On March 31, media outlet Deadspin tweeted a video mash-up of local news stations across the nation reciting the same story about fake news, handed down by the owner of the stations—Sinclair Broadcast Group. The video went viral by the following Monday and has since sparked widespread criticism and boycotts. Sinclair was previously covered on “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” in 2017 after buying Tribune media and 42 stations.
Sinclair is the largest owner of local news stations in the nation, owning 173 different news stations and several radio stations.
Local news is trusted much more than national news. According to Pew Research Center, 82 percent of people generally trust their local news. Now, Sinclair is the main owner of local news stations in 37 percent of American homes.
The danger of Sinclair, despite buying off smaller media companies and stations, is its “must-run” segments and extremely far-right ideology. The scripted story from the video was a must-run from the group and was perpetuating the “Trumpian” idea of fake news in the media. In addition to the must-runs, the group also has political segments which feature a terrorism alert desk, covering any stories featuring Muslims, and commentary shows featuring a Fox News-like host, Mark Hyman espousing a shocking ideology, and former Trump campaign advisor, Boris Epshteyn.
The script handed to the local stations stated:
“Hi, I’m(A) ____________, and I’m (B) _________________. Our greatest responsibility is to serve our _________________ communities. We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that _________________ News produces. But we’re concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country. 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 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 a democracy.”
The irony of the story is that a biased, politically-motivated media organization trying to discredit any other media organization, especially if the facts do not perpetuate their own ideology. They are right, though.
However, organizations such as Sinclair, Fox News, and Breitbart are the ones spreading fake news, alternative facts and anything Trump spews out on Twitter.
“The Terrorism Alert Desk” is a must-run segment, featured nightly whether there is news to report or not. When there is nothing to report, the segment may feature stories such as a French mandate on burkinis or other stories which happen to feature Muslims. Not only is this incredibly offensive and promoting stereotypes, it is dangerous for Muslims in America. The segment has also falsely reported claims such as teens being cut in half with a chainsaw by ISIS, which could not be found on any other reliable news source.
Sinclair does something unlike any other media organization: produce their own shows to run nationally on local news stations. Mark Hyman hosts one of these segments, “Behind the Headlines.” He was previously a Sinclair executive. The “Behind the Headlines” website features hundreds of segments of Hyman commenting on controversial issues in an offensive manner.
In one segment, Hyman said a crime motivated by race or a hate crime does not make a difference and should not be a factor in prosecution. Another story attacks college students, calling them “snowflakes” and telling them to grow up. Hyman has also commented on the media, claiming it is colluding against the president by reporting facts and how requiring a state-run Russian news outlet in the White House to register as a foreign agent is detrimental to media freedom. Additionally, he discredits Politifact, famous for the “truth-o-meter,” which analyzes the truth in what politicians say, regardless of political affiliation.
Commenting on the Me Too movement, Hyman said that not all women should be given the benefit of the doubt and some of the accused should not lose their jobs. Many of his stories have a pattern of sexism and attacking women in the workplace. He also regularly advocates for less multiculturalism through fear mongering—for instance, discussing female genital mutilation saying, “We do not want this multiculturalism.”
You can, and should, be against that. Stereotyping unto specific populations is just plain racist.
Hyman previously stated that “Islam has a terrorism problem” and that “Sharia Law is coming,” while ignoring the fact that far-right, white men are responsible for most mass-murders in the U.S. Finally, Hyman said that those of LGBT community were not born that way and it is not biologically based, while implying Caitlyn Jenner (who he disparagingly called Bruce) is not to be taken seriously.
The other golden boy of Sinclair to be featured nationally is former Trump campaign advisor Boris Epshteyn. In 2017, it was nearly impossible to turn on any news organization without seeing him spew his Trump-loving rhetoric, and Sinclair ensured those in its markets could not ignore him. Epshteyn is the Chief Political Analyst of Sinclair and hosts “Bottomline with Borris.” Epshteyn would regularly appear on CNN and be fact checked by hosts because of his inability to tell an inkling of truth.
One claim Epshteyn made was that McCain would have won in 2008 had illegal immigrants not voted in North Carolina. This was wrong on many levels, as this did not occur. Obama won by much more in the Electoral College and popular vote than North Carolina offered. Additionally, Epshteyn was born in Russia prior to the fall of the Soviet Union.
This could be a coincidence, and probably is, but Russia and Trump have an undisputable connection.
After his rounds on CNN, Epshteyn criticized CNN, which did its due diligence by retracting a story that contained inaccuracies, which he said proved it was fake news.
Epshteyn appeared on “Real Time with Bill Maher” and said that Sinclair was right down the middle. This, of course, is incorrect. He also claimed that, despite 17 intelligence agencies confirming otherwise, that Russia meddled in the election.
Finally, in one of the more humorous moments, Epshteyen said, “Trump never said anything bad about Mexico.” In fact, Trump said, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” He also has said that Mexico will pay for the wall (which they will not), that they are “bad hombres,” and that Mexico, Latin American and African nations are “shitholes.”
The content of Sinclair’s programs is not the only area promoting propaganda. Sinclair ads also have a tilt. They have refused ads from Democrats, but featured an ad claiming President Obama took money from the terrorist group Hamas. Another ad claimed that Hillary Clinton’s Democratic Party “gave us slavery.”
There is some good news, though. Some respectable journalists are fighting back. The must-runs on some stations are being pushed until 4 a.m. or earlier when most people are asleep. Other journalists can be seen inputting caveats, rolling eyes or using sarcastic tones. One Wisconsin station also refused to air the segment. Former employees have also given an insight to tactics Sinclair gave employees to deny partisanship, such as how they dress.
The scripted montage published by Deadspin is not the first, and sadly, will not be the last scripted must-run by Sinclair. Make no mistake, Sinclair, Fox News and Breitbart are far-right propaganda machines. Some have compared them to state-run media in a dictatorship. Indeed, they ensure Trump is not seen in a negative light. Furthermore, Sinclair is “extremely dangerous to our democracy.”