two sexual harassment suits -- one in 1997 involving reports that he “repeatedly kissed and fondled” a former producer for his now-defunct radio show over the course of nearly two years, and another in 2017 alleging that he groped and sought sexual favors from a former employee and later retaliated against the man.

    During the panel, Williams talked about his daily prayer routine and decision not to “use profane language” at work because he is the “moral leader” in his office.

    Several participants also seem to struggle with morals

    The panel featured eight participants in addition to Williams, the majority of whom were young conservative media figures who fall at various points on the spectrum from extreme or blatantly racist to embarrassing or just boring.

    TPUSA’s Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens both participated in parts of the town hall. Frequent Fox News guest and conservative “boy wonder” Kirk is the founder of TPUSA, a group best known for a misguided 2017 protest in which its members wore adult diapers to “trigger the libs,” but whose stated mission is to “identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government.” Kirk, Owens, and TPUSA frequently fearmonger about suppression of conservative speech on college campuses while themselves leading a McCarthyist doxxing effort against liberal professors. Meanwhile, TPUSA has defended at least one professor with ties to a white nationalist group and several of its leading members have been outed for expressing patently racist sentiments, e.g. the group’s former national field director making the statement “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE.”

    Owens, TPUSA’s communications director, is another Fox News regular and “a far-right vlogger and conspiracy theorist” who has lately garnered media attention after rapper Kanye West praised “the way Candace Owens thinks.” Owens gained attention from far-right MAGA trolls after she posted a video in the wake of the deadly Charlottesville, VA, “Unite the Right” rally in which she dismissed white supremacy as a narrative pushed by the media, leading to her appearance on conspiracy theory outlet Infowars. Owens has also called for all DREAMers to be deported and has argued that immigrants directly harm the black community.

    During the town hall discussion, Owens lamented that conservatives were allowing themselves to be “silenced by liberal outrage” and said that younger conservatives and Christians ought to “punch back.”

    The Daily Caller’s Amber Athey also participated in the discussion. The Daily Caller is Tucker Carlson’s sexist and racist brainchild, which frequently dabbles in anti-Semitism, anti-trans rhetoric, far-right conspiracy theories, and celebrity bikini photo slideshows, and makes light of sexual assault. Athey herself has tweeted anti-Semitic jokes, and repeatedly used the slurs “fag” and ”faggot,” and, in one case, “nigga$.” (Athey has since deleted the tweets, but they are available via archive.is.)

    During the town hall discussion, Athey complained, “There are a lot of ideas on college campuses that -- if they’re conservative or they’re religious, they’re considered taboo and you’re not allowed to say it. Otherwise you’re considered a bigot.”  

    Town hall participant Antonia Okafor describes herself as “one of the country’s foremost advocates of concealed carry on campus” and has previously appeared in NRA media. Okafor makes regular media appearances pushing NRA-backed myths about campus carry, arguing that carrying concealed firearms would make young black women safer. In reality, the presence of firearms in domestic violence situations, for example, puts women’s lives -- and especially black women’s lives -- at significantly greater risk. And household gun ownership in general only increases the risk of death due to homicide, suicide, or accident; Okafor’s agenda would put women in greater danger.

    Rounding out the participant list are right-wing media figures Jason Russell, an editor at the conservative Washington Examiner, and Shermichael Singleton, an aspiring conservative pundit who briefly worked at Carson’s HUD before he was fired for anti-Trump writings. Preacher and lobbyist Quadricos Driskell and American Legislative Exchange Council-affiliated conservative attorney Shelby Emmett also participated.

    Sinclair cites town halls like this as evidence its expansion would benefit the public

    Sinclair has used its “Your Voice, Your Future” town halls -- also the platform former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka used to decry “black African gun crime” last fall -- to argue that Sinclair-owned and -operated local TV stations are providing greater services to the public. In one Federal Communications Commission (FCC) filing, Sinclair pointed to the discussion series as evidence that its planned acquisition of Tribune Media would create a “significant public interest benefit.”

    The FCC is currently reviewing the Sinclair-Tribune deal specifically to ensure it would benefit the public and has signaled it will make a decision following a comment period that ends on July 12.

    Eric Hananoki contributed research to this post.

  • Sinclair is gearing up to compete with Fox -- by being even worse than Fox

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Recent reports indicate that local TV news giant Sinclair Broadcast Group has met with a number of current and former Fox News employees and is gearing up to compete directly with the cable channel -- by attempting to beat Fox News in a race to the very bottom.

    On May 16, Politico’s Jason Schwartz reported that Sinclair executive chairman David Smith met “in the last few months” with the executive producer of Fox News’ Hannity. The producer, Porter Berry, is at least the second person with close ties to Sean Hannity to have reportedly met with Sinclair leadership recently; Schwartz earlier reported that Sinclair was attempting to recruit current Tribune programming executive Sean Compton, a “close friend” of Hannity’s.

    According to Schwartz’s sources, Smith is planning to set up Sinclair as a direct competitor with Fox News after the former’s massive acquisition of Tribune Media is finalized. Smith is said to be developing ideas for a “three-hour block of news-opinion programming” that could air on a cable network Sinclair already owns or another it would acquire in the Tribune deal.

    Sinclair’s apparent dream line-up for this nightly cable news programming amounts to a who’s who of Fox News liabilities and Trump sycophants. Not only has Smith reportedly met with executives close to Hannity, but he’s also been in talks with current Fox News host Jeanine Pirro as well as a handful of former Fox personalities: Greta Van Susteren, Eric Bolling, James Rosen, and (at least at one point) Bill O’Reilly.

