Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, justice and becoming a Justice

President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh will be giving the Senate Judiciary Committee calendars from 1982 to back up his continued denial of sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford. That’s according to The New York Times, late Sunday afternoon.

The year 1982 was 36 years ago. Do you have your calendar from back then? Heck, were you even alive back then? (I was and I remember, but my calendar situation was mainly my parents’ responsibility at that time.) At least Judge Kavanaugh can’t say his was accidentally deleted from wherever we keep our calendars, these days. On the other hand, looks like we’ll be keeping our calendars forever!

two men holding pen and calendar sitting beside table
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I explained in a lawsuit about 17-18 years ago (half the time since 1982?!) – when I mentioned plans and the other side immediately asked for my calendar – they’re good for some things and not for others. Calendars will tell what your plans were when you wrote (or saved) them. They were your intentions. Calendars won’t tell whether you actually followed through with the plans or changed them. Maybe you got sick.

(“So as I told you, despite what my old calendar said, no, I didn’t go to a movie with my friend Harry, that night!”)

Judge Brett Kavanaugh
Judge Brett Kavanaugh

Anyway, the calendar is supposed to help with Judge Kavanaugh’s denial, at least to some degree.

Let’s see. He was born in 1965. (Damn! All these “old” people’s birth years are getting closer and closer to mine!)

Dr. Blasey Ford is expected to testify in an open hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. Click here for details on the conditions requested and what to expect, at least at this point. Just don’t swear by it under oath, since things are changing.

Kavanaugh graduated from Yale Law School in 1990 and clerked for some other federal judges. He actually interviewed for a clerkship with then-Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, but was denied. Instead, he clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose retirement led to Kavanaugh’s nomination to replace him.

Justice Neil Gorsuch
Justice Neil Gorsuch

During that clerkship, he worked alongside Neil Gorsuch (born 1967!). He and now-Justice Gorsuch attended the same prep school! Small world.

SIDEBAR: Remember, Justice Gorsuch’s nomination came after President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland, who remains Chief Judge of the Federal Appeals Court, DC Circuit, where Kavanaugh has been a Circuit Judge since 2006! Again, small world.

But the Republican-controlled Senate never took up Judge Garland’s nomination.

BACK TO THE STORY: You’ll remember, President Donald Trump nominated Gorsuch to succeed the late Antonin Scalia. He was 49 and the youngest (successful) nominee to the Supreme Court since none other than Clarence Thomas! Justice Thomas was 43, back in 1991. You may remember, his nomination proceedings to replace the retiring Thurgood Marshall (quota?) were contentious from the start over the issue of abortion and Thomas’ conservative political views.

Then and now: Clarence Thomas at the EEOC (1989–1990), and as a Supreme Court Justice

Whose name is missing from that last paragraph? Law Professor Anita Hill, of course!

She’d worked under Thomas at the U.S. Education Department and then at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It wasn’t until the end of Thomas’ confirmation hearings that her behavior allegations against Thomas were leaked to National Public Radio’s Supreme Court correspondent Nina Totenberg (still on the job!) from a confidential FBI report. I think we have déjà vu.

SIDEBAR: Just wondering if any of the TV networks have correspondents who focus on the Supreme Court. I remember in 1991 when NBC News took Carl Stern off the air after decades on the SCOTUS beat. It was pointed out that left nobody exclusively covering one of the three branches of our government, gathering sources for NBC. You can read more about the decision-making and see some familiar names (to us old people) in this Washington Post article. Stern, a lawyer, is now George Washington University’s Emeritus Professor of Media and Public Affairs.

1991 Anita Hill
Prof. Anita Hill (1991)

BACK TO THE STORY: Many of us actually learned the phrase “sexual harassment” during the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill frenzy. Hill – a Yale Law School graduate and University of Oklahoma law professor – testified a mutual friend introduced her to Thomas. Then, he asked if she’d leave a private firm and work as his assistant at the Department of Education. After being happy for three months, he asked her to go out with him socially and everything changed when she told him it wouldn’t be right, since she was her supervisor. (I’m summarizing her statement from that same link above, sure to bring back memories for us older folk.)

“I thought that by saying ‘no’ and explaining my reasons, my employer would abandon his social suggestions. However, to my regret, in the following few weeks he continued to ask me out on several occasions. He pressed me to justify my reasons for saying “no” to him. These incidents took place in his office or mine. They were in the form of private conversations which would not have been overheard by anyone else.

“My working relationship became even more strained when Judge Thomas began to use work situations to discuss sex. On these occasions, he would call me into his office for reports on education issues and projects or he might suggest that because of the time pressures of his schedule, we go to lunch to a government cafeteria. After a brief discussion of work, he would turn the conversation to a discussion of sexual matters. His conversations were very vivid.

“He spoke about acts that he had seen in pornographic films involving such matters as women having sex with animals, and films showing group sex or rape scenes. He talked about pornographic materials depicting individuals with large penises, or large breasts involved in various sex acts.

“On several occasions Thomas told me graphically of his own sexual prowess. Because I was extremely uncomfortable talking about sex with him at all, and particularly in such a graphic way, I told him that I did not want to talk about these subjects. I would also try to change the subject to education matters or to nonsexual personal matters, such as his background or his beliefs. My efforts to change the subject were rarely successful.”

Then, Prof. Hill testified,

“During the latter part of my time at the Department of Education, the social pressures and any conversation of his offensive behavior ended. I began both to believe and hope that our working relationship could be a proper, cordial, and professional one. When Judge Thomas was made chair of the EEOC, I needed to face the question of whether to go with him. I was asked to do so and I did. The work, itself, was interesting, and at that time, it appeared that the sexual overtures, which had so troubled me, had ended. I also faced the realistic fact that I had no alternative job. While I might have gone back to private practice, perhaps in my old firm, or at another, I was dedicated to civil rights work and my first choice was to be in that field. Moreover, at that time the Department of Education, itself, was a dubious venture. President Reagan was seeking to abolish the entire department.”

There were no problems for her first few months.

“However, during the fall and winter of 1982, these began again. The comments were random, and ranged from pressing me about why I didn’t go out with him, to remarks about my personal appearance. I remember him saying that ‘some day I would have to tell him the real reason that I wouldn’t go out with him.’

“He began to show displeasure in his tone and voice and his demeanor in his continued pressure for an explanation. He commented on what I was wearing in terms of whether it made me more or less sexually attractive. The incidents occurred in his inner office at the EEOC.

“One of the oddest episodes I remember was an occasion in which Thomas was drinking a Coke in his office, he got up from the table, at which we were working, went over to his desk to get the Coke, looked at the can and asked, ‘Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?’

“On other occasions he referred to the size of his own penis as being larger than normal and he also spoke on some occasions of the pleasures he had given to women with oral sex. At this point, late 1982,1 began to feel severe stress on the job. I began to be concerned that Clarence Thomas might take out his anger with me by degrading me or not giving me important assignments. I also thought that he might find an excuse for dismissing me.

“In January 1983, I began looking for another job. I was handicapped because I feared that if he found out he might make it difficult for me to find other employment, and I might be dismissed from the job I had.

“Another factor that made my search more difficult was that this was during a period of a hiring freeze in the Government. In February 1983, I was hospitalized for 5 days on an emergency basis for acute stomach pain which I attributed to stress on the job. Once out of the hospital. I became more committed to find other employment and sought further to minimize my contact with Thomas.”

Hill ended up taking a job at Oral Roberts University.

“The dean of the university saw me teaching and inquired as to whether I would be interested in pursuing a career in teaching, beginning at Oral Roberts University. I agreed to take the job, in large part, because of my desire to escape the pressures I felt at the EEOC due to Judge Thomas.

“When I informed him that I was leaving in July, I recall that his response was that now, I would no longer have an excuse for not going out with him. I told him that I still preferred not to do so. At some time after that meeting, he asked if he could take me to dinner at the end of the term. When I declined, he assured me that the dinner was a professional courtesy only and not a social invitation. I reluctantly agreed to accept that invitation but only if it was at the very end of a working day.

“On, as I recall, the last day of my employment at the EEOC in the summer of 1983, I did have dinner with Clarence Thomas. We went directly from work to a restaurant near the office. We talked about the work that I had done both at Education and at the EEOC. He told me that he was pleased with all of it except for an article and speech that I had done for him while we were at the Office for Civil Rights. Finally he made a comment that I will vividly remember. He said, that if I ever told anyone of his behavior that it would ruin his career. This was not an apology, nor was it an explanation. That was his last remark about the possibility of our going out, or reference to his behavior.”

In case you were wondering (and who of a certain age wasn’t?), further discussions of pornographic videos Thomas had allegedly rented, including the now-famous Long Dong Silver, must’ve happened during questioning or cross-examination.1991 arlen specter

Anyway, members of the Judiciary Committee didn’t treat Prof. Hill very nicely. For reasons we don’t know and can only imagine, two women who made statements supporting Prof. Hill to Senate staffers never testified.

Then-Delaware Sen. Joe Biden (D) was committee chair. The late Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, then a Republican, gave Prof. Hill an especially hard time.

“Professor Hill, now that you have read the FBI report, you can see that it contains no reference to any mention of Judge Thomas’ private parts or sexual prowess or size, et cetera, and my question to you would be, on something that is as important as it is in your written testimony and in your responses to Senator Biden, why didn’t you tell the FBI about that?”

Déjà vu, once again.

“Professor Hill, you said that you took it to mean that Judge Thomas wanted to have sex with you, but in fact he never did ask you to have sex, correct?”

And then the former Philadelphia D.A. asked,

“What went through your mind, if anything, on whether you ought to come forward at that stage, because if you had, you would have stopped this man from being head of the EEOC perhaps for another decade? What went on through your mind? I know you decided not to make a complaint, but did you give that any consideration, and, if so, how could you allow this kind of reprehensible conduct to go on right in the headquarters, without doing something about it?”

You can see and hear some other lowlights in these clips:

2018-02-05 Anita Hill Gage Skidmore
Feb. 8, 2018: Prof. Anita Hill (by Gage Skidmore via Wikipedia)

Thomas denied everything and called the hearing a type of “high tech lynching.”

As we know, the nomination was moved to the full, Democratic-controlled, Senate, and Thomas was narrowly confirmed, 52-48.

Despite the Déjà vu, those were accusations of sexual harassment. The allegation against Kavanaugh is attempted rape.

Kavanaugh denies it happened, but he has had confirmation trouble before. In 2003, when President George W. Bush (#43) nominated him for his current job – Circuit Judge for the Federal Appeals Court, DC Circuit – it took him three years to get approved! He was considered too partisan and wasn’t sworn in until 2006.

Let’s not forget Judge Kavanaugh already has a job for life. Every federal judge does. It says so in the Constitution.

gavel judge

In fact, I got called for federal jury duty back in 1995, while producing afternoon and early evening coverage of the O.J. Simpson murder trial for WSVN in Miami. This was just before the L.A. jury was going to deliberate the verdict and we potential Miami jurors were warned, our case could last weeks.

I was angry after waiting a whole day in the courtroom doing nothing. Finally, we were questioned and I told off a federal judge using the line, “You have a job for life but I have to earn mine every day!” (You’re welcome again, Patrick and Alice!)

At the end, they divided everyone up into groups. Those in my group were very happy to be there, even though the judge hadn’t announced which group would get to go home, have to come back, etc. (Yes, we got sent home for good.) What I won’t do for a job!

So Judge Kavanaugh will not get any more job security if he is confirmed. He will just get more publicity as a justice on the nation’s highest court. (Would you still want that?) And the opportunity to influence the entire country. Also, don’t forget the ability to sell more books further into the future. Plus, maybe a movie, The Notorious B.M.K. (His middle name is Michael.)

Nina Totenberg
Nina Totenberg (NPR)

In 1987, President Reagan’s nomination of Judge Douglas Ginsburg (no relation to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, of the movie mentioned in the last paragraph) to the High Court ended with his withdrawal nine days after it was announced. Judge Ginsburg, 41, was President Reagan’s second choice after the Senate refused to confirm Judge Robert Bork.

The reason was NPR’s good ‘ol Nina Totenberg  found out Ginsburg had used marijuana “on a few occasions” as a student in the 1960s and as a Harvard Law assistant professor in the 1970s.

That was a big deal at the time. President Reagan ended up nominating David Souter and not long after, President George H.W. Bush (#41) nominated Anthony Kennedy, who – again – is retiring now. But the way the FBI conducted background checks changed forever, causing a lot of other people to have to answer questions about whether they’d experimented with smoking pot.

Judge Ginsburg continues to serve as a Senior Circuit Judge in that same Federal Appeals Court, DC Circuit, I’ve already mentioned twice. No more ‘small world’ reference. It’s getting late and two pieces of more important news just happened.

Of course, a background check is different than investigating a person who is under suspicion of a crime, but the FBI does that for the president, in order to avoid an embarrassment like the Judge Ginsburg incident. Investigations are not left to people appointed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, as was recently suggested, because that’s obviously political.

Rachel Maddow wikipedia
Rachel Maddow

Maybe this will again change the questions that candidates for high positions, who will need to be confirmed by the Senate, will have to answer. The questions will have to be more specific than whether somebody sniffed glue in high school, which was one of the additions after the Judge Ginsburg incident, as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow showed!

Let’s stop for a moment and recognize the stories uncovered by these two female journalists.

Perhaps new questions to be asked as soon as the Kavanaugh case ends will include dates of every “base” achieved ending in loss of virginity, as the analogy has gone, which could be a threat to the privacy of willing and non-willing second parties.

Perhaps it will be the height of the #MeToo movement because it could uncover old crimes committed by men who are supposedly upstanding citizens these days. That would be an important lesson to young men with high career hopes, but probably not amount to anything because no president would nominate anybody so much more prone to rejection rather than confirmation.

And we’d never know who they are.

Besides, how many men, in addition to more women these days, would be considered 100 percent innocent of any coming-of-age antics that has probably been around since just after the introduction of the world’s oldest profession?

That brings me to a point somebody – I forgot who – brought up on Facebook last week, probably in a meme.

What about the thousands of victims of priest sexual abuse, just the ones right here in this country? They didn’t speak up right away, for obvious reasons. Should their stories not be heard, even if there’s a statute of limitations to prevent criminal charges?

Then why are people calling for a vote on Judge Kavanaugh before hearing from Dr. Blasey Ford? Should Prof. Hill have not been heard, all those years ago?

According to the York (Pa.) Daily Record, last Monday – less than a week ago – a Pittsburgh-area man and Catholic school kindergartner filed a class action suit as lead plaintiffs,

“seeking the full disclosure of all Catholic dioceses’ records concerning sexual abuse by priests. …

“The complaint notes that the recent grand jury report that identified 301 predatory priests in Pennsylvania (click here to see all 1356 pages) ‘emphasized it did not believe the report identified all predator priests and that many victims never came forward.’

“‘Lack of a complete accounting and disclosure … constitutes a clear and present danger,’ the suit concludes.”

So while Dr. Christine Blasey Ford gets ready to testify against Judge Kavanaugh this Thursday, I’ll close with two pieces of news just in and can’t be ignored as I was about to publish:

First, The New Yorker‘s Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer are reporting “Senate Democrats are investigating another allegation of sexual misconduct against” Judge Kavanaugh, this one dating from his time as an undergraduate at Yale.”

According to Axios,

“The second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, claims that Kavanaugh waved his penis in front of her face while she was inebriated at a dormitory party during the 1983-1984 academic school year. She told Farrow and Mayer that she believes an FBI investigation of Kavanaugh’s actions is warranted.”

Judge Kavanaugh’s response:

“This alleged event from 35 years ago did not happen. The people who knew me then know that this did not happen, and have said so. This is a smear, plain and simple. I look forward to testifying on Thursday about the truth, and defending my good name — and the reputation for character and integrity I have spent a lifetime building — against these last-minute allegations.”

And from White House spokesperson Kerri Kupec:

“This 35-year-old, uncorroborated claim is the latest in a coordinated smear campaign by the Democrats designed to tear down a good man. This claim is denied by all who were said to be present and is wholly inconsistent with what many women and men who knew Judge Kavanaugh at the time in college say. The White House stands firmly behind Judge Kavanaugh.”

On the Judiciary Committee: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

Christine Blasey Ford
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford

Then, “just minutes” after that accusation, according to Axios,

“The office of Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley released the unredacted initial letter” Dr. Blasey Ford “sent to Sen. Dianne Feinstein in July detailing her account of the (alleged) incident” that both Dr. Blasey Ford and Sen. Feinstein expected to remain confidential.

It’s out and you can read it here.

To me, it looks like another alleged victim has just been betrayed.

Folks, will this ever end?

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Big merger, big problem, big surprise!

This was starting to get a little hard to keep track of, and I wrote most of this last night. Good thing I waited to publish, because I had to really rewrite today!

It’s looking like the big media merger I’ve been writing about so frequently may not happen! Even better, it looks like one of the seven deadly sins – greediness – may have killed the deal!

But now, a new contender (and a good one) is putting all its stations up for sale, if the price is right.

Let’s start with the latest.

FTVLive’s Scott Jones learned privately-held conglomerate Cox Enterprises “intends to pursue strategic options for its ownership or other interest in CMG’s (subsidiary Cox Media Group) 14 TV stations.”

This is the statement from the president of Cox Media Group, known as one of the best owners of TV stations in the country.

Cox president

Notice it gives a very tentative timetable of “six months to a year to complete.”

And this is the statement from the president/CEO of parent company Cox Enterprises.

Cox ceo

It seems every letter of this type addresses uncertainty by encouraging employees to keep up the good work.

