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  • 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.

  • Can tech platforms protect election integrity?

    Google and Facebook have rolled out new policies for political ads. Here’s what you need to know.

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN

    Shadowy online ads are a staple of American elections in the digital age. In the last election cycle, voters targeted with digital ads had no way to see who purchased the ad unless they clicked through, and even then, there was sometimes no disclosure. There was no way to learn why you were being targeted or how much money was being spent on your demographic segment. (FEC disclosure requirements for online advertisements are pretty basic. Most of the time you can see only how much was spent -- and not who was targeted, for example -- on a digital buy that might include multiple platforms.) And that lack of transparency is particularly problematic given that thousands of ads on Facebook and Twitter came from Russian trolls and other hostile actors who were targeting American voters, a practice voters were unaware of until nearly a year after the elections.

    In 2016, Facebook’s terms of service did not explicitly prevent foreigners, including Russians, from purchasing political ads on digital platforms. Its ad policy simply stated, “Advertisers are responsible for understanding and complying with all applicable laws and regulations.” But it’s not even clear if it’s against the law for foreign trolls to purchase ads targeting American voters. And it’s highly unlikely that the law will change before the midterm elections, even though lawmakers have introduced The Honest Ads Act, a bipartisan bill to provide more transparency in digital political ads, and it has the support of several government reform organizations and both Facebook and Twitter.

    Facebook and Google have rolled out changes in their ad policies that could start to tame the Wild West atmosphere. Anyone who wants to run election ads will have to verify their identity before they can make the buy. Both platforms have promised to let users examine all political ads as well as their targeted demographics. Additionally, Facebook will indicate when an advertisement is explicitly political.

    Verifying the identity of ad buyers and giving users more information about the ads they’re seeing is a good start, and it puts both Facebook and Google ahead of what the law currently requires. But it’s not enough to stop hostile actors from buying ads. Facebook has also rolled out a policy specific to issue ads -- which requires authorization and labeling, according to Axios -- and Google has indicated it is looking into developing something similar. Facebook’s initial list of topics that would qualify an ad as “issue”  is interesting, especially the last one: “Abortion, budget, civil rights, crime, economy, education, energy, environment, foreign policy, government reform, guns, health, immigration, infrastructure, military, poverty, social security, taxes, terrorism, and values.”

    Most of the Russian ads from 2016 would probably fall into Facebook’s values category. Including values on the list gives Facebook the power to scrutinize ads that are more cultural than political at first glance but are in fact meant to pit Americans against one another. And if an ad is rejected, Facebook also offers an appeal process. If hostile actors intend to game Facebook by spreading propaganda in 2018, cutting off their ability to give their content an initial boost by using targeted ad buys would eliminate a tool they used effectively in 2016. Having values on the list of issue topics suggests to me that Facebook understands this reality.

    This will be an ongoing battle. I have no doubt that those behind the last election interference are already hard at work looking for workarounds, and it’s likely that they’ve found at least a few already. But the tech platforms are finally taking election integrity seriously, and unlike in 2016, we now know to be on the lookout for signs of trouble. Systemic change is our best opportunity to protect the integrity of our elections, and since we’re unlikely to see any laws passed soon, ad policy changes from tech platforms are the best form of protection Americans have.

  • 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.

  • As the midterms approach and foreign interference looms, just how screwed is America?

    What reporters and voters need to keep an eye on leading up to November

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN

    Midterm elections are less than 200 days away. We know that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election and weaponized our favorite social media platforms -- Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Reddit, and even Pinterest -- against us. We know that Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee and released some of its emails via WikiLeaks. We know that despite sanctions from the U.S., Russian trolls continue this activity and will continue their influence operations at least through the 2018 elections.

    America isn’t the only country facing this problem. Earlier this year, Facebook admitted that social media can be bad for democracy. Social media manipulation is a global problem, and Russian trolls aren’t the only hostile actors looking to weaponize the internet to disrupt democracies. Cambridge Analytica openly bragged to potential clients about its ability to disrupt elections, touting online targeting in a laundry list of offerings that included, according to U.K.’s Channel 4 News, “bribes, ex-spies, fake IDs and sex workers.”

    The tech platforms have all promised to do better in 2018. Facebook and Google have both recently announced changes in their ad programs that theoretically will make it more difficult for hostile actors to game their systems. Reddit and Tumblr banned all known Russian trolls on their platform and also listed their handles so that users who had interacted with them online could better understand their own exposure. Nearly two years after the presidential election, the tech platforms finally seem to be taking this problem seriously and cooperating with Congress and the special counsel’s office.

