Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Right-Wing TV News Kingdom Rising

Sinclair Broadcasting could become biggest player in state’s top media markets.

By - Aug 15th, 2017 11:57 am
Terrorism Alert Desk. Photo by twitter user Renee Hobbs.

Terrorism Alert Desk. Photo by twitter user Renee Hobbs.

Back in May, when the shocking video of Republican House candidate Greg Gianforte attacking Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs was going viral, Montana voters who got their news from the NBC affiliate KECI didn’t see any of the footage.

The Missoula-based TV station “essentially framed the incident as a ‘he said/he said’ dispute between Gianforte and Jacobs,” as the Huffington Post reported. The newscasts that night and the following morning “also failed to acknowledge that Jacobs’ version of events had been quickly backed up by a Fox News reporter’s eyewitness account,” the story noted.

The station had recently been bought by the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting Group, but Tamy Wagner, KECI vice president and general manager, told HuffPost that the station “did not have specific instructions or any instruction from Sinclair.”

But Sinclair has a long history of giving instructions and skewing news at stations it has purchased, as a detailed summary by Media Matters has documented. Sinclair now owns or operates 173 television stations across the country, almost three times the number it had in 2010. And if a proposed merger with Tribune Media is approved, Sinclair would add 42 stations in spots across the United States, including WITI-TV Channel 6 in Milwaukee, as a recent New York Times story notes. It would then have six stations broadcasting news in the key state media markets of Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay.

The Times story documents how the new head of the Federal Communications Commission, FCC chairman Ajit V. Pai, has all but taken orders from Sinclair chairman David D. Smith. The day before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Pai (then just an FCC commission member) met with Smith at the Sinclair headquarters in Washington D.C. “Smith wanted Mr. Pai to ease up on efforts under President Barack Obama to crack down on media consolidation, which were threatening Sinclair’s ambitions to grow even bigger,” the story reports.

Sure enough, once he became chairman Pai began “a deregulatory blitz, enacting or proposing a wish list of fundamental policy changes advocated by Mr. Smith and his company. Hundreds of pages of emails and other documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal a rush of regulatory actions has been carefully aligned with Sinclair’s business objectives.”

A Sinclair operative provided Pai with detailed policy changes and arguments in favor of them and Pai “inserted the information, almost word for word, in his formal legal argument when voting against the F.C.C. measure (limiting media consolidation)… He then echoed arguments made by broadcasters like Sinclair that opposed the move in a series of speeches, remarks before Congress and in social media, where he is a prolific user of Twitter.”

As The Hill has reported, House Democrats are now demanding answers from the FCC about its “favorable treatment” of Sinclair.

The Democrats letter to the FCC notes: “The United States has maintained for decades a policy that restricts the number of viewers a single broadcast entity can reach nationwide so that the American public has access to a diversity of local voices over the air… Since taking office, however, you have implemented a series of actions that ease these restrictions and allow Sinclair to expand its reach quickly.”

Smith has long been aggressive about expanding Sinclair. “We’re forever expanding — like the universe,” he told The Baltimore Sun back in 1995.

The Tribune merger would “transform Sinclair into a media juggernaut, with reach into seven out of 10 homes through more than 200 stations in cities as diverse as Eureka, Calif., and Huntsville, Ala,” the Times reported.

The proposed merger with Tribune has generated widespread opposition, the story notes, “from consumer groups, former regulators, satellite and cable firms and even conservative media.” [Fox is very worried about Sinclair, news reports suggest.] “More generally, the relaxed ownership limits on UHF stations also unsettled some TV and media companies.”

Jim Goodmon, president of Capitol Broadcasting Company, a small TV and radio company in Raleigh, N.C. called the new FCC approach “a scam,” telling the Times “It becomes a game of scale and the big guys will have everything.”

Sinclair sends “must-run” pieces centrally produced by the company that local news stations it owns are required to broadcast “and they arrive every day,” the Times reports. “Since November 2015, Sinclair has ordered its stations to run a daily segment from a ‘Terrorism Alert Desk’ with updates on terrorism-related news around the world. During the election campaign last year, it sent out a package that suggested in part that voters should not support Hillary Clinton because the Democratic Party was historically pro-slavery. More recently, Sinclair asked 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,’” echoing Trump’s claims.

Another report broadcast on Sinclair stations suggested there was an FBI and Clinton conspiracy to illegally violate the Constitution, as reports, and another segment had local stations’ news anchors asking: “Did the FBI have a personal vendetta in pursuing the Russia investigation of President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn?”

In Wisconsin the growth of Sinclair is “causing some journalists to fear a statewide, coordinated corporate news strategy that would tilt right,” the Times reports.

“We’ve moved from a high-quality independent news ownership structure to one where a few companies have outsized influence,” said Lewis A. Friedland, a professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who previously worked as a news manager at WITI.

Jill Geisler, a former newscaster and vice president for news at WITI, who now holds a chair in Leadership and Media Integrity at Loyola University in Chicago, put the issue plainly to the Times: “Will Sinclair be a responsible broadcaster of the news or a creator of the largest programmer of propaganda?”

