Commentator and entrepreneur Armstrong Williams said Monday that there is “no doubt” that he plans to buy WMMP-TV in Charleston, S.C., his home state, from Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. Allbritton Communications announced Monday it has agreed to sell its seven television stations to Sinclair for $985 million.
Williams’ good relations with Sinclair are paying off. In February, Williams and Sinclair announced that Sinclair would sell two other television stations to Williams’ company, Howard Stirk Holdings. Those deals are making their way through the government approval process, Williams said.
David D. Smith, president and CEO of Sinclair, told Journal-isms in February that he and Williams had long worked together and that Sinclair was looking to expand its relationship with him. “I’ve always admired his ability to stick his neck out there and call people . . . for what they’re doing. We’re big believers in advocacy journalism, and he fits that mode. He was the first one I called” when the ownership possibility arose, Smith said.
Smith told Journal-isms by telephone on Tuesday, “Nothing’s changed in that regard,” but said he could not discuss specific transactions. Asked whether Williams remained “the first one I called” when the new deal arose, Smith said, “Yes.”
Williams, who is African American, is securing a toehold where few other blacks are. African American television station ownership dropped from 12 stations in 2009 to 10 in 2011, or less than 1 percent of the nation’s 1,348 full-power television stations, the Federal Communications Commission said in November.
The nearly billion-dollar deal announced Monday “is the latest in a series of big media acquisitions to pounce on the increasing value of broadcast television properties,” Thomas Heath and Debbi Wilgoren reported for the Washington Post.
They added, “The Tribune Co. this month agreed to purchase 19 stations from Local TV Holdings for $2.7 billion. In June, Gannett agreed to purchase 20 stations from Belo as part of a $2.2 billion deal.
“Allbritton Communications is a family-owned business that initially focused on real estate and banking and later expanded to include ABC affiliates in the Washington metropolitan area; Roanoke/Lynchburg, Va.; Harrisburg, Pa; Little Rock; Birmingham/Tuscaloosa/Anniston, Ala.; Tulsa; and Charleston, S.C.
In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Smith made clear that Allbritton’s holdings in Washington were the prime attraction. He said he planned to take its local cable channel national. “Being in Washington, D.C., and having 24-hour access to all politicians at all levels is a huge opportunity for us to capitalize on,” he said.
“Everyone in the bidding for Allbritton — and the group was attractive to a lot of broadcasters — was willing to pay some sort of Washington premium, a bit extra for the influence and prestige (not to mention lots of nonstop political spending) of owning a station in the DC DMA,” Mike Malone wrote Monday for Broadcasting & Cable. “(WJLA is more than just a DC station — it’s a strong No. 2 behind WRC in DMA No. 8.)
“Headquartered in Baltimore, Sinclair CEO David Smith alluded to the allure of a DC station in today’s announcement. ‘To buy a full-blown news operation in our nation’s capital and an infrastructure that allows us to be connected to our branches of government and be at the pulse of national issues is a once-in-a lifetime event,’ he said.
“Smith continued to note that Sinclair is ‘especially excited’ to acquire the NewsChannel 8 cable channel, also in Washington. Smith called it ‘the perfect platform should we decide to expand it into other markets.’
“Not included in the deal: Allbritton’s Politico website and newspaper.
“Sinclair’s conservative leanings have been painstakingly divulged and dissected in the media, and the thought of the rapidly growing super-group having a soap box and bullhorn in our nation’s capital is sure to give the media watchdog groups a serious case of agita.”
In addition to WMMP-TV, Williams said he might want to buy WHP-TV in Harrisburg, Pa., another Sinclair station.
Sinclair is acquiring Allbritton stations in Charleston, Harrisburg and Birmingham, Ala., markets where Sinclair already owns stations. It plans to divest itself of one station in each of those markets to comply with FCC ownership rules.
The mergers are having an effect on newsrooms. The Radio Television Digital News Association reported this month, “We’re now losing TV newsrooms at the fairly steady rate of eight per year,” as “quite a few TV newsrooms have been subsumed in some sort of consolidation or shared services agreement.” Advocates of consolidation say they are necessary to keep the companies in business.
Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, an advocacy group opposed to media consolidation, said in a statement Monday, “The rapid expansion of Sinclair Broadcast Group — which is poised to double the number of stations it controls nationwide — is unwelcome news for local TV viewers. The company’s cookie-cutter approach to local news and repeated use of the airwaves to push a partisan agenda are well known. And the idea that one company should be allowed to control so many stations in so many markets is simply outrageous. What will it take for the FCC to wake up? . . .” [Updated July 30]
“The latest RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey finds virtually no change in the percentage of minorities in TV news from a year ago; radio numbers are down overall, Bob Papper reported Monday for the Radio Television Digital News Association. “The percentage of minority news directors went up in radio but down a bit in TV. The percentage of minority news directors at non-Hispanic TV stations fell back from last year’s record high — but it’s still the second highest level ever.
