Remember When Trump Said “There Are Very Few Republicans In Baltimore, If Any”? Turns Out One Of His Most Fervent Cheerleaders Is From There
We’re talking about Sinclair Broadcasting’s Chairman, David Smith. (Trump, when he criticized the city was talking about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is not actually from there). Smith and Trump have a lot in common: they both have famously large egos. And although there’s always been a story out there that Smith got his start making bootleg copies of the X-rated classic “Deep Throat”, (and he may very well have done that), it’s also true his dad was a pretty big player in local TV. So he too inherited and expanded his dad’s business.
We’re sure by now you’ve seen this clip from Deadspin where they layered together many, many local news anchors reading the exact same script declaring a “plague” of “irresponsible” news reports. Just as they were directed to by the “mother ship”. Here it is again (click on the photo to watch):
Sinclair’s been up to these tricks for years. At first it was more economic than political. While network TV news is not a huge moneymaker (that was justified for years on the basis of it being a public service, which also brought credibility to the networks), local TV news has always been a huge moneymaker, with a huge chunk of stations’ overall revenues coming from those broadcasts (that’ll change too, but not yet). That’s why local news teams have all those fancy choppers and all that fancy radar.
Sinclair’s idea was to reduce the size of the local TV newsroom to a few anchors and a few reporters to cover any huge local news and for the rest, provide a stable of centralized reporters that would do general interest stories, and people at home would never know the difference. In that way, those centralized reporters could appear in many different markets, and only have to be paid once. That then gave Sinclair more money to buy more stations. Is it sneaky? Yes, kind of. But not especially. And it was smart because they grew really fast.
That strategy tends to work best in smaller markets, where there’s less breaking big news, and less well in bigger markets where the newsrooms face more competition and news directors have more say. But even that’s been changing.
When Trump came into office Sinclair did another smart thing: they shrewdly picked up loyalists from the Trump campaign who didn’t make it to the White House, or did but didn’t stick around past the early days, and used them to create a regular supply of alarming pieces that support the Trump agenda. Which of course they’ve ordered to be run across their stations. And they’ve been rewarded by the Trump administration in the form of deregulation that will allow them to buy multiple stations in the same market, (something the FCC’s previously forbidden, and Sinclair has previously figured out ways to do anyway.)
Where did they get these novel ideas? They did it before with George W. Bush: hiring a bunch of folks who couldn’t quite cut it in the White House, but were still loyal, giving them a political leg up.
Take a look at this article from Rolling Stone from 2005. It describes Sinclair up to almost exactly the same tricks it is today that are suddenly the subject of so much bile and consternation. Yes, times have changed, and journalism is in a more perilous place. And awareness of what Sinclair and others are up to is super-important. Forcing reporters to read propaganda written by a parent company is dangerous. At the same time, raging against Sinclair isn’t going to do anything to help either.
What would? More interest from Liberal billionaires in buying media operations. So far it’s just Jeff Bezos. (Michael Bloomberg? To his credit, he grew his company; didn’t buy it, and will insist he’s not in the news business). Bezos isn’t exactly running the Washington Post as a vanity project: he does seem to be intent on it making money. At the same time, he hasn’t wrapped it into Amazon, maybe because he knows there’s no way it can ever come close to the profit margins his main business is able to achieve.
And boy is his ownership of the Post getting under Trump’s skin. It also cost Bezos millions this week when people started selling Amazon stock after repeated Twitter attacks by the President. (Which is kind of silly, Amazon’ll do just fine).
Rich people have always owned media companies. It’s kind of always been the case, because news gathering has never really been an inherently profitable endeavor. Thucydides owned gold mines, allowing him to spend his free time writing the history of the Peloponnesian War.
But in this new, emerging age of media patronage, it’s the right wingers that have a clearer vision for supporting publications, writers, and storytellers, because 1) they can afford to, 2) it can help them further realize their own visions for politics and society.
We think one other thing these people are seeing that others aren’t is that even if media isn’t a cash cow, it still can provide better return on investment than sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into political campaigns (which these folks also regularly do), and have just as much–probably even more–impact. In short, media is a “renewable” resource. Especially now when they’ll be able to push the content they agree with, and limit or eliminate access to content they don’t, and it’ll be perfectly OK with the FCC.
There are tons of people sitting out in Silicon Valley and elsewhere sitting on so much cash they could do so much good with! And they’re sitting on so much more because of the Trump/Republican tax cuts: wouldn’t this be a great way to spend that windfall? And Trump and FCC Chief Ajit Pai have taken away a huge barrier to entry: letting anybody buy any amount of whatever they want in the print and broadcast field. So what’s the hold-up? What’s the trouble? Is it that you don’t know/understand the business? Is that your barrier to entry? Heck, we do: and we’ll be happy run it for you! Just give us a call!