    But we still have a lot more questions than answers. There’s no public map of Russian activity online available to voters. We don’t know what, if anything, our government is doing to protect us from social media manipulation, and while it seems obvious that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, we don’t have a complete picture of what happened or what other political entities might have been involved. We don’t know if tech companies are collaborating to fight back against social media’s weaponization or if they’re focused only on their platforms’ individual issues. This is unsettling.

    Even more unsettling is that campaign staff on both sides of the aisle seem unaware of or unconcerned about foreign meddling in this year’s midterm elections. A survey of campaign staffers from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy found that “two-thirds (65%) reported they are not ‘very concerned’ or ‘not concerned at all’ about foreign threats to campaign cybersecurity.”

    For those observing this issue, whether from the perspective of a voter, campaign staffer, or political reporter, there are some reports/proceedings on the horizon which should give more insight into Russian interference in 2016 elections and hopefully will provide some more answers. Keep an eye out for these:

    • First, House Democrats plan to release all 3,000 Russian-linked Facebook ads as soon as this week. The cache will show “images of the ads, which groups the ads targeted, how much they cost and how many Facebook users viewed them.” Finally having access to targeting data should give us insight into how Russian trolls segmented the population and might also provide clues as to where they got the data to do so.

    • Second, Senate intelligence committee Chairman Richard Burr said in February that he was hopeful the committee would be able to make public parts of its report on Russian influence in 2016 before the 2018 primaries begin. He promised that there would be another open hearing on election security. Assuming that the Senate intelligence committee is still on track, we should see that report soon.

    • Finally, we could see a report or further indictments from special counsel Robert Mueller before the midterm elections. Conventional wisdom suggests that Mueller will either wrap up his investigation shortly or go dark until after the midterms. Should the former happen, the public will likely get more information about the 13 Russians indicted for interference in the 2016 U.S. elections as well as answers about the Trump campaign’s working relationship with Russian operatives.

    What we don’t know about Russian interference is terrifying. Information warfare, including via weaponized social media and cyberattacks, is a threat to democracy both in America and abroad. Leading up to the U.S. midterms, it’s up to news media and pro-democracy activists to sound the alarm. American voters need to understand what happened to them in 2016 and what’s at stake for our democracy this November.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • What comes next after a NY Times reporter admitted becoming “an unwitting agent of Russian intelligence”

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    New York Times reporter Amy Chozick’s just-released memoir, Chasing Hillary, offers a detailed and direct admission that major media outlets played into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hands by devoting obsessive coverage to hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 presidential campaign. It's a striking acknowledgment, given how defensive the Times and its campaign journalists have generally been about their work. But rather than writing off Chozick's mea culpa as proof of personal weakness or a one-off error, journalists should take it as a warning. The 2016 election may have been the first time that journalists found themselves the tools of a foreign government aimed at undermining American democracy. It won't be the last.

    In a chapter titled “How I Became an Unwitting Agent of Russian Intelligence,” Chozick, who spent a decade covering Hillary Clinton for the Times and The Wall Street Journal, recounts the October afternoon when WikiLeaks began releasing a new set of documents obtained from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s Gmail account. By then, journalists had reason to suspect that hackers working for Russian intelligence services were the source of the emails. Nonetheless, Chozick writes that she “chose the byline” rather than urging her editors to consider the possibility that the paper was being used by a hostile government. She was not alone -- virtually every major publication devoted significant attention to the hacked emails.

    Only after the election, when Times national security reporters detailed how the all-consuming reporting had aided the Russian plot, did Chozick come to grips with what she had done: “[N]othing hurt worse than my own colleagues calling me a de facto instrument of Russian intelligence. The worst part was they were right.”

    The Times post-election bombshell on the Russian hacking campaign that caused Chozick to reassess her actions started a conversation about how journalists had treated the hacked emails, including inside the Times. But those discussions yielded little consensus, with leading newsroom figures, notably including Times executive editor Dean Baquet, arguing that their outlets had done nothing wrong.

    “If you get email correspondence of newsworthiness from any source, you have an obligation to publish it, assuming it's true, which in this case it was. You have an obligation to publish it,” Baquet said on NPR. “And if a powerful figure writes emails that are newsworthy, you've just got to publish them.”

    Baquet presents a false choice between hiding vital information from the public and behaving exactly as media outlets did during the 2016 election -- one that seems to appeal to other Times political reporters. This formulation ignores a third option -- that the failure wasn’t that news outlets had published emails stolen by a hostile source, but that the scope of their coverage greatly exceeded the actual news value of the emails. The hacked email coverage is one of a series of cases in which poor editorial judgment led to an overwhelming focus on Clinton email-related purported scandals instead of pressing policy issues.

