Trump tweet seen as boost for Sinclair deal
President Donald Trump's tweet in support of Sinclair Broadcast Group leaves little question his administration will approve the conservative TV empire's bid for Tribune Media, according to the company's critics.
Trump came to the broadcaste r's defense after a viral video showing dozens of TV anchors at Sinclair-owned stations reciting the same Trump-like script bashing the media for spreading "fake news."
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While the president didn't mention Sinclair's pending $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune, opponents of the deal say Trump's comments send a message to regulators now reviewing the transaction.
âIf anybody didnât understand that the green light was on for the Sinclair deal, I think itâs crystal clear now,â said Michael Copps, a former Democratic FCC commissioner who now serves as an adviser to public interest group Common Cause.
The Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission are reviewing Sinclairâs bid to buy Tribune's stations, which would allow the company, known for injecting must-run conservative segments into local stations' programming, to reach nearly three out of every four households in the U.S.
The reviews, however, have taken longer than expected, with Sinclair revising the deal several times and committing to sell off some of the TV stations it wanted to buy after discussions with regulators.
Trump had steered clear of talking about Sinclair, but that changed Monday, when he tweeted that itâs âso funnyâ to see criticism of Sinclair from other media outlets, arguing that the company is âfar superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke."
Opponents of Sinclair pounced on what they called evidence of Trump bias.
"At a moment when millions of people are waking up to what it looks like when Sinclair comes in and controls your local TV station, Trump is rushing to their defense, just like theyâve rushed to his defense a countless number of times,"said Craig Aaron, president and CEO of consumer advocacy group Free Press.
A Sinclair representative declined to comment on Trump's tweet, but the company said its promotional announcements on local news are meant to differentiate its news programming from less reliable sources of information.
âWe arenât sure of the motivation for the criticism, but find it curious that we would be attacked for asking our news people to remind their audiences that unsubstantiated stories exist on social media, which result in an ill-informed public with potentially dangerous consequences,â Scott Livingston, Sinclairâs senior vice president of news, said in a statement.
Sinclair has faced criticism over reports that it gave favorable treatment to Trump while airing negative stories about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election.
POLITICO reported shortly after the election that Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner boasted that the campaign had struck a deal with Sinclair for better media coverage. (Sinclair has disputed the characterization, saying it was an arrangeme nt for extended sit-down interviews offered to both candidates.)
FCC watchers say the agency's actions under the Trump administration have benefited Sinclair. They point to Chairman Ajit Pai's decision last year to revive a regulatory loophole, known as the UHF discount, that allows Sinclair to expand its footprint without vastly exceeding federal limits on media ownership.
Under Pai, the FCC also got rid of regulations that required broadcast companies to maintain studios in local communities and prevented them from owning more than one top-rated TV station in a market â" changes also seen as helping Sinclair.
"One way or another, Chairman Pai is going to approve this deal," said Andrew Schwartzman, an attorney with the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University Law Center. "He doesnât need the president to encourage him."
Chris Ruddy, CEO of the conservative news network Newsmax and a Trump confidant, sa id he agrees with Sinclair's stance on the dangers of fake news but that he's concerned about the policy changes by the FCC that will allow the broadcaster to grow larger.
"The FCC has essentially become a subsidiary of the Sinclair broadcasting company and is rubber-stamping a lot of things to help them package and homogenize news and have a huge national reach," Ruddy said in an interview. "I donât think it's good for free press. It creates a very dangerous precedent. I believe the actions the FCC has taken literally stink."
Ruddy met with Trump recently but declined to say whether he discussed Sinclair.
"I can tell you the president likes Sinclair and thinks they were very fair to him during the election, and I agree with that sentiment," Ruddy said. "But I think that the president was elected because there were many station owners in local markets in red states, not just Sinclair."
Some antitrust experts dismissed the significance of Trumpâs bluster in the regulatory reviews.
Trumpâs tweets about his personal likes and dislikes are âpretty much irrelevant," said Allen Grunes, an attorney at Konkurrenz Group who spent more than a decade at the Justice Department's antitrust division. "My experience at DOJ and later on is that elected officials expressing their opinions doesn't impact the outcome of the antitrust review."
But Trump's accusations of unfair coverage have become an issue in another media deal: AT&T-Time Warner. The president's frequent bashing of Time Warner-owned CNN has shadowed that merger, which the Justice Department is seeking to block. The judge in the case, though, has so far rejected attempts to explore potential White House influence over the government's antitrust review.
More broadly, the president's pro-Sinclair message guarantees that the issue will remain front and center for Democrats, particularly as the midterm elections approach.
"It is a blatant conflict of interest for this President to help his campaign contributors become bigger and bigger, while media choice and diversity becomes smaller and smaller," Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement. "The Department of Justice should reject this acquisition, and the FCC should reform ownership rules that make it possible."Source: Google News