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Owned And/Or Operated By Sinclair Broadcasting

Spreading like wildfire right now is this remarkable video:

People have likened this to brainwashing and what totalitarianism looks like, and while I don’t know about that, it sure is creepy. The stations in particular are a part of the Sinclair Broadcasting family. Sinclair has something of a reputation for being rightwing:

You might remember Sinclair from its having been featured on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight last year, or from its requiring in 2004 of affiliates to air anti-John Kerry propaganda, or perhaps because it’s your own local affiliate running inflammatory “Terrorism Alerts” or required editorials from former Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn, he of the famed Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that failed to mention Jewish people. (Sinclair also owns Ring of Honor wrestling, Tennis magazine, and the Tennis Channel.)

The context makes it seem worse. Because otherwise, it’s… not actually that bad. It’s more a reading of a mission statement or statement of principles than anything, and it’s not surprising that you would see some uniformity there. It’s mostly just creepy to watch. And beyond that, as propaganda it’s not especially effective. The Trump spin was so unclear to the uninitiated that a lot of people thought it was it was a leftist attack on Trump and the “fake media” that made him president. So they didn’t get the message that Sinclair was trying to send.

All of that said, I’ve commented before both on Ordinary Times and Twitter that local news could represent some real opportunity for the right. In terms of prestige, it’s beneath the national-minded left’s notice, for the most part. The news equivalent of local school board elections. You rack up enough of those, and you might have something. Beyond that, it is relevant above and beyond the propaganda value. One of the problems with conservative media is that people who aren’t conservative or hyper-political have no use for it. It’s preaching to the choir. Meanwhile, there is a lot of center-left media that is interesting to people across the spectrum. So this represents an opportunity not just for Sinclair, but for the right, to have some serious influence in media that sits in the commons.

Will it work? It’s honestly hard to say. The case against it working is the waning influence of local news. There is a reason that there is a vacuum here for Sinclair to enter. Consolidation is occurring in good part due to an iffy financial picture. Local news organizations are expensive, and if people aren’t watching, there are a lot of cheaper things they can run in their stead. There is also a strong possibility that they will do it wrong. If they go full Fox Jr, people who aren’t in the choir will just change the channel. And the temptation to go that route will be strong. And lastly, there is a lot of competition, so for conservatives in general to succeed there, they would want Cox and others to join Sinclair the way that a lot of AM stations joined the bandwagon once that model was discovered. If they don’t, then despite the concerns Sinclair’s influence will be limited.

From what I gather, though, Sinclair stations are considered dangerous by some precisely because going full Fox Jr is not what they are doing. If they pepper their point-of-view in between reports on the cat show at the convention center and the carjackings on the southeast side of town, people will come for those stories, and also get a good dose of sermon about the Deep State. That’s how you do it, both commercially and politically. Further, although the market may be tough going forward, if they are committed to this, Sinclair will keep going while others fold. It’s not clear that several competing news organizations can thrive, but there is a strong likelihood at least one or two might with limited competition.

In response to this story, a lot of Sinclair’s critics keep pointing ominously to the fact that Sinclair stations reach 40% of homes, and if the FCC goes forward with some deregulation, that number could jump to 70%. Whether the deregulation is a good idea or not, that’s less scary than one might think. How many homes does CBS News have access to? Far more than 70%. Sinclair could have access to 100% and it still wouldn’t bother me. That’s the wrong thing to be thinking about. The right thing to be concerned about is how much of the various markets they control where they exist. It’s better that they be one of eight options in six cities than six of eight options in one city.

The FCC’s rules on this are actually pretty stringent:

National TV Ownership

The National TV Ownership rule does not limit the number of TV stations a single entity may own nationwide so long as the station group collectively reaches no more than 39 percent of all U.S. TV households. For the purposes of calculating the “national audience reach,” TV stations on UHF channels (14 and above) count less than TV stations operating on VHF channels (13 and below), this is also known as the UHF Discount. The National TV Ownership rule is no longer subject to the FCC’s quadrennial review.

Dual TV Network Ownership

FCC rules effectively prohibit a merger between any two of these networks: ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC.

Local TV Multiple Ownership

An entity is permitted to own up to two TV stations in the same Designated Market Area if either:

  • The service areas – known as the digital noise limited service contour – of the stations do not overlap
  • At least one of the stations is not ranked among the top four stations in the DMA (based on audience share), and at least eight independently owned TV stations would remain in the market after the proposed combination

So then I have nothing to worry about, right? The problem is that these rules are poorly enforced. Worse yet, they’re not poorly enforced because of Donald Trump and the Republican Party. They’re just poorly enforced, period.