    Of this group of six, half left Fox News in connection with sexual misconduct reports. Bolling parted ways with Fox last September amid an investigation into reports he had sent unsolicited pictures of male genitalia to multiple colleagues. Rosen reportedly departed the network around the new year following “increased scrutiny of his behavior” due to an “established pattern” of harassment. And O’Reilly, of course, was fired in April 2017 after reports came out that he had engaged in a decades-long pattern of harassment and that 21st Century Fox had failed to stop it.

    O’Reilly, Pirro, Van Susteren, and Hannity were all vocal defenders of late Fox chief Roger Ailes when he was named for serial sexual harassment in 2016. (Van Susteren later said she regretted defending Ailes.)

    In order to truly compete with Fox News, Sinclair has decided it must be willing to become a safe space for Fox News’ most toxic liabilities -- including powerful media men who have hurt others, created hostile and unsafe work environments, and done little to nothing to make it right. This shameful decision is the latest sign from Sinclair executives that the company simply does not care about the safety of its employees or the actual needs of its viewers.  

    Sinclair’s strategy for competing with Fox also seems to include seeking out top Trump sycophants like Pirro, who spends nearly every Saturday night on Fox yelling about the president’s alleged mistreatment by just about everyone (and who is also informally advising the president). Bolling, too, has been orbiting the Trump White House for months. And Sean Hannity -- perhaps the worst of them all -- has taken Fox prime time to impossibly new lows in the name of defending the president.

    Sinclair is already drastically changing the local news landscape, infecting TV stations across the country with a combination of blatant pro-Trump propaganda, fearmongering rhetoric, and uniform local news that barely counts as “local” at all. Its M.O. of drastic consolidation leaves its own journalists under-resourced and embarrassed by their employer, and it leaves local audiences with less access to the news they need.

    Sinclair is doing more than enough to make local news measurably worse. Will it now sink below even the Fox News fever swamp to bring more horrors -- and even less actual news -- to cable?

  • Sinclair and the midterms: Ohio edition

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    If you live in a midsize city or battleground state, you are now more likely than ever to see pro-Trump propaganda and conservative spin on your local news -- just in time for the 2018 election season -- thanks to conservative media giant Sinclair Broadcast Group.

    Media Matters has identified communities that will see competitive congressional midterm races and that have Sinclair-owned or -operated news stations. Many Sinclair stations are already airing national news programming with a conservative slant, and they will be ramping up coverage of their local races.

    We’ve already tackled Nevada, Tennessee, New York, Florida, and Virginia. Now, we’re taking a look at Ohio.



    Key 2018 races

    • Governor: Current Gov. John Kasich (R) cannot seek a third term, and the race to elect a new governor was rated “lean Republican” by Cook Political Report as of publication (and dubbed “one of 2018’s most bizzare campaigns” by Vox.) The candidates are current state Attorney General Mike DeWine (R); former state Attorney General Richard Cordray (D), who is also the former director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; and Green Party candidate Constance Gadell-Newton.
    • House: Ohio’s first congressional district (OH-1), in the southwestern corner of the state, was rated “lean Republican” by Cook Political Report as of publication. Republican incumbent Rep. Steve Chabot faces Democratic challenger and current Hamilton County clerk Aftab Pureval and independent candidate Mike Goldschmidt.
    • House: Ohio’s 12th congressional district (OH-12), located in central Ohio, has an open seat for the first time in 18 years after the January resignation of Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R). The seat will be filled in a special election in August, rated a toss-up by Cook Political Report as of publication. The Republican candidate is state Sen. Troy Balderson and the Democratic candidate is Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor.

    Sinclair stations in state

    WSYX, WTTE, and WWHO in Columbus

    WKRC (Local 12) and WSTR (Star 64) in Cincinnati

    • Sinclair has a hand in news programming at two stations serving the Cincinnati area, most of which is located in OH-1. It owns and operates the CBS-affiliated WKRC (Local 12), and it provides “certain services” to Deerfield Media-owned WSTR (Star 64). The two stations share a main studio address in Cincinnati.
    • Local 12, a CBS affiliate, airs some of Sinclair’s “must-run” content, including some national news packages, “Bottom Line with Boris,” and Full Measure. It also aired the recent anchor-read scripted segments about media bias at least seven times.
    • Star 64 airs Local 12 newscasts and at least some of Sinclair’s “must-run” content, including “Terrorism Alert Desk” and “Bottom Line with Boris.” It aired the recent anchor-read scripted segments about media bias at least three times.

    WKEF (ABC 22 Now) and WRGT (Fox 45 Now) in Miamisburg

    WNWO (NBC 24) in Toledo

    WCHS (ABC 8) and WVAH (Fox 11) in Charleston, WV

    Possibly coming soon: WJW (Fox 8) in Cleveland

    • WJW (Fox 8) in Cleveland is currently owned by Tribune Media and will soon be owned (at least briefly) by Sinclair if the company’s pending acquisition of up to 42 Tribune stations is approved.
    • Sinclair indicated it will sell the station to 21st Century Fox after the deal goes through in order to comply with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ownership rules. Sinclair’s track record suggests the company may continue to operate the station in some capacity through legal loopholes -- though reporting says the station will be owned and operated by Fox.

    What else you need to know

    The winner of the Ohio governor’s race will have significant say over state redistricting for U.S. House seats following the 2020 Census.

    Are there Sinclair stations near you?

    Use Media Matters’ interactive map at FindSinclair.com to learn more.

    Graphics by Sarah Wasko.

  • Sinclair and the midterms: Virginia edition

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    If you live in a midsize city or battleground state, you are now more likely than ever to see pro-Trump propaganda and conservative spin on your local news -- just in time for the 2018 election season -- thanks to conservative media giant Sinclair Broadcast Group.