    There’s a reason that critics of media coverage of the Russia-hacked emails fixate on the revelation of Podesta’s risotto recipe -- it’s a perfect encapsulation of the sort of small-bore “scoop” that journalists discovered when rooting through the documents that had been stolen from the Clinton campaign chair. There were valid stories in the lot, but none of them detailed the sort of illegal behavior or sinister scandal one might have expected from the tone and volume of the coverage. Instead, “The dominant feature of the emails was their ordinariness,” as the Times’ David Leonhardt explained in a column last May.

    Given how mundane the emails were, journalists should have given their content much less attention, while making the fact that they had been released as part of an effort by a hostile foreign government to sway the election an essential part of their reporting. That’s how French reporters would later treat the release of “spectacularly mundane” emails stolen from Emmanuel Macron’s 2017 campaign for president of France. It’s also how the Miami Herald treated hacked internal Democratic campaign documents -- finding them "embarrassing" but unenlightening, the paper published only two articles about them, one of which highlighted in its first sentence that the documents seemed to have been obtained by Russian hackers.

    “The overhyped coverage of the hacked emails was the media’s worst mistake in 2016 — one sure to be repeated if not properly understood,” Leonhardt concluded a year ago. It won’t be long until we find out if journalists will repeat that failure. “There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 US midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats testified in February, one of the numerous national security experts to warn that Russian election meddling will continue.

    Chozick’s memoir provides a new opportunity to consider their past errors and strive for a better process as the 2018 elections loom. Reporters won’t be “unwitting agent[s] of Russian intelligence” again -- the next document dump intended to warp the democratic process will come after plenty of warnings. If major media outlets want to avoid becoming witting agents of a foreign power, they need to consider what happened in 2016 and develop processes that make that less likely. And it would behoove them to tell their readers and viewers up front how they plan to cover stolen documents going forward.

    Maybe then we’ll be spared future attempts by reporters to explain why they always "chose the byline.”

  • What does Dan Scavino do all day?

    Scavino is the ambassador to Trump’s vast online army of trolls -- and diplomatic relations are strong

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In a profile of White House social media director Dan Scavino published in The New York Times Magazine, writer Robert Draper seems puzzled at Scavino's role in the Trump campaign and administration. Throughout the piece, Draper attempts to answer the question: What does this guy do all day?

    From the article:

    Scavino was another of the “originals” on Trump’s 2016 campaign, and I saw him numerous times on the trail, but I could never quite ascertain what he was doing to further his boss’s presidential ambitions. Aggressively nondescript, Scavino could often be seen in a suit at the side of the stage, taking photos of the immense rally crowds with his iPhone and later, while scowling at his laptop aboard Trump’s 757, posting the images to Facebook. … Scavino’s sole task, from what I could tell, was to document Trump’s popularity.

    My perplexity over Scavino deepened after Inauguration Day, even as he got an official title: assistant to the president and director of social media, a position that had never existed before and one that paid him the maximum White House staff salary of $179,700. The Trump White House continued to employ an official photographer (Shealah Craighead) as well as a chief digital officer (Ory Rinat). This small digital team shared a suite across the street, in the Executive Office Building. But Scavino got an office on the ground floor of the West Wing, just down the hall from the leader of the free world.

    Draper spends the rest of the article trying to grasp Scavino’s role and why it matters. He comes to the conclusion that Scavino’s most important job is minding President Donald Trump’s Twitter account.

    The only official function Scavino filled that might justify his salary and his prime White House real estate was detailed in the lawsuit’s [over Trump blocking people on Twitter] stipulation of facts. “Scavino,” both parties to the lawsuit agreed, “assists President Trump in operating the @realDonaldTrump account, including by drafting and posting tweets to the account.” No one else, besides Trump himself, had access to the most consequential and controversial social media account in the world.

    Having access to the president’s Twitter feed isn’t a job; it’s a sign that you’re good at your job. Trump’s Twitter account is arguably his most valuable digital asset. Scavino has access because he’s a trusted member of Trump’s administration.

    Draper does eventually get around to describing Scanvino’s day-to-day job duties -- reaching out to Trump’s base online and serving as the keeper of those relationships.

    More than anyone else in the White House, the director of social media spends his day online, monitoring the #MAGA congregation. “Dan talks to the base more than anybody else after the president,” one senior White House official told me. “He’s the conductor of the Trump Train, and these people know he’s true blue, and he also knows all the influencers.” A year ago, the former chief strategist Steve Bannon shared a West Wing office with Scavino. “He has his hands on the Pepes,” Bannon recalls, referring to the cartoon frog that serves as mascot to the alt-right. “He knew who the players were and who were not. He’d bring me Cernovich — I didn’t know who Cernovich was until Scavino told me.” Bannon was referring to the alt-right blogger Mike Cernovich, who has frequently promoted debunked and scurrilous conspiracy theories.

