Sinclair State-TV Chairman to Trump: ‘We Are Here to Deliver Your Message’

As the walls close in on Donald Trump and his crime syndicate associates, the conservative propaganda networks are furiously trying to twist the facts into an unrecognizable perversion of reality. Fox News is at the top of the list of Trump-fluffing sycophants with hosts and contributors who relentlessly defend the President and smear his critics.

Donald Trump

However, Fox News is not alone on that battlefront. Sinclair Broadcasting is moving at breakneck speed to offer an alternative to Fox that is even more extreme and irresponsibly dishonest. With their “must run” segments featuring former Trump shill Boris Epshteyn, and their mandatory corporate written screeds against “fake” news, Sinclair poses a serious risk to journalism and democracy.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Sinclair’s chairman, David Smith, made a deal with Trump to provide him positive coverage if he granted them greater access. They were blatantly selling their integrity to get closer to Trump. Now the Guardian is reporting that Smith was even more servile when he secretly met with Trump at the White House. The Guardian discloses that:

“The chairman of Sinclair Broadcast Group met Donald Trump at the White House during a visit to pitch a potentially lucrative new product to administration officials, the Guardian has learned.

“David D Smith, whose company has been criticised for making its anchors read a script echoing Trump’s attacks on the media, said he briefed officials last year on a system that would enable authorities to broadcast direct to any American’s phone.

“‘I just wanted them to be aware of the technology,” Smith said in an interview. He also recalled an earlier meeting with Trump during the 2016 election campaign, where he told the future president: ‘We are here to deliver your message.'”

Oh really? Promising to be there to deliver a president’s message is not the mission of a legitimate news enterprise. To the contrary, it’s the mission of journalistic lackeys with a political agenda who are brazenly and unabashedly biased. And everything that Sinclair does affirms that it is serving as a mouthpiece for Trump and the Republican Party.

The Guardian also asked Smith about the rightward leanings of his operation, which he forthrightly denied. He called assertions that the scripts he forced his anchors to read were biased in favor of Trump “the most absurd thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” That’s like Hannibal Lecter feigning offense that anyone might suggest he eats people. But his justification for that denial just made matters even worse. He said that:

“If people believe you more than they believe somebody else, they’re more likely to watch you,” he said. “And you know what that means? We might get a higher rating. And you know what that means? We will therefore make our spots worth more. And you know what that means? That means I will make more money, which means I can pay you more money.”

In summary, he’s saying that it’s his policy to convince viewers that all other sources of news are false. And the purpose of that slander is to discredit the press at large in order to get more viewers for Sinclair. That’s different than competing news organizations touting their skills and experience to appeal to their audience. It is a cult-like scheme to convince gullible people that only one truth exists and that Sinclair owns it. And it dovetails perfectly with Trump’s cultist tendencies that aim to achieve the same blind loyalty.

How Fox News Deceives and Controls Their Flock:
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.

Sinclair is currently trying to expand their reach by buying their largest competitor, Tribune Media. Trump’s Federal Communications Commission is likely to approve the acquisition, despite its breach of existing regulations. The American people need to join together to preserve the integrity of our free press. And one way to do that is to visit Stop Sinclair and lobby Congress to intervene to oppose this dangerous, anti-consumer merger.

The Tea Party Times? Rumors Swirling About The Koch Brothers Buying The Tribune Comapany

Newspaper wires are buzzing over a report by the L.A. Weekly that billionaire oil magnates and Tea Party financiers David and Charles Koch are interested in buying the Los Angeles Times or even its parent corporation, the Tribune Company. Tribune owns the Times as well as the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, and some 20 television stations.

On the surface this might appear to be an ominous development that would put a number of influential media assets in the hands of some notoriously self-serving political manipulators. The prospect of the plutocratic Koch clan assuming control of a network of media properties that they could convert into clarions for their Tea Party fronted campaign to expand their wealth and power is worthy of some concern. However, a deeper examination of this will take the sting off of it.

First of all, the Tribune newspapers are not exactly journalistic powerhouses that break major stories or shape public opinion. To the contrary, they are mere shells of their former glory having cut their editorial staffs to the bone which, not surprisingly, has resulted in a downward spiral in circulation. And if the Koch brothers were to assert their ultra-conservative political ideology on newspapers in liberal enclaves like L.A. and Chicago they are not likely to find many new subscribers.