    Media Matters has identified communities that will see competitive congressional midterm races and that have Sinclair-owned or -operated news stations. Many Sinclair stations are already airing national news programming with a conservative slant, and they will be ramping up coverage of their local races.

    We’ve already tackled Nevada, Tennessee, New York, and Florida. Now, we’re taking a look at Virginia.
     

    Key 2018 races

    • House: Virginia’s second congressional district (VA-2), which includes easternmost parts of the state around the Chesapeake Bay, was rated “lean Republican” by Cook Political Report as of publication. Republican incumbent Rep. Scott Taylor faces a primary challenger, and several others are seeking the Democratic nomination for the race.
    • House: Virginia’s fifth congressional district (VA-5), spanning a large area in the center of the state, was rated “lean Republican” by Cook Political Report as of publication. Republican incumbent Rep. Tom Garrett faces Democratic challenger Leslie Cockburn, a former journalist.
    • House: Virginia’s seventh congressional district (VA-7), which includes Richmond suburbs and parts of central VA, was rated “lean Republican” by Cook Political Report as of publication. Two Democrats are competing for the nomination to challenge Republican incumbent Rep. David Brat.
    • House: Virginia’s 10th congressional district (VA-10), which includes Washington, D.C.'s western suburbs, was rated a toss-up by Cook Political Report as of publication. Republican incumbent Rep. Barbara Comstock faces a long list of potential challengers in the race, which Politico dubbed one of the “top 10 House races to watch in 2018.”

    Sinclair stations in state

    WSET (ABC 13) in Lynchburg

    WRLH (Fox Richmond) in Richmond

    • Parts of VA-7 are currently served by Sinclair-owned WRLH (Fox Richmond) in nearby Richmond. Sinclair reportedly does not produce Fox Richmond’s regular newscasts; the channel contracts with another local station for news production, so it apparently does not currently air Sinclair’s national “must-run” content.
    • Sinclair has indicated it will sell Fox Richmond if its pending acquisition of Tribune Media stations is approved. The media company would sell the station to Standard Media in order to comply with the Federal Communications Commission’s current media ownership rules. However, Sinclair’s track record suggests the company may continue to operate the station in some capacity through legal loopholes.

    WTVZ (MyTVZ) in Norfolk

    WJLA (ABC 7) in Washington, D.C.

    WLFL and WRDC in Raleigh, NC

    • Some of the southernmost areas in VA-5 are served by the Sinclair-owned and -operated WLFL (The CW 22) and WRDC (MyRDC) based in Raleigh, NC.
    • The CW 22 currently airs newscasts from a non-Sinclair-affiliated local station.
    • MyRDC does not appear to air any local news programming.

    Coming soon: WTKR and WGNT in Norfolk, WTVR in Richmond, WDCW in Washington, D.C.

    • Sinclair is set to purchase Richmond-based station WTVR (CBS 6) in its pending acquisition of up to 42 Tribune Media stations. Should the deal go through, Sinclair has indicated it will sell its current Richmond-based station, WRLH Fox Richmond (and presumably keep the newly acquired CBS 6) in order to comply with FCC rules.
    • Sinclair is also set to purchase Tribune stations WTKR (CBS 3) and WGNT (CW) in Norfolk. Its current Norfolk-based station, MyTVZ, does not air local news programming, but if Sinclair develops a local newscast, likely based at the largest station, CBS 3, up to three different channels in the Norfolk area could soon air at least some Sinclair news programming.
    • Sinclair will also acquire WDCW (DCW50) in the Tribune purchase.

    What else you need to know

    Former WSET (ABC 13) reporter Suri Crowe recounted to BuzzFeed News in April that Sinclair management had insisted she add false balance in news stories about climate change and gun violence. Crowe was reprimanded for refusing to “seed doubt about man-made climate change,” as BuzzFeed put it, and add more conservative “balance” to her stories. She was ultimately forced out in 2017.

    Sinclair’s main operations are primarily centralized in the Beltway areas of Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Maryland. Its headquarters are located in Hunt Valley, MD, not far from its flagship station, WBFF (Fox 45), in Baltimore. And at least some of Sinclair’s “must-run” content and weekly news programming is produced at the WJLA studios in Arlington, VA, including the fearmongering “Terrorism Alert Desk” segments, “Bottom Line With Boris” pro-Trump commentary segments, many of the national news packages, and Full Measure.

    WJLA (ABC 7) is one of four stations that recently ran an anti-Sinclair ad campaign by progressive consumer watchdog group Allied Progress -- but the station reportedly sandwiched the ad between Sinclair-provided video that characterized it as “hysteria and hype.”

    Are there Sinclair stations near you?

    Use Media Matters’ interactive map at FindSinclair.com to learn more.

    Graphics by Sarah Wasko.

  • Alex Jones' shows are now on cable -- and he wants to take it even further

    Jones praised "pro-Trump" Sinclair Broadcast Group: "They know what to do"

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Alex Jones boasted that the programming from his conspiracy theory operation Infowars now airs on “over 300" TV stations, including “over 70 cable systems or so and maybe over 15 TV stations,” and he praised the strategy of Sinclair Broadcast Group, claiming it “knows what to do” in pushing out pro-Trump propaganda on local stations.

    During the May 8 livestream of his show, Jones noted that his programming is carried by cable systems, which he said he has accomplished by making his content “free to air” and gifting the 15 minutes of advertising on each hour to the cable provider or local station, while he plugs his dietary supplements and apocalypse-preparedness merchandise during his regular programming. Jones bemoaned that his programming isn’t on Sinclair “at this point,” while calling Sinclair “the leader, nationwide, in local television.”