    But Draper doesn’t recognize both the actual labor involved in Scavino’s operation and its value to the administration and Trump personally. And it’s important for anyone covering Trump (as well as anyone running against Trump and the GOP) to understand not just Scavino’s job but why his work matters. Draper’s profile misses both.

    Scavino isn’t just monitoring the #MAGA movement online; he’s actively cultivating relationships with that community, more than likely sharing messaging and talking points with influencers, and amplifying their content to a broader audience. More than once, user-generated content from Reddit forum “r/The_Donald” has been tweeted out by Trump himself, most notoriously when Trump tweeted this meme of himself beating up CNN. Scavino is almost certainly responsible for this Trump tweet attacking Rosie O’Donnell after a similar thread appeared on r/The_Donald as well. (Designer Mike Rundle tweeted a crude but accurate depiction of the Scavino social media pipeline.)

    Scavino’s outreach isn’t an unusual occurrence. The Obama White House devoted staff resources to the same task, as has most every major presidential campaign since 2004. Online outreach is a crucial part of any digital operation. Given that Trump needs to hang on to his base perhaps more than any president before him, it makes sense that Scavino’s White House role is prominent.

    I don’t write this to defend him as a person. After all, Scavino is a guy who, through his personal Twitter feed, amplifies conspiracy theories and harasses others. Scavino is not the kind of person I want paid with the taxpayer dime. But it’s important to understand what his job is -- and that Scavino is quite good at what he does.

    Per the profile, Scavino is the “conductor of the Trump Train.” Draper got the quote right but failed to consider what it meant, even as he described the train as a “juggernaut.” Scavino’s role isn’t just to craft tweets for Trump. He’s keeping the Trump Train’s passengers on board.

  • Sinclair and the midterms: Tennessee 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 propaganda bolstering President Donald Trump 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. Now, we’re taking a look at Tennessee.

    Key 2018 race

    • Senate: Tennessee has an open Senate seat this year, and the race is considered a toss-up by Cook Political Report as of publication. The current front-runners are U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat.

    Sinclair stations in state

    WTVC (NewsChannel 9) and WFLI (The CW) in Chattanooga

    WZTV (Fox 17), WUXP (My30), and WNAB (CW58) in Nashville

    • Sinclair-owned WZTV (Fox 17) also 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.
    • Sinclair-owned WUXP (My30) shares a main studio address with Fox 17 and re-airs at least some of Fox 17’s local news programming.
    • Nashville Broadcasting-owned WNAB (The CW58) “receives certain services from an affiliation of Sinclair Broadcast Group” and also shares a main studio address with Fox 17 and My30. It does not appear to regularly air news programming.

    Coming soon: WREG (News Channel 3) in Memphis

    • WREG (News Channel 3) in Memphis is currently owned by Tribune Media but will soon be owned by Sinclair if the company’s pending acquisition of up to 42 Tribune stations is approved.

    What else you need to know

    Sinclair’s political action committee gave a total of $4,500 to Blackburn’s Senate campaign committee in 2017. Blackburn currently serves on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and she chairs its Subcommittee on Communications and Technology -- an important subcommittee for Sinclair.

    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: Nevada 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 propaganda bolstering President Donald Trump 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.

    First, we’re looking at Nevada.

    Key 2018 races

    • Senate: The contest between incumbent Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Democrat challenger Rep. Jacky Rosen is rated a toss-up by Cook Political Report as of publication.
    • House: Nevada’s third congressional district (NV-3) south of Las Vegas is an open race rated as “lean Democratic” by Cook Political Report as of publication.  
    • Governor: Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) is not eligible to run in 2018. The election is thus an open race, and it was rated a toss-up by Cook Political Report as of publication.  

    Sinclair stations in state

    KSNV (NBC 3) and KVCW (The CW) in Las Vegas

    KRXI (Fox 11), KRNV (NBC News 4) and KAME (My21) in Reno

    • Sinclair owns and operates KRXI (Fox 11). A Media Matters search of the iQ media database found that Fox 11 aired the scripted promotional segment narrated by Bill Frankmore and Melissa Carlson at least six times between March 23 and March 30.
    • Sinclair also provides operations support for two other stations in Reno, KRNV (NBC News 4) and KAME (a MyNetwork affiliate branded as My21), through shared service agreements. All three Reno stations also share a studio space, and My21 does not appear to have its own website, instead posting its schedule on the Fox 11 site.

