Sinclair circles the wagons as former employees speak out

“I want to talk to you about my job,” Sinclair Chief Political Analyst Boris Epshteyn said last night in a “must-run” segment on Sinclair-owned stations across the country. The former Trump campaign advisor spent the next 90 seconds defending his role, taking shots at other news networks, and, in an analogy that stretched the bounds of comprehension, comparing himself to a medical professional.

“In terms of my analysis playing during your local news, as you see, my segments are very clearly marked as commentary,” Epshteyn continued. “The same cannot be said for cable and broadcast news hosts who inject their opinions and bias into news coverage all the time without drawing any lines between them.”

 

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Epshteyn’s bizarre segment was a response to criticism Sinclair has faced this week, and he wasn’t the only one circling the wagons as the company finds itself under the microscope. Sinclair Chairman David D. Smith defended the company’s editorial approach in a series of emails to The New York Times’s Sydney Ember. “Every local TV station is required to ‘must run’ from its network their content,” Smith wrote, citing late-night talk shows, which he argues are “just late-night political so-called comedy,” as an example.

Pressed about the video compiled by Deadspin, which showed Sinclair anchors reciting a media-bashing script in unison, Smith replied, “You cant [sic] be serious! Do you understand that as a practical matter every word that comes out of the mouths of network news people is scripted and approved by someone?”

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The recent focus on Sinclair, which has largely avoided the media spotlight despite being the nation’s largest owner of local television stations, continues unabated nearly a week after the video was published. Though higher-ups are defending the company, some former employees are speaking out. Justin Simmons, a producer at a Sinclair-owned station in Nebraska who resigned last week in protest, told CNN that the corporation has an “obvious bias,” and says the recent message was “almost forcing local news anchors to lie to their viewers.” Discomfort among employees at Sinclair stations with must-run segments has been apparent since at least early March, when staffers first shared the script of the promo with CNN.

President Trump’s recent support for the broadcaster only added fuel to the media firestorm surrounding the company. With Sinclair waiting for regulators to approve its $3.9 billion takeover of Tribune Media stations, the focus on the Maryland-based company’s conservative political agenda isn’t going anywhere.

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Below, more on Sinclair in the spotlight.

 

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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.