Cox Media Group owns TV stations, radio stations and newspapers. The parent company also owns Cox Communications, the largest private telecommunications company in the U.S., the nation’s third-largest cable company, advanced digital video, Internet, phone, and home security and automation services. Plus, there’s Cox Automotive, which helps dealers, manufacturers and car shoppers.

There’s no question Cox decided it would try to sell out because Sinclair Broadcast Group – arguably one of the dirtiest and definitely the largest company to own TV stations – seems to have unexpectedly lost its 14-month try for approval to merge with one of the most iconic as well as largest broadcasters, Tribune Media.

NO sinclair tribune

Everything had seemed set. The price of $3.9 billion had been agreed upon.

The Federal Communications Commission – with pro-business Republicans in the majority – even went out of its way to make it happen by reinstating rather than ending a rule!

It brought back the UHF discount in April 2017, less than a year after it was eliminated, paving the way for Sinclair and Tribune combined to meet national ownership limits. The merger was announced the next month.

— UPDATE: The FCC inspector general cleared Chairman Ajit Pai of being unfairly biased in favor of the Sinclair Broadcast Group–Tribune Media merger. —

The combined company was supposed to own control a whopping 233 TV stations and make a move into big cities like New York (WPIX), Los Angeles (KTLA), Chicago (WGN) and Philadelphia (WPHL). Sinclair stations would’ve reached 72 percent of U.S TV households.

Unfortunately for it, the limit was just 39 percent, so Sinclair decided to sell 23 stations – 14 of Tribune’s and nine of its own – to stay under the national TV ownership cap.

So what went wrong? A lot, even though it looked like nothing was going to stop the unfortunate merger.

Rupert Murdoch wikimedia commons
Rupert Murdoch, Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, The Baltimore Sun named several things: Sinclair was already too big; it forced its owners’ conservative views on local news around the country; the company’s ego grew, “assuming it would get its way;” and even behind-the-scenes influence from rival Fox Broadcasting owner Rupert Murdoch.

What finally did the deal in was,

Ajit Pai fcc wikipedia
Ajit Pai (Wikipedia)

“FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, an appointee of President Donald J. Trump who has been viewed as friendly to Sinclair and such a merger, raised ‘serious concerns’ (last) Monday about whether the deal would serve the public interest.”

It’s nice to see the public interest mentioned. Doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should!

Stay with me because if you haven’t realized, there are many aspects to this story. Let’s recap, as more and more information was revealed, to see where we are tonight.

Back in mid-January, I showed you the FCC fined Sinclair $13.4 million for

“allegedly airing news programming that was paid for by a sponsor. … The two Democrats on the five-member FCC pretty much called the Sinclair fine peanuts because Sinclair aired the sponsored content 1,723 times on 77 stations, has had trouble with the FCC before and grossed $2.7 billion in revenue last year. The fine could’ve been $82 million. … I think Sinclair should consider itself lucky. Very lucky.”

By then, it had already bought Bonten Media Group’s stations including WCYB in the Tri-Cities of TN/VA, where I’d been digital media manager.

I wrote,

Click here and see how the WCYB website’s look seemed to change overnight. It’s like everything is becoming the same and there’s no need nor room for creativity.”

Also,

“Sinclair requires conservative commentaries sent from its Maryland headquarters to air during its stations’ local newscasts. That causes viewers to think the biased people they see every night, tossed to by their local anchors, are local as well.”

I remembered, “In 2004, Sinclair barred the ABC affiliates it owned from airing the episode of Nightline that profiled American soldiers killed overseas. (It owns stations affiliated with all of the networks.) The same year, it tried to get its stations to carry a pre-election film that bashed presidential candidate John Kerry.”

And,

“Its gargantuan size already has liberals worried about its influence on elections.”

Bottom line: I admitted “with more competition, a broadcast license is no longer a license to print money as it used to be. But the airwaves belong to the public. TV stations have special responsibilities.” Yet rules were being loosened and I referred to that as, “You give them an inch and they ask for a foot!”

I questioned whether Sinclair would keep its promise to keep local programming local and pay to carry unique events like the Mummers Parade on Philadelphia’s WPHL-17.

On Jan. 27, I actually wrote,

“Next week, the Federal Communications Commission may let Sinclair Broadcast Group buy Tribune Media but force Sinclair to sell off a bunch of stations because it’ll be (way, way, way) too big.”

Fox network

Then, I mentioned 21st Century Fox planning to downsize and what so-called New Fox would look like.

“Reports are Fox will buy ten of those stations. That means, as I wrote earlier this month about the company:

earlier

(Those cities except San Diego had NFL football teams, and Fox – which carries most Sunday NFC games – won Thursday Night Football package that also involves the AFC.)

“Cleveland, are you listening?

“And also from earlier this month, don’t expect a list of Fox-owned TV stations on the Fox Television Stations Group’s website, no matter how many times I put up the link. That would be too relevant!”

Thursday Night Football logo

I called my Feb. 22 post “Got cable, satellite? You’ll foot the bill for Fox’s Thursday Night Football” and showed how Fox’s enormous bid of $3.3 billion for the rights for five years

“is going to trickle down to you and me.”

I traced the skyrocketing cost of sports TV rights over the decades but explained overpaying isn’t always bad because,

“These days, Fox doesn’t have much of a regular Thursday night lineup. The NFL would draw viewers.”

Then, naturally,

“That means Fox stations can expect a call from the network demanding more money for providing better programming – especially in cities with NFL teams – and that may not be so bad, considering what Fox airs on Thursday nights these days? (Do you know?) … And where will these stations get that extra money? Sure, selling ads for higher prices, but also demanding to charge your cable or satellite company more when its contract is up — Fox will insist they do — and that will raise your bill.”

That was part of Fox’s plan to air as many live events as possible and buy more stations. Which brought up Sinclair.

I explained,

“If the $3.9 billion deal goes through, Sinclair will have to sell off some stations because the Federal Communications Commission (public airwaves) and Justice Department (antitrust) ownership limits. Also, Sinclair and Tribune already own stations in some markets and compete, so the combined company would own multiple stations in one city. … Fox wants to buy some of those stations, Sinclair will be forced to sell, and New Fox will have the money from selling so much to Disney/ABC.”

I did note Philadelphia-based Comcast/NBC had “offered substantially more” for Fox at that point.

comcast fox disney

Also,

“Media watchdog groups have long criticized Sinclair for using shared-services agreements to control stations without owning them, which they see as a loophole around the FCC’s ownership rules.”

Plus,

“People strongly opposed to the mega-deal argue it would reduce the number of voices in media and diminish coverage of local news.”

And,

“The (New York) Times learned from New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone and two congressional aides, ‘The top internal watchdog for the F.C.C. opened an investigation into whether Mr. Pai and his aides had improperly pushed for the rule changes and whether they had timed them to benefit Sinclair.’”

A week later, Feb. 28, I pointed out,

Sinclair owns more Fox affiliates than anyone else, giving it power, and owns more Fox affiliates than stations of any other network. In fact, Variety reports that after the deal, Sinclair will have more Fox affiliates than even 21st Century Fox itself owns! … And Sinclair is proposing it be allowed to keep multiple stations in Harrisburg, Indianapolis, and Greensboro, N.C. — even though FCC rules say a company can’t own two of the top four stations in a local market.”

I posed the question,

“Will the merger bolster local news coverage and be a stronger competitor to internet giants like Facebook and Google — or harm competition?”

Broadcasting & Cable magazine quoted Business in the Public Interest chairman and CEO Adonis Hoffman, a former top FCC staffer, as saying,

“When any number of companies outside the broadcast sector can reach the entire country with the same programming, the national cap becomes a fiction that limits, and applies only to, broadcasters.”

I disagreed, saying,

“Those other companies — cable, satellite and the internet — don’t use our public airwaves and broadcasters do, so the rules should be different.”

Also at that point, the plan was

“for Tribune’s WPIX-New York (CW) and WGN Chicago (independent) to be sold, but still operated by Sinclair, which wants its stations to be seen all over the country and is how it has operated around the rules for years.

“Really gone will be Tribune’s Fox affiliate KSWB-San Diego. Expected to be gone are Tribune’s Fox affiliates in Seattle (KCPQ), Denver (KDVR, which Fox once owned), Salt Lake City (KSTU, which Fox once owned), Sacramento (KTXL) and Cleveland (WJW, which Fox once owned). Let this show Fox owned but sold three of those five stations, which shows a lack of commitment to those communities.

Plus, there’s Tribune’s CW Miami-Fort Lauderdale affiliate (WSFL-Channel 39). Imagine the Fox network buying Miami’s WSFL. I’m sure Fox affiliate WSVN’s owner Ed Ansin would have something to say about that. He has more experience than anyone in that situation because NBC did it to him twice: in Miami in 1989 and Boston in 2017.”

The next day, March 1, was one of the most popular posts, possibly because I hadn’t seen it reported at all by South Florida media. The post also had lots of cities, and old logos and promos.

credits wsvn
I started my producing career at WSVN.

“WSVN without Fox? It’s possible if….” ran through many examples from over the years of networks dumping their affiliates in certain cities because they wanted a station of their own. It was because of “the possibility WSVN-Channel 7 in Miami-Fort Lauderdale may lose its Fox affiliation” if Fox buys the competing CW affiliate, which was one of the stations that was going to be spun off from the Sinclair-Tribune deal. Fox hadn’t owned too many stations compared to other groups.

tv owner population share

I mentioned,

The plan (was) that Fox itself will buy several Tribune stations – all Fox affiliates already – but also WSFL-Channel 39, which is South Florida’s CW affiliate.”

WSFL

Then, I posed two questions,

“What would happen to programming on both stations?” and “Would (Fox) give up WSVN’s good ratings and help from its large news department, just to have a station of its own?”

But in 1989, NBC bought CBS affiliate WTVJ when Ansin wouldn’t sell. CBS bought independent (Fox still just airing on a couple of nights) WCIX with a small news department and signal 30 miles south of all the other stations.

In San Francisco, NBC demanded longtime affiliate KRON for a very low price, when the owners decided to sell. When KRON was sold elsewhere, NBC pulled its affiliation and moved former ABC affiliate KNTV up from San Jose.

In Boston, NBC wanted affiliate WHDH – owned by Ansin – for a very low price. Once again, he refused so NBC dropped WHDH and started a new station using New England Cable News; bumped the Telemundo signal on WNEU-Channel 60 in New Hampshire, which it owned, to a sub-channel, and put NBC on the main channel; bought WBTS-LD (low-powered) Channel 8; and leased a sub-channel of WMFP (virtual channel 60.5) in Lawrence, Mass. Then, after a year, it decided the station should be called NBC 10!

In Raleigh/Durham, NBC dumped its weak affiliate and affiliated with a new station that was owned by a company that owned successful NBC affiliates, but it had to start up a news department from scratch.

WNCN1

In Charlotte, Fox dumped one of its strongest affiliates that had a news department just to affiliate with the former UPN station, and start up a brand new news department, so it could carry Carolina Panthers football games.

You could say viewers in lots of the country got confused and there are no more partnerships, since companies will do whatever it takes to make more money.

Looking ahead, had the Sinclair-Tribune deal gone through, some CW affiliates owned by Tribune probably would’ve lost their affiliations to CBS-owned stations.

And separately, there was the channel 4-channel 6 swap in Miami.

I noted in the Miami market,

“Putting WSFL on the block goes against Sinclair trying to buy up stations in every city around the country – or just make a deal with the owners to operate them, to get around the rules. That’s because neither Sinclair nor Tribune have any other stations in Miami.”

And don’t forget Miami has the Dolphins NFL team.

I ended by showing,

“There are also examples where networks own stations but don’t put their own programs on those stations, because affiliating with competing stations makes more sense.”

But nothing had been decided about Miami.

feature no sinclair tribune miami

By March 7, there was finally some “definite” information, or so everyone thought since some details were released.

Sinclair

“announced it would sell several stations to stay under a new cap, but the deals it reached would let it continue to control the New York and Chicago stations it sells, so those big cities won’t count. (Is there ANYBODY who thinks that’s OK?)”

WPIX

“Sinclair (was supposed to) sell WPIX-New York for a measly $15 million to Cunningham Broadcasting. More than 90 percent of that company’s stock is controlled by trusts owned by the estate of Carolyn Smith, the late wife of Sinclair founder Julian Smith and mother of Sinclair chairman David Smith. So the Smith children own it. Talk about a shell corporation! Cunningham owns 20 stations but at least 14 of them are run by Sinclair!

“And it (was supposed to) sell WGN-TV Chicago for just $60 million to Steven B. Fader, chairman of Baltimore-based Atlantic Capital Group and business partner of David Smith in Atlantic Automotive Corp.

“Those stations are each worth hundreds of millions of dollars, maybe a half-billion.”

WGN-TV

On top of that, Variety says,

“Sinclair would not only continue to operate the stations and receive the lion’s share of their revenue, but the sale agreement with both buyers gives Sinclair an option to buy the stations back within eight years. That’s seen as a marker for the company to bide its time in the hopes that the FCC relaxes its station ownership restrictions in the near future.”

TVNewsCheck‘s editor Harry Jessell reported he spoke to Ansin who said Fox hasn’t mentioned anything about “moving into the market and no expression of interest in WSVN.”

I mentioned several other cities where the networks got rid of affiliates they didn’t want. Some cases were nicer than others.

On a national level, Disney’s bid beat Comcast’s for Fox in the U.S., but it wasn’t over.

Comcast logo sized

In Europe, Comcast outbid Fox to buy the 61 percent of Sky PLC Fox didn’t already own. Fox is still trying to consolidate ownership of the powerful British pay-TV company in order to turn it around and sell Sky to Disney.

fox sky news disney

Broadcasting & Cable (reported) eight of the 50 states’ attorneys general came out against the SinclairTribune merger. They told the Federal Communications Commission “it does not have the authority to raise the 39 percent national audience reach cap for TV station groups, that it does have the authority to eliminate the UHF discount” – the old rule that discounts the number of viewers UHF stations reach by half, because they were weaker and harder to watch years ago before modern technology like cable, computers, etc. – and that it should eliminate the discount.

They – according to B&C – argue

“getting rid of the cap would threaten diversity, competition, and localism, and cites Sinclair Broadcasting, whose Tribune deal would benefit from lifting or eliminating the limit, pointing out that it distributes news stories that must run in its newscasts.”

The attorneys general included the ones from Illinois (home to Tribune) and Maryland (home to Sinclair), who opposed the takeover because

“the combination would decrease consumer choices and diversity in the media marketplace.”

According to The Sun, Sinclair claimed

“the merger would allow the new company to better serve local viewers with expanded local coverage, better facilities and more programming, delivered in part by operational efficiencies.”

Days later, on March 11, I published one of my longest posts.

“Call to action: Help stop Sinclair from taking over Tribune” went into detail about why the deal was bad and showed you how to contact the FCC, your Congressional representative and your senator.

This was when Sinclair started ordering hundreds of its local news anchors around the country to recite a script using President Trump’s talking points against the rest of the media.

You’ll remember,

“I’m [we are] extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that [proper news brand name of local station] produces. But I’m [we are] concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country.

“The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media. More alarming, national media outlets are publishing these same fake stories without checking facts first. Unfortunately, some members of the national media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’ … This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.

“We understand Truth is neither politically ‘left or right.’ Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever.”

feature group

And you’ll certainly watch it – and the parodies like above – in this post!

Blame it on Scott Livingston, Sinclair’s senior vice president of news, who wrote in a statement to CNN:

“Promo messages, like the one you are referring to, are very common in our industry. … “This promo addresses the troubling trend of false stories on social media [Livingston’s emphasis], and distinguishes our trusted local stations as news destinations where we are committed to honest and accurate reporting. This promo reminds our viewers of this mission.”

CNN also went into great detail about how the promos were supposed to “look and sound.”

“Talent should dress in jewel tones — however they should not look political in their dress or attire. … Avoid total red, blue and purples dresses and suits. Avoid totally red, blue and purple ties, the goal is to look apolitical, neutral, nonpartisan yet professional. Black or charcoal suits for men…females should wear yellow, gold, magenta, cyan, but avoid red, blue or purple.”

CNN concluded its description with,

“At the end of the promo, viewers are encouraged to send in feedback ‘if you believe our coverage is unfair’ and ‘Corporate will monitor the comments and send replies to your audience on your behalf,’ so ‘In other words, local stations are cut out of the interactions with viewers. Management will handle it instead.’”

I gave my opinion on the whole propaganda problem:

“TV stations should be run by their general managers who live in and are part of the community. And this is exactly the opposite. … It shouldn’t matter much whether GMs come from the sales side or the news side, as long as they’re serving the public interest. There should be hardly any interference from a major corporation’s headquarters.”

ABC News Nightline

I reminded readers, “Sinclair ordered all of its ABC stations not to air April 30, 2004’s episode of Nightline in which Ted Koppel read the names of the more than U.S. troops killed in action in the Iraq war,” how Sinclair said the Nightline program

“appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq. … Mr. Koppel and Nightline are hiding behind this so-called tribute in an effort to highlight only one aspect of the war effort and in doing so to influence public opinion against the military action in Iraq,”

and how the company’s lawyer Faber confirmed his company told its ABC affiliates not to air the program because,

“We find it to be contrary to public interest.”

Vietnam veteran and prisoner of war, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) disagreed. He wrote in a letter to David Smith:

“Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war’s terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking detail, is a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. … It is, in short, sir, unpatriotic. I hope it meets with the public opprobrium it most certainly deserves.”

Regardless of politics, whose opinion on “public interest” would you support, John McCain’s or David Smith’s?

Of course, Sinclair stations not airing the program with the rest of the country got many complaints.

So much for localism!