    KENV in Elko

    • KENV is licensed to serve Elko -- considered part of the Salt Lake City, UT, media market -- but serves as a semi-satellite to KRNV in Reno, meaning that it airs some of the same news programs but may have different branding. It also shares a studio space with KRXI, KRNV, and KAME in Reno. 

    What else you need to know

    Sinclair’s political action committee gave $1,500 to Heller’s re-election campaign committee in September 2015. Heller serves on the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, including on its subcommittee related to communications and technology -- an important subcommittee for Sinclair.

    In January and February press releases, Heller touted Sinclair, among other businesses, for giving “their employees special bonuses and raises” after the passage of the Trump/GOP tax law.

    Here’s footage of NBC 3 airing a March “Bottom Line with Boris” segment in which former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn downplayed a potential Democrat wave in 2018 midterms:

    Are there Sinclair stations near you?

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

    Graphics by Sarah Wasko. 

    UPDATE: This post has been updated to include the Nevada gubernatorial race. 

  • Steve Bannon reveals plans to visit Sweden to “learn from” the nation’s far-right party

    But even a party with neo-Nazi roots doesn't want to be associated with Bannon

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Steve Bannon revealed to a Swedish newspaper that he will be visiting the country to “learn from” the Sweden Democrats (SD), an anti-immigration, anti-Muslim party attempting to rebrand away from its neo-Nazi roots. In seeking alliances with Sweden’s most prominent right-wing party leaders, Bannon is trying to dig himself out of the political irrelevance his downfall has brought. But it appears that even the members of a party with neo-Nazi origins are embarrassed to be associated with him.

    In a March 28 interview with Dagens Nyheter, a daily newspaper in Sweden, Bannon revealed his plan to visit the country in the next few months “to learn” from the Sweden Democrats, “some of whom we have studied closely.” When asked what insights would he share with SD members from his time at the White House (he was fired in August 2017), Bannon said he’d urge the SD to continue fighting, increase the party’s contact with the base, and stay away from the so-called “globalists.” He also called SD leader Jimmie Åkesson a “dynamic” politician and characterized SD as an example for “the whole world to study.”

    Bannon’s interest in Sweden is neither new nor surprising, as he has long telegraphed his plans to export his far-right politics to Europe. During Bannon's time at the helm of Breitbart.com, as well as during and after his White House stint, the outlet has shown an obsession with a mythical migrant crime wave in Sweden, particularly as the nation prepares for a general election (Sweden has become a gateway to the anti-migrant agenda in Europe). Bannon’s announcement of his plans comes on the heels of a series of embarrassing setbacks for him -- ranging from a humiliating electoral loss by a Republican politician he championed in a ruby-red state to his ousting from Breitbart, which he helped build. It appears he is looking for a comeback wherever he can find it.

    When asked directly whether the SD party invited him to visit Sweden, Bannon gave a vaguely affirmative answer, stating he didn’t want to make an announcement yet but that he would “definitely come to Sweden ... relatively soon.” But just hours after the interview was published, the secretary of the Sweden Democrats party denied that anyone in the party arranged or even had knowledge of Bannon’s trip and refused to say whether SD will welcome Bannon to Sweden.

    Though SD was born out of neo-Nazi circles in the late ‘80s, it has since attempted to enter the mainstream by distancing itself from the overt white nationalism of some of its past leaders. In 2006, the party changed its logo from the torch used by the U.K.’s fascist National Front to an innocuous blue and yellow flower. Now, Sweden Democrats is the nation’s most established right-wing party and boasts a thriving (if controversial) social media presence. But its polarizing message has pushed its supporters away from the party in recent months.

    Though SD was polling as the nation’s second-largest party last June, a December 2017 poll showed support for SD has dropped to its lowest level since 2015. In February, a local SD member was forced to resign after posting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Facebook. Just last week, the party suffered another self-inflicted wound when one of its members was sentenced for repeated domestic abuse.

    The recently created more extreme far-right party Alternative for Sweden (inspired by the German AfD) serves as an additional threat to SD. AfS hopes to curry favor with SD’s most extreme elements and has successfully recruited several SD parliamentarians in the past few months, including one who was expelled from SD for extremist ties.

    It’s a testament to Bannon’s toxicity that the Swedish party that perhaps most viably embodies Bannon’s ideology has denied any contact with him, seemingly in an attempt to protect its vulnerable credibility. SD’s Åkesson has admitted that in the past, his party has been its own worst enemy, a problem which Bannon might find hard to resist, probably because he can easily relate.