Voters trust local news more than national outlets. A Morning Consult/POLITICO poll conducted last August found that 41 percent of registered voters have more trust in their local news to report the truth, while just 27 percent expressed more faith in national coverage. Republicans are far likelier to trust local news, as 45 percent favor it versus 36 percent of Democrats. Just over half of respondents found national news coverage to be somewhat or very liberal—so enter Sinclair Media.
A public company who reported $2.73 billion in revenue last fiscal year, Sinclair has made a massive move to overtake nearly all local news in America. They were already the largest television station operator in the United States by number of stations and largest total coverage, and they just purchased 42 stations from Tribune Media for $3.9 billion in order to expand their coverage to 72% of America. If this deal goes through, their reach will include the following cities: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Minneapolis, Des Moines, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Tallahassee, Little Rock, Cincinnati, Birmingham, Raleigh, Omaha, Las Vegas, Oklahoma City, Portland, Charleston, Nashville, San Antonio, Richmond, Seattle, and Milwaukee.
Sinclair forces the local news stations in these markets to put “must-run” segments on the air from personalities like former Trump staffer, Boris Epshteyn.
reported last July that Sinclair tripled the quota for that pro-Trump propaganda to run, pushing it into everyone's homes nine times per week. Another former Trump aide who appears frequently on Sinclair Media is “alt-right” hero Sebastian Gorka.
Jared Kushner told Manhattan business executives that the Trump campaign struck a deal in 2016 where they would provide Sinclair more access to the campaign, and in return, Sinclair would broadcast their Trump interviews without commentary. Now, CNN is reporting that Sinclair’s Trumpian message will extend to local anchors. Per Brian Stelter:
“At my station, everyone was uncomfortable doing it,” a local anchor said. The person insisted on anonymity because they believed they would be fired for speaking out.
Other local anchors also said the promos were a source of dismay in their newsrooms.
As scripted, the promos decry “fake stories” from national news outlets — echoing President Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric about “fake news.”
The promos are supposed to start airing on local stations later this month. The instructions sent to station news directors say that the 60- and 75-second spots should run frequently “to create maximum reach and frequency.”
Stelter’s report depicts local newsrooms under siege from a corporate agenda—as they are ordered to sacrifice news time, not commercial time—to run these mandated segments. Here is what anchors are reportedly ordered to say:
“I’m [we are] extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that [proper news brand name of local station] produces. But I’m [we are] concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country.”
“The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media. More alarming, national media outlets are publishing these same fake stories without checking facts first. Unfortunately, some members of the national media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’ ... This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”
“We understand Truth is neither politically ‘left or right.’ Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever.”
One anchor said they “felt like a POW recording a message.” After CNN published their report, Sinclair Media’s senior vice president of news, Scott Livingston, sent CNN another copy of the script, but with “national media outlets” replaced with “some media outlets.” The promos end with a request for viewers to send in feedback “if you believe our coverage is unfair,” but states that “corporate will monitor the comments and send replies to your audience on your behalf.” Meaning that local news stations will be told by their national corporate office what local feedback they get to hear.
Trump’s FCC Chairman is under investigation thanks to Sinclair’s purchase of Tribune Media. Ajit Pai worked to increase caps on broadcast TV ownership just before the multi-billion dollar buy was made. FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel told The Daily Beast that “All of our media policy decisions have one thing in common: They are all custom built for the business plans of Sinclair Broadcasting. That is stunning, it is striking, and it looks like something’s wrong … we’re burning down the values of media policy in this agency in order to service this company.”
This is an invasion. Fox News radicalized an entire generation of conservatives, and now Sinclair is trying to take a less overt, more sinister model to our local news outlets. American propaganda is incredibly effective, and the public is only just beginning to see its harrowing impact on our society—and it’s not just outlets like Sinclair Media.
GE, News-Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner and CBS own 90% of our media. “Media” ranges from outlets like The Wall Street Journal to Marvel Studios. TV, movies, news—pretty much everything in news and entertainment—is consolidated within six companies who all have separate, yet similar agendas centered around making as much money as humanly possible. Sinclair is extra disturbing because of the overt Trumpian agenda that it is injecting into one of our most trusted news sources, but they’re just following the business model of consolidation that defined the past half-century of major American media.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.