What if Breitbart and Fox News had a couple of babies? What if they grew up to be a cool, slicker version of their parents and started becoming more powerful?
Imagine if the young FoxBarts branded themselves as mainstream sources, but instead of courting “alt-right” white males and older conservatives, they focused their efforts on millennials and women. Now consider what kind of damage they could do if the leader of the free world became a fan—so much so that he struck a secret deal with the news outlets to let them control the entire media market.
Meet Sinclair and Circa—Donald Trump’s new besties.
You probably already know Sinclair by her full name, the Sinclair Broadcast Group. At the dawn of the Trump campaign, it owned or operated 173 television stations that covered 39 percent of the American TV market—which was the legal limit for how much of the television landscape a single company could control.
Maybe you remember when WGN’s hit television series Underground was canceled earlier this year. That happened after Sinclair bought the network. Almost everyone involved knew the show would disappear because Sinclair is ultraconservative, pro-Republican and scary as fuck. And it loves Donald J. Trump.
Unlike television networks, Sinclair controls myriad television stations that are affiliates of Fox, CBS, ABC or NBC. Because of this, when most people watch their local news programs, they have no idea that they are watching news coverage that is shaped by the station’s parent company: the Sinclair Broadcast Group.
The company goes as far as writing scripts for anchors, telling them which stories to cover and how to cover them. In fact, the local stations are forced to air right-leaning, ultraconservative segments (including a series of “must run” editorials featuring former Trump official Boris Epshteyn) during their news programming. This is why you often see the same story on different local news stations, like in the example below:
Sinclair has tried to insert itself into politics for years. In 2010, Sinclair famously aired Breaking Point: 25 Minutes That Will Change America, a “documentary” sponsored by the National Republican Trust PAC that painted Barack Obama as an extremist funded by Hamas and suggested that he once said in a speech: “You want freedom? You’re gonna have to kill some crackers! You gonna have to kill some of those babies.” Two years later, Sinclair did the same thing, only this time the “news special” appeared only in swing states the night before the 2012 election.
Sinclair’s hate for Obama is rivaled only by the company’s incestuous love for Trump. A Washington Post report revealed that during the 2016 election, Sinclair-owned stations gave disproportionately positive coverage to the Trump campaign for far more time than they allotted the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Sinclair’s crush on then-candidate Trump wasn’t a coincidence. Politico reported that Trump son-in-law and long-tailed-weasel look-alike Jared Kushner announced to business executives in a private meeting that the Trump campaign had struck a deal with Sinclair for positive coverage in exchange for ... we’ll get to that later.
As a result, in the final months of the 2016 campaign, Sinclair affiliates ran 46 exclusive interviews with officials from the Trump camp (including 10 with Toupee Shakur himself) while airing a grand total of zero with Clinton.
And then there’s Sinclair’s little sister, Circa.
While you often hear about Trump’s affinity for Breitbart, you don’t hear people mention Sinclair-owned news site Circa very often. When the Sinclair Broadcast Group noticed that millennials received most of their news from the internet instead of television, Sinclair simply bought a news app and made it an offshoot of its programming.
Aimed at teens and people in their 20s, Circa promotes itself as an unbiased digital media platform, even though it has distinctly pro-Trump leanings. Since its relaunch a year ago, Donald Trump Jr. (or, as he is called in some circles, “Dumb Trump”—not to be confused with his father, “Dumbass Trump”) has retweeted and shared numerous articles from the site.
But no one loves Circa more than No. 1 Trump booty licker Sean Hannity. He often features Circa writers on his show, including the site’s security reporter Sara Carter, who appeared on the show 12 times in June alone, according to the Daily Beast.
Hannity’s show is often a rundown of Circa’s news site, discussing headlines like “White House Logs Indicate Susan Rice Consumed Unmasked Intel on Trump Associates,” “Obama’s Rule Changes Opened Door for NSA Intercepts of Americans to Reach Political Hands” and “Trump Vows the GOP’s Healthcare Plan Will Have ‘Heart.’” To be fair, Hannity isn’t necessarily being lazy. One can imagine that finding pro-Trump news stories while simultaneously keeping one’s thin lips firmly planted on the president’s butt cheeks can become quite cumbersome.
Although Circa touts its “independence” from Sinclair Media, its coverage mirrors its big brother’s in many ways. The website recirculates many of Sinclair’s video, and many articles from Circa become featured stories at Sinclair affiliate stations.
So what’s wrong with this? Why should anyone care if a television station or website is conservative? After all, people can always find another news source, right?
Well, not quite. One of the reasons this story is so important is that people often can’t get away from Sinclair’s slanted coverage, and they often don’t even know it. That’s how this all leads back to Trump, collusion and under-the-table, backroom dealing.
Trump’s deal with Sinclair television stations is a pretty slick way of skirting the law. The Federal Communication Commission’s “equal time” rules mandates that televisions stations offer equal time to political candidates. But what if the company painted its advocacy as “news stories”? What if a network like Sinclair—instead of airing Trump political ads—simply hired his surrogates as news reporters? Even worse, what if there was nothing anyone could do about it?
As soon as Trump took office, he announced to the country that he would be ridding businesses of those pesky impediments called “regulations.” Then he appointed a man named Ajit Pai as commissioner of the FCC. Pai’s first major act was to remove the cap on how many television stations one company could own. The next day, the Sinclair Broadcast Group, Trump’s old friend, purchased 14 more stations.
Pai’s next major act was to approve a deal that had been held up because of media concerns, so he met with the principals of each company. When they emerged from negotiating in a posh Baltimore hotel, the Sinclair Broadcast Group had purchased Tribune Media for $3.9 billion, making it the largest owner of television stations in America, covering 69 percent of the country—which would have been illegal before the inauguration of Trump.
One reason that deal was in limbo is that Sinclair controls so many television stations, some people fear that it may have a monopoly on local news. The lack of transparency and choice means that Sinclair often controls what television-news viewers get in entire swaths of the country.
For example, in the Birmingham, Ala., market, Sinclair owns five of the local news outlets. It owns nine stations in the Chico-Redding, Calif., area, including the Fox affiliate, the local ABC station and two Spanish-language stations. Most of the time, people in these areas have no idea that when they switch channels, they are still watching the same company feed them a preconfigured news diet.
The reason those pesky regulations existed in the first place is so that no single entity could have such an outsized influence on information. For example, the head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee (which governs these kinds of laws) is Greg Walden, a Republican from Oregon. How would anyone expect him to halt the Tribune acquisition while running for re-election in a state where Sinclair owns 10 TV stations, including an ABC affiliate, one NBC affiliate and two CBS affiliates?
According to a 2016 Pew Research poll, people still get a majority of their political news from television. Now one television behemoth has surreptitiously gained control of the airwaves, and it is impossible to ignore. It has spread its ideology into millions of homes and minds across America with the help of collusion tactics, watered-down propaganda and a wig-wearing, vagina-grabbing, pear-shaped Twitter addict.
If you’re wondering about how some people believe Trump’s bullshit alternative facts, imagine hearing an outrageous conservative claim on one channel, then tuning into another station and hearing the same thing. Then you hear Sean Hannity talk about it with a panel of “experts.” You then look it up on the internet and find confirmation from a slick news site that appears to be legitimate. You’ve done your due diligence. Now it becomes your truth.
That is the problem: They don’t have to tell the truth because they can create the truth.