Local Iowa television stations WHO in Des Moines and WQAD in Davenport could become considerably more politically conservative as a result of their acquisition by Sinclair Broadcasting. WHO is the NBC affiliate in Des Moines and WQAD the ABC affiliate serving Davenport, Iowa and Moline, Illinois. In addition, they will have a direct connection to the Trump Administration thanks to a deal struck by Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Another concern is the Sinclair acquisition violates the previous size limit on the number of stations one broadcaster can own.
Conservative media giant Sinclair Broadcasting announced May 8th it is acquiring the Tribune Broadcasting Company that owns both WHO and WQAD television stations. Sinclair is currently the largest owner of television stations in the country. It owns or operates 173 television stations in 80 markets. The addition of Tribune Broadcasting will add an additional 42 stations that reach 50 million households. Sinclair currently owns several other TV stations in Iowa: KDSM (Des Moines), KFAX (Iowa City/Dubuque), KPTH and KMEG (Sioux City), KTVO (Ottumwa) and KGAN (Waterloo).
The prediction that the two Iowa stations would be forced to broadcast more ideological conservative programing is based on the history of other stations Sinclair has acquired. A May 9th report in CNN Money described TV stations that had been “apolitical” prior to being purchased by Sinclair. Following the takeover these same stations began to offer more conservative programming. Far right programming like, “The Right side with Armstrong Williams” has become the norm at Sinclair.
Perhaps the greatest threat to media independence is Sinclair requirements for “must runs.” The New York Times reported that since 2015 Sinclair has demanded their station managers “must run” Sinclair produced daily updates. Sinclair critics claim these are mostly promoting a far-right agenda.
The Washington Post reported in 2014 that Sinclair and its executives, “Have been consistent financial contributors to Republican Candidates.” In the latest move, Sinclair hired Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump spokesperson, as their chief political analyst and on-air commentator. There have been rumors that Sinclair wants to hire Bill O’Reilly, formerly of FOX News.
In addition to forced conservative programing, Sinclair allegedly negotiated a quid-pro-quo deal during Trump’s 2016 campaign. Politico reported in mid-December that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, told a business group that the Trump campaign negotiated a deal with Sinclair for exclusive interviews during the 2016 campaign. In turn, Sinclair agreed in exchange for the exclusive interviews to broadcast the Trump interviews without commentary. Apparently this arrangement was described by Kushner as needed in order for the Trump campaign to receive “straighter coverage.” Their campaign complained that other media outlets combined interviews with critical commentary and opposing viewpoints. According to Politico, Kushner complained specifically about CNN’s on-air panels were biased against Trump.
Lastly, the sweet deal between Sinclair and the Tribune violates the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) restriction on the number of local television stations a broadcaster like Sinclair could own. Currently one broadcaster is limited to ownership serving no more than 39% of the nation’s households. This deal will push Sinclair’s ownership considerably above the limit.
One of Trump’s first appointments was a new Republican Chair of the FCC. In an obscure ruling the new FCC Chair Ajit Pai increased the number of stations one conglomerate like Sinclair could own. Democrats are calling for an investigation of this expansion and critics are calling it a special anti-competitive deal engineered by Trump that specifically benefits Sinclair. “The fundamental concern is that no media company should be that big,” said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, a law professor at Georgetown University.
All this evidence suggests these two new Iowa stations, as well as Sinclair’s current Iowa stations, may come under great pressure to broadcast Sinclair’s conservative right-wing programming.
by Rick Smith