In Columbus, Ohio, there are six local channels and Sinclair operates three of them. How do they get past the straightforward regulations? Quite easily. They technically only own one of them, the second is owned by a company called Cunningham Broadcasting, and the third is owned by a company called Manhan Media (that interestingly doesn’t have a corporate website). While Cunningham Broadcasting is a separate legal entity from Sinclair Broadcasting, that appears to be something of a legal fiction. Cunningham is owned by the same people that operate Sinclair, and almost all of Cunningham’s channels are operated by Sinclair. In 1999, Cunningham was poised to buy a network in Oklahoma City until a rule change allowed Sinclair to buy it, and Sinclair bought it instead. In 2001, Sinclair was fined $40,000 for illegally controlling Cunningham, but no action has been taken since. In Mobile-Pensacola, Sinclair operates four channels (of ten in the area) with Sinclair owning two of them and Cunningham owning the other two. Presumably each can own two because Mobile-Pensacola is a big area and they can theoretically satisfy the exclusion requirement. Reno, Nevada, has seven local channels, of which Sinclair runs three. One owned by Sinclair, one owned by Cunningham, and one owned by a company called Deerfield, which appears to owns a handful of networks and has sold a few, almost entirely to and from Sinclair, and another company called Nexstar, which coincidentally operates the only company owned by Cunningham that Sinclair doesn’t operate (but that otherwise seems uninvolved with this).

To make a long story short, even prior to Trump, the restrictions put on channel ownership were extremely leaky and ineffectual. Sinclair picked up its second Columbus channel in 1997 when Clinton was president, and its third in 2011 when Obama was. It picked up its second and third Reno stations in 2013. Its second Mobile-Pensacola channel was in 2001, and the other two in 2012. Lest we let Trump off the hook, Sinclair acquired seven channels in Chico, California, and that is a direct result of the FCC’s intent to alleviate the 40% media reach cap. I have no idea how that possibly gets by FCC requirements. However, they were all previously owned by another single entity, Bonten Media Group, which somehow cleared the single-market restrictions. All of which is to say that under no president in the past twenty-five years has the FCC appeared to be interested in enforcing the limits on the number of channels a company can own.

It’s not clear to me exactly what the restrictions would be. I was discussing the prospects of a rightward takeover of local news with Nob, and he argued – quite credibly – that local news is on its way out and consolidation itself is a product of how these networks are struggling. If that’s true, then there isn’t nearly as much harm in letting companies like Sinclair or whomever take over these channels. There’s a limited number of bidders. So while I would prefer no company own more than one or two local channels, that doesn’t work if nobody wants to buy them. On the other hand, while we assume that everybody has cable, it’s nonetheless the case that ratings between cable channels and OTA channels are night and day, even when showing substantively similar material (like sporting events where it’s a coin toss which appears on ABC and which on ESPN). That demonstrates that the real estate they hold is still incredibly important, in which case something has gone pretty wrong.

Critics of Sinclair continue to focus on how many households it reaches, which is simply the wrong question. The question is how many options a household has that isn’t operated by Sinclair.

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Will Truman is a former para-IT professional who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He is also on Twitter. ...more →

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47 thoughts on “Owned And/Or Operated By Sinclair Broadcasting

    • The rules also authorize waivers on a case-by-case basis. The issue is that strict enforcement of the rules defeats the purpose of the rules:

      As the chart shows, the difference is dramatic – stations in large and small markets barely seem to be in the same business from a revenue standpoint. Large market stations average 20 times the revenue of those in the smallest markets, and the stations in the top 25 markets average two and a half times the revenues of those stations in the next 25 markets. With these differences, it’s no wonder that the only way that all but the most dominant stations in small markets can survive with significant program commitments (like news programming) is to combine with other stations in their market. The Sinclair deal makes that very clear – as Sinclair was unable to find buyers for stations in two markets – Charleston and Birmingham. When the FCC would not permit them to do any sort of sharing agreement, they simply turned in the licenses. This prompted Commissioner Pai, who disagreed with the Commission’s decision on JSAs, to ask how the FCC’s interest in promoting consumer choice in programming was fostered by the lessening of the number of stations available in a given market.



        • Most regulations have some sort of waiver or variance, and their existence is baked into the standards.

          But certainly if strict application of the standard meant that Charleston no longer had an ABC station, it’s not clear how diversity is helped. (It looks like Sinclair ended up selling the channels to African-American conservative Armstrong Williams though, so diversity was maintained.)


  1. I don’t know that cable is comparable media anyway though. My impression is that people who would have bought newspapers in an earlier day are more likely to watch the local evening news.