    The right-wing Sinclair Broadcast Group is already the largest provider of local TV news in the country and is now further expanding thanks to the Federal Communications Commission under President Donald Trump. Sinclair requires its news stations to run fearmongering rhetoric and pro-Trump propaganda on a regular basis, exploiting the trust communities have in their local news. In March, Sinclair stations around the country started airing promotional segments in which local anchors had been asked to attack media outlets for their “irresponsible, one-sided stories.” The segments looked like a “hostage” video. Jones went on to praise Sinclair’s “pro-Trump stuff” model, claiming that “it sells”:

    ALEX JONES (HOST): I don’t know why I said in that promo over a hundred TV stations -- it’s over 300, over 70 cable systems, and that was as of about a week ago. We just signed a couple smaller deals, another 15 stations or so, few more radio stations came in. But I think we’re  gonna get a deal with 200 -- 200 more. And a lot of these are in big cities and are the main channels where they’re doing stuff like carrying my show but taped to air at night during family hour, and then they tell people, “And tune over to our sub-channel for 24 hours a day.” It’s very smart. Now again, in the late ‘70s they said that AM stations were gonna turn off. But then conservatives and libertarians and people like the great patriot who helped us get rid of the Fairness Doctrine had the ideas to, hey, launch political talk radio on there and get around the leftist control that dominated television. So the internet of the ‘80s and ‘90s, before we really had the modern internet, was AM radio, and it’s still there today and it’s still doing pretty good despite all the attacks because people decided to use it. Well, they say TV -- local cable, local broadcast TV -- doesn’t have the listeners it used to have or the viewers. That’s not true. You put specialty things on, local sports, local news, it has huge ratings. You put special political programming on that’s pro-America, that people are hungry for -- why do you think Sinclair has had all this pro-Trump stuff on? Cause it’s popular. It sells and it’s good. So, again, ladies and gentleman, Sinclair knows what it’s doing -- they’re the leader, nationwide, in local television and we’re not on Sinclair at this point. But I’m saying, they know what to do. So these TV stations, these cable systems are putting us on all over. It is explosive. This is very, very exciting.

    Pam Vogel contributed research to this piece. Find out here if Sinclair controls a local news station near you.

  • CNN seemingly abandons its official policy banning Roger Stone from appearing as an on-air guest

    Despite its long-standing and publicly announced policy, CNN hosted Stone to promote his upcoming book

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE & MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    CNN hosted President Donald Trump confidant and Infowars conspiracy theorist Roger Stone to promote his new book, reversing a decision the network made in 2016 to no longer host Stone on its airwaves.

    For years, Stone regularly leveled sexist and racist attacks (often via Twitter) against politicians and members of the media, including current and former CNN personalities. He called CNN political commentator Ana Navarro an "Entitled Diva Bitch," a "pompous shithead," "borderline retarded," and "a rabid Pekinese," and wrote, "Black beans and rice didn't miss her." Stone also attacked CNN analyst Roland Martin when Martin was still at CNN, referring to him as a “stupid negro," a "fat negro," and "CNN's racist moron--dumb, embarassing (sic), token," and asked him, "Who made you God, Fattass? Eat somemore Popeye's."

    By February 2016, Stone’s vile Twitter attacks on CNN personalities resulted in an indefinite suspension from the network, with a CNN spokesperson telling Politico, “He will no longer appear as a guest on CNN.” In April 2017, Twitter briefly locked Stone’s account after he threatened a Media Matters employee. And in October 2017, Twitter permanently suspended Stone’s account “following a series of derogatory and threatening tweets from Stone to CNN personalities.”

    Stone’s May 7 appearance on New Day suggests an apparent reversal of CNN’s 2016 decision, as the network not only chose to provide a platform for the prominent conspiracy theorist and Infowars host, but also gave him an opportunity to hawk his new book.

    Media Matters has asked CNN for comment on this and will update with any response.

  • Who gets the luxury of a media comeback? 

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Months ago, Eric Bolling left Fox News amid an investigation into reports he had sent unsolicited pictures of male genitalia to multiple colleagues. Today, without having publicly reckoned with his past conduct whatsoever, Bolling announced he’ll soon return to the media scene as the host of a new show on conservative media outlet CRTV. He has also reportedly been “in talks” with Newsmax, Sinclair, MSNBC, and The Hill.

    Bolling is part of a club of wealthy media men who are laying the groundwork for comebacks they have not earned. He is one of several high-profile media figures -- along with Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, and Bill O’Reilly -- reported for workplace sexual misconduct who have now decided they deserve a second chance despite not having done any of the very tough public reflection such a comeback ought to require, at minimum. Rose is even reportedly involved in a new show idea being shopped in which he would interview other men, including Lauer, about their public outings as sexual predators.

    As these media men attempt to pitch news executives and the public on a redemption tour, it’s up to us as media consumers to figure out what happens now. Does the world benefit from having these specific dudes back on air?

    Will these comebacks involve thoughtful, honest examination of past conduct?

    All evidence points to no. 

    These men have all offered vague (at least partial) denials and largely declined to discuss the reports against them, sometimes citing legal reasons. Bolling, for example, appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe earlier this week to talk about his work combating the opioid crisis (his son tragically died last year from an opioid-related overdose). But when the conversation turned to his departure from Fox, Bolling had nothing of substance to say. When co-host Mika Brzezinski asked him point-blank if he had ever sexually harassed anyone, Bolling would not answer, saying he couldn’t discuss it because of a lawsuit.

