John Oliver investigated the media company Sinclair Broadcast Group on the latest episode of Last Week Tonight, calling it “maybe the most influential media company that you’ve never heard of.”
The largest owner of local news stations in the country, Sinclair is finalizing a deal to acquire Tribune Media, making it an even larger force in local media. This is particularly important because of the company’s documented conservative lean.
As Vox’s Jeff Guo noted in his explainer on Sinclair, much of this conservative lean comes directly from company executives and not from a natural political environment in local areas:
For instance, over 80 Sinclair stations regularly air a 90-second segment called Behind the Headlines, where conservative commentator Mark Hyman gives his opinions on the news. In a recent spot, Hyman defended Trump’s first 100 days, claiming that the media was unfairly harsh on the president. In February, Hyman criticized the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for ruling against Trump’s travel ban on people from seven Muslim countries.
The company also produces national news segments — often with a conservative tinge — that it requires stations to run during their local news broadcasts.
A Washington Post investigation revealed that during 2016 election, Sinclair executives often forced their stations to run pro-Trump or anti-Clinton segments during their evening or morning local news programs. One of the mandatory segments emphasized problems about Clinton’s health and questioned her trustworthiness. Another mandatory segment featured Ivanka Trump talking about her potential role in her father’s White House.
Oliver mentions these mandatory Sinclair-produced segments, noting Hyman’s commentary as well as the daily “Terrorism News Desk,” which features pieces that just sometimes generally concern Muslims.
If the company was biased toward Trump during the election, then the hiring of people like Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump surrogate and White House staffer, as its chief political analyst earlier this year would only further such questions.
To emphasize Sinclair’s reach in light of the company’s upcoming acquisition, Oliver did the math, saying, “when you combine the most watched nightly newscasts on Sinclair and Tribune stations in some of their largest markets, you get an average total viewership of 2.2 million households, and that is a lot. It’s more than any current primetime show on Fox News. ...”
After Sinclair’s acquisition of Tribune Media, Oliver worries that in this new local media environment, “there’ll be even more unsuspecting audience members who’ll be getting a heaping dose of Sinclair’s content, possibly without realizing it.”