Speaking of David Smith, I had to mention The Baltimore Sun reporting he was arrested “and charged with committing a perverted sex act in a company-owned Mercedes” in August, 1996. It happened “in an undercover sting at Read and St. Paul streets, a downtown corner frequented by prostitutes.” Smith and Mary DiPaulo “were charged with committing unnatural and perverted sex act.” Police said “they witnessed the two engage in oral sex while Smith drove north” on Baltimore’s Jones Falls Expressway. Neither Sinclair nor its local flagship station WBFF-45 would comment. People in the media have lost jobs over less.

Is this someone who deserves a public broadcast license?

vote voting election

But back to politics. CNN also reported,

“According to campaign finance records, four of Sinclair’s top executives each have given the maximum campaign contribution of $2,000 to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. The executives have not given any donations to the campaign of Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee, the records showed.”

Looking back at that same electionThe Seattle Times wrote in 2013,

“Most notoriously, the company ordered its stations to air a documentary critical of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry right before the 2004 election. … After an uproar, the stations ended up airing just a few minutes of the documentary, Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal, as well as excerpts from a pro-Kerry documentary and interviews with veterans.”

The article continued,

President Barack Obama Official White House Photo
Official White House Photo

“In 2010, several Sinclair stations aired an infomercial about President Obama intended to sway voters in midterm elections. The 25-minute piece, funded by a Republican political-action group, said Obama “displays tendencies some would call socialist” and claimed the president had accepted campaign donations from Middle Eastern terrorist organizations.

“In 2012, on the Monday before the election, viewers in some swing states found their nightly news or other programs replaced on Sinclair channels by an ‘election special’ produced by Sinclair that was biased against Democrats.”

Therefore, I wrote,

“It appears Sinclair’s owners are far right-wingers using their assets (and our airwaves) to get what they want politically. That’s not the public interest.”

Neither is Sinclair being the king of the “must-runs,” which The New York Times reported in May arrive every day at its TV stations. The paper defined them as

“short video segments that are centrally produced by the company. Station managers around the country are directed to work them into the broadcast over a period of 24 or 48 hours.”

Again, so much for local control over content! The Times gave these examples:

“Since November 2015, Sinclair has ordered its stations to run a daily segment from a ‘Terrorism Alert Desk’ with updates on terrorism-related news around the world. During the election campaign last year, it sent out a package that suggested in part that voters should not support Hillary Clinton because the Democratic Party was historically pro-slavery. More recently, Sinclair asked stations to run a short segment in which Scott Livingston, the company’s vice president for news, accused the national news media of publishing ‘fake news stories.’”

komo

And it described a Seattle station the company bought less than five years earlier,

“Eight current and former KOMO employees described a newsroom where some have chafed at Sinclair’s programming directives, especially the must-runs, which they view as too politically tilted and occasionally of poor quality. They also cited features like a daily poll, which they believe sometimes asks leading questions.

“The journalists at KOMO described small acts of rebellion, like airing the segments at times of low viewership or immediately before or after commercial breaks so they blend in with paid spots. They all spoke on condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal from the company.

“Those interviewed said that being on the other side of the country from the corporate headquarters outside Baltimore gave them some breathing room. But not always.

“In late 2013, for instance, after The Seattle Times wrote an editorial criticizing Sinclair’s purchase of KOMO, Sinclair ordered KOMO to do a story critical of the newspaper industry, and of The Seattle Times in particular, according to two of the people interviewed.

“KOMO journalists were surprised in January when, at a morning planning meeting, they received what they considered an unusual request. The station’s news director, who normally avoided overtly political stories, instructed his staff to look into an online ad that seemed to be recruiting paid protesters for President Trump’s inauguration. Right-leaning media organizations had seized on the ad, which was later revealed as a hoax, as proof of coordinated efforts by the left to subvert Mr. Trump.

“Only after reporters had left the room did they learn the origin of the assignment, two of them said: The order had come down from Sinclair.”

Livingston, the company’s vice president for news, told The Times,

“We work very hard to be objective and fair and be in the middle. … I think maybe some other news organizations may be to the left of center, and we work very hard to be in the center.”

I interpreted that to mean Sinclair works very hard to be to the right of other news organizations.

At least the Seattle station, an ABC affiliate, carries news.

Sinclair owns a Fox affiliate in Pittsburgh, WPGH-Channel 53. It used to produce its own newscast but no longer does. Instead, it runs a newscast produced by a competitor. That’s one less local television voice.

Sinclair pretty much closed up shop in Toledo, Ohio. Its NBC affiliate there has a few people left in news but production is done out of its CBS/Fox stations in South Bend, Indiana. That includes its anchors and weather people. Who knows if they’ve ever been to Toledo, know anything about it, its history, what’s popular there, etc.? The weather person is supposed to know the nuances and micro-climates of that area. Sinclair has shown none of that matters.

mark hyman
Mark Hyman

Sinclair had its former Vice President for Corporate Relations Mark Hyman give “must air” right-wing commentaries for years and then hired former Trump campaign spokesman and advisor Boris Epshteyn as its chief political analyst, a month after he left the White House.

Boris Epshteyn clip artSinclair does not offer commentaries from the other side, but tells you the news programming their network-affiliated stations air is left-wing liberalism.

Plus, don’t forget President Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner said Sinclair executives worked with the campaign to spread pro-Trump messages in Sinclair newscasts.

And, concerning the FCC chairman,

“A New York Times investigation published in August found that Mr. Pai and his staff members had met and corresponded with Sinclair executives several times. One meeting, with Sinclair’s executive chairman, took place days before Mr. Pai, who was appointed by President Trump, took over as F.C.C. chairman.

“Sinclair’s top lobbyist, a former F.C.C. official, also communicated frequently with former agency colleagues and pushed for the relaxation of media ownership rules. And language the lobbyist used about loosening rules has tracked closely to analysis and language used by Mr. Pai in speeches favoring such changes.”

Then I scrutinized prices for Tribune stations Sinclair was buying versus past station sales and wrote,

“I think the FCC should insist Sinclair itemize every TV station it plans to buy from Tribune, tell everyone how much it values each and how it adds up to $3.9 billion.”

I think most journalists try to be fair and leave their own opinions at home because they tend to be good people who try to do the right thing, unlike a lot of the corporations that only look out for shareholders and in Sinclair’s case, the owners’ political views. That has caused veteran journalists at stations being bought by Sinclair leaving for the competition, stations in other cities, or just retiring so they could keep the benefits they’ve earned at the other company.

Back on March 23, we thought we’d learned the fates of seven more TV stations that would’ve had to be divested.

They were to go to political commentator, entrepreneur, author of a nationally syndicated conservative newspaper column, and host of the daily radio show and the nationally syndicated TV program, The Armstrong Williams Show. Williams is also the largest African-American owner of television stations in the U.S.

armstrong williams

Wikipedia described him as,

principal in Howard Stirk Holdingsa media company affiliated with Sinclair Broadcasting that has made numerous television station purchases.”

Williams had been in business with Sinclair – a corporation with overtly and pushy conservative leanings – before, but this time looked different.

The backstory is that Williams helped Sinclair buy Barrington Broadcasting. He got NBC affiliate WEYI-TV in Flint-Saginaw-Bay City, Mich., and CW affiliate WWMB in Myrtle Beach-Florence, S.C., BUT according to Wikipedia,

“Both stations remain operated by Sinclair under a local marketing agreement, which resulted in allegations that the company was simply acting as a ‘sidecar’ of Sinclair to skirt FCC ownership rules. Williams defended the allegations, noting that he had full control over their programming, and received the majority of their revenue.”

He did buy five other stations, three from Sinclair.

No price was announced in this deal.

at&t time warner

Funny thing is, according to White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, President Trump attacked AT&T’s $85.4 billion bid for Time Warner. However, he even spoke to Fox owner Rupert Murdoch in December and congratulated him on his Disney deal!

Maybe that’s because Fox owns Fox News Channel, which Trump likes, and Time-Warner owns CNN, which the president does not like.

Don’t forget Comcast had originally even offered more than Disney for all those Fox assets but was rejected! That may have been a good thing, since a federal judge let AT&T get Time Warner but the government is appealing. A Fox-Comcast deal would’ve been similar, with a content creator and a content provider.

Then I went over the FCC’s broadcast ownership limits and the reason a combined Sinclair-Tribune could not have simply kept the two highest-rated stations in a big city, or more than one in a smaller city.

Days later, on March 26, I mentioned the Sinclair Divestiture Trust. It’s a flexible list of stations in

“a series of Form 314 filings have been made with the FCC indicating the divestiture of up to 23 broadcast television properties by Sinclair.”

The stations – from both Sinclair and Tribune – were put in the trust “for the purpose of removing them from the licensee” – in other words, to be sold off.

According to RBR+TVBR, Sinclair noted stations were placed in the divestiture trust

“in order to retain flexibility, based on the outcome of Sinclair’s request to own two top-four stations in this market, to determine which station, if any, will be placed in the Trust.”

That’s because FCC rules would not have let the proposed controversial combination simply decide to hold onto the two highest-rated stations in a city.

I really wrote a lot because on March 30, I discussed how unionizing could’ve helped those news anchors at Sinclair-run stations who didn’t want to look into a camera and read that corporate promotional nonsense during newscasts. I think a union would’ve helped the journalists keep the business people in their place, which is out of the newsroom.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer — which properly discloses “KOMO News and SeattlePI have a content-sharing agreement” — called that script

“the next step in the company’s plan to undermine non-Sinclair outlets.”

The SeattlePI continued:

“The claim of balanced reporting is undermined by must-run segments like the one about the ‘Deep State’ that ran during KOMO’s 6pm newscast last week. In the March 21 segment, former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka parroted a Trump talking point regarding the existence of a ‘Deep State’ attempting to undermine the U.S. government.

“That segment was produced by Sinclair’s Kristine Frazao, who before coming to Sinclair was a reporter and anchor for the Russian-government funded news network RT, described as ‘the Kremlin’s propaganda outlet’ by the Columbia Journalism Review.

“Sinclair also requires stations to run segments from Boris Epshteyn, a Russian-born former Trump adviser who now serves as Sinclair’s chief political analyst. Epshteyn recently produced stories with titles like, ‘Pres. Trump deserves cabinet and staff who support his agenda, yield successes’ and ‘Cable news channels are giving way too much coverage to Stormy Daniels.’”

In January, Sinclair had some nerve when it “asked employees to donate to its political action committee meant to sway lawmakers.” FTV Live’s Scott Jones leaked the document that called the Sinclair Political Action Committee, “our fund that supports candidates for Congress who can influence the future of broadcasting” — in their interest, of course!

jerry springer
Jerry Springer

This all made me wonder when it’s time to jump ship, like WMAQ’s Carol Marin did in Chicago in 1997 when Jerry Springer started giving commentaries on her newscast. The New York Times called her “one of that city’s most popular and respected television news anchors.” Her co-anchor also quit.

I ended with New York magazine publishing a piece titled “Local news is turning into Trump TV, even though viewers don’t want it” describing — without repeating what’s above — how

“Trump’s handpicked FCC chair, Ajit Pai, spent much of last year dismantling regulatory obstacles to media consolidation — including two rules that stood in the way of Sinclair’s desired merger with Tribune Media.”

Then it presumed “Sinclair has repaid this favor with interest” and asked “Why has Sinclair’s programming become more right-wing, even as it has expanded into more left-leaning media markets?”

On April 4, my post “My urge: Follow your conscience, despite the cost” discussed how local TV news anchors around the country have been reading those nonsense marketing scripts the rulers of Sinclair Broadcast Group demanded.

According to Bloomberg, the day before, the statement takes “aim at the integrity of other U.S. media outlets.”

That left many – myself included – wondering why some of the company’s journalists with credibility didn’t just quit doing what they’re told, despite the fact they hate everything about it, personally and professionally? Wouldn’t you have more respect for someone who uses their conscience and just says no, regardless of the consequences?

Bloomberg reported,

“The short answer is the cost may be too steep. According to copies of two employment contracts reviewed by Bloomberg, some Sinclair employees were subject to a liquidated damages clause for leaving before the term of their agreement was up: one that requires they pay as much as 40 percent of their annual compensation to the company.”

Can you imagine?

And that right to enforce the liquidated damages clause isn’t just a scare tactic. I gave an example and later learned, a Sinclair assistant news director who left for a job in another city less than two months before her contract ended had to pay too much to leave.

With Sinclair, some employees who never appeared on television were still required to sign such contracts.

Want to fight? Then there’s forced arbitration which means no sympathetic jury for the employee.

No reasonable person can feel anything but resentment if they know how the company operates.

But don’t forget journalists are natural storytellers.

Mediaite reported in Portland, Ore., the general manager issued an internal memo instructing his staff not to answer questions from anyone contacting them! FTVLive’s Scott Jones got a copy of the memo, which said most callers “likely haven’t actually watched and don’t have full context on (sic) due to social media, etc. I will also remind you that giving statements to the media or sharing negative information about the company can have huge implications.” Click here to see it.

Despite what you read, President Trump tweeted twice he’s a fan of Sinclair.

But KOMO-Seattle anchor Mary Nam – remember, a Sinclair station – took issue with the president and had the guts to call him out for calling watching “Fake News Networks” funny.

Another Sinclair station, WMSN in Madison, Wisc., was dealing with record snowfall (even for them!) and an important state Supreme Court election. Sounds a lot more local, important and even life-saving than the bullshit Sinclair demanded.

And thanks again to FTV Live’s Scott Jones who found this gem from WGN-TV executive producer Jeff Hoover.

In Rochester, Norma Holland of WHAM-13’s Good Day Rochester wrote about her dilemma on Facebook:

The Huffington Post reported,

“Some employees have spoken out about their frustration at having to parrot the conservative politics of their employer,” but also, “Others say they’d like to do more, but they’re wary due to what they say is Sinclair’s policy and practice of closely monitoring its employees.”

Also, “There’s a lot held over us,” a journalist at a Sinclair affiliate told HuffPost on the condition of anonymity. “They pay attention to what websites we’re on.”

Plus,

“Sinclair employees say their parent company often pays especially close attention to its affiliates’ editorial activities, meddling in how they present their stories and graphics, and sometimes going so far as to delete offensive comments on an affiliate’s online articles before that station’s own web editors have a chance to do so.”

So a huge THANK YOU to everyone who has done their part to fight for what’s right. I hope they all still have their jobs, or moved on to something better. Unfortunately, I don’t think that was the case in Portland, Ore.

On April 10, I showed you Sinclair is having an effect on trust in local news.

Local news organizations remained the most trusted source of information in Pew Research Center’s polling on trust in media – even though in January, a Pew Research Center report announced fewer Americans regularly rely on TV news, down to 50 percent of U.S. adults, from 57 percent a year prior.

Then, The Poynter Institute says Emory University researchers found

“many TV local news stations are focusing more on national politics and have taken a rightward slant over the past year. And that move is stemming from ownership of the stations, not the demands of a local audience.”

Poynter noted,

“The study comes just as many are raising concerns about a coordinated effort by one major owner of TV stations that forces its anchors to record a segment about ‘the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country.’”

The researchers examined 7.5 million transcript segments from 743 local news stations and saw huge differences between other stations, and outlets owned by Sinclair.

“The authors found Sinclair stations, on average, carried about a third less local politics coverage and a quarter more national politics … (including) commentaries the stations are forced to run by former Trump official Boris Epshteyn.”

Again, how can they claim they’re good for localism?!

On April 11, I wrote about FCC Chairman Ajit Pai speaking at a Las Vegas meeting, the day before.

TVNewsCheck’s Harry A. Jessell reported him saying his approach to broadcast regulations was,

“You either believe in scrapping outdated regulations or you don’t. We do.”

Under the former Verizon lawyer’s leadership, eight rules were eliminated with more to come. (Of course, we know the UHF discount is back, putting Pai under investigation by the FCC inspector general.)girl watching tv

As for what’s next, according to Pai, “In particular, Commissioner [Michael] O’Rielly is now leading an effort to update our children’s television rules so that they better reflect the way that kids watch video these days, and I look forward to getting his recommendations.”

Jessell said O’Rielly got

“a call from an Ohio broadcaster who said his plans for a Saturday morning news program were ‘derailed’ by the need to make way for children’s programming.”

I don’t know which station but will go to go out on a limb and say the news program would be much cheaper using a set already in the studio and an announcer already on staff. And where was the required children’s programming anyway? That’s just my two cents.

Also from Jessell:

“Pai also patted himself on the back for helping broadcasters secure an additional $1 billion from Congress to insure that they will be fully reimbursed for moving to new channels in the wake of the FCC incentive auction.”

So much for helping the poor and the children! Ain’t government great?!

On May 4, I published the massive “Media mega-merger may be moving closer, impacting Miami” because we learned the biggest news for a local TV market if Sinclair and Tribune would’ve merged would’ve been Miami/Fort Lauderdale (of course!).

A week earlier, TVNewsCheck‘s Harry Jessell noted,

For nearly a year, Sinclair has been screwing around, working every angle in its grim determination to hang on to every Tribune station it could in the face of FCC ownership caps and Justice Department antitrust limits.”

But the deal announced in May, 2017, still hadn’t happened.

Government approval would have to come from the Justice Department for antitrust worries, and the FCC to approve ownership limits.

A number of stations would have to be sold and I’d already explained TV ownership limits, with four rules in play: 1. national TV ownership, 2. local TV multiple ownership, 3. the number of independently owned “media voices” – 4. and at least one of the stations is not ranked among the top four stations in the DMA (that’s the “designated market area” or city, and ranking based on audience share), and at least eight independently owned TV stations would remain in the market after the proposed combination.