    In O’Reilly’s case, in addition to hiding behind legal language or vague statements, he has been unapologetic and unrepentant. Months after his firing from Fox News, he booked an interview with Lauer on NBC’s Today; Media Matters wrote that the sit-down would be harmful unless it was a “deeply researched and responsible interview focused solely on the reports that he sexually harassed at least five women.” Instead, 4.5 million Americans were treated to a petulant back-and-forth between two sexual predators (though Lauer’s misconduct was not publicly known at the time). O’Reilly largely obfuscated, implying a legal reason for the silence, but still managed to attack one of his accusers on air.

    Rose, too, has shown little interest in an actual reckoning for past behavior. Right around the time the news broke of his potential new comeback show (which one can only hope will never see the light of day), Rose was publicly partying with Woody Allen and dining with Sean Penn, who has been reported for domestic abuse. (Penn previously wrote a poem defending Rose, because reported predators stick together.) In a profile in The Hollywood Reporter published weeks before, sources close to Rose couldn’t agree on whether he’d yet acknowledged or grappled with any wrongdoing.

    How does a “comeback” factor into the institutional and cultural healing process?

    Beyond the question of whether a comeback is appropriate, there’s also the question of whether one is appropriate now.

    The former workplaces of the media figures in question -- Fox News for Bolling and O’Reilly, CBS and PBS for Rose, and NBC for Lauer -- still have a lot of work to do when it comes to workplace culture. NBC, CBS, and Fox all launched some type of internal investigation following reports of sexual misconduct by their employees, and in some cases the investigations are brand new or still ongoing.

    New details are still emerging in public reporting too, illuminating what is now clearly a much larger, more pervasive cultural issue than can be fixed by any one outlet firing any one individual (though it’s still a good start). In the case of Rose, The Washington Post published a follow-up investigation just this week, based on interviews with more than 100 people, that revealed an atmosphere at CBS that allowed Rose to reportedly harass employees for several decades without reproach. More information about the number and severity of harassment suits brought against O’Reilly continued to trickle out for months after his firing -- and public knowledge still may be incomplete.

    Throughout these revelations, leaders at Fox, NBC, and CBS have denied knowledge of reported misconduct before it was made public.

    How can media companies know a problem is “fixed” -- and that these particular media men are ready to return to airwaves -- when company leaders continue to apparently learn details about their own workplace culture from reporters and the courageous people willing to talk to them? Are they listening to their own employees only after they speak to reporters at other outlets? More importantly, have they created a culture in such dire need of fixing that employees felt they’d be heard only if they made their trauma public?

    This is an industry and a society at the very beginning of a long reckoning, one whose leaders are at various points on their own pathways to understanding. Doling out second chances without a thorough examination of what went wrong the first time won’t fix a damn thing.

    What about all the people who are waiting on their first chance?

    This is the big question -- the one that transcends any specific examples and will linger over any potential comeback, presently planned or in the future: Why do these men deserve second chances when society has deprived so many talented individuals of a first chance?

    Newsrooms remain overwhelmingly white and male -- a remarkable homogeneity that itself is a risk factor for workplace harassment. Think of all the voices we’ve never heard because they were passed over to make room for Charlie Rose or Matt Lauer or Bill O’Reilly or Eric Bolling. Think of the kinds of people who are and aren’t valued, or listened to, or believed, in the media world, and the message that sends to viewers.

    This big question also applies to people who’ve been pushed out of the media industry because of harassment. Ann Curry was reportedly forced out at Today after experiencing verbal harassment on set -- and after speaking to management about Lauer. Former Fox News figure Gretchen Carlson described the retaliation she faced after reporting harassment by Roger Ailes and current Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy; she left Fox days before filing her lawsuit against Ailes. One study found that 75 percent of employees who reported misconduct at work faced retaliation -- so Curry’s and Carlson’s stories probably represent countless others.

    Nearly half of women media workers in a 2013 poll said they’d experienced sexual harassment on the job. And many of the #MeToo media stories have included heartbreaking asides from young journalists who experienced harassment and had their professional ambition destroyed. What about these people -- mostly young women -- who lost their dignity and their dreams, their first chance, at the hands of a powerful harasser like Lauer or Rose?

    Perhaps we should focus on taking a chance on new voices that could make the world better instead of bestowing a “comeback” upon those who already used their first chance to make the world worse.

  • Sinclair and the midterms: Florida edition

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    If you live in a midsize city or battleground state, you are now more likely than ever to see pro-Trump propaganda and conservative spin on your local news -- just in time for the 2018 election season -- thanks to conservative media giant Sinclair Broadcast Group.

    Media Matters has identified communities that will see competitive congressional midterm races and that have Sinclair-owned or -operated news stations. Many Sinclair stations are already airing national news programming with a conservative slant, and they will be ramping up coverage of their local races.

    We’ve already tackled Nevada, Tennessee, and New York. Now, we’re taking a look at Florida.

    Key 2018 races

    • Senate: Current Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) is challenging incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) in what may be “one of the most expensive campaigns in 2018.” Cook Political Report rated the race a toss-up as of publication.
    • Governor: The race to fill the Florida governor seat vacated by Scott is open, with 20-plus candidates currently seeking the position. The race was rated a toss-up by Cook Political Report as of publication.
    • House: Florida’s 18th congressional district (FL-18) in southeast Florida was rated “lean Republican” by Cook Political Report as of publication. Incumbent Brian Mast (R) currently has several challengers, with the filing deadline approaching on May 4.
    • House: Florida’s 26th congressional district (FL-26) near Miami was rated a toss-up by Cook Political Report as of publication. The incumbent, Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R), currently has several Democratic challengers.
    • House: Florida’s 27th congressional district (FL-27) in south Florida was rated “lean Democratic” by Cook Political Report as of publication. The election is an open race with many Democratic, Republican, and independent candidates.
       

