Donald Trump’s favorite local-TV chain is about to get a lot bigger thanks to … wait for it … Donald Trump!
Trump’s FCC is paving the way for Sinclair Broadcast Group — already the nation’s largest TV conglomerate — to take over Tribune, which owns 42 stations in many of the country’s big cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas and Denver.
This deal would have been DOA in any other administration. It would create an unthinkable level of media consolidation by a company that’s used the public airwaves to push a conservative political agenda.
But Trump’s FCC is actually rewriting the rules to make it happen — and to give one of the administration’s loudest media boosters an even bigger megaphone.
In other words, Sinclair is trading favorable coverage for policy favors.
No ordinary media conglomerate
Sinclair is notorious for slipping right-wing views and Republican talking points into its newscasts. It overrides the objections of local journalists and forces its stations to run conservative commentaries and slanted stories on the local news.
This is the same company that aired the distorted Swift Boat movie that helped sink John Kerry during the 2004 presidential election.
Sinclair also refused to fire commentator Armstrong Williams after the FCC fined the company in 2007 for airing government propaganda and failing to disclose his conflicts of interest. Instead, Sinclair put Williams in charge of one of its front companies.
And, of course, Sinclair went all out for Trump in 2016. Jared Kushner, the president’s adviser and son-in-law, bragged about the special deal he struck with Sinclair to get Trump uninterrupted favorable coverage. And the company has been hiring Trump-campaign spokespeople as analysts ever since.
Now Sinclair’s getting its payback.
If this deal goes through, the company’s cookie-cutter, Trump-boosting content could reach more than 70 percent of the U.S. population.
But to pull off its takeover of Tribune, Sinclair needs the FCC to change the rules.
Paving the way for a dangerous deal
As one of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's first acts, he changed how the agency calculates station reach so Sinclair could skirt ownership limits.
While Sinclair is pretending to be smaller in FCC land, it’s boasting to investors in the real world about just how bigly its reach will be.
The FCC’s ownership limits were designed to ensure a diversity of local voices and opinions — but women and people of color own very few TV stations. Instead of creating policies that promote equity and opportunity, the Trump FCC would rather super-size Sinclair.
For years, Sinclair has been using every trick in the book to evade and undermine the rules.
Now the game has changed: Instead of appointing a referee to call corporate fouls, Trump gave the whistle to Chairman Pai, a full-throated cheerleader for runaway consolidation.
Free Press has long been an outspoken critic of Sinclair. Our policy team is already hard at work building the case against the deal and exploring legal options to challenge it. But to win this fight, we need to show Washington just how outraged people are by this kind of back-room dealing.
Watch Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron discuss this dangerous deal on Democracy Now: