The big surprise in the wake of the tricky, underhanded deal allowing Trump-friendly Sinclair Broadcasting to swallow up Tribune Broadcasting – giving it local stations reaching an unprecedented 72 percent of U.S. TV homes – is the opposition by many of the hard core conservative media who until now supported the president.
Sinclair, already the largest owner of local TV stations in the U.S., proved its loyalty to Trump during the 2016 presidential election when it not only mandated every one of its more than 100 local stations run favorable news stories about his campaign – and negative stories about Secretary Hillary Clinton – but also agreed to air unedited interviews with Trump and his campaign surrogates that amounted to free commercials in several key swing states just before election day.
Now Trump is repaying the favor. His now Republican-dominated Federal Communications Commission is granting a highly unusual waiver to Sinclair that goes against an Obama-era dictum which would have made the Tribune deal impossible, allowing Sinclair to acquire even more TV stations, bringing its total coverage above the 39 percent allowed every other station operator – by nearly double to broadcast on over 233 stations.
Sinclair’s $3.9 billion deal to add the 43 Tribune Broadcasting stations is huge for them because for the first time it would mean the backwater Maryland-based broadcaster would have a presence in the largest American cities – the media capitals – including New York (WPIX), Los Angeles (KTLA), Chicago (WGN) and Washington, D.C. (WDCW).
Trump's FCC is helping the far-right Sinclair Broadcast Group expand to nearly 3/4 of US households https://t.co/aOo0VoPj0p pic.twitter.com/dTT61aWKZm
— Robert Maguire (@RobertMaguire_) August 7, 2017
Once they are part of Sinclair, those Tribune stations would be mandated to air certain segments created by the Sinclair Washington Bureau on their local news slanted toward a conservative point of view.
Each station’s news would also have to air controversial conservative commentaries by conservative pundits, including former Trump White House official Boris Epshteyn who is heard about nine times a week.
On CNN’s Reliable Sources, Baltimore Sun media writer David Zurawik said Epshteyn’s commentaries “come as close to classic propaganda as I think I’ve seen in close to 30 years covering local TV and national TV.”
“They are outrageous,” Zurawik added,
07/10/2017 – Sinclair increases 'must-run' Boris Epshteyn segments https://t.co/osxAPVx0rU
— Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) August 8, 2017
Now showing how splintered the conservatives who have been loyal to Trump have become, many oppose this acquisition.
A number of conservative media outlets filed documents opposing the deal just before an FCC deadline this week, including Newsmax, which is run by Chris Ruddy, who has had a long and very close association with the president.
This past June it was Ruddy who paid a personal visit to the White House and then shortly after during a CNN interview floated the idea Trump might fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and ties to Trump.
Afterward, CNN described Ruddy as an FOT – Friend Of Trump.
On Monday, Ruddy’s Newsmax didn’t sound nearly as friendly about Trump’s blessing of the Sinclair-Tribune deal. In its FCC filing, Newsmax declared: “A free and diverse press, a bedrock principle of American democracy, will be crippled by this proposed merger.”
The acquisition is being made possible because the FCC is applying a method of counting audience market coverage that was created in the 1970s to measure the reach of UHF stations (above channel 14) before cable and satellite TV made them equal to everyone else on the dial in terms of coverage.
Under President Obama, the use of this outdated rule was banned. Now under Trump, it is a tool to replay Sinclair for being on the president’s side.
“By making these changes for Sinclair and subverting the ownership cap,” Newsmax CEO Ruddy said in a statement, “the FCC is opening the barnyard door for NBC, CBS, and ABC to do the same thing.”
“If this deal is approved,” added Ruddy, “local news shows, which are quite diverse and much less biased than the major networks, will get marching orders from New York executives.”
Ruddy even brought up Trump in an interview with Multichannel News: “President Trump himself warned about the ‘concentration of media power.’ The Commission and public need sufficient opportunity to carefully review this precedent-setting deal.”
Newsmax was joined in its opposition by ultra-conservative Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, One America News Network and other conservative outlets.
Another close friend and confidant of Trump, Rupert Murdoch, who heads the powerful companies 21st Century Fox (owner of Fox News) and News Corp, (owner of The Wall St. Journal) is also opposed. Murdoch has had long-running marketplace battles with Sinclair about everything from re-transmission fees to carriage of cable networks.
The conservatives voiced opposition by waving the flag.
“Regardless of political affiliation,”: the Blaze wrote to the FCC, “we should agree that robust democracy demands a variety of viewpoints from a myriad of sources. Yet the wave of consolidation across the industry threatens this core value. And the Sinclair-Tribune merger would exacerbate this troubling tendency.”
One America News CEO Charles Herring blasted the deal: “Utilizing the ‘UHF discount,’ which is an antiquated, irrelevant regulation, is really politics at its worst.”
Of course, numerous liberal, progressive and Democratic organizations have also filed their opposition, as has Dish Network and a few others.
Sinclair was key to the Trump campaign. Kushner reportedly struck a deal for favorable coverage in exchange for interviews with surrogates.
— Robert Reich (@RBReich) August 7, 2017
John Oliver dedicated about 20 minutes of a recent episode of Last Week Tonight to blasting Sinclair and the deal. He called Sinclair “the most influential media company that you’ve never heard of,” and lambasted the commentaries by Epshteyn and Mark Hyman.
Sinclair supporters claim that in the era of the Internet, ownership caps are no longer meaningful. However, a recent Pew study found 71 percent of Americans still see the local TV station as a primary news source, points out Newsmax.
In a conference call with reporters put on by the American Cable Association (which represents smaller cable operators) and the public interest group Common Cause, former FCC commissioner Michael Copps also denounced the deal.
Copps referred to Sinclair as “the most dangerous company most Americans haven’t heard of,” citing the ideological slant of news shows that would be fair to all.
“So much for community news,” said Copps. “So much for real news. So much for journalism. So much for fair and open media. No company should have such power over the news and information that citizens must have.
The conservative outlets may also have another reason for opposing the merger: Sinclair’s expansion could hurt their own aspirations. The size of Sinclair will also allow it to command more advertising and get better deals both for carriage of its stations on cable and carriage of its own cable properties, such as WGN America and digital channel Antenna TV.
While Trump was elected on a conservative wave, his disastrous, scandal ridden presidency has conservatives and other Republicans pulling in different directions. This has created an opportunity for the conservative media outlets to expand and steal viewers away from formerly dominant Fox News, but the fear is Sinclar will suck up all the air in the room instead.
“Even though they may be ideologically aligned,” said Craig Aaron of the consumer advocacy group Free Press, which opposes the merger, in a statement, “Newsmax and others see Sinclair is going to be so big they’ll swallow Up ad dollars and starve the conservative competition.”
"Once you control a country's press, half the job of dictatorship is done." Write @FCC and don't allow Sinclair to buy any more stations!
— Bette Midler (@BetteMidler) August 8, 2017
Trump has shown he doesn’t care what others think once he makes up his mind to reward a crony capitalist ally, and Sinclair can expect approval for the merger from the FCC and a waiver on anti-trust scrutiny not because it is right, but because they have the juice.
Trump and his administration continue to do damage to the country and to the American people that will take years to undo if it can ever be corrected.
Short of a miracle, the Sinclair-Tribune deal to enrich one powerful company while perverting the whole meaning of local news is one of those poisonous pills Americans will be forced to swallow by Trump that will linger long after the worst president in modern history has been sent on his way to infamy.
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