    Sinclair stations in state

    WPEC (CBS 12), WTVX (The CW West Palm), WWHB (Azteca 48), and WTCN (My15) in West Palm Beach

    • Parts of FL-18 are served by Sinclair-owned WPEC (CBS 12), WTVX (The CW), WWHB (Azteca 48) and WTCN (My15). All four stations broadcast in the West Palm Beach/Fort Pierce media market in south Florida and share a main studio address in West Palm Beach.
    • CBS 12 regularly airs at least some of Sinclair’s “must-run” content, including nationally produced news packages, fearmongering “Terrorism Alert Desk” updates, and weekly shows Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson and The Armstrong Williams Show. It also aired the recent anchor-read scripted segments about media bias at least 33 times. The CW West Palm airs some of CBS 12’s daily local news programming, along with Full Measure.
    • My15 appears to occasionally re-air some of CBS 12’s local news programming, but it does not include any newscasts in its schedule on a daily basis.
    • The Spanish-language affiliate Azteca 48 posts local news updates online and airs Azteca-produced national news programming, but complete data about the extent of its daily local news programming is not available.

    WGFL (CBS 4), WNBW (NBC 9), and WYME (Antenna TV) in Gainesville

    • WGFL (CBS 4) is owned and operated by New Age Media Management LLC but “receives certain services from an affiliation of Sinclair.” WYME, also owned by New Age Media, is a low-power station affiliated with Antenna TV and operated in some capacity by Sinclair. WNBW (NBC 9) is owned by MPS Media but is operated, in some capacity, by Sinclair as well. All three stations share a main studio address in Gainesville, and all of their schedules and information are found on the CBS 4 website.
    • CBS 4 airs at least some of Sinclair’s “must-run” content, including nationally produced news packages, fearmongering “Terrorism Alert Desk” updates, and the weekly show Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson.
    • NBC 9 also airs CBS 4 newscasts and appears to air the same Sinclair “must-run” segments as CBS 4. Antenna TV does not air any local news programming.

    WTWC (NBC 40/Fox 49) and WTLF (The CW) in Tallahassee

    WEAR (ABC 3) and WFGX (MyTV 35) in Pensacola

    Possibly coming soon: WSFL (The CW South Florida) in Fort Lauderdale

    • WSFL (The CW South Florida) in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale media area is currently owned by Tribune Media and will soon be owned (at least briefly) by Sinclair if the company’s pending acquisition of up to 42 Tribune stations is approved.
    • Sinclair indicated it will sell the station after the deal goes through in order to comply with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ownership rules to a yet-undisclosed buyer. (The New York Post’s reporting has suggested the buyer is Fox.) However, Sinclair’s track record suggests the company may continue to operate the station in some capacity through legal loopholes.
    • Depending on the circumstances of the Sinclair-Tribune deal, The CW South Florida could be operating as a Sinclair station serving parts of FL-26 ahead of Election Day.

    What else you need to know

    Sinclair’s political action committee donated a total of $4,500 to Sen. Nelson’s re-election campaign committee between March 2015 and March 2018. Nelson is the ranking member of the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation -- an important committee for Sinclair, since its jurisdiction includes the communications industry. Nelson has said Sinclair lobbied him last year in order to tamp down on potential Democratic opposition to the Tribune deal. But he has led at least two efforts by Senate Democrats in recent months that have targeted the FCC's role in regulating Sinclair's expansion. 

    Sinclair is currently suing two former WPEC (CBS 12) reporters, claiming the former employees owe Sinclair thousands of dollars each for leaving the station before the end of their respective contracts. One of the reporters, Jonathan Beaton, cited a “clear-cut conservative agenda” in the newsroom as one reason he decided to leave. Recently leaked contracts from other Sinclair-owned stations reveal a pattern of harsh financial penalties that discourage employees from leaving or speaking out against the company.

    The four Sinclair-owned and -operated stations currently broadcasting in West Palm Beach are part of the local media market for Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s resort in Florida.

    Are there Sinclair stations near you?

    Use Media Matters’ interactive map at FindSinclair.com to learn more.

    Graphics by Sarah Wasko.

  • How NBC and MSNBC have covered reports that Tom Brokaw sexually harassed two former staffers

    Brokaw is the seventh NBCUniversal employee to be publicly named for sexual misconduct

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On the night of April 26, new reporting at Variety and The Washington Post told the stories of two women who say they were sexually harassed by NBC special correspondent and former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw. Brokaw is the seventh employee of NBCUniversal to be publicly named in reports of sexual harassment since last October -- and these new accounts in Variety and the Post detail a workplace environment where rampant mistreatment of women has been tolerated or ignored.

    The Washington Post’s Sarah Ellison wrote about former NBC war correspondent Linda Vester’s report that Brokaw “made unwanted advances toward her on two occasions in the 1990s” as well as a second unnamed woman’s report of inappropriate behavior by the former NBC anchor during the same decade. Variety published a video of Vester recounting her experience, along with a lengthy statement based on multiple interviews with her.

    Both outlets included a statement from Brokaw, released through NBC, denying the allegations. He also sent a letter to colleagues disputing Vester’s accounts, calling her stories a “drive by shooting” and suggesting Vester wanted attention. In a letter to staff made public late this afternoon, NBC News Chairman Andy Lack acknowledged the reports about Brokaw's misconduct and said that NBC "take[s] allegations such as these very seriously." Lack also discussed ongoing internal efforts to review and change the workplace culture within the company. 

