Sinclair Broadcast Group is under fire once again, this time for a local-broadcast "must run" segment that tries to claim the government’s brutal immigration and child-separation policies are little more than a giant misunderstanding caused by the journalists covering the story. The segment is part of an ongoing effort by the company to sow distrust in media outlets and convince the public that any and all negative coverage of terrible government policies is politically-motivated and cannot be trusted. The segment features Boris Epshteyn, Sinclair’s “chief political analyst” and a former Trump adviser who routinely heaps praise upon the president’s every action. At no point are viewers of these segments informed that Epshteyn used to directly report to Trump himself. “Many members of the media and opponents of the president have seized on this issue to make it seem as if those who are tough on immigration are somehow monsters,” Epshteyn said, adding that Trump “has correctly decided to step in and sign an executive order that will stop the separation of children from their families at the border.” What Epshteyn doesn't mention is the fact that the hardline child separation policies are a incredibly unpopular creation of the Trump administration and aide Stephen Miller, or how that recently signed executive order in no way solves an ugly national crisis likewise of the president's making.
Epshteyn proceeds to insist that the Trump administration’s non-solution shows how “it is possible to balance humanity with security for our borders.” A curious position, given the administration institutionalized the act of ripping immigrant children from their parents en masse—with absolutely no plan for reuniting them.
The misleading report is one of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s controversial “must run” segments that have come under routine fire for being facts-optional propaganda. The company repeatedly mandates that its 193 local broadcast stations air the segments, though some Sinclair stations (like Seattle’s KOMO) have protested by airing them in the dead of night. The segments recently made headlines after a Deadspin video highlighted the often creepy, mindless, and homogenized nature of the reports, often designed to falsely provide the illusion of broad support for what, in reality, are incredibly unpopular policies. Sinclair is currently in the middle of seeking regulatory approval for its $4 billion merger with Tribune Media, a deal that would give the company ownership of roughly 230 local broadcast stations reaching 72 percent of US homes. It’s a deal that consumer advocates have routinely warned will make the current problem immeasurably worse. To help cement this deal and ensure a bigger bullhorn for Sinclair, the Federal Communications Commission under Ajit Pai has been systematically eliminating decades-old media consolidation rules designed to prevent larger companies from unfairly dominating local media markets. These rules have traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support as a necessary layer of protection for small businesses and media diversity. Pai’s eagerness to obliterate these protections to aide Sinclair has resulted in a corruption inquiry by the agency’s nonpartisan Inspector General. That inquiry will examine whether Pai worked directly and illegally with Sinclair to dismantle obstacles to the company’s merger ambitions. Meanwhile, Pai and his office continue unabated toward gutting any remaining media consolidation rules. Pai’s FCC is rushing forward with its plan to severely weaken the national broadcast ownership cap sometime in the next month or two. That cap, set by Congress, limits any one company from reaching any more than 39 percent of local broadcast markets.
Giant corporations have been pushing to weaken this cap for years, and Sinclair has repeatedly petitioned the FCC to have the cap lifted entirely. The goal: to elbow out contrasting viewpoints and smaller news organizations, resulting in a troubling homogenization of local news reporting that can often teeter somewhere between comedy and dystopia. Sinclair’s aggressively misleading “must run“ segments continue to highlight the real dangers in letting any one company dominate the local broadcast landscape, and the rampant corruption resulting in the slow, steady erosion of rules specifically designed to prevent that from happening.