Sinclair says Clinton, Trump were both offered equal air time

Sinclair Executive Chairman David Smith (center) speaks during the NAB Show New York in November.

Sinclair Broadcast Group is responding to a report that it traded President-elect Donald Trump straighter news coverage in exchange for access, saying it offered the same deal to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Politico reported late last week that Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner told business executives that the Trump campaign struck a deal with Sinclair, providing one-on-one interviews with Trump in exchange for Sinclair running the interviews on its stations without commentary.

Scott Livingston, vice president of News for Sinclair, said the Clinton campaign received the same offer.

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“We offered the Clinton campaign the same interview opportunities offered to the Trump campaign, on a regular basis throughout the election,” said Livingston in a statement to FierceBroadcasting. “We reached out to the Clinton team numerous times, but they chose not to participate. We wanted to offer our local viewers direct access to both candidates to talk about issues that matter to them. We were disappointed that the Clinton campaign declined our invitations.”

In emails to John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman, and Lily Adams, Clinton’s Iowa communications chief, Livingston offered to shoot multiple one-on-one interviews with various Sinclair anchors and requested an opportunity to embed a reporter within the campaign.

“Appearing in local broadcast newscasts in states allows candidates to speak directly to both core constituents and independent-minded undecided voters. High-profile interviews with local news anchors are watched by large numbers of voters and are shared heavily on social media in local markets,” wrote Livingston in an email to Podesta. “Our mission is to connect candidates to their audience to better inform and empower voters. All politicians will be given the same opportunity to reach their audience through our news operations.”

The emails were sent in August and September.

In all, Senator Tim Kaine, Clinton’s vice president nominee, appeared four times and Clinton appeared on one Sinclair station. Trump appeared 10 times.

According to Livingston, Sinclair’s stations reach about 40 percent of the country and the group’s digital channels pull in 250 million pageviews.

A spokesperson for the Trump campaign told Politico that no money was exchanged in its deals with broadcasters and that it sought a similar agreement with other broadcasters including Hearst.

Barbara Maushard, senior vice president for news at Hearst Television, told Politico that the idea of Hearst cutting deals with political candidates is “categorically false and absurd.”