“Women overall in TV news rose back over the 40% mark, but women TV news directors pulled back from last year’s record high. In radio, women and women news directors edged up slightly.
“As far as minorities are concerned, the bigger picture remains unchanged. In the last 23 years, the minority population in the U.S. has risen 10.7 points; but the minority workforce in TV news is up 3.6, and the minority workforce in radio is up 0.1. . . . “
Papper continued: “The minority percentage at non-Hispanic stations fell to 19.4% from last year’s 19.7%. It was 19.1% two years ago; 19.3% three years ago; and 19.6% the year before that. Largely unchanged overall in the last five years.
“At non-Hispanic stations, the minority breakdown is:
“10.2% African American (down from 10.5%)
“5.5% Hispanic (down from 5.7%)
“3.3% Asian American (up from 3.0%)
“0.4% Native American (down from last year’s 0.5%)”
The RTDNA/Hofstra survey measures diversity at local television stations but not at networks.
“Ever since the George Zimmerman verdict came down, national media outlets have populated the airwaves with various voices discussing the volatile issue of race,” Roland S. Martin wrote in his column for Creators Syndicate.
“Numerous networks have hosted specials and roundtables tackling the issue of race. But not a single network has had the courage to turn their cameras onto themselves.
“It’s really easy for members of the media to question race in America. But for some reason, they get shy when it comes to what is happening in their own buildings. . . .”
Paul Farhi of the Washington Post included this columnist in an examination Friday of the lack of diversity in the White House press corps.
“CNN’s Don Lemon tonight addressed the controversy raised by his remarks on Saturday in which he voiced his agreement with Bill O’Reilly’s comments on the black community,” Josh Feldman reported Sunday for Mediaite. “Lemon convened another panel to address all the criticism he’s got, including charges that he’s being an ‘Uncle Tom.’ His panelists agreed with him that Lemon wasn’t being condescending, he was just giving some much-needed ‘tough love’ to the African American community.
“LZ Granderson told Lemon how he had to explain . . . to his own son why he shouldn’t go out wearing saggy pants in public, saying that young black [men] can still express themselves creatively without linking themselves to that history.
“Lemon directly took on the critics of his remarks Saturday.
‘ ‘What is wrong with telling people to dress appropriately? These are things that I said yesterday that my mom taught me in kindergarten… Dress nicely, speak well, speak appropriately.’ “
Lemon’s comments echoed those of Bill Cosby in 2004, when Cosby, while being honored in Washington by the NAACP, blamed parental failures for high dropout rates, teen pregnancy, foul-mouthed behavior and a lack of respect within the black community.
Cosby received a large backlash then for painting with a broad brush and ignoring the larger societal factors at work, thus “blaming the victim.” The comedian, actor, activist and philanthropist amended his comments.
Lemon seemed not to have learned from Cosby’s experience. He took additional heat for aligning himself with O’Reilly and framing his comments in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin case, leaving the inference that the unarmed teenager’s behavior was to blame for his shooting death by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman.
Helena Andrews, the Root: Start With the Man in the Mirror, Don Lemon (July 30)
Keith Boykin, BET: Don Lemon’s Sagging Pants Problem
Tommy Christopher, Mediaite: Tweetnado: MSNBC’s Goldie Taylor Calls Don Lemon A ‘Turn Coat Mofo’
Joe Concha, Mediaite: Worse Before It Gets Better: Lemon-O’Reilly Race Agreement To Rile Up Cable News War
Christopher Emdin, Your Black World: Columbia Professor Shows Don Lemon Why He’s Exclusive in His Disdain for Black Youth
Gabe Finger, Daily Caller: Don Lemon: ‘I’m gonna get the Uncle Tom award’
Katherine Fung, Huffington Post: Don Lemon: Bill O’Reilly’s ‘Got A Point’ About Black People (VIDEO)
Jesse Taylor, BuzzFeed: Don Lemon And The Failure Of Respectability Politics
Erik Wemple, Washington Post: MSNBC’s Touré: O’Reilly is an ‘idiot’
Alex Weprin, TVNewser: Al Sharpton Takes Aim At Bill O’Reilly Over Race