On April 24, The Wall Street Journal reported Sinclair said it’ll spin off 23 stations in 18 markets – some owned by Sinclair and others by Tribune.

Also on April 24, Deadline magazine reported, “Sinclair expects the transactions for the station sales to close the same day the Tribune deal is approved, and now estimates it all will be wrapped up by June.” Obviously that didn’t happen.

These are the stations owned by Sinclair that would be divested if the merger goes through…

sinclair divest

and these are the stations owned by Tribune.

tribune divest

So we learned who would get the stations, but it’s more complicated than the charts show.

The official licensee could have a different name but we know we’re dealing with stations owned by Sinclair and Tribune.

More importantly and suspiciously is the last column, called Buyer. That’s because Sinclair has been the king of using shell companies to get around ownership rules. These corporations are either owned by the Smith family that owns Sinclair, or others that let Sinclair program them through local marketing agreements. Sinclair doesn’t technically own all those stations, but operates them as if they do.

Cunningham Broadcasting

Cunningham Broadcasting Corporation is the most controversial. It calls itself

“an independent television broadcast company that, together with its subsidiaries, owns and/or operates 20 television stations in 18 markets across the United States.”

Notice “owns and/or operates.”

As for independent, Forbes magazine (not a liberal publication) put out an article called “Meet the Billionaire Clan Behind the Media Outlet Liberals Love To Hate” and it described Sinclair’s owners and their ties to Cunningham.

“The Smith family, which includes brothers David, Robert, Frederick, J. Duncan and a flurry of family trusts, is worth a combined $1.2 billion, Forbes estimates, based on the family members’ ownership of stock in publicly traded Sinclair Broadcasting, share sales over the past 15 years, dividends and some private assets,” it read.

“Revenues have increased 281% over the last decade to $2.7 billion in 2017, while Sinclair’s share price has increased 367% over the same period, pushing its market capitalization up to a recent $3 billion. All of this growth has occurred under the control and oversight of David Smith, 67, the chairman and former CEO of the company, as well as the son of the company’s founder Julian Sinclair Smith,” it continued.

Jessell of TVNewsCheck reported, “Its financials are consolidated with Sinclair’s in its SEC filings and earnings reports.”

Forbes quoted Daniel Kurnos, an analyst at Benchmark Capital, as saying, “Sinclair plays some of the hardest ball of anyone,” from acquiring stations to negotiating advertisement pricing and retransmission fees, which are some of the highest in the business.

sinclair before tribune

Under David Smith, who wouldn’t comment for the article, Sinclair went from three cities – Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Columbus – to what it is now.

“To ‘purely make money’ in a scale-oriented business, David bought up as many broadcast stations as possible. First he concentrated on secondary markets, like Memphis, St. Louis and San Antonio, where operation costs were cheaper than in places like New York or Chicago.

“I believed that certain things were going to happen in the television industry, the most important being consolidation,” David told Forbes in 1996.

So much for public service!

Then came the controversial Cunningham, arguably rigging the system.

“In the 1990s, the company pioneered a technique to circumvent an FCC rule limiting ownership of more than one TV station per metro area. David’s mother, Carolyn Smith, started another business, Cunningham Broadcasting. Following Carolyn’s death in 2012, most of the ownership of Cunningham Broadcasting shifted to a family trust, which is included in the overall Smith family valuation.”

So Cunningham really isn’t independent, as its website claims!

Known as “Glencairn, Ltd. prior to 2002,” it got into some trouble back in 1998. In July of that year, Broadcasting & Cable magazine reported,

PUSH pushing FCC over Sinclair/Glencairn

“The Rainbow/PUSH Coalition is raising questions at the FCC about whether Sinclair Broadcasting is exercising control over a minority-headed TV group with which it has struck a series of local marketing agreements (LMAs).

“In a July 1 filing at the FCC, Rainbow/PUSH said it plans to study whether the LMA deal between Sinclair’s KABB(TV) San Antonio and Glencairn’s KRRT(TV) Kerrville, Tex., violates the commission’s prohibition against common ownership of two local stations. (The rules were more strict then.)

“‘Rainbow/PUSH has not had an opportunity to fully research this matter, and thus preserves here the question of whether Glencaim is the alter ego of Sinclair,’ the group told the FCC.”

More than three years later, in Dec., 2001, Broadcasting & Cable was finally able to report the decision.

FCC fines Sinclair for Glencairn control

“Sinclair Broadcasting exercised illegal control of business partner Glencairn Ltd., the FCC found Monday after three years of investigating the companies’ relationship.

“Each company was fined $40,000 but escaped tougher sanction sought by civil rights groups-a government rejection of Sinclair’s request to buy 14 stations from Sullivan Broadcasting.

“The commission’s three Republicans judged that the companies were liable for misinterpreting FCC policies, but found they did not intentionally mislead the agency about compliance.

“Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps wanted the FCC to pursue a tougher sanction and voted to designate the station sales for hearing in front of an administrative law judge.

“Sinclair has repeatedly ‘stretched the limits’ of FCC ownership rules, he said.”

Back to the Forbes article, last year, Cunningham paid Sinclair more than $120 million for running its stations. Also, Cunningham admits its treasurer and chief financial officer, Lisa Asher, worked as Sinclair’s assistant controller before moving over in 2002.

So we know Cunningham, set to buy Tribune stations in Dallas and Houston, appears to be a shell company, and we can make bets who will operate and control it if the Sinclair-Tribune deal ever comes to fruition.

But there’s a lot more evidence.

Cunningham is headquartered near Sinclair in Maryland, which is very convenient since

“Cunningham Broadcasting owns the FCC broadcast licenses and operates through various management agreements with Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. WNUV-TV in Baltimore, Maryland; WTTE-TV in Columbus, Ohio; WMYA-TV in Anderson, South Carolina; WRGT-TV in Dayton, Ohio; WVAH-TV in Charleston, West Virginia; WDBB-TV in Bessemer, Alabama; WBSF-TV in Flint, Michigan; WGTU-TV in Traverse City, Michigan; KBVU-TV in Eureka, California; KCVU-TV in Chico-Redding, California; WEMT-TV in Greeneville, Tennessee; WPFO-TV in Portland, Maine; WYDO-TV in Greenville, North Carolina; and KRNV-TV & KENV-TV in Reno, Nevada.”

bonten tri-cities stations
Bonten’s Tri-Cities stations, from the signature below my work email

Looking at its list of stations — something the Fox Television Stations Group never posted on its own website despite me calling them out for it herehereherehere (so far in no particular order, although I may have missed a couple), and my favorite, here — I showed you Sinclair bought Bonten Media Group but Cunningham bought the stations Bonten operated. Notice those stations listed on the website have no websites of their own.

WBFF

Another dead giveaway is that Cunningham is based at 2000 W. 41st Street, Baltimore MD 21211 and coincidentally, Sinclair flagship WBFF-45 (Fox affiliate) has the same address!

But not just WBFF.

WNUV

So is WNUV-54 (CW affiliate), which says it’s

“owned and operated by Cunningham Broadcasting Corporation and receives certain services from an affiliation of Sinclair Broadcast Group.”

(Sinclair, the corporation, is based in nearby Hunt Valley, MD.)

But that’s not all, folks!WUTV

There’s still WUTV-24 (MyNetworkTV affiliate), with the same look as the other websites, which says it’s

“a SBG Television affiliate owned and operated by Deerfield Media, Inc and receives certain services from an affiliation of Sinclair Broadcast Group.”

Deerfield, with apparently no website of its own (so see Wikipedia’s take), is another of the shell companies, formed in 2012 but not involved in the proposed Tribune transaction.

How’d that happen?

In Nov., 2012, TVNewsCheck reported,

“For years (before 2012), Fox Television Stations’ WUTB Baltimore gave Fox considerable leverage in its sometime contentious affiliation negotiations with Sinclair Broadcast Group.

“If Sinclair ever got out of line, Fox could threaten to yank its affiliation from Sinclair’s flagship station WBFF Baltimore and move it to WUTB.

“But last May, Fox relinquished that leverage when it extended its affiliation with WBFF and 18 other Sinclair stations for five years starting Jan. 1, 2013, and granted Sinclair an option to buy WUTB.

“Sinclair is now exercising that option by assigning it to a third party, Deerfield LLC.

“According to an FCC filing seeking approval of the deal, Deerfield is buying WUTB and allowing Sinclair to run the MNT affiliate through joint sales and shared services agreements.

“The deal gives Sinclair a virtual triopoly in Baltimore where it also operates CW affiliate WNUV, which is owned by Cunningham Broadcasting, Sinclair’s longtime duopoly partner that is controlled by trusts for the children of Sinclair’s controlling shareholders.”

But Sinclair and Deerfield were already in cahoots.

Months earlier, in July, 2012, MarketWatch reported Sinclair intended

“to buy six television stations from Newport Television LLC for $412.5 million and agreed to buy Bay Television Inc. for $40 million. … Sinclair also agreed to sell the license assets of its San Antonio station KMYS and its WSTR station in Cincinnati to Deerfield Media Inc. Sinclair will also assign Deerfield the right to buy the license assets of WPMI and WJTC in the Mobile/Pensacola market, after which Sinclair will provide sales and other non-programming services to each of these four stations under shared services and joint sales agreements.”

The next day, TVNewsCheck reported,

“Sinclair Broadcast is getting six stations in five markets for $412.5 million:
— Cincinnati (DMA 35) — WKRC (CBS)
— San Antonio, Texas (DMA 36) — WOAI (NBC)
— Harrisburg-Lancaster (DMA 41) — WHP (CBS)
— Mobile, Ala.-Pensacola, Fla. (DMA 60) — WPMI (NBC) and WJTC (Ind.)
— Wichita, Kan. (DMA 67) — KSAS (Fox)

“Sinclair is also acquiring Newport’s rights to operate third-party duopoly stations in Harrisburg, Pa. (CW affiliate WLYH), and Wichita, Kan. (MNT affiliate KMTW). Those rights include options to buy the stations. …

“While Sinclair was buying, it was also selling.

“It said it would spin off its CW affiliate in San Antonio (KMYS) and its MNT affiliate in Cincinnati (WSTR) to Deerfield Media Inc., presumably to comply with the FCC ownership limits. In the deal, Deerfield also picks up an option to buy two of the stations it is acquiring from Newport, WPMI-WJTC Mobile, Ala.-Pensacola, Fla.

“Sinclair said it intends to ‘provide sales and other non-programming services to each of these four stations pursuant to shared services and joint sales agreements.’

“In yet another deal, Sinclair said it is buying WTTA Tampa-St. Petersburg from Bay Television Inc. for $40 million. Since 1998, Sinclair has operated WTTA pursuant to a local marketing agreement.”

And that was the start of the Deerfield connection!

Even more telling is that Deerfield’s WUTV moved from Channel 24 (24.1) to 45.2, which is a subchannel of Sinclair’s WBFF! The website doesn’t tell why. It just explains to viewers watching over the air with an antenna how to rescan, but the reason is really the FCC’s recent spectrum auction.

With three stations realistically (unless you prefer names over control), Sinclair was in a great position to sell off some spectrum space and make even more money. This website shows Channel 24 will go off the air and the owner (or operator?) will get $122,912,964 for its spectrum.

So for those of you in Baltimore, do you need to reach the newsroom, are you looking for a job (Would they hire me for my investigative work?), or interested in inspecting the FCC public file of any of the three stations? All the information is the same, from address to phone numbers, and we already established three stations in one city are not allowed!

Why was the FCC the last to find out? Or did it know and ignore the facts for political reasons?hsh Howard Stirk Holdings

To the next perspective buyer…

HSH stands for Howard Stirk Holdings, and is owned by Armstrong Williams. That’s now mostly true.

In a Broadcasting & Cable article on the news section of HSH’s website dated July, 2013, Williams mentions suing the FCC because it

“adopted a new rule restricting joint sales agreements (JSAs) between television broadcasters in the same market.”

He claimed,

“It effectively slams the door shut on an important gateway to enhancing localism, viewpoint diversity, and opportunities in broadcast television ownership by minorities and underrepresented groups.”

But there’s more.

Armstrong Williams talked about the impact of a March 31, 2014, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling that television station owners cannot control more than one station in the same local market via the use of joint sales agreements and shared services agreements, often known as “sidecar” deals. Mr. Armstrong, who owns two TV stations through a sidecar agreement with Sinclair Broadcasting, argued that the ruling could cause minority owners, and small station owners more generally, to be forced out of existence.”

That’s from a C-SPAN article on the news section of HSH’s website dated April, 2014, where you can watch the whole interview.

Washington Times article from a few weeks earlier, on the same News page as the others on HSH’s website, said,

“The FCC, backed by the Obama administration Justice Department, argues that broadcasters have used the shared-service, or “sidecar,” arrangements to circumvent long-standing rules against owning multiple television stations in a single market, allowing them to raise ad prices and weaken market competition.”

It seemed every article in HSH’s News section mentioned Sinclair or those joint sales agreements designed to get by without abiding by the FCC’s ownership rules!

In other words, he was a great partner for Sinclair since he’s a minority (but without the views of most other minorities) and they’re both making money by using each other!

But I found it eventually gets somewhat better.

Wikipedia said Williams helped Sinclair buy Barrington Broadcasting in late 2013, so he got stations in Flint, MI, and Myrtle Beach, SC, but they remain operated by Sinclair. They’re actually his only stations run by Sinclair and remember, at the time, his company was accused of “acting as a ‘sidecar’ of Sinclair to skirt FCC ownership rules.”

But that was then.

A year later, he actually, really bought three stations from Sinclair: one in Charleston and two in Alabama. So they’ve been in business several times, and it may not be over.

That means as of now, Howard Stirk Holdings owns seven stations. Two are in the same Anniston-Tuscaloosa-Birmingham, Ala., market, and Williams’ first two are still run by Sinclair. Now, after other purchases, he’s expecting to buy three more if the Sinclair-Tribune merger happens.

standard media

Then there’s Standard Media GroupI hadn’t heard of them either. Its website says Standard General was founded in 2007 and is pretty much an investment adviser, but getting into the broadcasting business. I was skeptical since investment firms are more likely to sell than others with broadcasting in their blood, especially ones who invest in their communities.

However, I learned it’s owned by Soohyung Kim, who started Standard Media to buy nine of the 23 stations. He was a hedge fund manager involved with Media General, Young Broadcasting and LIN before Media General bought them, and Nexstar bought Media General. He owns no TV stations now, and he’s bringing his winning team from years ago with him.

Standard said if the deal goes through, it’ll fulfill its “goal of swiftly building a substantial broadcast television group with a strong and diverse voice” that includes four state capitals.

meredith corporation

TVSpy noted in St. Louis, where Sinclair owns a station and Tribune owns two, Meredith Corp. “signed a deal to acquire KPLR (CW) from Tribune for $65 million, pairing it with KMOV (CBS) which Meredith has owned since 2013.” But that may not happen, even if there is a merger. The Justice Department denied the company the immediate right to create the duopoly.

Sinclair already owns KDNL (ABC) and would also own Tribune’s KTVI (FOX). Great for owners’ synergies. Bad for the number of independent voices in such a big city. Which do you care more about?

We mentioned New York and Chicago, and those plans have changed.

Politico reported on a potential Sinclair news channel, even though Sinclair execs gave denied it. The channel may be just a few hours in the evening to challenge Fox News for conservative viewers. Fox News is carried in more than 90 million homes, compared to 80 million for WGN America which Sinclair would own if regulators approve, and 55 million for the Tennis Channel which Sinclair already owns. It would be based in Washington, DC, where the company already owns local station WJLA-7 and produces some of its national content.

Fox wasn’t on the list of buyers while negotiations were taking place.

Jessell of TVNewsCheck was more direct, saying all Sinclair

“has to do now is wrap up its negotiations with Fox. I don’t know what’s delaying that deal, except that neither Fox nor Sinclair is famous for making concessions. Once Sinclair does that, it can finalize its application and the FCC can complete it long-stalled review.”

That’s where I wrote,

Those greedy bastards are going to end up screwing everything up for themselves (which I’d love to see happen), and you’ve only read about half of the plans, so far!

NFL LogoFox wanted stations in football cities so badly, it got its hands on Cox’s KTVU in San Francisco (with an NFC team, the 49ers, and the AFC Oakland Raiders across the bay will now be moving to Las Vegas in 2020) and gave Cox its own stations in Boston (the New England Patriots are AFC) and Memphis (no NFL team).

Football teams have moved, but the cities Fox wants are Seattle (especially because it’s NFC), and Cleveland, Denver and Miami (because they have AFC teams). San Diego and St. Louis no longer have teams, so Fox isn’t interested in Tribune’s Fox affiliates in those cities.

Seattle, Cleveland and Denver should be easy. The stations are already Fox affiliates so prime-time programming and the amount of news shouldn’t change. And Fox has leverage because it can threaten to take away its affiliation from those stations, lowering their value, if they’re sold to another company.

Miami is a different story. Fox has a very good affiliate, WSVN-7, owned by Ed Ansin’s Sunbeam Television. The ratings are great, the Miami Dolphins play there, and as an AFC team, they show up on Fox on a few Sundays and may also now be seen on Fox on Thursdays.

Fox WSFL WSVN

But the station that’s available is Tribune’s WSFL-39, a CW affiliate without a news department despite a few morning attempts. Should Fox dump WSVN and start from scratch with WSFL? Would it be worth the effort?

In another article, Jessell analyzed the ownership numbers in this case, and you try to figure out what’s true.

