CRF Blog

The Sinclair Revolution Will Be Televised

by Bill Hayes

In The Sinclair Revolution Will Be Televised for Bloomberg Businessweek, Felix Gillette reports on how Sinclair Broadcasting Group is planning on becoming the “Fox News of local TV.”

[Boris] Epshteyn, 34, was born in Russia and raised in New Jersey. On TV he exudes the ineffable air of a Trump insider, bolstered by family connection (he went to college with the president’s son Eric) and untroubled by an unorthodox résumé, involving law school and business ties to Russia. He talks with a thickly accented swagger that’s perfect for the current mode of televised political debate, which is one part pro wrestling match, one part spy novel. If you encountered Epshteyn at the Trump National Golf Club bar in Bedminster, N.J., you might expect him to hard-sell you on a real estate investment in the Urals or, failing that, a delicatessen in Newark.

Epshteyn briefly worked in the White House — the job ended not long after Politico reported that he’d gotten into a “yelling match” with a booker at Fox News — but since April he’s been employed as the chief political analyst for the Sinclair Broadcast Group. Located in Hunt Valley, Md., little-known Sinclair is the nation’s largest owner of broadcast TV stations. It has 173 of them, mostly in small markets (Sioux City, Iowa; Fresno, Calif.; Little Rock), but with several in larger metropolitan areas as well (Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, Washington). Whatever a particular station’s network affiliation — ABC, CBS, CW, Fox, or NBC — Sinclair viewers get a steady dose of conservative political commentary. Lately, Executive Chairman David Smith has begun assembling a kind of junior varsity squad of commentators and making unspecific murmurings about competing head-to-head with the senior lettermen and women at Fox News. To left-leaning viewers only just becoming aware of the company’s reach, Sinclair is positioned to flip a switch and turn those 173 stations’ newscasts — currently delivering bulletins on weather, school closings, and local affairs — into a cohesive network that pushes a Fox News-esque worldview of outrage and conflict into individual cities, counties, and towns.

Epshteyn shows how the arrangement might work. Three times a week he records brief video commentaries that are sent to Sinclair’s 65 or so newsrooms around the country. Station managers are required to weave them into their otherwise locally produced news shows — part of a larger daily slate of clips known internally as “must-runs.” In recent segments, Epshteyn has praised the Trump administration’s trade policies, encouraged states to cooperate with his Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, critiqued Democrats’ lack of a “coherent and authentic” message, and knocked other news outlets for their insufficiently admiring coverage of Trump.

The segments look like something you might see on Fox News — but only if you stripped away Fox’s high-end graphics, state-of-the-art studios, tailored wardrobes, perfect dental hygiene, and polished scripts. [more]