This brings us to the question of whether an acquisition by the Kochs would represent any change in ideology at all. The Tribune Company was already a right-wing enterprise that published papers with editorial positions that conflicted bitterly with the majority of their constituents. The current CEO of Tribune is a former News Corp executive. Until 2008 the L.A. Times had never endorsed a Democrat for president. And, in a particularly telling and shameful action, the Times fired columnist Robert Scheer, a thirty year veteran with the paper and a Pulitzer Prize winner, and replaced him with Jonah Goldberg, a dimwitted conservative hack with no journalism credibility. So contrary to conventional wisdom, these media operations were not bastions of liberalism.

MurdochalypseThe Tribune rumors have added to speculation about the company’s future that has also included gossip about Rupert Murdoch as a potential buyer. News consumers in the cities affected must be excited about the prospect of having their hometown papers run by the man responsible for hacking into the phones of hundreds of people including a murdered schoolgirl. However, all of this chatter ignores some fairly steep obstacles for both parties. Despite their wide-ranging conglomerate, the Kochs have no experience with media companies. And as noted above, the specific entities available with Tribune would not be very helpful to their propaganda mission. Murdoch would likely be unable to close a deal due to his current ownership of TV stations and newspapers in the same markets. A Tribune acquisition would violate FCC rules (for which he has already received waivers) and would initiate a long and difficult approval process.

Given the impediments to the deals by these famous suitors, one wonders where the rumors might have come from. The most obvious source would be from within Tribune itself. They may be trying to create the illusion that there is acquisition interest in the company and its assets in order to stir up potential buyers and artificially inflate its value as it emerges from bankruptcy. That’s a more likely scenario than one wherein either Murdoch or the Kochs actually bid on the company.

If either of these rumored suitors actually did acquire all or part of Tribune, it would be a sad day for journalism, but only on a symbolic level. Seeing any media property with the history of these enterprises become so embarrassingly intertwined with Tea Party nutjobs would be unfortunate and disheartening. But on practical terms it really wouldn’t result in any observable change considering how stridently conservative and deeply ineffectual these properties have become in recent years. What is truly sad is just the fact that the papers have already fallen to such appalling depths that these rumored acquisitions by disreputable characters bent on deception wouldn’t really make any difference at all.

Another Head Rolls At The Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Times is about to get its fourth editor in less than three years. News has leaked from the Times’ newsroom that editor James O’Shea has been sacked for the same reason three of his predecessors were ushered out. O’Shea, who was air-dropped in from the Chicago hive to replace Dean Baquet, was cut for his unwillingness to implement further cuts to the paper’s budget. Publisher David Hiller, another Chicago transplant has been having trouble finding pigeons to carry out his executions.

After three departures that hinged on an editor’s perception that the paper’s viability would suffer under the the publisher’s proposed budget, you might think that someone in the executive suite would set down his martini long enough to become curious as to why all of these editors would prefer to be fired than to go along with draconian cuts.

While each of the former editors had persuasive arguments for retaining, or even expanding, the newsroom’s budget, O’Shea may have had an even better case. He was looking forward to a year that included a presidential campaign as well as the Olympics. That seems like an inopportune time to be pinching pennies. At the time that Baquet was jettisoned, I criticized the move and mocked O’Shea as another corporate ringer brought in to wield the ax. Imagine my surprise to read O’Shea’s farewell message that included this choice morsel:

“Journalists and not accountants should seize responsibility for the financial health of our newspapers so journalists can make decisions about the size of our staffs and how much news remains in our papers and web sites […] When this industry stops relying so much on cuts and starts investing in Journalism, it will prosper because it will be serving the best interests of our readers.”

These actions on the part of the Times’ parent company, Tribune, are neo-Nixonian in that they emulate the famous Saturday Night Massacre. That was the affair where Nixon had to keep firing Justice Department chiefs until he found one that would carry out his order to whack independent counsel Archibald Cox (Robert Bork turned out to be the willing trigger man). Tribune has had to keep fishing for an editor to do their dirty work. O’Shea was their golden boy who was editing the Chicago Tribune before taking the assignment in L. A. But editors here are apparently as expendable as starlets. Now another has fallen, but not nearly as far as the quality and credibility of the Times.

L. A. Times Promotes Tim Rutten

The Los Angeles Times is moving Tim Rutten from the Calendar section to the Op-Ed pages beginning in the new year. This is a promotion that is long overdue for one of the paper’s best columnists. While I’ve had a disagreement of two with Rutten, he is the most consistently honest and insightful writer the paper employs – particularly since they traded the brilliant Robert Scheer for the brain-dead Jonah Goldberg.

