My in-depth and comprehensive content analysis of the mega-group’s news-producing stations suggest that it just might be. I wonder if David Smith knows about this.
Since Sinclair announced in May that it was buying Tribune Media, barely a week has gone by without some news outlet running a story raising concerns that not only will the merged group be unduly large (more than 200 TV stations!), but that its newscasts will reflect the conservative political views of its guiding force, David Smith.
I, myself, wrote a column wondering why Smith would want to muck up local newscasts with national “must-run” stories aimed at “balancing” the mainstream media and commentaries from the right-wing Mark Hyman and Trump apologist Boris Epshsteyn.
But, being the good reporter that I am, I decided to take a closer look and, lo and behold, I found that most of Sinclair’s news-producing stations were as mainstream as the Mississippi River.
And if you believe that mainstream is synonymous with liberal (I don’t), then Sinclair will be, upon closing of the Tribune deal, the nation’s undisputed purveyor of liberal news and views in broadcast television.
In my diligent research, I found many damning news reports about President Trump, his populist agenda and his apparent collusion with the Russians during the campaign.
On top of that, I found crackling satire aimed at Trump and the GOP leadership just about every day in late night and heaps of scripted entertainment programming that make a mockery of traditional family values.
Many of these stations, I would note, are not in blue states where the out-of-touch elites dwell, but in solidly red states that generally back Republicans and supply Trump with his he-can-do-no-wrong supporters.
They are in towns like Huntsville, Ala.; Memphis, Tenn., Fort Smith, Ark.; and Columbia, Mo.
As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, I really didn’t do much research at all. I merely counted the number of ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates Sinclair will have post-merger. The number I came up with is 71 (26 ABC, 27 CBS and 16 NBC) based on a station list supplied by BIA/Kelsey. That’s 71 markets out of 108 that Sinclair will have post-merger, assuming it isn’t forced to spin off some by the FCC.
Here’s a footnote: With the Tribune buy, Sinclair is absorbing eight Big Three affiliates that once belonged to what Smith would say is the most liberal of all the America-hating liberal media — the New York Times Co.
The Times sold its mid-market group of eight Big Three affiliates along with an independent in 2007 to a private equity firm, which flipped it six years later to Tribune.
When Sinclair closes on Tribune, that Times DNA will become part of Sinclair. I wonder how the longtime employees of those stations feel about going to work for Sinclair.
So, think about it. Although critics of the Sinclair-Tribune merger sound alarms that Sinclair is aiming to create a conservative propaganda machine on the order of Fox News, it will be, in fact, the major conduit for the rather conventional broadcast news of Anthony Mason, David Muir and Lester Holt.
The Big Three news operations may eschew outright commentary, but they deliver heavy doses of critical news analysis from the likes of Jonathan Karl, George Stephanopoulos, Chuck Todd and John Dickerson.
Sinclair responded this week to the MVPDs and self-appointed public interest groups that have petitioned the FCC to block the Tribune merger.
In its defense, Sinclair says that its Washington news bureau “contributes not only to the quantity and quality of information available to local viewers around the country, but adds to the diversity of viewpoints on national issues by providing a new voice in addition to those of ABC, NBC and CBS, which currently dominate the national broadcast news offerings in most local markets.”
That first struck me as odd. It sounded as it was not fully aware that it was responsible for the dominance of the Big Three in national broadcast news in dozens of markets.
But I think I get it.
In 2004, Sinclair created a big stink when it ordered its ABC affiliates not to carry a segment of Nightline showing servicemen who had died in Iraq. Sinclair explained that it felt the segment was politically motivated and aimed at undermining the nation’s war effort in Iraq.
That didn’t go over well, serving only to confirm for many that Sinclair was a cranky right-wing outfit, ever more dangerous the bigger it got.
Plus, Sinclair can’t really make a habit of preempting its Big Three news offerings as a business matter. The networks simply will not stand for it, although affiliates’ right to preempt is insured by the FCC. Like everything else the networks offer, the news is for all intents and purposes “must run.”
I’m guessing Sinclair’s strategy is to counterprogram itself. If ABC, CBS and NBC are going to spin stories one way, its local newsrooms in Washington and Baltimore will spin them another while covering stories that the networks miss because of their liberal myopia.
It’s hard to fault such a strategy.
I believe that Sinclair’s national news is much more conservative than the networks’ are liberal. But, for the foreseeable future, the networks will be pumping out far more national news than Sinclair is. As Sinclair said in its filing, the Big Three “dominate the national broadcast news offerings in most local markets.” Right now, it all kind of evens out.
So, the next time you hear someone say that Sinclair will destroy America by broadcasting politically driven news, you should ask: What news — ABC, CBS or NBC?