There was a lot of consternation this week after Deadspin presented a montage of anchors and news reporters on TV stations owned by Sinclair Broadcasting all reciting the same scripted message. The stations themselves did not write the script; rather, anchors were reading words they had been ordered to speak by corporate headquarters in Baltimore, which was mandated for presentation across the country.
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What makes this important is that Sinclar is on its way to being the largest owner of TV stations in the U.S. – and in the history of American broadcasting – with hopes to annex Tribune Broadcasting and their outlets in the largest U.S. media markets like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
Once it does they will all become an extension of its ultra-right wing rhetoric that features slanted news favoring President Trump and other Republicans and commentaries that are blatantly one-sided.
Still, some don’t see a problem in this gross monopoly.
Kirk Clyatt, a TV weatherman who used to work for Sinclair, provided a poignant answer to that question in an appearance on MSNBC’s The Beat with Ari Melber:
“Everybody knows it’s propaganda; the most important thing you can do is repeat the same message over and over again. What Sinclair is doing is saying ‘oh no, we would never bring you fake news, that’s just not going to happen. It is all these other people we’re concerned about and worried about.”
For many years, Sinclair’s operations skirted the spotlight because it owned a only few stations in small, rural markets; but that has changed quickly. The media conglomerate has since aggressively acquired additional stations in larger markets and exploded into a vast network of right-leaning media outlets across the country.
Clyatt said this is not the first time Sinclair, which promoted Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, has used its stations for this kind of aggressive messaging.
“Right after 9/11… the anchors and a number of the reporters, they were compelled to… [read] a statement about how they supported President Bush’s ‘War on Terrorism.’”
Clyatt was fired by a Sinclair station in 2014 after he asked for a schedule change to allow him to do radio work. However, his words don’t ring of a former employee with a grudge, rather as a journalist truly distressed by Sinclair’s proliferation of biased media coverage after years of grooming viewers to feel a false sense of security when consuming their programs.
Most disturbingly is their claim they are not the harbinger of fake news, imposing the notion that only they should be trusted. All the while, as Clyatt reminds us, “they’re promoting the very type of journalism they claim to be against.”
Trump and his associates, especially Ajit Pai at the FCC, have bent backward to enable Sinclair’s growth in exchange for promotion of Republican ideology. They even changed a long-standing rule granting opportunity for Sinclair to own more TV stations than previously allowed, putting their content in 79% of all TV-owning homes if they acquire Tribune Broadcasting. Prior to Trump’s reign, the maximum market share allowance was 39%.
This week Trump further praised Sinclair on Twitter, defending them after the criticism of their Orwellian broadcasts went viral:
So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased. Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 2, 2018
Chris Ruddy, a friend of Trump’s and the CEO of conservative network Newsmax, surprised everyone when he told Politico even he is concerned about the changes made by the FCC to allow the broadcaster to grow ever bigger.
“The FCC has essentially become a subsidiary of the Sinclair broadcasting company… I don’t think it’s good for the free press. It creates a very dangerous precedent. I believe the actions the FCC has taken literally stink.”
Trump is looking to extend positive press coverage of himself beyond the exclusivity of the Fox News network to a powerful broadcaster serving local markets, normalizing his policies and principles even for those with the most basic cable subscription.
That is, of course, great news for a ratings-obsessed reality TV star, but it is a disaster for the American people’s right to a free and fair press.
Trump’s aggressive rebranding of “fake news” is now more easily accessible than ever before, and Sinclair shows no signs of stopping their media takeover.