“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.”
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?”
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.
Below, more on Sinclair in the spotlight.
- Smith’s disdain for print: In November, New York magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi reached out to Smith for an interview. His response: “Appreciate the interest in your wanting to do a story but we don’t talk to the print media as a general principal as we find them to be so devoid of reality and serving no real purpose.” After the Society of Professional Journalists issued a letter expressing disappointment with Smith’s comments, the Sinclair chairman agreed to meet with the group.
- A local story: Sinclair’s agenda isn’t just a national issue. In cities where Sinclair does, or soon may, own stations, journalists are covering the impact of the company’s approach. The Indianapolis Star’s Justin L. Mack noted that the city’s Fox and CBS affiliates would come under Sinclair’s control if the Tribune deal goes through, and drew attention to Deadspin’s video.
- No way out: For those wondering why Sinclair journalists forced to read the corporate promos don’t just quit, Bloomberg provides an answer: “The cost may be too steep.” Having reviewed employment contracts, Bloomberg found onerous financial penalties and non-compete clauses that make it hard for journalists to simply leave the company.
Other notable stories
- “Everyone got the Pulse massacre story completely wrong,” writes HuffPost’s Melissa Jeltsen. Reporting from the trial of Noor Salman, Jeltsen argues that in the rush to embrace a narrative casting the shooting as a hate crime, “the media and public focused on certain details, many of which were later determined to be unfounded, and discounted others.”
- Poynter’s Kristen Hare argues that the conversation about local news focuses too often on abstract concepts of democracy and civic duty and not enough on the realities of what it takes to keep local journalists in their jobs. “If we want to protect the value of local journalism,” Hare writes, “we have to value local journalists.”
- For CJR, Mike Ananny checks in on Facebook’s fact-checking partnerships. Ananny, a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, finds a “general unease among partners about how opaque and unaccountable much of the arrangement is—both within the partnership and to outsiders.”
- Fox News’s Ed Henry earned praise for his tough interview of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Henry challenged the scandal-plagued cabinet member over his alleged ethical lapses in what Vox’s Umair Irfan called “a dramatic shift for a network that was once mostly safe territory for Pruitt.”
- Terms of the settlements Bill O’Reilly struck with women who accused him of harassment have been revealed after a judge ruled that the former Fox News star had failed to present a compelling argument that they should remain private. CNN’s Tom Kludt highlights a portion of the agreement with former Fox News producer Andrea Mackris, which “required all parties in the case to disclaim any of the evidence ‘as counterfeit or forgeries’ should it be made public.”
- CJR’s Meg Dalton explores a persistent problem in local news coverage. “In the aftermath of crashes between drivers and vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists, there’s a tendency to blame the victim,” Dalton writes.