The end came Thursday for Sinclair Broadcast Group’s expansive ambitions, and it was even uglier than expected. Tribune Media not only walked away from a deal with Sinclair worth $3.9 billion, it also filed a $1 billion lawsuit, alleging that Sinclair had engaged in “unnecessarily aggressive and protracted negotiations” with government regulators. The merger would have brought Sinclair programming to nearly three-quarters of American households, including major markets like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Sinclair, based in Maryland, is already the nation’s biggest owner of local television stations. Over the past year, it has drawn increased attention from media watchers—thanks in part to HBO’s John Oliver and Deadspin’s Timothy Burke, who exposed the Orwellian nature of the canned messages that Sinclair executives sent down for broadcasts. By the spring, Sinclair had become known for the efforts of its conservative owners to imbue local news programming with their views.
Thursday’s decision by Tribune caps a stunning turnaround for Sinclair, which, until recently, seemed poised to become a conservative media behemoth. After initially appearing supportive of the Sinclair-Tribune merger, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai reversed course last month, saying that he had “serious concerns” about the deal. Shortly thereafter, when the FCC referred Sinclair’s bid to an administrative law judge, the deal looked dead. But Tribune’s massive lawsuit came as a surprise.
RELATED: What it’s like to watch Sinclair—and why that’s the story
The Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik, who was reporting on Sinclair well before it became a national story, says that Tribune’s decision was “a victory for all the forces that opposed” politicization and centralized power in local news. “Sinclair got above the radar in its grab for glory—way above the radar, which makes for so long a fall,” he writes. The winners from yesterday—in addition to local news viewers who won’t be subjected to Boris Epshteyn’s propaganda—are competing conservative outlets, who had long feared the merger .
In the aftermath of the scuttled deal, Tribune is expected to seek other suitors. One possibility, reports CNN, is Rupert Murdoch’s Fox, which is selling off most of its entertainment properties to Disney, but will still control broadcast, sports, and news networks. As for Sinclair, its ambitions to create a rival to Fox News can be seen sinking deep under water.
Below, more on the fallout from Tribune Media’s decision to walk away.
- Trump’s view: Anticipating this result after the FCC’s about-face, President Trump weighed in on Twitter last month, calling it “sad and unfair” that Sinclair would not be permitted to expand.
- Sinclair’s challenge: Politico’s John Hendel believes that Tribune’s decision will have a lasting impact on Sinclair’s ability to fulfill its ambitions. “With few Washington allies outside of President Donald Trump, and now having botched the Tribune deal, the company may struggle to find other partners willing to roll the dice on facing regulators side-by-side with Sinclair,” he writes.
- Fall from grace: The New York Times’s Edmund Lee and Amie Tsang write that “the deal’s official demise completed a stunning reversal for Sinclair.”
- How it happened: Variety’s Ted Johnson has an overview of how the Sinclair-Tribune merger crashed-and-burned.
Other notable stories
- The backlash to Laura Ingraham’s comment that “the America that we know and love doesn’t exist anymore” due to shifting demographics has been swift, but The Washington Post’s Philip Bump argues that her words should be understood as a continuation of a broader campaign. “Trump and Fox News recognize the value of marketing white anxiety to their shared base of supporters. Both are learning from one another about how those messages are refined,” Bump writes. “Ingraham’s comments are the most recent example of the form but should be understood as a continuation of the theme, not the introduction of it.” Ingraham addressed the controversy on her program Thursday night.
- Following up on Ronan Farrow’s CBS exposé, The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple reports on allegations of abusive behavior by former 60 Minutes senior producer Michael Radutzky. The behavior, Wemple writes, was “tolerated” for years by 60 Minutes EP Jeff Fager, who was one of the focuses of Farrow’s story.
- Reuter’s Greg Roumeliotis reports that the bidder for Tronc is Donerail Group, “an investment firm led by former activist hedge fund Starboard Value LP executive Will Wyatt.” If the sale goes through, papers including The Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, and Orlando Sentinel would be the latest to be snatched up by a hedge fund or private equity firm.
- Twitter broke with other tech companies this week in deciding not to remove Alex Jones’s content from its platform. The company claimed that Jones hadn’t violated its rules. CNN’s Oliver Darcy wasted little time proving that’s not the case.
- I spoke with new Northwestern journalism professor Steven Thrasher, who will hold an endowed chair focusing on the intersection of LGBTQ issues and journalism. Thrasher discusses the importance of diversity in the newsroom and why queer experience is a valuable addition to any staff.
- The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press will have attorneys available in both Washington, DC, and Charlottesville this weekend to provide services to journalists covering protests marking the anniversary of 2017’s “Unite the Right” rally. Reporters can reach the organization’s legal defense hotline at 1-800-336-4243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update: This post has been updated to include Laura Ingraham’s response to the backlash to her comments.
ICYMI: A tale of two companies: NYT profits while Tronc considers salePete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.