Grotesque: Pro-Trump Sinclair Broadcasting TV Stations Praise Trump as "Savior" of Separated Children

Sinclair Broadcasting headquarters in Maryland. ( James G. Howes )

Sinclair Broadcasting headquarters in Maryland. (James G. Howes)

Sinclair Broadcasting may exist in the shadow of its right-wing cousin, Fox News, but it’s impact in molding local television markets is widespread and harmful to democracy. Currently, four out of every ten homes in the US receive their local television news from Sinclair. Sinclair is a conveyor of alternate facts that it requires local affiliates to disseminate. Its danger to the nation cannot be diminished.


Originally posted in June, 2018


It takes chutzpah for a broadcasting company to have its TV stations assert that Donald Trump was the savior of children separated from their parents along the Mexican border. However, it is not unexpected coming from Sinclair Broadcasting Group, an unabashedly pro-Trump media corporation that is the largest owner of local television news stations in the nation. Sinclair-controlled stations have the most impact among all television media outlets on people who rely on their local TV outlets for filtering the news.

A June 26 email from the Courage Campaign, an advocacy group in California, warns:

Sinclair Broadcasting has reached a despicable new low. The right-wing TV company forced its nearly 200 stations around the country to lie about Trump's policy of ripping kids from their parents at the border, blaming the family separation on others while saying Trump ‘stepped in’ to stop it.

The must-run segment then calls concern over the horrifying practice ‘politically driven by the liberals in politics and the media.’

The "must-run" segment refers to commentaries that every Sinclair station must broadcast. ThinkProgress referred to one of these features in a June 21 article:

The president ‘correctly decided to step in’ Wednesday ‘to stop the separation of children from their families at the border,’ former Trump staffer turned Sinclair propagandist Boris Epshteyn says in the segment....

Note the passive voice Epshteyn uses while describing what Trump started doing in May: ‘the separation of children.’ The president’s former assistant then uses active voice to describe what Trump was forced by immense political pressure to do Wednesday, ‘correctly decided to step in.’

Epshteyn carefully adheres to that delusional re-ordering of events throughout the segment, elsewhere terming Trump as ‘working to show that it is possible to balance humanity with security’ and ‘addressing’ (active) ‘the separation; (passive) of migrant teens, toddlers, and infants from their confused, asylum-seeking parents.

Currently, four out of every ten homes in the US receive their local television news from Sinclair. To the viewers of those stations, Trump is being positioned as a savior of children, not as a cruel, heartless persecutor. Given that television news is a primary influencer of the perceptions of viewers, Sinclair stations serve as a propaganda vehicle for Trump. They reinforce false Trump tropes such as the claim that the Democrats are responsible for the child separations and that the refugees are actors. In short, Sinclair serves as an extension of Sarah Huckabee Sanders' narratives as press secretary at the White House.

In April, BuzzFlash posted a commentary on the danger of the Sinclair alliance with Trump, noting:

This is a gift to a media-savvy president, who runs the White House like a FOX-style cable news outlet combined with a reality TV show. One doesn't need to ponder too deeply to be aware of this. After all, this is the guy who is acting out on his staff the line most associated with his reality TV success: "You're fired!" Trump may be a bombastic, vulgar, superficial and destructive president, but he has an intuitive sense of how to attract the media and divert attention from specific actions of his administration through a combination of tweets, statements and playing footsie with friendly cable news networks. Meanwhile, he denigrates those stations -- such as CNN -- that he views as hostile to him.

Because of its concentration on local news, Sinclair has long been in the shadows of Fox News. However, in its influence on key media markets, it is a behemoth. Now, it is bidding to acquire Tribune Media, which includes 42 local television news outlets. It would give Sinclair Broadcasting Group a strong presence in seven out of ten local US markets, according to ThinkProgress. Although Fox News may have the most influence on Trump and vice versa, Sinclair influences voters in their home areas, mixing local news with propaganda about the White House positions.

Television is the key vehicle for conveying news to the low information voter, one who doesn't read many print publications. In 2016, The Washington Post ran an article entitled, "'Low information voters' are a crucial part of Trump’s support." Little has changed since then. Television now for seven decades has been a part of the family, a member of the household. Stations such as Sinclair gain the credibility of being part of one's nightly ritual in one's home. For those persons who don't receive much news other than television, Sinclair's bias can be highly influential.

Opposition to the Sinclair Broadcasting Group-Tribune Media merger has been growing for some time, but the majority of the Federal Communications Commission appears sympathetic to it. This includes the pro-corporate, anti-net neutrality chair of the FCC, Ajit Pai, who is rumored to have met with Sinclair to develop a strategy for the acquisition of the Tribune stations.

This week, Rolling Stone reported on the stakes in play:

Fox News might be President Trump’s most prominent propaganda arm in the media, but a deal proposed by the Sinclair Broadcast Group could change that. The FCC is currently mulling a $3.9 billion merger of Sinclair and Tribune Media, a move that would give the former company over 200 local TV stations and, in effect, a nation-wide monopoly over local news broadcasts....

If Sinclair were to merge with Tribune, its coverage would reach an estimated 72 percent of American households, many of them concentrated in battleground states....

The "idealogical punditry" pushed by Sinclair is far more insidious than that of Fox News. Local news is supposed to be free of bias and aimed at serving the interests of the community, not the White House. Americans trust this is still the case, but Pai's FCC is rolling back measures meant to protect the integrity of these stations.

While news ostensibly concentrates on ferreting out the truth, the trend that the likely Sinclair-Tribune merger symbolizes is news as a megaphone for a political narrative. In Sinclair, Trump has a megaphone for his propaganda that broadcasts directly into the homes of many of his voters.


Mark KarlinComment