  2. I’m not sure that it matters.

    All television news is terrible, but the past few years have really opened my eyes as to just how much more terrible local news is as compared to its national counterparts.


    • Depends on what you’re looking for. The local news is bad for the national, but the national news doesn’t help a whole lot with the local. Particularly in the area of sports. One of the local news guys is one of the go-to on news regarding my alma mater, for example. And even state politics, it’s them and the newspapers. Newspapers are better, generally, but local TV news is free.


      • I’m looking for “somewhat in the neighborhood of accurate.”

        One of the things we always do when I approach a new story for MC is go over how its been covered by the local media in whatever city it happened. Most of what we find is that the local tv news stories that exist are inaccurate to the point that it appears the field reporters just made stuff up. When they don’t make stuff up, they do zero fact checking, even with particularly outrageous claims — though they do frequently (and inaccurately) report that they have fact checked. Most “experts” interviewed I talk to admit they don’t know much about what they were supposed to have been experts about, they are just part of a pool and their number was up — and a few go so far as to share they were given a light script by the reporter as to what they were supposed to say.

        They’re pretty God-awful.


      • Local news is one of the biggest producers of fear mongering media stories, working hard to make as outrageous a claim as they can for a complete nothingburger story as they can in order to get eyeballs on the 6 or 11o’clock news.


        • Yeah, that is my experience.

          It’s also my experience that they are happy to run cover for obvious grifters if the grift in question is “feel-good” enough to make a compelling-sounding narrative for a 3 minute TV news spot. Most of the charlatans I have covered got to the point they did in part because local news shows were willing to be overly-credulous advertisers for whatever con they were running.


        • If it bleeds, it leads is absolutely a product of local news. The average viewing age for news in general is north of 55. You can tell this by the ads. My office share space keeps CNN or MSNBC on in the day room. Half the ads seem to be from a law firm that handles mesothelioma cases. The other half are about selling part or all of your life insurance. Not exactly the youth market here.

          One of the bigger tragedies of the Internet is the death of good local news. The alt weeklies went bust. Local newspapers went bust. Websites have had trouble getting money unless they focus on food and entertainment or real estate (Eater, Curbed, and Hoodline).

          The New York Times and Washington Post can have good metro sections because they are national papers.*

          So I hate what Sinclair is doing but it seems running it at a loss for other purposes might keep it alive.

          *The SF Chronicle is a horrible newspaper except for restaurant reviews. Their website runs like a third rate HuffPost for Bay Areans who were in their teens and twenties from 1980-1994. IIRC they get more money from running an event and share space on their ground floor than from circulation and advertising.


          • As far as newspapers go, I think consolidation is largely good. The more cooperation the better. It’s frustrating that the NYT and Washington Post are independently owned, because if they owned papers from across the country they could do more things like “Subscribe to the Dallas Post and get access to the Washington Post’s online archives” and the like.

            In the last season of The Wire, they were lamenting the Baltimore Sun’s closure of their Moscow bureau. Did the Baltimore Sun ever need a Moscow bureau? No, if Tronc having one might make sense, and Tronc owning 50 more papers and sharing more non-local content might be more economical, and it appears that they don’t do all that much of that.

            It is along these lines that I view the FCC allowing newspapers and local TV channels the ability to have common ownership to be a good thing. We may need to worry more about keeping these afloat (especially the newspapers) than about them having too much influence.


            • The New York Times does offer a California Journal/Section. But I don’t know what business model can do what you are describing but it is an interesting idea.

              I suppose it made sense for the Baltimore Sun to have a Moscow bureau because there was once enough money for them to do so. I’ve never really experienced so-called Golden Ages but I have seen them and/or heard about them.

              I’ve seen journalists describe working in the 1980s as a time when cash was just coming in and there were all sorts of perks. Allegedly Time thought nothing of giving you a car service to the Hamptons. So everyone had money and the papers could afford having staff in Europe.

              When I was teaching English in Japan during the early aughts, everyone said that the 80s were the real golden years before the bubble burst and Japan entered their long-term whatever is going on with their economy. I wasn’t teaching in horrible conditions but the old-timers made it sound like teaching in the 1980s was a kind of utopia and there was tons of cash and options.

              If I had to take a guess, this crash is coming to tech next (but who knows when). Right now, it is basically mandatory for tech companies to offer all kinds of generous perks to their employees. Good food that is free and/or subsidized, super-generous employment and benefit packages, offices with nice gyms and/or other entertainment, happy hours, fun off-sites, etc.