    While corporate leadership at NBCUniversal hasn't had much to say on the matter, its primary news outlets, NBC News and MSNBC, have frequently covered both reports in the hours since they were published.

    NBC News has published one story on the Brokaw reports headlined “Tom Brokaw denies sexually harassing former NBC News colleague” and tweeted the story twice. NBC’s Today also discussed the reports multiple times this morning, including in a several-minute report from national correspondent Kate Snow. The segment covered new reporting on both Brokaw and former Today co-host Matt Lauer. (Ellison’s article included two previously unreported accounts of sexual harassment by Lauer in addition to a new statement from former colleague Ann Curry about a colleague who came to her to report harassment by Lauer.) The package also touched on NBC’s treatment of harassment more generally, and Snow ended it by noting that all employees, including herself, would be completing in-person training soon.

    On MSNBC, Morning Joe did not mention the reports, but the network has covered the Brokaw story in some capacity nearly every hour since.

    In the 9 a.m. hour, MSNBC Live host Stephanie Ruhle briefly reported on the allegations against Brokaw and noted that NBC News had declined to comment. In the 10 a.m. hour, MSNBC Live host Hallie Jackson similarly reported on the story.

    In the 11 a.m. hour, Velshi & Ruhle featured MSNBC’s most in-depth segment so far on the Brokaw reports, including an interview with Post reporter Sarah Ellison:

    In the 12 p.m. hour, Andrea Mitchell Reports aired a short package on the Brokaw allegations from Kate Snow. And in the 1 p.m. hour, MSNBC Live host Craig Melvin very briefly reported on the Brokaw story once again. Velshi again reported on the news about both Brokaw and Lauer during the 3 p.m. hour.

    The new Washington Post reporting included on-the-record comments from former NBC anchors Ann Curry and Soledad O’Brien and information from at least 35 current and former NBC staffers. It detailed a workplace environment that discouraged people from reporting harassment -- in Curry’s case, a workplace that permitted “pervasive verbal sexual harassment." And Vester cited NBC’s decision not to conduct outside investigations for previous reports of harassment as a reason for her decision to come forward.

    Brokaw is now the seventh NBCUniversal employee to be publicly named for sexual misconduct or gender-based harassment in the #MeToo era.

    In October, two NBCUniversal employees were publicly reported for workplace sexual harassment: Mark Halperin and Ken Baker. In November, the senior vice president of booking for NBC news, Matt Zimmerman, was fired following reports of inappropriate conduct. Lauer was also first publicly named for incidents of harassment and assault in November. News of a prior harassment complaint against current MSNBC host Chris Matthews surfaced in December. NBC Sports personality Mike Tirico’s history of harassment reports from the 1990s also resurfaced in December.

    NBC has conspicuously maintained silence on several reports related to harassment and assault by powerful men outside of its offices. In October, freelance NBC News correspondent Ronan Farrow publicly called out his employer for passing on his months-long investigation into multiple reports of harassment and assault by movie executive Harvey Weinstein; the piece eventually ran in The New Yorker, and Farrow was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for public service for his reporting earlier this month.

    And back in fall 2016, the network sat on Access Hollywood footage depicting now-President Donald Trump bragging about committing sexual assault, which was eventually scooped by another outlet. NBC subsequently waffled on whether to fire its own employee, Billy Bush, for his participation in the damning exchange.

  • Sinclair and the midterms: New York edition

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    If you live in a midsize city or battleground state, you are now more likely than ever to see pro-Trump propaganda and conservative spin on your local news -- just in time for the 2018 election season -- thanks to conservative media giant Sinclair Broadcast Group.

    Media Matters has identified communities that will see competitive congressional midterm races and that have Sinclair-owned or -operated news stations. Many Sinclair stations are already airing national news programming with a conservative slant, and they will be ramping up coverage of their local races.

    We’ve already tackled Nevada and Tennessee. Now, we’re taking a look at New York.

    Key 2018 races

    • House: New York’s 19th congressional district (NY-19), spanning the Hudson Valley and Catskills regions south of Albany, was rated a toss-up by Cook Political Report as of publication. The incumbent is Rep. John Faso (R), and there is a wide field of Democratic and independent challengers.
    • House: New York’s 22nd congressional district (NY-22) in central New York was rated a toss-up by Cook Political Report as of publication. The incumbent is Rep. Claudia Tenney (R), and the leading Democratic challenger is current state Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi.

    Sinclair stations in state

    WRGB (CBS 6) and WCWN (CW 15 New York - The Capital Region) in Schenectady

    • Parts of NY-19 are served by Sinclair-owned WRGB (CBS 6) and WCWN (CW 15 New York - The Capital Region), which both broadcast in the Albany region and share a main studio address in nearby Schenectady.
    • CBS 6 regularly airs at least some of Sinclair’s “must-run” content, including nationally produced news packages, fearmongering “Terrorism Alert Desk” updates, and the weekly show Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson. It also aired the recent anchor-read scripted segments about media bias at least five times.
    • The CW 15 airs some of CBS 6’s daily local news programming, along with Full Measure and Sinclair’s other weekend show, hosted by conservative pundit Armstrong Williams.

    WSTM, WTVH, and WSTQ (all known as CNY Central) in Syracuse

    • Parts of NY-22 in central New York are served by Sinclair-owned WSTM and the smaller, low-power WSTQ, as well as the Granite Broadcasting-owned WTVH, which is operated by Sinclair under a legal agreement. All three stations are collectively branded as “CNY Central,” and they share a main studio address in Syracuse.
    • WSTM and WTVH air at least some of Sinclair’s “must-run” content, including nationally produced news packages, “Bottom Line with Boris” pro-Trump commentary segments, and the weekly show Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson. They also aired the recent anchor-read scripted segments about media bias a collective 17 times.
    • WSTQ also airs nightly local news programming, along with Williams’ show.