Rutten is unafraid of taking on the powerful, even if that means his own bosses. His last “Regarding Media” column for Calendar is a good example of this. While he has a much more optimistic view of the Times’ future under new owner Sam Zell than I do, he is also unambiguous in his contempt for corporate media:

“The era of corporate accumulation has been an unmitigated disaster for American journalism. Money has flowed like a fiscal Mississippi into the pockets of investors and fund managers, draining one newspaper and TV station after another of the resources necessary to serve their communities’ common good.”

There are a couple of unanswered questions surrounding Rutten’s promotion. Is some other progressive opinion columnist being let go to make room for Rutten’s op-eds? Will a less courageous writer, or a worse, a Big Media apologist, replace Rutten as author of “Regarding Media”? Time will tell. But all in all, I will be looking forward to Rutten’s work in the section of the paper where it really belongs. Two years ago I wrote an article praising Rutten’s criticism of a speech by Dick Cheney. I closed by noting the difference between Rutten’s substantive analysis and the relative intellectual vacancy of the Times’ Opinion writers:

“Perhaps I should turn first to the Calendar for insight into the news, then pick up the opinion pages for entertainment, where their newest columnist, Jonah Goldberg, is best known for his fiction.”

Beginning next year, it may be safe to read the Opinion section again.

FCC Bends Over Backwards For Big Media

The Federal Communications Commission has granted the Tribune Company the waiver it sought to continue operating the newspapers and television stations it owns in the same market. The waiver is required due to a regulation that forbids such cross-ownership. But the decision that produced the waiver was Machiavellian in the extreme.

Rather than grant the waiver outright, FCC chair Kevin Martin and his Republican colleagues actually denied Tribune’s request for an indefinite waiver, while granting a permanent waiver for Tribune’s properties in Chicago. This scheme allows Tribune to move forward with its acquisition by Chicago real estate mogul Sam Zell without jeopardizing its present newspaper and TV operations. It also allows Tribune to challenge the indefinite waiver denial in court, which itself triggers a two year waiver for all of Tribune’s properties in five markets nationwide. Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps dissented from this opinion saying:

“If this order were a newspaper, the banner headline would read ‘FCC majority uses legal subterfuge to push for total elimination of cross-ownership ban.’ I have to admit, part of me admires the clever legal maneuvering […] Tribune gets at least a two-year waiver, plus the ability to go to court immediately and see if they can get the entire rule thrown out.”

Tribune filed court papers objecting to the FCC decision within days of its issuance, almost as if they were prepared in advance of the decision. What a surprise. And all of this is occurring as Martin is being scrutinized by Congress for alleged abuse of power. Energy and Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell expressed concern that the FCC had not made drafts of proposed rules available to the public before they were voted on, and that Martin routinely withheld details of proposals from other commissioners until it was too late for them to be fully analyzed. In addition, Martin has favored data from outside firms that support his biases even when that data was contradicted by the agency’s own statistics.

Martin is as corrupt in his role as his predecessor, Michael Powell. In case after case he has advocated for the interests of Big Media over the public interest. And he now shows that he is unconcerned with maintaining even the perception of propriety.

Shareholders Are Killing Newspapers

This week’s episode of PBS’ “News War,” includes remarks by the vice-chairman of Ariel Capital Management, the fifth largest investor in the Tribune Company, which owns 23 television stations and 11 newspapers. Charles Bobrinskoy’s comments present a picture-perfect illustration of everything that’s wrong with the newspaper business. Here are some examples of why stock pickers (never a particularly reliable bunch) should not be allowed to shape the future of media:

“People want to read about what’s going on in their own communities, and the Web usually can’t provide that. The Web can tell you what’s going on in Iraq; the Web can tell you what’s going on in Washington, D.C. It can’t tell you what’s going on in Des Moines if you live in Des Moines.”
Somebody ought to tell Bobrinskoy about Iowa Blogs. In fact, Bobrinskoy could use a remedial course in Internet 101. While the newspaper’s intended audience is much more narrowly focused than the worldwide scope of the net, that audience is no less interested in the world outside the city limits than it is in the affairs of city hall. Just because the web has a global reach doesn’t mean it cannot serve a community. Conversely, just because a newspaper has a local audience doesn’t mean it should ignore the rest of the globe. But that is exactly what Bobrinskoy proposes:

“Readers care about the local entertainment industry, which they don’t do a very good job of covering in the L.A. Times. They care about things like fashion, which The New York Times does a very good job of covering; the L.A. Times doesn’t. They should care about issues like immigration.”
Thanks for telling us what we should care about. Bobrinskoy goes on to make some remarkably contradictory comments about what makes a paper successful. He rebukes the L. A. Times for not being to local enough, then complains that, “The paper, in hindsight, probably could have used a little bit more management out of Chicago.” Continuing to bash the Times for its global perspective, Bobrinskoy advocates reductions in news staff and the elimination of foreign bureaus:

“It’s trying to report on why Bush went to war in Iraq instead of what’s going on in Southern California” [… and …] “the L.A. Times could focus on providing news, better news, investigative news on what’s happening in L.A. City Hall and be more focused and provide a better, higher-quality news product. And allow CNN and Fox to cover Istanbul. And then we’d all be better off. The shareholders would make a better return, and my news coverage would be better.”
I’m sure the shareholders would be quite happy if we were to divvy up news coverage so that the Times would get L. A., give Western Europe to CNN, the Middle East to Fox, Asia to Reuters, etc. Every news organization would have a geographic monopoly and consumers would get a single, unchallenged view of world affairs. This plan would, to the delight of shareholders, eliminate competition in both the financial markets as well as the marketplace of ideas. But this plan completely ignores the fact that most original reporting (estimated to be as much as 80%) is currently is done by newspapers, not CNN or, God forbid, Fox. Surprisingly, Bobrinskoy feels the need to go further and insult every reader of the L. A. Times and, in fact, every consumer of local newspapers:

“Do we really need the L.A. Times devoting the resources it has to [international events]” [… and …] “We’re saying there’s a role for probably three national newspapers — The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and USA Today. Each has its own niche; all three are national newspapers. We don’t think there’s any demand for a fourth. The L.A. Times is trying to be that fourth.”
I’m going to let Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times answer that:

“…the idea that the L.A. Times is going to say to readers, ‘Buy the L.A. Times, we will tell you what’s going on with the traffic and the schools and the cops and the local stuff, and if you want to know what’s going on in Iraq, go buy The New York Times,’ that doesn’t sound like a terribly sound business approach either. And if I were a Los Angelino, I would be a little insulted by that. Why are the two mutually exclusive?”

They are not mutually exclusive, and I am insulted. We can only hope that the views of investment bankers like Bobrinskoy are rejected for the low-brow, short-term stupidity they represent. His logic is flawed and dangerous and only accelerates the rapid concentration of media voices into small groups of powerful, multinational corporations whose loyalties are bound to owners and shareholders, rather than to consumers and citizens.

Let My Newspapers Go

“American newspapers are passing through an era… in which a corporate ownership model seems increasingly unworkable.”
Tim Rutten

The Tribune Company is emblematic of the pitfalls of corporate ownership of media. It’s portfolio includes 11 daily newspapers, 25 television stations, and cable superstation WGN, as well as WGN-AM radio, the Chicago Cubs, and news, information and entertainment websites.

One of its newspapers, the Los Angeles Times, is at the cornerstone of a conflict that encompasses disgruntled shareholders, rebellious executives and underserved customers. Through all of this turmoil, some insight and inspiration has come from Tim Rutten, the paper’s Associate Editor of Features. Rutten has taken a hard line position on the question of corporate ownership. How often do you see a reporter give his employer an ultimatum like this:

“American newspapers are passing through an era not only of technological change but also one in which a corporate ownership model seems increasingly unworkable. If the Tribune Co. does not feel able or willing to resist its investors’ unreasonable demands on behalf of the public’s interest, then it should put The Times into the hands of somebody who will.”

And a couple of weeks later:

“No one can argue that Tribune or anyone who owns The Times is obliged to lose money. On the other hand, no one should argue that a newspaper’s proprietor has no obligation except to make as much money as it can. Somewhere between those two extremes is a fulcrum called responsibility on which a balance must be struck. Doing so requires the recognition that, although stockholders certainly are stakeholders in this process, so – and just as surely – are a paper’s readers.

What this moment in the life of the Los Angeles Times requires is recognition that the paper’s social, intellectual and political value to readers needs to be unlocked and not just its monetary value to investors.”

While these comments were directed specifically to the affairs at The Times, they could apply generally to almost any media conglomerate. The notion that a newspaper’s responsibility to its readers is at least equivalent to its fiduciary obligation to shareholders is one that should gain more acceptance in the journalism world. The more local the control, the more likely that outcome can be achieved. The Times deserves some credit for publishing Rutten’s provocative views. And Rutten deserves even more for having and expressing them.