              • If I had to take a guess, this crash is coming to tech next (but who knows when).

                If I had to guess, there are two dynamics that are adding all sorts of weirdness to the tech situation.

                1. The big companies in California are pretty much colluding to not headhunt each others’ employees. “Poaching”, it’s called. As for smaller companies, if you and your buddies at Google all come up with an idea for a great ap and you say “let’s all quit and start our own company!”, guess what? You might be liable for “Tortious Interference”!

                This sort of thing gives *HUGE* amounts of power to employers at the expense of employees.

                2. H1B Visas.

                Due to these two dynamics, I’m guessing that the crash ain’t coming anytime soon.


              • The New York Times does offer a California Journal/Section. But I don’t know what business model can do what you are describing but it is an interesting idea.

                Yeah, but it’s not like it’s a bureau. I signed up for the daily summary, thinking I was going to get access to a bureau — the NYTimes doing real reporting on important news from the state with 12% of the US population and the sixth (or seventh, or fifth, depending on how you count) largest economy in the world. What I got was, with occasional exceptions, a set of links to other stories, mostly stories from the NYTimes that they would have run as national news anyway, and a few from California newspapers.

                At least they haven’t asked me to pay for it.


              • “I suppose it made sense for the Baltimore Sun to have a Moscow bureau because there was once enough money for them to do so.”

                “I’ve seen journalists describe working in the 1980s as a time when cash was just coming in and there were all sorts of perks. Allegedly Time thought nothing of giving you a car service to the Hamptons. So everyone had money and the papers could afford having staff in Europe.”

                It “made sense” if your definition of “make sense” is “This doesn’t immediately bankrupt the company.”

                Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. And the print media’s biggest flaw was likely an inability to think ahead and plan for the future.


                • Being a miser and very-savings oriented is very hard for a lot of people seemingly. This is not completely unique to journalism. The financial crisis had a lot of people riding high on speculation and paying themselves really well until the whole thing came crushing down and Lehman and Bear Sterns went belly up and lots of people lost their homes and jobs.

                  I suppose this is because being a self-denying ascetic is often not very fun. Maybe psychologically a lot of economic growth is fueled by reckless speculation and spending and mania.

                  Right now tech needs to compete for talent and they can because venture capitalists and other investors need places to park their cash. I suppose a company can try to succeed by spartanism and saying “Hey this is a no frills place to work but we are thinking of long-term and sound financial planning” but realistically how many people is that going to attract especially younger workers with the talents.


                  • The only way to go the no frills approach is if the working is really interesting in and of itself and you offer saner hours than everybody else. You can’t do either. A lot of the work is going to be routine and boring even for very interesting areas like artificial employment. Saner hours will get you killed by the companies that work everybody to the max. Therefore, you have to offer really good perks and/or high salary even if that doesn’t make financial sense.


                • I think its not only about a successful business model. Most of the country’s premier papers were owned by wealthy, prominent families during what we look at as the golden ages. I think the NYT is the only one that still sort of is even though it’s a public company. Papers were operated as independent power brokers on behalf of those families and in alignment with their politics, not as big profit making business enterprises in the modern sense. There are a lot of ways in which Jeff Bezos is not Katharine Graham.

                  I don’t think these things were ever hugely profitable but rather made enough money to be sustained with limited enough resources from their benefactors to be a worthwhile investment. The internet has not only made it tough for them to even break even, but also undercut their ability to peddle influence. The latter I think is just as important of an explanation of why they’re a shell of their former selves as is the former.


                  • There was a period of time, roughly mid 80s to late 90s, where computers made newspapers immensely profitable due to the productivity gains, until the point computers destroyed everyone’s business model by obliterating the market for classified ads.


          • The Internet might be killing local news media but it is making local news global. You have news papers in the United Kingdom like the Daily Mail covering local salacious news from the United States, things that would be bellow their notice before the Internet becomes of notice because it gets them clicks.


            • It does appear to me that this is the case.

              Its similar to the newspaper world, where the internet has allowed the unbundling of newspapers- you can get comics ala carte, or sports, “News Of The Weird” or opinion all from separate websites.

              The one thing that you don’t really get is local news maybe because no one has figured a way to monetize that.


          • “Half the ads seem to be from a law firm that handles mesothelioma cases. The other half are about selling part or all of your life insurance. Not exactly the youth market here.”

            That’s true of most every channel on TV from 10am-4pm and after 11pm. I don’t even have cable, but I can recite the ads you’re talking about by heart. Do you have a replacement hip that’s needed repairs? If so, you could sue. Some blood pressure medication has been found to be associated with heart attacks. Know your rights.


