As Donald Trump and his rightwing cohorts wage an unprecedented war on the national media, many Americans believe they can turn to their local media outlets for the truth.
Well, don’t be so sure.
Sinclair Broadcasting has quietly, or not so quietly, been buying local television outlets across the country for several years. Sinclair now owns enough television stations to cover 70 percent of America, according to MSNBC. In addition, Sinclair Broadcasting also owns a number of radio stations nationwide.
Even in a rural state like Iowa, Sinclair’s footprint has become evident. The mega media company now owns television stations that regularly cover Iowa’s largest metropolitan areas — Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Dubuque and Sioux City, for example.
Headquartered in Maryland, the company began its nationwide expansion under the direction of its founder Julian Sinclair Smith, whose family still maintains financial control. The company’s executive chairman is David D. Smith, while Frederick G. Smith and J. Duncan Smith serve as co-vice presidents. Nationwide, among its holdings, Sinclair Broadcasting owns 30 Fox affiliates, 21 MyNetworkTV affiliates, 18 CW outlets, 14 ABC stations, 20 CBS stations and seven NBC affiliates, among many others.
Sinclair is known for featuring news content and programming promoting conservative political principles and the Washington Post reported that a local station’s news content began to exhibit a “conservative slant” following Sinclair’s acquisition of the station.
Sinclair often mandates that its stations air specific reports, segments and editorials. These, according to Wikipedia, are called “must runs.” In the past, for example, Sinclair stations were ordered to read editorials supporting President George W. Bush’s response to the 9/11 attacks that brought down the Twin Towers in New York City and killed several at the Pentagon. In 2004, Sinclair-owned ABC affiliates were ordered not to use a segment that listed the names of U.S. Servicemen killed in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and that same year, even after ABC said the program was meant to be an “expression of respect” to honor those killed.
Also in 2004, two weeks before the presidential election, all 62 Sinclair stations were ordered to preempt prime time programming to air a piece called “Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal.” Folks may not remember the name of that piece, but they’ll certainly remember the gist of it — the piece was critical of Democratic candidate John Kerry, accusing Kerry of prolonging the Vietnam War because of his anti-war activism. The “documentary” was also backed by the organization “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth,” which gave $1.4 million in an advertising campaign. After the Democratic National Committee filed a suit with the Federal Election Commission to block the film on the grounds that it was “inappropriate” for Sinclair to air such “partisan propaganda” in the last 10 days of an election campaign, airing of the full piece was canceled.
While that so-called documentary never aired, certainly the anti-Kerry propaganda was evident as his service on the Swift Boats during the Vietnam War was disparaged throughout the latter days of the campaign. Sinclair went so far as to fire one of its chief correspondents who called the anti-Kerry film as “biased political propaganda.”
Sinclair is still meddling in our political process. President Trump’s besieged son-in-law Jared Kushner announced that Sinclair had been given “extended access” to the Trump campaign. Sinclair stations broadcast disparaging remarks and information about out-going President Barrack Obama, who was offering support to Hillary Clinton, also attacked by Sinclair affiliates.
And now, we’re all subjected to the on-air rantings of Boris Epshteyn, who inundates the airwaves, at least on Sinclair-owned stations, with pro-Trump, anti-media, anti-Russia investigation, propaganda.
Well, it’s not working, at least among many Americans. Here’s why:
Ephsteyn is a Russian-born propagandist. He even still has an obvious Russian accent when he speaks. Isn’t it ironic that Trump’s anti-Russia investigation campaign now has a spokesman with an obvious Russian accent?
And so, when you hear Boris Ephsteyn propagandize about the “fake news” and the “fake media” and the “fake Russia investigation,” remember where it’s coming from.
Taking over the media, directing the media, ordering the media on what news to report and how to report the news is Fascism at its worst. A true Democracy is protected by a free press. It can only be protected by a free and un-biased press — not the kind of press we find on Fox News and on stations owned by Sinclair Broadcasting.
Unfortunately, this is not something that will soon go away. Sinclair Broadcasting still owns television markets that cover 70 percent of America. That, more than likely, will increase, not decrease, in years ahead.
A fascist America? I hope not.
Bill Haglund is a retired writer for the Boone News-Republican and Dallas County News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.