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?