  3. I think the big issue is that old saw of media bias and the like and a level playing field in Democracy. For all the right likes to complain about liberal or left-wing bias in the media; the left generally does not have a bunch of corporations or billionaires willing to spend massive amounts of money for lock-step uniformity. MSNBC is not liberal in the same way that Fox is conservative despite what some say.

    IIRC New York had a story last week that said Sinclair was losing viewers over this stuff but not enough to really make a difference.

    The other issue is sheer hypocrisy and gall in the age of bad faith. For all the hand-wringing about the end of bipartisanship, the general pundit solution still seems to be “Liberals please shut up.” So you can have pundits defend what Sinclair is doing while also complaining that David Hogg lobbing back at Ingraham sets a dangerous precedent.

    Apparently losing sponsorship and profits is only free-speech oppression if you are a conservative.


  4. The best reporting done by local news stations here tend to be advertisements of some kind.

    Hey, it’s Opening Day! Did you know that you can go to the Sky Sox Stadium and watch baseball?
    Hey, there’s a new fast food franchise up on North Academy! Did you know that you can go there and eat?
    Hey, the snow means that ski resorts will be open for another couple of weeks! Did you know you can ski?

    A somewhat close second is coverage of high school sporting events.

    But if they’re covering anything else? They can’t cover negative things about advertisers or potential advertisers, they have to protect property values for the good part of town, and they don’t want to work *TOO* hard. So that pretty much means interviewing people who fell victim to some kind of crime. “House burglarized in crappy part of town! Here’s a 3-second clip of a woman crying and then the newscasters using a sotto voice about how awful it would be for something like that to happen. Next up, the Zoo has a new wallaby exhibit! Did you know you can go to the zoo?”


    • The following story tells us nothing about the subject at hand, but is interesting to me:

      A long time ago, the local news reported on a high school football game in Texas wherein a team managed to score like 5 touchdowns in the last three minutes to take the lead. Then the other team returned the kickoff for a touchdown to retake the lead. But wait! The underdog team did the same thing, winning the game.

      I found out a couple years ago, that didn’t actually happen. The team that scored those five quick touchdowns lost. They made up that last touchdown to give the story an underdog-feel-good thing. They must have spliced in one of the prior touchdowns, figuring that nobody would notice.

      There’s a certain time-and-place aspect to that. Things were such that they had access to the footage of a high school football game, but there was no way anyone had heard of the game or could contradict their reporting of it. Today, someone would look the game up and see. Ten years before, they wouldn’t have had the film.


    • I used to alternate between raging and laughing at a our local news channel (we have your stations down in Pueblo) that had “news first” as their tag line, because it was “news first” and “weather first.” Only one thing can be first, damn it.


  5. Should I feel slighted? I live in a top-20 metro area (by population) and there are no Sinclair owned or operated television stations. There are two Tribune-owned TV stations, operating as a duopoly with shared management and studio facilities. Speculation is that those would likely be sold to Fox as part of the wheeling and dealing associated with the Tribune acquisition.


  6. This is a good example of where we need better local news:

    Basically, lawmakers in Kentucky are screwing the miners by making it impossible for them to find a doctor that will diagnose black lung. If local media is controlled by the likes of Sinclair, they will down play this story and let the mining companies get away scot-free.


      • A satyr or faun comes across a traveler wandering in the forest in deep winter. Taking pity on him, the satyr invites him home. When the man blows on his fingers, the satyr asks him what he is doing and is impressed when told that he can warm them that way. But when the man blows on his soup and tells the satyr that this is to cool it, the honest woodland creature is appalled at such double dealing and drives the traveler from his cave. The Satyr and the Travveler


      • Well the other side of the issue is that we also don’t want quacks who would diagnose anything some malingerer wants them to.

        More importantly, we want to be able to prevent people who are too ready to diagnose a disease when the evidence doesn’t support it and people who are too reluctant to diagnose a disease when the evidence does support it from practising. I don’t see how you can do that without professional certification.


  7. A bit of sleuthing tells me there are no Sinclair-owned or affiliated stations in my area (NYC Metro). Certain cable providers have News12 outlets broken out by region but since I’m on FIOS, I have FIOS’s version of that. Beyond that, we just have the local affiliates for ABC, CBS, NBA, FOX, and the like. Unless I’m misunderstanding things, none of them appeared to be owned or operated by Sinclair. The News12 group is owned by Newsday/the Dolan family.


  8. I don’t why it took so long for it to occur to me that the anchors are doing the ‘serve the 3 eyed fish to Mr Burns’ thing with their delivery.


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