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Warm Relations With Trump Appear To Benefit Sinclair Broadcasting


So how does the business of Sinclair Broadcast Group mix with its politics? The owner of 193 local TV stations is in the news for what it made newscasters say. The company had local anchors read a script blasting media bias. We reported some weeks ago that this was coming, and the story gained fresh attention in recent days when Deadspin collected video of anchor after anchor after anchor reading from the same script.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTERS: 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 our democracy.

INSKEEP: The Deadspin video played anchor after anchor after anchor saying this is extremely dangerous to our democracy, eventually raising the question of what actually was so dangerous to our democracy here. Sinclair's commentary, seen as echoing President Trump's talking points, comes just as it seeks help from the government. So let's talk this through with NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Hi there, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. First, the commentary - what's distinct, if anything, about this commentary?

FOLKENFLIK: I guess there are two things. The first off are the claims, just as you suggest, of bias, talk of fake stories, of personal agendas driving news coverage, of not just viral questions on social media but that a lot of the news media itself generates these things and circulates them. And that is all very much echoing of the tweets and the public statements of President Trump. The second is it's in the voices of those local news anchors. That is, Sinclair is not just making a corporate statement, as it says it is, but it's putting them in the words of anchors who, in many cases, have for many years built up a certain trust with their viewers in those local markets. It's trading on that trust to present a corporate and, in some ways I think, a clear ideological not just dog whistle but call in a way that I think damages those journalists. You've seen at least in one case the station owned by Sinclair in Madison, Wis., announced that it refused to run those spots at any point in its newscast any point of its day, saying it just wanted to focus on local news.

INSKEEP: One station at least said no, but many, many said yes or many anchors said yes. Doesn't Sinclair have pretty distinct politics?

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah. Although publicly traded, it's controlled by the four Smith Brothers based in Baltimore County. They've favored Republican candidates. I think over the years, however, they've become increasingly clear about their direction. They hired Trump aide Boris Epshteyn as their chief political analyst. That's not unheard of to hire people from political life, but Epshteyn has not proven in any way to be able to disaggregate himself from promoting White House talking points or to offer sort of clear-cut analysis and insight for the viewers of the Sinclair stations. So, you know, this is a company that has a clear, conservative point of view in its commentators and also in many ways I think in a lot of its story selection as well on the national level.

INSKEEP: OK. And so this is a company that President Trump has tweeted support for that has been supportive of President Trump. What's the business angle here, though? What is it that Sinclair wants from the government?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it wants something very tangible. You know, Trump's pick as the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission swept aside a bunch of regulations and restrictions that would have prevented Sinclair from growing. Sinclair already, as you mentioned, owns and controls 190 stations across the country. It wants to buy more than 30 more from Tribune Media. That's being reviewed by antitrust lawyers at the Department of Justice. And Trump's tweet just yesterday essentially praising them over CNN and NBC as much fairer and much better, you know, has cast a certain light on the decision that his lawyers at the Justice Department are now poised to make.

INSKEEP: Yeah. We don't know that that is the reason why Sinclair would have been so supportive of President Trump by any means, but we do know that they're supporting President Trump, and the president is being supportive of them. David, thanks very much.


INSKEEP: That's NPR's David Folkenflik. Now, Sinclair has put out a statement denying there is a political agenda to these promos read by the anchors at station after station. Sinclair quotes an executive as saying "it's ironic that we would be attacked for messages promoting our journalistic initiative for fair and objective reporting." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.