President Donald Trump is defending Sinclair Broadcast Group as the company is facing backlash after videos aired of anchors at its TV stations across the country reading the same media-bashing promo.
In an early morning tweet, Trump said Sinclair is “far superior” to CNN and “fake NBC.”
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
It’s a show of support for the broadcaster, which is facing the latest criticism of its local news practices. In a widely circulating video made by Deadspin, Sinclair news anchors from stations throughout the U.S. call out other media outlets for publishing “false news” and “fake stories.”
“Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’…This is extremely dangerous to a democracy,” the anchors read in the video.
Last month, CNN said that Sinclair stations were being given the script for segments called "anchor delivered journalistic responsibility messages." Some unnamed Sinclair staffers told CNN that they were uncomfortable filming the segments.
This isn’t the first time Sinclair has run up against criticism for its coverage that appears to favor Trump. Last year, Sinclair Broadcast Group hired Boris Epshteyn, who previously served as special assistant and campaign adviser for President Donald Trump, as a political analyst. The hire was skewered in a 2017 segment on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”
In 2016, Politico reported that Trump had struck a deal with Sinclair for straighter coverage in return for more access during the 2016 Presidential election.
Scott Livingston, vice president of news for Sinclair (who has since been promoted to senior vice president of news), defended the move and said the Clinton campaign received the same offer.
“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. “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.”
Sinclair has seemingly managed to continue pushing forward with its proposed $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media, which would greatly expand Sinclair’s national audience reach, amid the all the criticism. But the latest critiques of Sinclair’s approach to local news could put pressure renewed pressure on the FCC as it reviews the merger.
The FCC, under Trump appointee Chairman Ajit Pai, has been accused of making rule changes, like reinstating the UHF discount and altering media ownership rules, that seemingly favor Sinclair and its Tribune acquisition ambitions.
Earlier this year, Free Press, Common Cause, Communications Workers of America and the United Church of Christ sued the FCC over rule changes they said disproportionately favor broadcasters, in particular Sinclair.
“The Pai FCC is a gift to the broadcast industry, as the commission bends over backwards to give favors to massive media conglomerates like Sinclair. What’s more, the FCC is attempting to ram through this deregulation without doing its homework. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has directed the agency—three times—to examine how its media ownership rule changes impact broadcast ownership diversity. Shamefully, and in direct violation of the court’s orders, no proper evaluation has occurred,” said Free Press Deputy Director and Senior Counsel Jessica J. González in a statement.
Currently, an internal investigation is underway at the FCC to determine whether Chairman Ajit Pai improperly favored Sinclair Broadcasting with recent rule changes that allow broadcasters to own more TV stations.
With the latest controversy over Sinclair’s segments that seem to echo Trump’s fake news accusations against media outlets like CNN and NBC News and Trump’s tweet defending Sinclair, the FCC could be under increased pressure more heavily scrutinize or block the Tribune deal.