Tag Archives: Sinclair Broadcasting

Spin Cycle

Tom Wheeler was Chair of the Federal Communications Commission from 2013 to 2017. In the wake of Sinclair Broadcasting’s application to acquire Tribune Media, he wrote a very troubling article for the Guardian. 

It is a major decision, since the resulting broadcast behemoth would hold as many as 233 local television stations reaching into more than 70 percent of American homes. Allegations about the Trump administration’s closeness to Sinclair – including Jared Kushner’s campaign deal with them – have been made. All I know is what I read, but the lead up to the actual decision has been significant and seems to presage approval.

Wheeler has previously warned that Trump’s FCC has been strategically knocking down all the regulatory barriers that have kept Sinclair Broadcasting from becoming a national Goliath.

First, the FCC changed the rules so that some stations are counted at only half their reach – using funny math to comply with Congress’ mandate that no single broadcaster should control access to more than 39 percent of American households. Then, the FCC proposed eliminating the requirement that each licensee maintain a local studio, doing away with the concept that broadcasters perform an important public service by delivering local news and information over the people’s airwaves. Finally, the commission eliminated the prohibition on a favorite trick of slick lawyers: that total management control and appropriation of profits of a television station doesn’t constitute effective ownership, and thus avoids Congress’ cap.

The rules that the current FCC Chair has changed or evaded were intended to protect a broadcasting marketplace of ideas–to prevent any one voice from effectively drowning out other voices, other perspectives, in a community.

Proponents of these sorts of rule changes and mega-mergers argue that the internet, social media and things like satellite radio provide adequate diversity of opinion. Perhaps, when those constantly morphing mediums have “settled in” and become routine touchstones in the cultural landscape (if that ever happens), that argument might carry some weight. At this point in our constantly-morphing media landscape, however, allowing Sinclair–or any one outlet–to dominate the airwaves would be like giving Fox or MSNBC control of all but a few cable news channels.

The current chair of the FCC has already signaled his agenda by trying to reverse the rules protecting Net Neutrality. 

This rule-changing at the FCC illustrates one of the most dangerous aspects of the Trump Administration. We all worry about having a mentally-ill President’s finger on the nuclear button, but very few of us know about–or pay attention to–obscure and technocratic rule changes, the sorts of sabotage that Scott Pruitt is engaging in at the EPA. While decent citizens react negatively to Trump’s embrace of the KKK, et al, most of us don’t even see what is happening in more boring regulatory precincts.

For that matter, most of us were unaware of Sinclair’s determinedly rightwing political agenda until John Oliver’s recent, scathing take-down.

As the French philosopher Jacques Ellul once warned,  the emergence of mass media made possible the use of propaganda techniques on a societal scale. Monopolies in the markets for goods are bad enough; allowing any perspective to monopolize the marketplace of ideas is infinitely worse.

Speaking of Fake News….

Well, I see where Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law is hosting a “news” show on Facebook, to give supporters the “real” scoop on the administration’s greatness….Since Trump’s vast accomplishments appear to have escaped the notice of credible journalism outlets, the family evidently felt the need to give the base a more flattering version of events in Washington. And also, according to yesterday’s Washington Post,

This week, meanwhile, saw the debut of Trump TV: a Web-based broadcast of “real news” by Kayleigh McEnany, a pro-Trump pundit formerly of CNN. In the first installment, she announces, in front of a Trump-Pence campaign backdrop in Trump Tower: “President Trump has created more than 1 million jobs. . . . President Trump has clearly steered the economy back in the right direction. . . . President Trump is finally putting the American worker first. . . . President Trump is dedicated to honoring these men and women who fought valiantly for our country.”

Former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul tweeted: “Wow. Feels eerily like so many state-owned channels I’ve watched in other countries.”

Shades of Mike Pence…

Much more concerning, Jared Kushner recently revealed that before the election, the Trump campaign had made a deal with Sinclair Broadcasting (Fox News’ less-recognized Evil Twin):

Kushner said the agreement with Sinclair, which owns television stations across the country in many swing states and often packages news for their affiliates to run, gave them more access to Trump and the campaign, according to six people who heard his remarks.

In exchange, 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 listeners — than networks like CNN, which reach somewhere around 30,000.

“It’s math,” Kushner said according to multiple attendees.

Sinclair, a Maryland-based company, is a politically conservative network of local news outlets; it was the subject of a scathing take-down by John Oliver, on a recent episode of Last Week Tonight.

Local stations in the past have been directed to air “must run” stories produced by Sinclair’s Washington bureau that were generally critical of Obama administration and offered perspectives primarily from conservative think tanks, The Washington Post reported in 2014.

I’m sure it is merely coincidental (cough, cough), but following the election, Politico reported 

Sinclair Broadcast Group is expanding its conservative-leaning television empire into nearly three-quarters of American households — but its aggressive takeover of the airwaves wouldn’t have been possible without help from President Donald Trump’s chief at the Federal Communications Commission.

Sinclair, already the nation’s largest TV broadcaster, plans to buy 42 stations from Tribune Media in cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, on top of the more than 170 stations it already owns. It got a critical assist this spring from Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who revived a decades-old regulatory loophole that will keep Sinclair from vastly exceeding federal limits on media ownership.

The change will allow Sinclair — a company known for injecting “must run” conservative segments into its local programming — to reach 72 percent of U.S. households after buying Tribune’s stations. That’s nearly double the congressionally imposed nationwide audience cap of 39 percent.

That’s a nice quid pro quo: Sinclair delivers favorable publicity for the Trump campaign, and is rewarded by an FCC rule change benefitting its bottom line–a change that will allow the company to reach nearly three-quarters of American homes with “news” favorable to Trump.

When does actual news, which is protected by the First Amendment even when it is wrong or misleading, become propaganda or fraud? And what do we do about it?

When two deeply deranged heads of state are playing “mine’s bigger than yours” with nuclear weapons, there is some urgency in figuring this out.