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Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

16 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Right-Wing TV News Kingdom Rising”

  1. Vincent Hanna says:

    You didn’t even mention the must-runs of Trump lover Boris Epshteyn.

    Epshteyn’s segments are “must runs,” so all the Sinclair stations across the country will air them along with their other “must-run” segments including conservative commentary from Mark Hyman and the Terrorism Alert Desk segments. Epshteyn reliably parrots the White House’s point of view on most issues. For example, he claimed last month that former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony on Capitol Hill was more damaging to Hillary Clinton and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch than to the president.

    “Contrary to widespread expectations, we actually learned much more about the president’s opponents and his critics from Comey’s testimony that about any issue involving the president himself,” Epshteyn said.

  2. Keep an eye on WITI, which under Jill Geisler developed a solid news shop. How many “must carries” will they take and how much will they tilt to heed their masters? Murphy’s story makes clear you don’t need to be told how your boss will react to start shading your coverage.

  3. Vincent Hanna says:

    I think a station in Seattle has been airing the must-runs at like 3am in an effort to minimize the propaganda on the station.

  4. Paul Trotter says:

    It would be similar to what we here on WISN – the same talking points and lies on Weber, O’Donnell, McKenna and Belling.

  5. Jason Troll says:

    What about the left wing media right here in Wisconsin defenders of all that has a left perspective. …Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley late Saturday accused fellow Justice David Prosser of putting her in a chokehold during a dispute in her office earlier this month.

    “The facts are that I was demanding that he get out of my office and he put his hands around my neck in anger in a chokehold,” Bradley told the Journal Sentinel.

  6. Paul Trotter says:

    Troll – that’s a bit outdated there. Yes Bradley told the MJS but oddly didn’t get a chance to go on Weber, O’Donnell , McKenna or Belling’s show to further propagate the truth. Lately though Troll, Rebecca Bradley was able to get on most of these shows and express fake outrage and “it’s so unfair” whining about the how the terrible media exposed her bigotry.

  7. Jason Troll says:

    Paul, the point is like what happened in Virginia this weekend the left acts like their Snow White. Most of the rioters that engaged the Nazi’s in Virginia were not hippies, priests and nuns. They were paid professional protesters with make shift blow torches, clubs and knives. The idea that the Left wing media has some moral ground is laughable. If Governor Jim Doyle proposed Foxconn maybe only Bruce Murphy would challenge it. All you lefties would get in line and march the marching orders.

  8. Paul Trotter says:

    Troll -put it this way. All four shows on WISN were all in against Trump in the primary. Day after day they attacked trump. Ted Cruz won. Then when Trump won the nomination they all switched gears except for SYKES. Trump won WI. 50,000 watts 13 hours a day has significantly more influence than the MJS or Urban Milwaukee. SYKES was the only one who did not sell his soul.

    Do you really think the Nazi sympathizers were paid? May I suggest you dig a little deeper on that.

  9. Jason Troll says:

    Paul, Your giving a lot of credit to one radio station in the state. Could it just have been the simple arrogance of Hillary Clinton to pay so little attention to Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. If you look at southeastern Wisconsin Trump did bad here in 2016 versus Romney or McCain. Trump one the rural folk by huge numbers. This is out of WISN’s reach. So it must be Foxnews that brainwashed them, right?

  10. Vincent Hanna says:

    The protesters were not paid and the Nazis had better arms than the state police. Troll has no sources to back his claims and probably knows he’s making shit up. But a Troll doesn’t care.

  11. Jason Troll says:

    It is sad that you have to go europe to get fair coverage, the UK Mail online has numerous pictures, of what Vincent Hanna calls local protesters.

  12. Paul Trotter says:

    Troll : this might feed your conspiracy theories. Enjoy the fertilizer.

    “George Soros did it. Or maybe it was the Deep State. That was the reaction of the far right to Saturday’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, which left three dead. Even as images played on television of James Alex Fields, Jr., plowing his car into a crowd protesting the Unite the Right rally, a counter-narrative was coalescing on the Internet that offered a competing reality, one that had little grounding in confirmable fact.”

    What The Right-Wing Media Got Wrong About Charlottesville

  13. Vincent Hanna says:

    The Nazis were not local. Hardly any of them are from that area. They came from far and wide and for at least days before the protest advocated for violence on social media. They got what they wanted.

  14. Thomas says:

    We cannot allow Nazis to do damage in the 21st century commensurate to the damage they did in the 20th century. Those who make false equivalence between neo-Nazis and those who protested their hateful intentions are in collusion with Nazis. Even the watered-down Milwaukee Journal Sentinel denounced the neo-Nazi presence in Charlottesville. The Gannet MJS peddles Saturday editions apparently devoid of all opinion. Please, God, don’t let Sinclair buy our local paper from Gannet.

  15. mike drew says:

    Thanks for keeping on top of this extremely important story. Sinclair’s impact on coverage in the three major markets, and offering friendly commercial ratesto the right wing, could guarantee GOP domination in Wisconsin politics for decades.
    mike drew

  16. mbradleyc says:

    Free your minds. Don’t watch TV. Get your news online at your convenience from all sources. Drop cable. It’s liberating.

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