With his tweet voicing support for Sinclair, says former Democratic FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, President Trump attempt to influence the FCC’s handling of the Sinclair-Tribune merger moves from “a thumb on the scale to a chain-mailed fist.”
Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, in a posting on the Brookings site, expressed concern today that current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai might waiver in his decision to hold a hearing to determine Sinclair’s continued fitness to hold broadcast licenses in light of Trump’s show of support for the station group in a Tuesday evening tweet.
“Trump had previously put his thumb on the FCC’s scale in April, tweeting that ‘Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more fake NBC.’ The commission, however, stood by its independence and did its duty. The latest tweet, however, moves from a thumb on the scale to a chain-mailed fist.”
In the tweet, Trump called the FCC failure to approve Sinclair’s merger with Tribune “sad,” “unfair,” and “disgraceful!”
Sinclair landed in hot water last week when a unanimous FCC led by Pai designated the Sinclair-Tribune transfer application for hearing before an administrative law judge.
The hearing order essentially indicts Sinclair for lying to the FCC when it said it would spin off three stations to comply with the ownership rules when, in fact, it intended to retain control of the stations.
“The unanimously approved [hearing order] raises questions about Sinclair’s veracity at least half a dozen times,” Wheeler points out.
“That frequency of allegations indicates a serious breach of the agency’s trust and a violation of the rules that require truthfulness in communications with the Commission.
“Assertions of ‘misrepresentation’ and ‘lack of candor’ not only raise issues related to the specific transaction in question, but also to whether Sinclair Broadcasting has earned the public trust represented by a broadcast license.”
“The Trump FCC must decide whether the company that blatantly misrepresented its actions in a public proceeding deserves a public interest license to use the public’s airwaves. Sinclair’s alleged dishonesty raises the critical issue of whether such a deceptive company is qualified to hold any licenses in public trust.”
Wheeler also suggested that the hearing order could be a “smokescreen designed to focus attention on three specific license transfers while the remaining 39 stations sail through to make the largest broadcaster even bigger.
“The recent Trump tweet would seem to support such approval.”