He led by saying,

“Sinclair is telling the FCC that its coverage after spinoffs from its merger with Tribune will be just 58.7%. But that’s for regulatory purposes. (In other words, with the revived UHF discount that only counts channels 14 and up as half the audience of the market.) In the real world, where it matters, Sinclair’s national reach will be 66.3% — a full two-thirds of TV homes.”

But he said Sinclair is telling the FCC

“the coverage of the group will be just 58.7% and, with the UHF discount, below the statutory 39% cap. But those percentages are for regulatory consumption, not the real world.”

So there’s a 7.6-point disparity, the difference between 58.7% and 66.3%. How’d that happen? And don’t forget about the part,

“with the UHF discount, below the statutory 39% cap.”

Jessell explained Sinclair

“is claiming 58% because it is not counting stations in three big markets — WGN Chicago, KDAF Dallas, KIAH Houston — that it is spinning off to closely affiliated companies. Without those markets and the discount in effect, Sinclair’s reach will be just 37.39%, safely below the 39% cap.”

Plus, with Dallas and Houston (but not Chicago),

“Sinclair has put additional distance between itself and Cunningham” but will “have an option to buy the stations should the FCC ever ease the rules to allow it.”

So this is Jessell’s bottom line:

“So, again, for regulatory purposes, Sinclair’s reach will be 58.7% without the discount and 37.39% with it.

“But I don’t think that is reality. Those are not the numbers that Sinclair will be showing national advertisers, MVPDs, vendors and others with which it does business.

“In the real world, Sinclair will have a lot of control over Chicago and some control over Dallas and Houston, and its effective national reach will be 66.3%. (For the record, its reach with the UHF discount will be 41.1%, two points over the cap, but that will not matter because regulators will not be counting the three markets.)”

But Deadline noted Sinclair

“has faced further attention in recent weeks over a push to have local anchors at its stations read company-scripted messages, including a recent prohibition against fake news. The spots … struck many in media as too closely aligned with the dismissive rhetoric of President Donald Trump.”

So the company hasn’t been doing itself any favors.

On May 8, I showed you how the FCC had just published a letter from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s response to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) regarding the proposed Sinclair-Tribune merger. Sen. Durbin and others have been especially concerned about Tribune’s WGN-TV9 in Chicago.

Pai to Durbin
https://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2018/db0507/DOC-350587A1.pdf

And the last story I wrote was on May 9. “BREAKING NEWS: Fox buying Miami station” may have gotten more views than any other post.

The negotiation spat between Fox and Sinclair ended with 21st Century Fox announcing it would buy the seven TV stations Tribune owned that had to be spun off to not exceed ownership limits, but had not yet officially found buyers.

“21st Century Fox today announced a definitive agreement with Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media Company to acquire seven television stations for approximately $910 million. The transaction will grow Fox Television Stations’ (FTS) coverage to nearly half of all U.S. households, and its market presence to 19 of the top 20 DMAs, including the addition of key markets that align with Fox’s sports rights,” it said.

fox chart

Six of those seven are Fox affiliates, so not much would’ve changed for viewers in those cities.

Fox WSFL

Yet, the Miami/Fort Lauderdale station is a CW affiliate. What would become of it, and also Sunbeam-owned Fox affiliate powerhouse WSVN? We may never know since the merger looks dead.

The CEO of Fox Television Stations, Jack Abernethy, said,

“This transaction illustrates Fox’s commitment to local broadcasting and we are pleased to add these stations to our existing portfolio. With this acquisition, we will now compete in 19 of the top 20 markets and have a significantly larger presence in the west, which will enhance our already strong platform. This expansion will further enrich our valuable alignments with the NFL, including our new Thursday Night Football rights, MLB and college sports assets. We are also happy to add many talented Tribune employees to our group, some of whom we know well.”

That’s because Fox actually used to own the Cleveland, Salt Lake City and Denver stations but sold them to a company called Local TV which sold itself to Tribune. So much for Fox actually caring about those communities when it owned those stations, sold them, and now wants them back. I hope the people of Cleveland, Salt Lake City and Denver will challenge Fox’s proposed buy with the FCC.

Also, Fox entered into new network affiliation agreements with Sinclair and the stations it doesn’t own but still operates.

Of course, where would Fox find that approximately $910 million to buy the stations? By selling off most of its assets like its movie and TV studio, cable networks FX and National Geographic, and regional sports networks to Disney – keeping just its network, TV stations, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network and FS1/FS2 cable sports channels.

Remember, a much leaner “New Fox” network plans to concentrate more on live events, specifically NFL football.

But it may not matter due to this point from the Fox news release:

“Completion of the stations acquisition by 21st Century Fox is anticipated for the second half of this calendar year, subject to the satisfaction of customary closing conditions, including regulatory approvals, and is expected to be coordinated with the closing of Sinclair’s proposed acquisition of Tribune.”

And that’s not so likely anymore.

Since the merger announcement, there have been many holdups. Most notably is opposition from people who hate Sinclair’s conservative leanings, must-run commentaries on its local stations and its history of forced network preemptions. There are also those who think Sinclair was already too big of a company and adding Tribune to it would make it much larger.

After a merger, Sinclair said in a news release,

“Pro forma for the Tribune acquisition and related station divestitures, the Company will own, operate and/or provide services to 215 television stations in 102 markets.”

And I quickly responded,

“Something tells me that company doesn’t know what to say and brags too much, which makes its opponents angrier.”

Deadline magazine said that’ll “reach 62% of U.S. households, but 37.4% according to FCC rules limiting station ownership” — which is 39 percent.

Sinclair owner/chairman David Smith (who also controls Cunningham with his siblings, even though it claims to be independent) was apparently smart enough to stay quiet.

WSFL was supposed to be spun off and not take part in any Sinclair-Tribune merger, since Fox was concentrating on cities in the NFL’s NFC conference. The Miami Dolphins are in the AFC, and WSFL is a CW affiliate without a news department.

I suggested Fox look at CBS, making money while owning CW affiliates (it owns half of the CW) and also independent stations, while letting outside companies with either stronger reach or good news departments have the CBS affiliations.

I predicted WSFL losing its CW affiliation since CBS owns two stations in the market. There’s the CBS station WFOR-4, and WBFS-33 which became a MyNetworkTV affiliate to please CW partner Tribune, since CBS got the CW in so many other cities back when the WB and UPN combined.

If Fox ever gets WSFL, it would make perfect sense for CBS to move the CW affiliation to WBFS. WSFL would be a MyNetworkTV affiliate which is perfectly fine, since Fox owns MyNetworkTV.

Fox would have a place to air any network programming WSVN preempts, its Fox News would have access to WSVN’s powerful news coverage like it does from any other affiliate, it could say it owns a station in Miami/Fort Lauderdale to give advertisers more scale, and it could program and promote WSFL and its MyNetworkTV shows any way it wants.

That’s how I saw the perfect solution.

Of course, nobody is perfect and Fox doesn’t always make the right decisions.

It could start news at WSFL. That would give viewers another choice for news but be a kick in the face to WSVN and confuse the viewers, since the market is already splintered with popular stations in two languages.

And I had to say, the Fox Television Stations Group website never posted the acquisition news. But it did show press releases from Feb. 8, 2017 and Nov. 3, 2016.

Instead, it looks like there will be no Sinclair-Tribune merger. The FCC’s administrative judge could take a year to make a decision, and these companies – not to mention their employees – have ants in their pants.

Part of Sinclair’s statement last Monday, July 16, said,

“During these discussions and in our filings with the FCC, we have been completely transparent about every aspect of the proposed transaction. We have fully identified who the buyers are and the terms under which stations would be sold to such buyer, including any ongoing relationship we would have with any such stations after the sales. … At no time have we withheld information or misled the FCC in any manner whatsoever with respect to the relationships or the structure of those relationships proposed as part of the Tribune acquisition. Any suggestion to the contrary is unfounded and without factual basis. … As a result and in light of the ongoing and constructive dialogue we had with the FCC during the past year, we were *shocked* (my asterisks) that concerns are now being raised.

And with Cox coming in and putting its stations up for sale, the dynamics may have completely changed.

cox media group

I’m going to call it a night and return tomorrow with all the details of what went wrong (or right, if you saw things my way).

Each of the articles above came with details and pictures, and some with videos.

Please leave your comments in the section below, and don’t miss out. If you like what you read here, subscribe to CohenConnect.com with either your email address or WordPress account, and get a notice whenever I publish. I’m also available for writing/web contract work.

Sanctuary cities judges show they know justice, not politics

I’m not writing to take an opinion on the issues of sanctuary cities or illegal immigration, but have to say I’m pleased a gang of Republican-appointed federal judges were willing to rule against a president from their own party.

Philly.com reports from the Associated Press that this afternoon,

“A federal appeals court in Chicago has ruled that President Donald Trump’s administration cannot withhold public safety grants from cities that don’t cooperate with its immigration enforcement policies, agreeing with a temporary injunction imposed earlier this year by a lower court judge.”

The decision by three judges on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says the administration tried to exceed its authority by establishing a new condition for cities to qualify for public safety money. Instead, Congress earmarked the money without that condition.

Judge Ilana Rovner wrote, in an opinion joined by Judge William Bauer,

“The Attorney General in this case used the sword of federal funding to conscript state and local authorities to aid in federal civil immigration enforcement. … But the power of the purse rests with Congress, which authorized the federal funds at issue and did not impose any immigration enforcement condition on the receipt of such funds.”

jail Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

According to Politico, judges here in Philadelphia and also Los Angeles “blocked attempts to add the immigration-related conditions to new federal grants.”

“Sanctuary cities” are those that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration agents by letting them know when immigrants in the country illegally are about to be released from police detention.

Last July, the Trump team decided cities receiving public safety grants — that can be used to buy public-safety equipment, including police cars — must agree to inform federal agents.

Chicago Police Wikipedia
Wikipedia

Then, Chicago and several cities sued, and a lower court judge imposed a temporary injunction on the administration’s requirement.

This afternoon, all three judges agreed, so that nationwide injunction will stay in force. But one judge said the ruling should apply to Chicago only. That detail won’t matter.

Judge Daniel Manion wrote,

“Other jurisdictions that do not want to comply with the Notice and Access conditions were not parties to this suit, and there is no need to protect them in order to protect Chicago. … A nationwide preliminary injunction … should only be issued where it is absolutely necessary, and it is far from absolutely necessary here.”

Rahm Emanuel Wikipedia
Wikipedia

A pleased Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel praised the judge who wrote the decision.

“Judge Rovner says in her opinion that Chicago does not interfere with the federal government’s lawful enforcement of immigration laws and pursuit of its civil immigration activities, and presence in such localities will not immunize anyone to the reach of the federal government,” Emanuel said.

But he did mention the fight isn’t over, since the money hasn’t yet come.

Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley disagreed, writing in a statement,

“We will continue to fight to carry out the Department’s commitment to the rule of law, protecting public safety, and keeping criminal aliens off the streets to further perpetrate crimes.”

Several cities established policies to protect immigrants since Trump won the 2016 election.

DF-ST-87-11855
Wikimedia Commons

Politico noted, “Rovner was appointed by President George H.W. Bush, Bauer by President Gerald Ford and Manion by President Ronald Reagan, all Republicans.”

Three cheers to all three, since the judiciary should be separate from politics, just like they ruled the Executive branch should be separate from the Legislative.

These folks did the right thing, at least this time, since I’m not familiar with their other rulings.

Give Alex Holley an A (and a raise)

alex holley
http://www.fox29.com/about-us/alex-holley-good-day-philadelphia-co-host

ShareRocket numbers came out on Monday. They’re the equivalent of Nielsen ratings for TV shows, but for social media instead. Take them for what they’re worth, along with the thought of companies trying to use social media to make money. The Fox Television Stations Group (which still doesn’t bother to list its stations, as I’ve mentioned here and several other places) is very big on it. Too big. Other things lose out. (See Murdoch, Rupert. Facebook‘s Mark Zuckerberg knows much better.)

According to ShareRocket, in the first quarter of this year,  Philadelphia’s “WTXF (Fox 29) generated more than 7.3 million total Engagements,” meaning the number of times people responded to the station’s, or their employees’ posts — on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — by liking, commenting, etc., during the first quarter.

“The station also benefited from having the No. 1 individual in the market, anchor Alex Holley. Holley generated more than 960,000 Engagements in the quarter across all platforms.”

Doing simple math — 960,000 divided by 7.3 million — Good Day Philadelphia anchor Holley is completely responsible for 13.15 percent of Fox 29’s performance in the quarter, all on her own. This doesn’t count anything the station wrote about her or her stories. These are posts she wrote and published by herself, on her own accounts. Good for her!

social media

On the other hand, that means everybody else at Fox 29, including the group of people paid to write news and social media (way too much social media, if you ask me), only did 86.85 percent of the station’s first quarter performance. As I’ve written before, web producers

“try to find articles from out of the area that will get clicked. What usually happens is that one station — whether it happened in their area or not — writes it and offers to share it with the other stations, which may choose to accept it or not. If they accept it, then they can tease it on social media or not.”

So there’s lots of help Alex doesn’t get.

By the way, ShareRocket reports,

“The market saw a very large increase in Engagement in general from quarter to quarter, likely driven by the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl win. All six stations Share Rocket tracks in the market saw significant bumps in total Engagement, and four of those stations saw increases of +40% or more.”

But Fox 29 wasn’t one of the four stations out of six that saw increases of 40 percent or more. Fox 29 was in the bottom half. It only went up 22 percent from quarter to quarter! In other words, it lagged and underperformed, and its share of the market dropped from 33.48 percent, down to 30.77 percent.

Imagine where they’d be without Alex!

Rudy Giuliani Wikipedia
Wikipedia

There’s a new face on President Trump’s legal team dealing with the ongoing special counsel probe, and it’s a familiar one. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani told The Washington Post he joined the club.

Giuliani said to the paper,

“I’m doing it because I hope we can negotiate an end to this for the good of the country and because I have high regard for the president and for Bob Mueller.”

Along with the longtime Trump ally, the president will also be defended by a couple who run a Florida-based law firm, Jane Serene Raskin and Marty Raskin. Plus everyone else on his legal team. The new three are all former federal prosecutors.

Speaking of former federal prosecutors, Chris Christie hasn’t been New Jersey governor since January but his official portrait is making news because it’s going to “cost a stunning $85,000,” according to the New York Post. (Get your jokes out of the way now. The Post did. Its article’s headline is “Artist gets big, fat paycheck for Chris Christie’s official portrait.”)

Chris Christie Wikipedia
Wikipedia

NorthJersey.com reports the $85,000 will be more than what his three predecessors … paid to have their images hang in commemoration of their political service — combined!

It priced the portrait the highest for a governor since Democrat Jim Florio paid $58,000 for his. Christie’s three immediate predecessors — Jon Corzine, Richard Codey and Jim McGreevey, all Democrats — paid a combined $74,500.

That makes the Christie image cost $10,500 more than Corzine, Codey and McGreevey’s altogether.

There is one difference: Christie did take up two terms. The last New Jersey governor to do that was Christine Whitman ($48,000), who served from 1994 to 2001. Even Florio was a one-termer, serving 1990 to 1994. FYI, his two predecessors were both two-termers, Tom Kean and Brendan Byrne.

The website showed the governors’ official portraits:

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According to NorthJersey.com,

Since he took office, Christie has spoken about the official picture that likely will long outlive him and the many internet memes he’s touched off. And in his public life, Christie had earned a reputation for having a taste for luxury when others paid the bill.

Then the paper went on to describe those luxuries.

map New Jersey Wikipedia
Wikipedia

Who will pay? “A taxpayer-funded transition account of $250,000 that is granted to former governors to pay for staff and office space, as well as services such as the painting, NorthJersey.com says.

The artist is Australian Paul Newton. The portrait will be oil-on-canvas.

Too bad it won’t hang in the Statehouse when it’s finished by the fall. That’s under a multi-year renovation.

It won’t cost us anything to remember what NorthJersey.com described as

the picture of him on that beach closed to everyone else, in that chair with his family and friends while the public was shut out of state parks on a holiday weekend during a government shutdown.

Let’s hope Phil Murphy has a more compact ego!

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Call to action: Help stop Sinclair from taking over Tribune

First, I want to go thank and apologize to everyone who read my last post. It was way too long. Yes, it contained what I think was good information on several subjects. It happened to be on a snow day and I had nothing better to do then let out some of what I was thinking. It took a good ten hours, but I learned how to use gifs to make the radar show the storm in action in the beginning, and the white leaving Philadelphia at the end.

A lot of what takes so long is gathering all the tags and categories. If you saw the old sitemap page on this site, I had to keep a list of new categories, then publish and go through those new categories you see below the post. I had to physically cut and paste them on the sitemap page, in alphabetical order. The links did come along, but I decided since you already get that on the bottom right (if you’re reading on a desktop, and the very bottom, if not), then I can get rid of that page to save time. That was just a duplicate, so that’s what I did.

Also since that last post, I made changes on the right side (again, if you’re reading on a desktop, and below the posts if not). First, I changed some of the headings and got rid of the link to that sitemap page.

category cloudSecond, I added a Category Cloud that WordPress is now offering. It shows the 30 categories I’ve used the most. The more I use a category, the bigger it looks. I can’t say I’m very proud of what I’ve written so far, based on the categories I’ve used, if this Category Cloud is correct.

(There is no list of tags but I can assure you, the search box will find anything that has been used in a post. WordPress’ search capability is much, much better than Lakana’s for both users and behind-the-scenes people. Surprisingly, at WTXF-Fox 29, we’ve had to use Google searches to find articles we, ourselves, wrote!)weather

Third, I really improved weather and it actually updates on its own!

While on the subject of extras on this blog, I also don’t know why the Twitter feed doesn’t appear on tablets, but am looking into it.

