Sinclair Sells Ad Time to Critics,Then Bites Back At Their Criticism
Local TV Behemoth Ratchets Up Its Defense of Controversial News Coverage
Local TV behemoth Sinclair Broadcasting took a lot of heat last week after Deadspin.com produced a video demonstrating how Sinclair forced news anchors across the country to recite – word for word – an attack on “fake news” and the coverage of major national networks.
Sinclair pushed back, insisting that it wanted only to remind viewers of its commitment to balanced local news coverage. And this week, as media watchdog groups including Common Cause continue to press federal regulators to block Sinclair’s plan to acquire rival Tribune Media, the company is ratcheting up its defense.
Over the weekend, Sinclair stations in four major media markets, including Washington, D.C., ran video “bookends” on an ad critical of Sinclair that had been purchased by Allied Progress, a self-described a “progressive consumer watchdog group.” The Sinclair clips warned viewers that the Allied ad was “misleading,” hailed Sinclair’s local news coverage, and railed against the “hysteria and hype,” Sinclair claims have been used to attack it.
You can watch the Allied ad, with the Sinclair bookends, here:
Sinclair, based in Baltimore, is notorious in the broadcast industry for producing “must run” commentaries and distributing them to its local affiliates across the country. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Jared Kushner, then-candidate Donald Trump’s son-in-law, boasted that Sinclair had agreed to provide Trump with favorable news coverage on its stations across the country.
More recently, as Sinclair moves to complete its $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune, President Trump has been a vocal defender of the company. Sinclair’s commentaries on news coverage by “mainstream” national networks have closely tracked Trump’s.
The Tribune deal could give Sinclair a presence in nearly three-fourths of American households. The company already is the nation’s largest owner of local TV stations, with 173 stations in 80 markets.
Common Cause and other critics of the merger plan argue that it will reduce the availability of independent news coverage in Sinclair’s markets. Michael Copps, a former FCC commissioner now serving as a special adviser to Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative, notes that past mega-mergers in the industry have been followed by cost-cutting and layoffs in local newsrooms.