Sinclair Broadcasting Outstrips Fox News to Become De Facto 'Trump TV'
During the 2016 presidential campaign, the Sinclair Broadcast Group cut a deal with Jared Kushner for “good” coverage of the Trump administration, which seems to have paid off.
Politico reported last December:
Sinclair would broadcast their Trump interviews across the country without commentary, Kushner said. Kushner highlighted that Sinclair, in states like Ohio, reaches a much wider audience—around 250,000 viewers [sic]— than networks like CNN, which reach somewhere around 30,000.
With Fox News suffering several major setbacks in the past year, Sinclair is making moves to become the new giant of right-wing media. Many are now calling Sinclair ‘Trump TV.’
David D. Smith built Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. into the largest owner of television stations in the U.S. after taking over his father’s television company (with his brothers) in the late 1980’s. With David as president and CEO, the Sinclair Broadcast Group blossomed to 59 stations in less than a decade. By 2014, that number had nearly tripled to 162. Smith stepped down earlier this year and became executive chairman. The Smith family has heavily funded conservative Republican candidates. David Smith’s Cape Elizabeth, Maine summer home, just 5 miles down the coast from Common Dreams’ Portland office, regularly serves as a meeting place for right-wing politicians like Trump’s HUD Secretary Ben Carson and conservative commentator Armstrong Williams.
Journalist David Zurawik, who has covered local television for roughly 30 years, is speaking out against Sinclair. In a recent segment on CNN on Sunday, Zurawik said of the company’s members: “They come as close to classic propaganda as I think I’ve seen in thirty years of covering local television or national television. They’re outrageous. Whatever the White House says, you know, ‘President Trump believes there was voter fraud and he sets up this commission to get data from the states and the states rightfully push back because it’s very intrusive data’ — Boris Ephsteyn’s piece on it ends with, ‘the states should cooperate with President Trump.’”
John Oliver took aim at the Sinclair Broadcast Group earlier this month, examining the far right station’s ownership of many local TV news stations: “National cable news gets a lot of attention with their big budgets and their fancy graphics packages. Meanwhile, local news often has to do a lot more with a lot less.”
The Sinclair Broadcast Group has close ties to the Trump administration and is forcing local stations to air pro-Trump news segments. Trump’s FCC chairman, Ajit Pai rolled back a key Obama administration regulation that had prevented Sinclair from further expansion. The green light from the Trump administration allowed Sinclair to purchase 42 more local stations from the Tribune Media company, extending its reach to 72 percent of American households.
Oliver went on to show clips of broadcaster Mark Hyman railing against “political correctness and multiculturalism” and elaborated:
Hyman is a commentator and former executive at Sinclair Broadcast Group, and Sinclair may be the most influential media company you’ve never heard of. Not only are they the largest owner of local TV stations in the country, they could soon get even bigger.
If the opinions were confined to just the commentary or the ad breaks, that would be one thing. But Sinclair can sometimes dictate the content of your local newscasts as well, and in contrast to Fox News, a conservative outlet where you basically know what you’re getting, with Sinclair, they’re injecting Fox-worthy content into the mouths of your local news anchors, the two people who you know, and who you trust, and whose on-screen chemistry can usually best be described as two people.
You may not realize it’s happening because Sinclair and its digital news subsidiary Circa not only produce and send packages to their stations; they even write scripts that local anchors use to introduce the pieces. For example, this Tuesday night, anchors at Sinclair stations all over the country introduced a story about Michael Flynn like this.
Oliver’s footage then showed multiple Sinclair broadcasters in different locales introduce a report about Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, by downplaying the investigation as just a “personal vendetta” against Flynn.
They are called “must-runs,” and they are sent every day to all the local stations owned by Sinclair — video reports that are centrally produced by the company. Station managers around the country must work them into the broadcast over a period of 24 or 48 hours.
On Sunday, the Portland Press Herald (Maine) reported:
Marc McCutcheon of South Portland was watching WGME’s evening newscast as he has for half a century when something came on that shocked him.
In the midst of the local news, a taped commentary from President Trump’s former special assistant Boris Epshteyn appeared on the screen, trumpeting the administration’s position with what he thought selective use and abuse of facts.
McCutcheon, a small-business owner and political independent, describes the experience as “surreal,” “extremely jarring” and “so out of place with the friendly, local broadcast from news people I’ve come to trust over the years.” There was no rebuttal, no context, no alternate point of view – a situation he found concerning.
WGME-TV (Channel 13) and WPFO-TV (Channel 23) each carry the segments nine times a week on orders from their owner, the Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcasting Group, the nation’s largest owner of local television stations and an aggressive, unabashed disseminator of conservative commentary supporting the Trump wing of the Republican Party.
“It’s unheard of to have one company pushing one specific agenda reaching so many people and doing it in a way designed to evade local input,” says Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, a Washington-based group that opposes media consolidation. “The idea of having local stations offer an array of viewpoints is great, but what we get with Sinclair is one set of political leanings being broadcast everywhere.”
Epshteyn, a 34-year-old Russia-born investment banker, is a friend and former Georgetown University classmate of the president’s son Eric Trump who ascended rapidly within Trump’s campaign.
“Bottom Line With Boris” commentaries echo the White House’s own talking points. After former FBI director James Comey said in televised congressional testimony that the president had pressured him to let go of parts of his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, Epshteyn asserted to Sinclair viewers that Comey’s appearance had been more damaging to Hillary Clinton than the president.