I don’t really want to be remembered by writing about a job I had, no matter how good it was. There are other parts of life. Of course, TV news is something that I’d been interested in since I was a child and studied it on my own, from growing up through college and to this day. Then, two years after college, I finally got my first job in the field and spent my career — minus the eight years I took teaching — in news, so it’s natural I will write about that a lot.

That’s a good segue to the headline of today’s post. The Sinclair attempt to buy Tribune has really been bothering me. I don’t know what you think, but I know what you should think. I’ve seen veteran journalists at stations being bought by Sinclair leaving for the competition, stations in other cities, or just retiring so they could keep the benefits they’ve earned at the other company.

Instructions from Corporate (thanks to Esquire):

Please produce the attached scripts exactly as they are written. This copy has been thoroughly tested and speaks to our Journalistic Responsibility as advocates to seek the truth on behalf of the audience.”

Millions of Americans will soon be watching promotions that begin with one or two anchors introducing themselves and saying,

Script:

“I’m [we are] extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that [proper news brand name of local station] produces. But I’m [we are] concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country.”

“The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media. More alarming, national media outlets are publishing these same fake stories without checking facts first. Unfortunately, some members of the national media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’ … This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”

Then the anchors are supposed to strike a more positive tone and say that their local station pursues the truth.

“We understand Truth is neither politically ‘left or right.’ Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever.”

CNN reports, “Internal documents call the new initiative an ‘anchor delivered journalistic responsibility message.'”

But some TV news anchors forced to read it at Sinclair’s 173 stations said,
* “At my station, everyone was uncomfortable doing it,”
* “so manipulative” and
* “I felt like a POW recording a message.”

Also according to CNN, “The instructions sent to station news directors say that the 60- and 75-second spots should run frequently ‘to create maximum reach and frequency.'”

It’s apparently the brainchild of Scott Livingston, the company’s senior vice president of news. Last year, he starred in an almost identical one, which you’ll be able to see shortly. This year, the local news anchors get that extra attention.

He wrote in a statement to CNN:

“Promo messages, like the one you are referring to, are very common in our industry. … “This promo addresses the troubling trend of false stories on social media [Livingston’s emphasis], and distinguishes our trusted local stations as news destinations where we are committed to honest and accurate reporting. This promo reminds our viewers of this mission.”

Then CNN reports, “After this story was published, Livingston sent CNN another copy of the script. It had one big difference: The word ‘national’ was missing. Instead, it said ‘some media outlets’ publish ‘fake stories.’

You work so hard on something and then realize there’s something wrong with it.

Wait. It gets worse.

CNN says another document went into great detail about how the promos “should look and sound.”

“Talent should dress in jewel tones — however they should not look political in their dress or attire. … Avoid total red, blue and purples dresses and suits. Avoid totally red, blue and purple ties, the goal is to look apolitical, neutral, nonpartisan yet professional. Black or charcoal suits for men…females should wear yellow, gold, magenta, cyan, but avoid red, blue or purple.”

CNN concludes its description with,

“At the end of the promo, viewers are encouraged to send in feedback ‘if you believe our coverage is unfair’ and ‘Corporate will monitor the comments and send replies to your audience on your behalf,’ so ‘In other words, local stations are cut out of the interactions with viewers. Management will handle it instead.'”

This is just indicative of the type of company Sinclair is. I strongly feel TV stations are there to serve the public interest. They use the public airwaves and therefore the rules are different. TV stations should be run by their general managers who live in and are part of the community. And this is exactly the opposite.

map Holmdel
Google Maps: 76.6 miles to Philadelphia, just 45.0 miles to New York (Lower Manhattan)

So should other department heads like news directors. At least one in the Philadelphia market lives in the northern half of Monmouth County, which looks right up at New York. If cities and states can have residency requirements, I think there should be one here, too — not for the financial reasons governments have, but to live among the citizens and serve them better. I wonder whether people in the neighborhood watch New York or Philadelphia TV (if they even get both), and whether they care more about New York or Philadelphia issues and events.

It shouldn’t matter much whether GMs come from the sales side or the news side, as long as they’re serving the public interest. There should be hardly any interference from a major corporation’s headquarters.ABC News Nightline

Sinclair ordered all of its ABC stations not to air April 30, 2004’s episode of Nightline in which Ted Koppel read the names of the more than U.S. troops killed in action in the Iraq war, while their pictures are shown to viewers. According to CNN, ABC News said in a statement:

“We respectfully disagree with Sinclair’s decision to pre-empt ‘Nightline’s’ tribute to America’s fallen soldiers. …The Nightline broadcast is an expression of respect which simply seeks to honor those who have laid down their lives for this country.”

Sinclair saw it differently. In the same article, CNN wrote the Sinclair group put a statement online that said the Nightline program

“appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq. … Mr. Koppel and Nightline are hiding behind this so-called tribute in an effort to highlight only one aspect of the war effort and in doing so to influence public opinion against the military action in Iraq.”

It also quoted Sinclair general counsel Barry Faber confirming his company told its ABC affiliates not to air the program because, “We find it to be contrary to public interest.”

Of course, those TV stations not airing the program the rest of the country got to see got many complaints from people who could not.

ABC said it aired the names and pictures of all those killed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, on the first anniversary.

The CNN article found,

“According to campaign finance records, four of Sinclair’s top executives each have given the maximum campaign contribution of $2,000 to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. The executives have not given any donations to the campaign of Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee, the records showed.”

Keep in mind this was more than six months before the election.

Sinclair should not have the right to do what it did. The decision should’ve been made on the local level. It appears Sinclair’s owners are far right-wingers using their assets (and our airwaves) to get what they want politically. That’s not the public interest.

Looking back at that same election, The Seattle Times wrote in 2013,

“Most notoriously, the company ordered its stations to air a documentary critical of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry right before the 2004 election. … After an uproar, the stations ended up airing just a few minutes of the documentary, Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal, as well as excerpts from a pro-Kerry documentary and interviews with veterans.”

firedBut Sinclair did not care to learn. It fired Washington bureau chief and reporter Jon Leiberman for publicly questioning the company’s decision to air it! The article continued,

“In 2010, several Sinclair stations aired an infomercial about President Obama intended to sway voters in midterm elections. The 25-minute piece, funded by a Republican political-action group, said Obama “displays tendencies some would call socialist” and claimed the president had accepted campaign donations from Middle Eastern terrorist organizations.

“In 2012, on the Monday before the election, viewers in some swing states found their nightly news or other programs replaced on Sinclair channels by an ‘election special’ produced by Sinclair that was biased against Democrats.”

Pretty sneaky! Like those examples weren’t “to influence public opinion,” as Sinclair said about Nightline way back in 2004?logo strip latest

The Seattle newspaper article, more than eight years after Sinclair was forced to cave in on the Kerry documentary controversy, came as Sinclair was preparing to buy that city’s ABC affiliate, along with Fisher Broadcasting’s other stations.

The article back then added,

“Even without the Fisher stations, Sinclair is the largest independent TV broadcaster in the country, according to its website.”

So who has been running Sinclair the whole time? The article reports, “The company’s top executives are the four sons of Sinclair founder Julian Sinclair Smith.” He died in 1993, but he and his family incorporated Sinclair Broadcast Group earlier, in 1986, and one of his four sons, David, became CEO in 1988.

SIDEBAR: The Baltimore Sun reported David Smith was arrested “and charged with committing a perverted sex act in a company-owned Mercedes” in August, 1996. It happened “in an undercover sting at Read and St. Paul streets, a downtown corner frequented by prostitutes.” Smith and Mary DiPaulo “were charged with committing unnatural and perverted sex act.” Police said “they witnessed the two engage in oral sex while Smith drove north” on Baltimore’s Jones Falls Expressway. Neither Sinclair nor its local flagship station WBFF-45 would comment.

People in the media have lost jobs over less. It looks like Smith used his power and influence to keep most of the media quiet. How do you think Sinclair would have handled another company’s executive in a similar situation?

BACK TO BUSINESS: The Seattle Times article described the four sons.

“They have contributed thousands to the Republican National Committee and conservative candidates, even forming a political-action group more than a decade ago to donate to the campaigns of former President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, among others.”

That said, I should note McCain was angry at the company’s 2004 decision forcing its ABC stations to preempt Nightline due to our victims in Iraq. The CNN article reported McCain, a Vietnam veteran and prisoner of war, wrote in a letter to David Smith:

“Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war’s terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking detail, is a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. … It is, in short, sir, unpatriotic. I hope it meets with the public opprobrium it most certainly deserves.”

There is no more Fairness Doctrine, which from 1949 to 1987 required the broadcast license holders to present controversial issues of public importance, and to do so in a manner that was honest, equitable, and balanced. Turns out, the FCC ended it because it supposedly violated those owners’ First Amendment rights! In other words, to hell with the public and their airwaves.

Even without the Fairness Doctrine formally, what it stood for should be maintained. Good journalism requires both sides to be heard on an important issue.

(To avoid confusion, the equal-time rule deals only with political candidates and has been around, in one form or another, since 1927.)

These days, you can continue to call Sinclair the king of the “must-runs,” which The New York Times reported this May arrive every day at its TV stations. The paper defined them as

“short video segments that are centrally produced by the company. Station managers around the country are directed to work them into the broadcast over a period of 24 or 48 hours.”

So much for local control over content! The Times gave these examples:

“Since November 2015, Sinclair has ordered its stations to run a daily segment from a ‘Terrorism Alert Desk’ with updates on terrorism-related news around the world. During the election campaign last year, it sent out a package that suggested in part that voters should not support Hillary Clinton because the Democratic Party was historically pro-slavery. More recently, Sinclair asked stations to run a short segment in which Scott Livingston, the company’s vice president for news, accused the national news media of publishing ‘fake news stories.’”

Does this sound rational or unnerving?

Then, the article mentioned that Seattle station the company bought less than five years ago.

“Eight current and former KOMO employees described a newsroom where some have chafed at Sinclair’s programming directives, especially the must-runs, which they view as too politically tilted and occasionally of poor quality. They also cited features like a daily poll, which they believe sometimes asks leading questions.

“The journalists at KOMO described small acts of rebellion, like airing the segments at times of low viewership or immediately before or after commercial breaks so they blend in with paid spots. They all spoke on condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal from the company.

“Those interviewed said that being on the other side of the country from the corporate headquarters outside Baltimore gave them some breathing room. But not always.

“In late 2013, for instance, after The Seattle Times wrote an editorial criticizing Sinclair’s purchase of KOMO, Sinclair ordered KOMO to do a story critical of the newspaper industry, and of The Seattle Times in particular, according to two of the people interviewed.

“KOMO journalists were surprised in January when, at a morning planning meeting, they received what they considered an unusual request. The station’s news director, who normally avoided overtly political stories, instructed his staff to look into an online ad that seemed to be recruiting paid protesters for President Trump’s inauguration. Right-leaning media organizations had seized on the ad, which was later revealed as a hoax, as proof of coordinated efforts by the left to subvert Mr. Trump.

“Only after reporters had left the room did they learn the origin of the assignment, two of them said: The order had come down from Sinclair.”

Seattle is a progressive city. Imagine how all this would fly in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago!

Scott Livingston, the company’s vice president for news, told The Times his company isn’t right-wing. Instead,

“We work very hard to be objective and fair and be in the middle. … I think maybe some other news organizations may be to the left of center, and we work very hard to be in the center.”

I interpret that to mean Sinclair works very hard to be to the right of maybe some other news organizations. And again, refer to what I wrote about local control. (Don’t you think conservatives who insist on local control of children’s schools would also want local control on broadcasting?)

In March, while Sinclair was fighting to take over Tribune, and apparently hoping to sway public opinion, Livingston forced Sinclair stations to run a segment featuring him that blamed everyone else:

Remember, this year, the company is making local news anchors do this work.

mark hyman Mark Hyman, from http://stopthecap.com/2017/05/15/consolidation-sinclair-broadcasting-acquires-42-tribune-tv-stations-3-9-billion-deal/

Sinclair had its former Vice President for Corporate Relations Mark Hyman give “must air” right-wing commentaries for years, and some still run. Variety magazine said “commentary segments on politics and culture from Mark Hyman … typically offer a deeply conservative perspective.”

Boris Epshteyn clip art
Sinclair’s Boris Epshteyn, via Microsoft Word clip art

Then, last April, it hired former Trump campaign spokesman and advisor Boris Epshteyn as its chief political analyst, a month after he left the White House, according to Variety. His last titles were Special Assistant to the President, and Assistant Communications Director for Surrogate Operations for the Executive Office of President Trump.

Livingston said having Epshteyn serve as a commentator on Sinclair’s 173 television stations’ political news coverage is part of its efforts to provide “political context that goes beyond the podium” for viewers, and

“We understand the frustration with government and traditional institutions. … Mr. Epshteyn brings a unique perspective to the political conversation and will play a pivotal role in our mission to dissect the stories in the headlines and to better inform and empower our viewers.”

He must’ve liked what he saw in the “Bottom Line with Boris” segments. Just two months later, Variety reported instead of three per week, Sinclair planned to deliver nine Epshteyn commentaries per week to stations.

According to the magazine:

“His segments have so far been a mix of cheerleading and defensive arguments on behalf of the Trump administration’s agenda.”

fox-news-logoThat’s not exactly “fair and balanced” as Fox News used to proclaim to be.

Sinclair does not offer commentaries from the other side, but tells you the news programming their network-affiliated stations air is left-wing liberalism.

Also, a month after the presidential election, President Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner said Sinclair executives worked with the campaign to spread pro-Trump messages in Sinclair newscasts. Sinclair vehemently denied that and claimed it offered equal amounts of airtime for in-depth interviews to Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton, and she declined the invitation.

I think most journalists try to be fair and leave their own opinions at home because they tend to be good people who try to do the right thing, unlike a lot of the corporations that only look out for shareholders and in Sinclair’s case, the owners’ political views.

It used to be that a company could not own more than five TV stations. Remember that? But slowly and slowly, the rules were loosened and loosened, more and more.

According to The New York Times,

“Last April, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, led the charge for his agency to approve rules allowing television broadcasters to greatly increase the number of stations they own.”

change channels 1It got the UHF discount rule reinstated, and that’s not a sign of the times. These days, most people have access to about 100 stations. It used to matter if your local TV station was VHF or UHF, due to antennas and how old TV sets were made for the UHF band. UHF stations were not as accessible, so the FCC decided the amount towards the cap should only be half for those stations, compared to VHF stations.

But now, the signals are digital and most people watch their local stations on cable, satellite, or on the internet. It makes no difference, so the UHF discount is unnecessary. And again, unlike the other 90 or so stations available to most people, local TV stations use the public airwaves and are required to serve the local communities’ interest. If the owners of these corporations don’t like that, then they are in the wrong business. Let them work for a cable station.

But concerning the UHF discount being brought back, The Times immediately said,

“A few weeks later, Sinclair Broadcasting announced a blockbuster $3.9 billion deal to buy Tribune Media — a deal those new rules made possible.”

Ajit Pai fcc wikipedia
Ajit Pai (Wikipedia)

Now, Pai is under investigation by the FCC’s inspector general but it takes two to tango. If he’s guilty, then who did he work with? Sinclair? President Trump, due to Sinclair’s good coverage of him?

I wonder. This is what The Times thinks:

“A New York Times investigation published in August found that Mr. Pai and his staff members had met and corresponded with Sinclair executives several times. One meeting, with Sinclair’s executive chairman, took place days before Mr. Pai, who was appointed by President Trump, took over as F.C.C. chairman.

“Sinclair’s top lobbyist, a former F.C.C. official, also communicated frequently with former agency colleagues and pushed for the relaxation of media ownership rules. And language the lobbyist used about loosening rules has tracked closely to analysis and language used by Mr. Pai in speeches favoring such changes.”

An FCC spokesman representing Mr. Pai countered the allegations of favoritism were “baseless,” and

“For many years, Chairman Pai has called on the F.C.C. to update its media ownership regulations. … The chairman is sticking to his long-held views, and given the strong case for modernizing these rules, it’s not surprising that those who disagree with him would prefer to do whatever they can to distract from the merits of his proposals.”

You decide.

Still, Sinclair would have to sell stations and Variety reported “Sinclair surprised the industry” by proposing to sell two of Tribune’s biggest gems: WPIX in New York and WGN-TV in Chicago.

But can you believe who agreed to buy them, and the prices that will supposedly be paid?

WPIX

WPIX-New York would go to Cunningham Broadcasting Company for a mere $15 million. That’s pennies on the dollar!

And about Cunningham Broadcasting: That company is mostly owned by the family that runs Sinclair, specifically 90 percent by the estate of Carolyn Smith, the late wife of Sinclair founder Julian Sinclair Smith and mother of Sinclair chairman David Smith!

Cunningham has 20 stations, according to its website, but Sinclair is actually the company that runs most of them. That’s a sneaky way to use a shell corporation in order to get around the rules. It’s completely unethical and the FCC should really throw the book at them, but it looks like something similar is about to happen.

WGN-TV

Then, Variety reports “The buyer for WGN-TV is listed as Steven B. Fader, chairman of Baltimore-based Atlantic Capital Group. Fader is a business partner of David Smith in Atlantic Automotive Corp., which owns dozens of car dealerships.”

Again, somebody close to the family. Again, a tiny price. This time, $60 million, which is four times as much as the bigger New York station.

wpwr chicago logoBig city stations don’t get bought and sold so often, but according to Variety, “Back in 2002, Fox paid $425 million to acquire WPWR-TV Chicago, a UHF station that was not nearly as strong in the market as WGN-TV” which is on Channel 9 and much more prominent as the former superstation that carried Bozo the Clown and Chicago Cubs baseball games.

