Today, consumer watchdog organization Allied Progress called President Trump out over his defense of Sinclair Broadcasting Group after the media giant was caught forcing local news stations to parrot Trump-esque anti-media talking points. The group called it “an ominous taste of things to come,” especially as Trump’s DOJ and hand-picked FCC chair are considering the company’s proposed merger with Tribune, which would result in the largest local TV news monopoly in history:
As reported by Deadspin, the local news behemoth is beginning to run required, “scripted” promos that “decry ‘fake stories’ from national news outlets,” and parrot President Trump’s rhetoric about “‘fake news,’” first hinted at by CNN’s Brian Stelter last month.
“It’s of little surprise that President Trump is defending a media company that has had his back since he was merely candidate Trump. Defending Sinclair as a symbol of respectable local journalism while the company forces stations to parrot talking points often found in his tweets, is the height of hypocrisy, but unfortunately an ominous taste of things to come,” said Karl Frisch, executive director of Allied Progress.
“The monopoly-making Sinclair/Tribune merger would allow one company to own local news stations reaching 73 percent of U.S. households. That’s an awfully big rubber-stamp for Trump’s agenda. This merger would concentrate far too much power with a single company that has already indicated it hopes to own every local station in America. This deal must be rejected by the DOJ and FCC to protect the diversity of voices that local journalism needs to survive and thrive.”
The fate of the Sinclair/Tribune merger is in the hands of the Trump’s DOJ Antitrust Division and the FCC which is chaired by Trump appointee Ajit Pai who also happens to be under investigation by the FCC’s Inspector General over his close ties to Sinclair and policy changes he pushed that helped the company.
Trump Has Sinclair’s Back Because They’ve Always Had His:
- Media advocates voiced “concerns about a possible quid pro quo understanding between Sinclair and the Trump administration,” noting the company “hired former Trump campaign strategist Boris Epshteyn” as its “chief political analyst.” The company “now requires each of its stations to air Epshteyn’s segments eight or nine times weekly, without any on-air notification of his partisan status as a Trump loyalist.” [Petition to Deny of Free Press, Federal Communications Commission, 08/07/17]
- Sinclair’s must-runs “can include content like…commentators speaking in support of President Trump.” “Sinclair regularly sends video segments to the stations it owns. These are referred to as ‘must-runs,’ and they can include content like terrorism news updates, commentators speaking in support of President Trump or speeches from company executives like the one from Mr. Livingston last year.” [Jacey Fortin and Jonah Engel Bromwich, “Sinclair Made Dozens of Local News Anchors Recite the Same Script,” New York Times, 04/02/18]
- Jared Kushner admitted to business executives that Trump’s presidential campaign “struck a deal” with Sinclair to “secure better media coverage.” The Trump campaign agreed to give Sinclair “more access to Trump” and, in exchange, “Sinclair would broadcast their Trump interviews across the country without commentary.” Sinclair’s VP called it an “‘extended'” deal to “‘hear more directly from candidate…instead of hearing all the spin and all the rhetoric.'” [Josh Dawsey & Hadas Gold, “Kushner: We struck deal with Sinclair for straighter coverage,” Politico, 12/16/16]
- During the 2016 campaign, Sinclair “gave a disproportionate amount of neutral or favorable coverage to Trump” and portrayed Hillary Clinton “in an unfavorable light.” Sinclair, whose “internal documents” showed a “strong tilt toward Trump,” scored 11 “‘exclusive’” interviews with Trump during the final three months of the campaign “in critical states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio,” 10 with Mike Pence, and 10 with other Trump surrogates. Two days prior to the Wisconsin primary, “Sinclair managers asked Sinclair-affiliated stations in Green Bay and Madison, Wis., to air extended portions” of a Trump interview. [Paul Farhi, “How a giant TV company helped Trump’s campaign,” The Washington Post, 12/22/16]
- Sinclair, in the months leading up to the 2016 general election, required its stations to run “news stories and features favorable to Trump or that challenged Clinton.” Local “stations were required by managers in Washington to make room in their evening newscasts or morning programs for” features such as, “‘Why did Hillary Clinton struggle with disclosing her medical diagnosis?’” and “‘Donald Trump Reflections of 9/11,’ which also included a package in which Ivanka Trump discussed what she would do in a Trump administration.” [Paul Farhi, “How a giant TV company helped Trump’s campaign,” The Washington Post, 12/22/16]
- Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley openly admitted the company’s “focus has shifted to gaining local broadcast stations because of Trump’s presidency,” as he “promised deregulation and tax reform during his campaign and [had] reaffirmed those goals since taking office.” Sinclair expects that “‘there will be a more vibrant business community in our local markets'” under Trump, as well as advantageous tax reform. [Holden Wilen, “How Sinclair’s new CEO plans to triple revenue over the next five years,” Baltimore Business Journal, 02/03/17]
- Trump’s presidential campaign benefitted from the financial support of Sinclair officials. Frederick Smith, Vice President and Director of Sinclair, donated $6,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC in 2016. Trump also took in more than $2,500 in campaign cash from Sinclair Broadcast Group employees. [Michael J. De La Merced And Nicholas Fandos, “Fox’s Unfamiliar but Powerful Television Rival: Sinclair,” New York Times, 05/03/17; “Frederick G. Smith,” Sinclair Broadcast Group, accessed 05/30/17; CQ Political Moneyline Search for Sinclair Broadcast Group donations to Donald Trump, accessed 03/08/17]
- Trump favored Sinclair after taking office. At one of his “first news conferences as president, [Donald] Trump granted the first of two questions to Scott Thuman, a reporter for Sinclair’s Washington ABC affiliate, WJLA, a rare distinction for a local broadcast affiliate.” [Michael J. de la Merced and Nicholas Fandos, “Fox’s Unfamiliar but Powerful Television Rival: Sinclair,” The New York Times, 05/03/17]
- Sinclair, in March 2017, asked its “stations to run a short segment in which Scott Livingston, the company’s vice president for news, accused the national news media of publishing ‘fake news stories.'” In the segment, Livingston described the trend of “irresponsible and one-sided news stories plaguing our country” and accused national media of posting “fake news” without “fact checking.” [Sydney Ember, “Tilting Right, TV News Titan Roils Its Staff,” The New York Times, 05/13/17; “Sinclair VP of News: Announcement from KSNV News 3, Las Vegas, March 23, 2017,” YouTube, 03/23/17]
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