    WHAM (13WHAM ABC) and WUHF (Fox) in Rochester, WUTV (Fox 29) and WNYO (MyTV) in Buffalo

    • Sinclair owns or operates, in some capacity, several other stations across the state apart from those in areas with key midterm races: WHAM (13WHAM ABC) and WUHF (Fox) in Rochester, and WUTV (Fox 29) and WNYO (MyTV) in Buffalo.

    Coming soon: WPIX in New York City

    • WPIX (PIX 11) in New York City is currently owned by Tribune Media and will soon be owned (at least briefly) by Sinclair if the company’s pending acquisition of up to 42 Tribune stations is approved. Sinclair has indicated it will sell PIX 11 after the deal goes through in order to comply with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ownership rules. However, the details of Sinclair’s plan show the company will likely continue to operate the station in some capacity through legal loopholes.
    • Another key midterm race, for New York’s 11th congressional district covering Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, falls within the PIX 11 broadcast range.

    What else you need to know

    NY-22 incumbent Rep. Claudia Tenney garnered national media attention last month when she echoed some of the Trumpian anti-media rhetoric used in Sinclair’s scripted promotional segments. Tenney was captured on camera yelling, “It’s fake news!” at a local reporter who asked about her recent remarks that “so many” mass shooters “end up being Democrats.”

    Are there Sinclair stations near you?

    Use Media Matters’ interactive map at FindSinclair.com to learn more.

    Graphics by Sarah Wasko.

  • Former Sinclair TV reporter: “Anything that went against anything that corporate wanted was just shot down.”

    Veteran reporter Suri Crowe details to BuzzFeed how Sinclair management insisted on false balance in news stories about climate and guns

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Former Sinclair reporter Suri Crowe provided BuzzFeed with a detailed account of how Sinclair Broadcast Group’s far-right agenda has affected local news coverage of stories from climate change to gun safety.

    Sinclair is the largest TV station owner and operator in the country, with about 190 stations, including affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC, that reach approximately 38 percent of American homes. The conservative media company is awaiting final approval of its $3.9 billion bid to buy Tribune Media, which owns 42 TV stations, including in the major markets of Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York.

    Media Matters has documented Sinclair’s rapid growth and its alliance with the Trump campaign and administration. If Sinclair completes its planned purchase of Tribune, the company’s right-wing bias and disregard for journalistic ethics could inform what 72 percent of American households see on their local news. Its reach is already so pervasive, Media Matters created a tool to inform viewers about the stations near them that Sinclair now owns or could soon acquire.

    Sinclair takes an aggressive approach to ensuring local viewers are exposed to the company’s agenda, Media Matters has found. It forces local stations to air corporate-mandated “must-runs,” which include segments from the company’s chief political analyst, and former aide to President Donald Trump, Boris Epshteyn.

    Crowe’s account to BuzzFeed about her time at WSET-TV, an ABC-affiliated station owned by Sinclair, provides an in-depth look at how local station operators can undermine or quash stories that run counter to the conservative ideological agenda of the company’s owners and executives. 

    Beginning in 2015, the veteran reporter was reprimanded by news directors who insisted her stories on climate change and gun legislation include more “balance.” Crowe, who won a Virginias Associated Press Broadcasters award in 2016, was ultimately forced out of her job in 2017.

    From BuzzFeed:

    Sinclair Broadcast Group executives reprimanded and ultimately ousted a local news reporter who refused to seed doubt about man-made climate change and “balance” her stories in a more conservative direction.

    [...]

    In one 2015 instance, the former news director of WSET-TV in Lynchburg, Virginia, Len Stevens, criticized reporter Suri Crowe because she “clearly laid out the argument that human activities cause global warming, but had nothing from the side that questions the science behind such claims and points to more natural causes for such warming.”

    [...]

    Crowe told BuzzFeed News that before the October 2015 climate change segment aired, she was ordered by Stevens to include Donald Trump’s opinion on the matter. “When I instructed you to balance the story, by including some of [the] other argument, you insisted there was no need to add such balance to the story,” he wrote in her Jan. 22, 2016, performance review.

    A veteran reporter who has worked at news stations in Texas and Virginia, Crowe said she viewed the story as environmental — not two-sided or political. “I was always covering the flu. I don’t remember a time when for balance I went out to a group of 20 people who are nutjobs that say flu shots kill,” she told BuzzFeed News. The scientific consensus is that climate change is real and humans are largely to blame, but Crowe ultimately read the updated, “balanced” script on air. “That was the moment where I realized how things were going to go there,” she said.

    [...]

    “Your story on proposed gun legislation was not balanced,” Stevens wrote in Crowe’s performance review. “You wrote of the proposed gun restrictions, ‘Sounds like a good idea, right? Well, not to those in charge of passing new gun laws.’ And that tone is carried throughout the story. Another line: ‘Several polls show the majority of Virginians are in favor of tighter restrictions on gun purchases... But Republican lawmakers in Richmond... won’t go for it.’”

    On another gun story about the state attorney general’s decision to revoke a reciprocity agreement with other states for concealed carry permits, Stevens wrote that the sum total Crowe offered the other side was a single sentence: “The NRA on the other hand released a statement condemning the attorney general’s decision.” Stevens added that Crowe “had access to the press release sent by the NRA, yet included nothing from the actual statement... This kind of approach damages our reputation as a fair and balanced news organization.”