Another station part of the deal is KTLA in Los Angeles, which Tribune bought for a record $510 million way back in 1985. NBC bought WTVJ in Miami for $240 million in 1987.

Do WPIX-New York for $15 million or WGN-TV Chicago for $60 million sound at all reasonable?

I think the FCC should insist Sinclair itemize every TV station it plans to buy from Tribune, tell everyone how much it values each and how it adds up to $3.9 billion.

The New York Times recently reported Sinclair submitted a proposal that

“would put many of the stations in trusts, an arrangement that has raised some concern from consumer groups that the company will try to operate them through partners down the road, because it runs some stations that way now.”

And Sinclair had said WPIX-New York and WGN-TV Chicago would be sold “to third parties that it would partner with later.”

Doesn’t Sinclair running TV stations that are really owned by shell corporations sound familiar, especially for a company that wants to be seen all over the country?

sinclair before tribune
Sinclair now, without Tribune

What Sinclair is willing to accept for WPIX and WGN-TV is outrageous and makes no sense. As Judge Judy says, “If it doesn’t make sense, it’s not true.” And if you believe Judge Judy’s phrase, then the people who run the largest broadcaster in America are liars and therefore unfit.
map Harrisburg Indy Greensboro

Sinclair is also asking for permission to own more than one station out of the top four in Harrisburg, Indianapolis and Greensboro. It already owns TV stations in those cities. Why should it get special permission to break the rule and own more, after all it has done?

Speaking of violations, in December, the FCC proposed fining Sinclair for – as the company put it –

“apparently airing certain public service segments by the Huntsman Cancer Foundation about cancer prevention, treatments and cures, without certain sponsorship identification. … Any absence of sponsorship identification in these public service segments was unintended and a result of simple human error. … We disagree with the FCC’s action and intend to contest this unwarranted fine.”

The proposed amount of $13.4 million was really “for not identifying paid programming as advertising,” according to USA Today.

It continued,

“The FCC said … Sinclair’s Salt Lake City station produced news story-like programming for local news broadcasts and longer 30-minute TV programs for the Huntsman Cancer Foundation. The FCC said these spots that weren’t properly identified as ads aired more than 1,700 times in 2016 across 64 Sinclair-owned TV stations and also for 13 other stations not owned by the company. The FCC said Sinclair apparently didn’t tell these stations that it didn’t own that it was providing an ad.”

CNN said,

“The segments looked just like independent news stories, but Sinclair failed to disclose that they were paid for by the Huntsman Cancer Foundation.”

tv news advertisingSo Sinclair doesn’t know the difference between public service segments, done out of generosity, and ads they charge to air? If that’s the case, then they’re dumb, and dumb people should not be overseeing news. (Just wait a paragraph!)

The proposed fine is supposed to be a record. Some say that’s evidence the FCC is being tough on Sinclair. On the other hand, considering the severity and number of times they did it, others including two FCC commissioners said the fine was too low.tv owner population share

Also, you would think the largest broadcaster in America would do news right. It claims it buys new equipment and really helps local stations provide the best local news to their audiences.

What about Pittsburgh? It’s a large city and Sinclair owns a Fox affiliate, WPGH-Channel 53. It used to produce its own newscast but no longer does. Instead, it runs a newscast produced by a competitor. That’s one less local television voice. Doesn’t Pittsburgh deserve a fourth station offering its own local news? Isn’t the city and region big enough?

Then, what about Sinclair pretty much closing up shop in Toledo, Ohio? Its NBC affiliate there has a few people left in news but production is done out of its CBS/Fox stations in South Bend, Indiana. That includes its anchors and weather people. Who knows if they’ve ever been to Toledo, know anything about it, its history, what’s popular there, etc.? How can they do a decent job and how many people were laid off when Sinclair made that decision? FTV Live’s Scott Jones has shown an example after example of technical problems that happened because of Sinclair going cheap.

(The Fox affiliate in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre market is a little different. It’s not as bad since the station finally stopped outsourcing news to the competition and started doing its own for the first time last year, except with those same South Bend anchors who would have the same questionable knowledge of northeast Pennsylvania.)

But those South Bend anchors can’t do three newscasts at once. Some things we see live everyday would have to be recorded. Does the weather person say the current conditions, or are they simply put on the bottom of the screen. Can you see live-shots during snowstorms, or what it was like an hour ago?news flash

When there is breaking news and very little information, a good news anchor will be able to ad-lib around about the area the news is taking place. That anchor will tell you where it is, what’s nearby, major places to avoid, etc. The weather person will know the nuances and micro-climates of that area.

Sinclair has shown none of that matters.

Furthermore, several states’ attorneys general have spoken out against the sale, ironically including Maryland where Sinclair is based and Illinois where Tribune is based. That says a lot!nancy reagan

For all of these reasons, including less competition, the FCC should deny Sinclair the chance to buy Tribune. As Nancy Reagan said, just say no. Let this awful waste of time (ten months so far) and money become history as quickly as possible.

This is information on the FCC. The party of the president gets three of the five commissioners, and the other party gets just two. Two recent votes — bringing back the UHF discount and getting rid of net neutrality – have gone party line. The Sinclair-Tribune decision should not go the same way, although the Justice Department has to also make a decision.

I suggest you make a case and email each of the five, letting them know the danger that Sinclair poses by its size, its power, and its ethics. A few clear sentences with your name address and phone number will help. You can even copy and paste this post, write a sentence and add this post’s URL (https://cohenconnect.com/2018/03/11/call-to-action-help-stop-sinclair-from-taking-over-tribune/), or look for other sources if you trust them more than me.

Just copy and paste whatever you do. Then, look at the bottom-left of the FCC’s website under Leadership. You’ll have to click each commissioner and look at the left side to email each one.

CongressDon’t forget Congress created the FCC, oversees it and confirms FCC appointments.

They can even use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to review new federal regulations issued by government agencies and overrule them by passing joint resolutions. Congress enacted it while Newt Gingrich was House Speaker as part of his Contract with America, and President Clinton signed it into law in 1996.

Click here if you need to find your Congressional Representative (you may need your ZIP+4) and click here to find your senators. Just look for your state at the top of the site.

Then, send what you sent the FCC commissioners.

fcc logoWe are the public, the American people. I don’t think we have been listened to by most of the people in government on any level for far too long, with just a few exceptions. It’s time to make a change and take charge. The FCC has revoked licenses before. In Boston, a whole new channel 5 was established in 1972. It forced the owner of New York’s channel 9 to move to New Jersey and then let it sell instead of revoking its license. In the 1960s, after a several-years long investigation, KYW was brought back to Philadelphia from Cleveland. The FCC can do big things. Let’s have them do this as the start of a new era.

Now for the fun. If you don’t believe me, maybe you‘ll believe John Oliver. Watch his take here.

(OK. This was longer than I intended, probably the longest of any blog I’ve published, but there are so many reasons I feel the way I do (hope you agree!), and that’s just what always ends up happening to me!

WSVN without Fox? It’s possible if….

Surprisingly, I haven’t seen this reported at all by South Florida media. Yes, they’re still consumed and reeling from the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day, but this involves THEM, darnit, and they know it.

generic newspaper

There was nothing in the Miami-Herald, Sun-Sentinel, or New Times about it, nor TV stations WSVN and WSFL which could be at the center of it.

It’s the possibility WSVN-Channel 7 in Miami-Fort Lauderdale may lose its Fox affiliation.

I told you here, here, here and here, if the Sinclair-Tribune merger goes through — and the new company has to spin off stations to stay under the limit in order to get Federal Communications Commission approval — then the plan is that Fox itself will buy several Tribune stations – all Fox affiliates already – but also WSFL-Channel 39, which is South Florida’s CW affiliate. Then, what would happen to programming on both stations?

WSFL

Fox TV stationsFox doesn’t own too many stations compared to other groups — even if you find 28 in 17 cities, covering more than 37 percent of American homes astounding. (But the Fox Television Stations Group’s website STILL doesn’t list them, as I’ve written time and time again.)

Of course, putting WSFL on the block goes against Sinclair trying to buy up stations in every city around the country – or just make a deal with the owners to operate them, to get around the rules. That’s because neither Sinclair nor Tribune have any other stations in Miami.

sinclair before tribune
Sinclair now, without Tribune

WSVN’s owner is Ed Ansin’s Sunbeam Television Corporation. He inherited it. In case you didn’t know, I started my TV news career there.NFL Logo

Fox has been trying to buy TV stations in NFL football cities, and Miami is one of them, but would it give up WSVN’s good ratings and help from its large news department, just to have a station of its own?

From the sixth borough, in a New York minute: YES. There is no more partnership in television. Everything is just to make a buck. Don’t forget that. It’ll repeat over and over as you read.

Look at what happened on a Saturday in January, 1987. I remember returning from the synagogue, going to my grandparents’ condo, and reading in the Miami Herald business section that NBC was buying WTVJ-Channel 4 even though WTVJ was the CBS affiliate, and WSVN was the NBC affiliate. Both networks wanted to own stations in Miami, which was growing and close to Cuba for coverage when Fidel Castro’s government collapsed. (Now, 31 years later, Fidel is dead and we’re still waiting. Typical!)

Of course, NBC didn’t want to own a CBS affiliate and CBS didn’t want its affiliate owned by NBC, but there was a two-year affiliation agreement that had just started at the beginning of the year between NBC and WSVN.

Owner Ansin fought like hell and sued to keep his NBC affiliation since he had stayed with the network during the extremely lean years before The Cosby Show put the network back on the map in 1984.

WSVN 7 logo

Of course, he hadn’t put so much emphasis on his news department since he didn’t have to. Remember, I mentioned at one point owning a TV station was a license to print money, so it wasn’t necessary.

Anyway, you would think CBS would end up affiliated with WSVN, but that’s not what happened. CBS owner Larry Tisch thought that if NBC bought WTVJ for $240 million and he can buy independent WCIX-Channel 6 for a quarter of that — just $60 million — then he got a bargain!

WCIX had its own 10pm news program but Tisch didn’t realize the importance that WCIX’s signal was 30 miles to the south of the other stations, and could not be seen in northern Dade (Miami-Dade came in the mid-1990s) or Broward counties.

In 1995, CBS lost a lot of stations to Fox. It really wanted stations. Westinghouse formed a joint venture before buying CBS, which left them with two stations in Philadelphia. The partnership kept Westinghouse’s KYW-TV, so in exchange for CBS’ WCAU, NBC gave CBS KCNC-Denver, KUTV-Salt Lake City, and also exchanged frequencies in Miami so its station would cover the entire market.

Ratings sucked for years until the two stations, WTVJ and WCIX, switched dial positions (4 to 6, and 6 to 4), and WCIX became WFOR.

Watching Channel 4 that night:

Watching Channel 6 that night:

Before then, affiliation agreements tended to be two years. I mean, how could you sign an affiliation agreement that’s longer than an FCC license to broadcast? That would be chutzpah! And if the station got in trouble and had its license revoked, then there wouldn’t even be a station affiliate partner.

Ansin held out and ended up with the new Fox network. He also had his news director Joel Cheatwood throw everything at crime-heavy local news — in which he could keep all advertising money – with younger, cheaper workers, and surprisingly it stuck, so everyone involved became a hero, the station’s style was copied everywhere and many working there departed for new, higher-paying jobs. And WSVN was temporarily taken off some hotel cable systems, so not to scare tourists!

Then look at San Francisco. NBC wanted to buy its longtime affiliate, KRON. The network really, really wanted to buy it. In 1999, the deYoung family decided to sell and NBC threatened to take away the station’s 50+ year affiliation and make the station worth hundreds of millions of dollars less, if it didn’t get to buy the station. (Can you say steal, extortion, or shakedown?) Still, KRON’s owners sold to a higher bidder, Young Broadcasting. NBC ended up making several more demands, which Young turned down, so KRON turned independent after all those years, at the end of 2001. (Young was bought by Media General, which was bought by Nexstar.)

kron

NBC pretty much invented its own Bay Area station, step by step.

KNTV 1KNTV in San Jose was an ABC affiliate that network didn’t want competing with its own San Francisco station, KGO-TV, in San Jose anymore. It agreed to take money from the Alphabet network and go out on its own — but it offered to pay NBC to affiliate with it. (Just like at the end of 2014, NBC got rid of WMGM in Atlantic City so it wouldn’t compete with its own WCAU in Philadelphia, but that station’s owners got nothing. Unfortunately, times changed.)

KNTV 2NBC had to get a new station and reverse compensation was a new, tempting concept. The FCC reclassified KNTV from a Monterey-area station able to be seen in San Jose, to an actual San Jose–San Francisco–Oakland station.

KNTV 3But the affiliation only lasted long enough for permissions given and the ink to dry. Weeks before the start of 2002, NBC bought KNTV for a fraction of KRON’s price. Finally, in 2005 and against KRON’s objections, NBC moved KNTV’s signal 52 miles closer to San Francisco, so people there could actually watch Peacock programming over the air again. (NBC apparently didn’t care about those people too much!) Now, it can’t be seen over the air in San Jose, but reread the words I just put in italics in the parenthesis.

KNTV 4Other fiascos: KNTV was over the air on Channel 11 but aired on cable channel 3 (conveniently next to KRON-Channel 4). Some genius running the transition decided to brand the station NBC3, which confused people to the east watching NBC affiliate KCRA in Sacramento, also a Channel 3. Then it became NBC11. Then simply NBC Bay Area.

See what I mean? Watch KNTV news opens through the years, from city changes to affiliate changes  to branding changes.

And Miami people, you’ll remember my former co-worker.

WHDH logo 1Now, take Boston from just last year. NBC wanted to own a station there. It insisted our old friend Ed Ansin sell his NBC affiliate WHDH-Channel 7 to them, just like it would’ve preferred back in Miami in the late 1980s. Anson refused yet again, saying NBC offered half what it was worth and trying to steal it.

(Yes, Ansin got back into business with NBC in Boston, rather than Fox, after CBS dropped WHDH, even after NBC dropped him in Miami. Why? To make money, of course!)WHDH logo 2

So in early 2016, NBC announced it would drop Ansin’s WHDH and start a new station called NBC Boston on New Year’s Day?

Where would that station be found? Nobody else was selling their station. NBC had ended up with New England Cable News, which was owned by Hearst and NBC parent company Comcast’s predecessor, until Hearst sold its share. Over the air, it already owned a weak Telemundo channel in the northern part of the market, WNEU-Channel 60 in New Hampshire. Its signal definitely wasn’t going to cover the entire Boston TV market over the public airwaves.

WHDH logo 3Ansin sued NBC again, claiming the poor people of Boston wouldn’t be able to watch NBC anymore, which kind of made him look like a monopolist. Lawmakers were also concerned, especially because if people had to buy cable to watch NBC, they would have to use Comcast which of course owns NBC! Regulations for fairness were put in place back when Comcast bought NBC Universal in 2011. For example, Comcast’s cable service couldn’t benefit from the ability of viewers to receive the network over the air, and NBC Universal programming had to be made available to any competing cable operators in town.

WHDH logo 4This is what the network did in 2016:

— NBC bumped the Telemundo signal to a WNEU sub-channel, and put NBC on the main channel.

— It bought WBTS-LD (low-powered) Channel 8 (which it couldn’t make more powerful without interfering with channel 8s in New Haven, Conn. and Portland, Maine.

— It leased a subchannel of WMFP (virtual channel 60.5) in Lawrence, Mass.

NECN Logo 2015

nbc bostonSo, by expanding NECN’s news department, it invented its own station out of nowhere!

That station, called WBTS-NBC Boston, went on the air Jan. 1, 2017. WHDH became an independent, added more news and lost some prominent people to the more prestigious NBC.

nbc10 bostonIn 2018, NBC added a channel-sharing agreement with digital Channel 44, under the license of Channel 15, a CD station meaning low power analog often with a digital companion.

It also changed the branding to NBC10, which is like repeating the San Francisco-Sacramento issue, because Providence NBC affiliate WJAR — seen on cable in Boston’s southern suburbs — is powerful on Channel 10. We’ll see how long that lasts!

So Boston got an extra station and most lost viewers since the pie had an extra piece. Was it worth it for NBC, or should it have just kept its affiliation with WHDH?

So Anton got shot down by NBC again, this time in Boston, and that could lead to several other, minor network affiliation changes. For example, in 2006, Ansin bought a second Boston station, CW affiliate WLVI, coincidentally from Tribune. (Just the signal, but not the building or workers. Everyone was laid off, maybe even the producer who beat me for an Emmy Award back in 1997!) Warner Bros. and CBS own the CW Network, and the Tribune stations were a big part of the affiliates. Since Tribune doesn’t own WLVI anymore and CBS owns former UPN independent WSBK, the CW affiliation could move there. (More on this later!)

wlvi 3

By the way, Ansin sold WLVI’s broadcast frequency in the FCC’s recent spectrum auction for an undisclosed amount that he told the Boston Globe was “a lot of money” (definitely hundreds of millions of dollars) and now that station shares WHDH’s channel.

There are several other examples:

In the mid-1990s, NBC decided to replace its Raleigh-Durham affiliate, WRDC-Channel 28, because it did poorly and didn’t carry all of NBC’s programs. That’s when The Outlet Company bought Channel 17, increased its power and changed its call letters to WNCN. Plus, there was already a relationship. Outlet owned powerful NBC affiliates in Providence (mentioned just above) and also Columbus, Ohio.

