The most influential TV company you've never heard of.
That's what I call Sinclair Broadcast Group, the right-wing, pro-Trump broadcast conglomerate on a mission to gobble up the local news business. Unlike Fox News, Sinclair isn't building a 24-hour network to pump out conservative noise and Republican talking points. (Though it is reportedly courting disgraced ex-Fox host Bill O'Reilly for a new job.) Sinclair's model, as I report for Mother Jones, is more subversive, more insidious.
And it could be headed for your local TV station—if it isn't already—in the near future. The Federal Communications Commission could soon approve a $3.9 billion merger between Sinclair and Tribune Media, giving Sinclair control over 42 new TV stations, including stations in the three largest media markets in America: New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. At that point Sinclair will truly be a broadcast empire, beaming Trump TV into tens of millions of homes.
Ready for Trump TV? Inside Sinclair Broadcasting’s Plot to Take Over Your Local News
Its mix of terrorism alerts, right-wing commentary, and “classic propaganda” could soon reach three-quarters of US households.
Mother Jones | November/December 2017
One evening in July, David Smith, the executive chairman of Sinclair Broadcast Group, strolled into the newsroom at WJLA, the ABC affiliate for Washington, DC, and the crown jewel of his company’s 193-station empire. Smith lacks the name recognition of Rupert Murdoch or the late Roger Ailes. But his company—with holdings concentrated in midsize markets like Tulsa, Flint, and Boise—owns more television stations than any other broadcaster in the country, reaching 2 out of every 5 American homes.
Station staffers thought it odd to see Smith, one of four brothers who control Sinclair, aimlessly show up at this evening hour. According to a source familiar with the newsroom, he assured them that he wouldn’t be staying long; he was just killing time until a dinner appointment. Before he left, he confided that he was headed to the White House, to dine with President Donald Trump himself.
At 67, Smith has thick jowls and a head full of silver hair with wide-set eyes shaped like crescents. A longtime Republican donor who travels in rarefied circles (he once hosted a party for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas), Smith lives outside Baltimore in Maryland’s horse country, where his company is headquartered. Over the past 30 years, Smith and his brothers have transformed a small family company with three TV stations into a media goliath with entrée to the Oval Office. Along the way he has shown no qualms about using his stations for political purposes and has salivated at the prospect of acquiring more under Trump’s friendly regulatory regime. In April, Sinclair hired Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump White House staffer and frequent television surrogate, as its chief political analyst. Epshteyn’s softball interviews with administration officials and brusque commentaries are slavishly pro-Trump; a Baltimore Sun columnist wrote that the segments are “as close to classic propaganda as anything I have seen in broadcast television in the last 30 years.”