President Donald Trump offered support for Sinclair Broadcast Group on Monday after the nation’s largest owner of local TV stations drew criticism and derision over the weekend for a promotional campaign that echoed Trump’s frequent complaints about “fake news” in the mainstream media.
“So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased,” Trump tweeted Monday morning. “Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.”
Sinclair, based outside Baltimore, began airing the promotional campaign last week during newscasts on its stations across the country. The one-minute spots feature the stations’ local anchors reading from a script produced by Sinclair executives.
“We’re concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country,” reads the script. “The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media. More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories ... stories that just aren’t true, without checking the facts first.
“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.”
Sinclair has a long history of supporting conservative political candidates, and courting criticism by using the newscasts of its many stations to boost them. As it has expanded—it now owns 173 stations nationwide—it has introduced conservative commentators to its local newscasts, including regular segments featuring its political director Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump campaign official.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, its stations in key swing states landed numerous exclusive interviews with Trump and his surrogates, and the company produced a number of news reports that were favorable to Trump or were critical of his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
The new “fake news” spots attracted little controversy when they began airing on Sinclair stations last week. They gained widespread attention over the weekend on social media after the websites ThinkProgress and Deadspin edited together dozens of Sinclair anchors reading the identical words on the air.
Among others, John Oliver skewered Sinclair’s campaign during his HBO program, “Last Week Tonight,” on Sunday.
“Yeah, nothing says we value independent media like dozens of reporters forced to repeat the same message over and over again like members of a brain-washed cult,” quipped Oliver.Another late-night comic, Jimmy Kimmel, tweeted a link to the Concourse video and commented, “This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”
The controversy comes at a critical time for Sinclair. The company is awaiting federal approval for its proposed $3.9 billion buyout of Tribune Media, a deal that would add Tribune’s 42 TV stations to Sinclair’s portfolio. The deal requires the blessing of the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice, both of which are dominated by Trump loyalists. Opponents of the deal say it would give Sinclair too much power over local broadcast markets.
Sinclair did not return requests for comment.
Sinclair aired an almost identical campaign against “fake news” last year. Those promotions featured Scott Livingston, Sinclair’s vice president of news, who criticized “the troubling trend or irresponsible and one-sided news stories plaguing our country.”
He added, “More alarming, national media outlets are publishing these fake news stories without fact checking. Unfortunately, some members of the national media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think. This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”
Although some Sinclair journalists privately grumbled about a corporate edict requiring them to air the Livingston spots on their stations, the campaign attracted little attention at the time. The new version, however, uses local anchors who are familiar to viewers and may have greater cachet and credibility.