After a year, Outlet sold all three stations to NBC but that only lasted a decade. Repeat after me: It’s the money, and not what’s best for the viewer or community. In 2006, NBC sold all three stations plus its station in Birmingham to Media General. (Yes, that was NBC selling stations, the opposite of what this post is about!) The Media General time also lasted just a decade. NBC decided to affiliate with the more powerful WRAL, and WNCN soon became a CBS affiliate owned by Nexstar, after that company bought Media General.

Around the same time, NBC planned to sell its Miami station, WTVJ – weaker on Channel 6 after the dial swap – to Post-Newsweek, then the owner of ABC affiliate WPLG. That never panned out, despite both stations saying it would.

WPLG said it was going to happen:

WTVJ said it was going to happen:

Remember the rule about a company owning two of the four most powerful stations in a city.

And Fox played hardball to get a station in Charlotte, home of the NFL’s Panthers which started playing in 1995. One-time ABC affiliate WCCB-Channel 18 was one of Fox’s strongest affiliates and it had (and still has) its own news department.

Despite that, in 2013, Fox announced it was going to buy CW affiliate WJZY-Channel 46. The switch happened less than six months later. WCCB turned to the CW after 27 years with Fox. It’s now one of just three CW affiliates in the eastern time zone with its own newscasts, the others being New York and Indianapolis’ former CBS affiliate.

On the other hand, Fox’s WJZY carried 10pm newscasts from competing stations until starting its own newscasts in mid-December. The station tried experimenting but things didn’t go well, its news was ranked fifth in the time period and there was staff turnover from the top, down. Eventually, it became more traditional and a friend from Philadelphia became its news director.

So networks can create stations out of practically nothing, as we just saw Fox do.

Consider Los Angeles. The CW in there is KTLA, which is owned by Tribune and would be owned by Sinclair. There’s no reason Warner Bros. and CBS would keep the CW affiliation there when CBS has an independent station, KCAL, that could use it.

the CW

In Miami, if Fox buys WSFL, the CW affiliate now owned by Tribune could become a Fox affiliate if the network decides to drop WSVN. Then, WSFL’s CW affiliation would likely NOT go to WSVN but to WBFS, which is owned by CBS and a My Network TV affiliate, for what that’s worth. (Not much.) And that syndication service is owned by Fox!

MyNetworkTV

Would WSVN, dropped by Fox, become an affiliate of My Network TV, which is owned by Fox? Highly unlikely, I think. My Network TV doesn’t do well, Ansin would be angry, and even though he went back to NBC in Boston, My Network TV isn’t NBC.

Keep in mind, there are also examples where networks own stations but don’t put their own programs on those stations, because affiliating with competing stations makes more sense.

CBS owns Channel 44 in Tampa, but affiliates with Tegna’s Channel 10. It owns Channel 69 in Atlanta but affiliates with Meredith’s Channel 46. It owns Channel 11 in Seattle but affiliates with Cox’s Channel 7 (but it did air CBS on 11 for a few years.) It used to own Channel 34 near West Palm Beach but affiliates with Sinclair’s Channel 12.

Even in 1958, when CBS owned Channel 18 in Hartford, Conn., some viewers could watch CBS better on Boston and Providence stations, so it affiliated with Channel 3 (then WTIC-TV; now WFSB, where I went after leaving WSVN) and sold its Channel 18.

You get the picture. So who brings more to the table? WSVN can use CNN for news and not depend on Fox. Anything can happen, but you know what my money is on.

And please, if you like what you read here, subscribe with either your email address or WordPress account, and get an email whenever I publish.

7777

Something on my drive home from New York, Tuesday night, told me to write this post.

Got cable, satellite? You’ll foot the bill for Fox’s Thursday Night Football

Super_Bowl_LII_logo
Wikipedia

How many of you watched the Super Bowl this year? Of course, in Philadelphia, that’s a loaded question with the underdog Eagles in the game and beating the seemingly perennial winners, the New England Patriots.

Same thing in New England. Their team was in the Super Bowl and they don’t get sick of Tom Brady nor Bill Belichick. They watch.

But what about the rest of America? Apparently two thirds of Americans did not watch. And this was the Super Bowl!

Thursday Night Football logo

Imagine how that would translate to Thursday night National Football League games, known for having bad matchups and also being available on the NFL Network and streaming, besides being broadcast on a local TV station.

Fox Sports

But three weeks ago, Fox decided to pay a fortune — $3.3 billion for the rights for five years, and expanded digital highlight rights — and the money it’ll cost is going to trickle down to you and me.

Thanksgiving

Let’s talk schedules, the reason and then the money.

Starting this fall, Fox will broadcast 11 games each season from week 4 to week 15. That won’t include Thanksgiving night when you’re eating with your family shopping or resting up to work at midnight on Black Friday.

ESPN reports when Thursday Night Football went to the networks in 2014, CBS paid the NFL just $37.5 million per game for only eight games. Same story the next year, in the 2015 season.

Then, for the past two seasons, NBC joined CBS. They each broadcast five games for a total of ten, at a cost of $45 million each.

Now, ESPN sources say Fox will pay an average of more than $660 million a year. Divide that by 11 and that makes $60 million per game – a big increase over the past four seasons and 33 percent more than the latest. Amazing number!

money x 33

Is that price increase worth it? It depends who the buyer is.

In 1994, Fox arguably overpaid for Sunday afternoon NFC-away games in order to get better TV stations to secure it as a reputable fourth network.

money x 5

(Not many remember Fox trying to take Monday Night Football from founder ABC back in early 1987, even before it started programming. That didn’t work and it took until 1994 for Fox to get an NFL package. Oh, and five times as much money as CBS would bid!)

Monday Night Football ABC

These days, Fox doesn’t have much of a regular Thursday night lineup. The NFL would draw viewers.

Are NBC and CBS upset about losing the rights? No, according to CBS CEO Les Moonves. He says he’s not worried because CBS has The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon instead. Also, Sunday games are much better than Thursdays because they’re exclusive. Thursday night games can be seen on The NFL Network and also streaming.

A CBS Sports spokesperson was more specific:

“We look forward to continuing our terrific long-term partnership with the NFL on Sunday afternoons with more than 100 games per season (Lenny: many in markets where the home teams are playing) including next year’s Super Bowl LIII.”

Speaking of streaming, the price to do so recently increased fivefold, according to ESPN.

Amazon Prime logo

“Amazon paid $50 million this past season to stream the games on Amazon Prime, up from the $10 million Twitter paid in 2016,” it reports. “Rights for the upcoming season have not yet been sold.”

money x 5

So you can say it’s “1st and goal” when it comes to the NFL and Thursday night streaming rights.

Miami Dolphins twitter

Now, look back to 1972 and the Miami Dolphins’ perfect season. At the time, the NFL regular season only had 14 games over 14 weeks. Monday Night Football was only in its third season. Otherwise, football fans were left to Sunday afternoons.

These days, the season has 16 games over 17 weeks. Economically, more games should lessen demand.

On top of that, Thursday nights mark a regular third night of football (before Sunday and Monday), along with early and late Sunday afternoon games.

Plus, ESPN reports players don’t care for Thursday Night Football. Games on so many days cuts down on their time to rest up, recover and stay healthy. And as a side note, just last month, I wrote about how hits and concussions have literally killed former NFL players, years later.

ESPN logo

The last NFL schedule expansion was in 1987 when ESPN started carrying some Sunday night games. It was the first time the NFL aired games on cable and they only took place in the second half of the regular season. Two years later, the NFL added games on TNT in the season’s first half. TNT aired those games until 1997, when ESPN took the whole season. Like today, games in each competing team’s home market also aired on a regular TV station, so the games were not cable-exclusive but close. But the arrangement ended after the 2005 season.

nbc sports cbs sports

That’s because NBC had no football for seven seasons and was desperate to get it back. It had lost AFC team away games to CBS, which itself had been outbid by Fox for NFC team away games.

Fox TV stations

Part of Fox’s reason to spend so much in 1994 was to take TV stations in big-markets with (mostly) NFC teams and make them affiliates of the new network that would air the games. Fox eventually bought those stations (but STILL doesn’t tell you what it owns on the Fox Television Group website) and sold about half.

ABC Sports
Not “Reaching New Heights” as Wang Chung might sing — but this brand is history and the ESPN name is in.

Back to the story. In 2006, Sunday Night Football moved to broadcast TV, on NBC, and Monday Night Football went the reverse.

Cable network ESPN took rights from sister-broadcast network ABC, which came up with the idea in 1970.

That didn’t mean a new night of football but Sunday night games became especially popular since they air on the most-watched night of TV, they follow other games on CBS and/or Fox but most importantly, the NFL considers Sunday Night Football its featured game of the week.

Sunday Night Football NBC

NBC was given flexible-scheduling for most of the second half of the season, meaning it can “steal” regular Sunday games from CBS or Fox that are better than what was on its original schedule, and the whole country can watch.

cbs fox

When that happens, NBC will tell the league at least 12 days (two Tuesdays) before, and move that CBS or Fox game to NBC. However, CBS and Fox can “protect” five Sunday afternoon games over six weeks, weeks 11-16. Also, the league can move games between 1pm to the more-watched 4pm ET slot.

For the last week of the season, games are decided just six days earlier, so match-ups with major playoff implications could air in as many cities as possible.

football

Now that you understand that, Thursday night games were actually added back in 2006 and air on The NFL Network, so the NFL could push cable and satellite companies to carry the network very few people were able to watch (and thus charge the subscribers more, which is the crux of this post).

But that’s history. It was really an eight-game package: five Thursday nights and three Saturday nights. More Thursday games were added in 2012.

It wasn’t until 2014 that Thursday Night Football got real recognition. The NFL decided to let a network produce the game – which would air on The NFL Network — but let the producing network simulcast some of the games. That’s what CBS did in 2014 and 2015, and NBC joined to split the Thursday package in 2016 and 2017. The contracts for the rights were short.

Until now.

Fox network

That’s when Fox decided to pay a fortune – much more money – for a longer period of time, over five years.ABC

There are several reasons, which may or may not turn out to be right.

21st Century Fox plans to sell off most of its assets to Disney/ABC, although Philadelphia-based Comcast/NBC had really “offered substantially more” – maybe $10 billion – according to Philly.com.Rupert Murdoch wikimedia commons

 

But it said last Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported Fox boss Rupert Murdoch “was concerned that a Comcast deal would be opposed by U.S. regulators and instead opted for the lower Disney offer.”

Besides a lower price, that would pretty much leave the so-called New Fox with its network, the TV stations it actually owns, and cable’s Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network. That’s it.

Add the Thursday rights fee of $3.3 billion to the cost of producing all the games, estimated to be even more than that, and you wonder how Fox will pay for it all.

That’s where you and I come in.old tv sets

For years, if a TV station wanted to appear on a cable or satellite company’s lineup, then the cable or satellite company would have to pay the TV station. Otherwise, the TV station could take away the right to carry it, the station would not air on the cable or satellite company’s lineup, the viewers wouldn’t be able to watch it, both sides would blame each other, and finally there would be a secret agreement and our prices would go up.

tv airwaves

That happens all the time.

But the TV station doesn’t get to keep all that money the cable or satellite companies pay it. The networks figure they’re the reason the TV stations are worth so much to the cable and satellite companies, and demand their share in retransmission fees.

comcast new 595x227

In December, I wrote about Comcast starting to charge more just days before Christmas. Comcast is in a unique position. It’s a cable company, it owns the NBC broadcast network, the TV stations owned by the network and various cable channels.

Also, it used to be that a network would pay its affiliates in every city to carry its commercials (which kept them in business), and the programming that surrounds them (that attracts more people to the commercials and therefore more money). That has been completely reversed and it’s called – of all things – reverse comp, meaning compensation. The stations now pay the networks.

networks

And when a network decides to pay for a special event, it asks its affiliates to help out.

That’s what Michael Nathanson, at MoffettNathanson, predicts Fox will do, according to TVNewsCheck editor Harry Jessell: demand extra bucks from its affiliates.

NFL Logo

Peter Rice, president of 21st Century Fox, said, “NFL football continues to be the most valuable commodity in all of media.”

Yes, ratings may be lower – down 9.7 percent this season after an 8 percent drop in 2016, according to ESPN – football may be available at more times, over more weeks and not even exclusive anymore, but there’s nothing else that brings America together like NFL football these days. That’s worth a trifecta: viewers, attention and money.

squeeze money

So Jessel reports Nathanson’s thinking is Fox will demand more money from stations in cities with NFC football teams because they air on the local Fox affiliates most Sundays.

He also says it can happen to stations in AFC markets because Thursday night games have teams from all over competing, not mostly the NFC but nearly equally the AFC.

That means Fox stations can expect a call from the network demanding more money for providing better programming – especially in cities with NFL teams – and that may not be so bad, considering what Fox airs on Thursday nights these days? (Do you know?)

Sports Illustrated reported Thursday Night Football is the No. 2-rated show in primetime.

And where will these stations get that extra money? Sure, selling ads for higher prices, but also demanding to charge your cable or satellite company more when its contract is up — Fox will insist they do — and that will raise your bill.

girl watching tv

It has been estimated cable and satellite companies pay ESPN about $6 per month per subscriber. Think about what your cable or satellite bill is. Do you watch ESPN? Would you be willing to go without it and save $6 every month? If your answer is yes, then do you have a choice?

Jessell calls ESPN “a network that forces people who have no interest in sports to heavily subsidize it.”

It’s the same story here, but on a much lower, local level. We may be talking about a quarter – 25 cents – every month for the local station if Fox gets Thursday Night Football. Check out your bill and see what you’re paying for local stations (as a whole) every month. And while you’re at it, see what it costs to get your regional sports networks.

And besides calling on stations, New Fox — much smaller after selling what it plans to sell — needs to make money somehow.

It has two possibilities and is reportedly looking into both.

First is to air as many live events as possible. Scripted sitcoms and dramas are expensive. Live programming, especially sports that’s also expensive, is supposed to draw viewers.

Second is to buy more stations. A TV station used to be a license to print money. That’s not the case anymore, with so much competition and paying networks instead of getting paid by them, but life isn’t so bad.

sinclair broadcast group

Sinclair Broadcast Group – the largest TV owner in America – has been waiting to buy Tribune Broadcasting, which is also one of the top TV station owners in the country.

sinclair before tribune
Sinclair without Tribune, from http://sbgi.net/tv-stations/

If the $3.9 billion deal goes through, Sinclair will have to sell off some stations because the Federal Communications Commission (public airwaves) and Justice Department (antitrust) ownership limits. Also, Sinclair and Tribune already own stations in some markets and compete, so the combined company would own multiple stations in one city.

Tribune Broadcasting Company

Fox wants to buy some of those stations, Sinclair will be forced to sell, and New Fox will have the money from selling so much to Disney/ABC.

LATE-BREAKING NEWS: Variety is reporting Sinclair plans to sell off Tribune’s New York WPIX-TV (CW) and Chicago’s WGN-TV (independent) if the merger is approved, despite wanting to continue filling the map of the U.S. (above). The company filed that with the FCC yesterday. That would leave out two of the three largest broadcast markets in the country based on population. (New York is #1, with 6.4 percent of the nation’s households; Los Angeles is #2; and Chicago is #3 with 3 percent.) Also reported to be spun off instead of taking part in the merger is San Diego’s KSWB (Fox affiliate).

However, there is concern that in the filing, Sinclair said it has buyers for New York and Chicago, and it intends to run the stations through an “options and services agreement” with those buyers. Media watchdog groups have long criticized Sinclair for using shared-services agreements to control stations without owning them, which they see as a loophole around the FCC’s ownership rules.

Sinclair did admit there are eight cities — including Seattle, St. Louis, Salt Lake City and Oklahoma City — where it needs to sell a station to comply with FCC rules on the number of stations a single owner can have in a given market. But again, Sinclair said it has buyers for Seattle, Oklahoma City, and Greensboro, N.C., so it can continue operating those stations after a sale.

On the other hand, Sinclair also made a case it should be able to own more than one of the top four stations in Harrisburg, Indianapolis and Greensboro, N.C.

Ajit Pai fcc wikipedia
Ajit Pai (Wikipedia)

If all that sounds complicated, you should also know last April, FCC Chair Ajit Pai — appointed by President Trump — pushed his agency to loosen rules letting TV station owners “greatly increase the number of stations they own,” according to The New York Times. Then, a few weeks later, Sinclair announced its deal to buy Tribune. Coincidence? The new rules made the deal possible.

Last week, The Times learned from New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone and two congressional aides, “The top internal watchdog for the F.C.C. opened an investigation into whether Mr. Pai and his aides had improperly pushed for the rule changes and whether they had timed them to benefit Sinclair.”

People strongly opposed to the mega-deal argue it would reduce the number of voices in media and diminish coverage of local news.

Seattle Seahawks

So Fox wants to buy more stations and number one is KCPQ, its Seattle affiliate in the home of the NFC’s Seahawks, and where Sinclair already owns a competing station.

Other NFL cities where Fox doesn’t already own a station are the next biggest possibilities. Keep in mind, we don’t how how the late news of Sinclair’s FCC filing and the FCC’s inspector general’s investigation could change or stop things.

I never understood why Fox has insisted on buying station in NFL (especially NFC) cities. Back in 1994, it made sense. It made a network. But consider this: NFL teams play 16 games per year, unless they make the playoffs.

NFL playoffs

Preseason doesn’t count. Those rights are usually bought locally. Not all of the NFC games air on Fox. Not when an AFC team comes to town. Not when the game is on Sunday or Monday nights, or Thursday night until now.

And a competing station can be the local team’s “official station” even if its network doesn’t carry the games. That means special promotions with the team, greater access and maybe a show with the coach. Not too bad.

memory

So will all this work out for Fox? What about your cable or satellite bill? You just read about a lot of variables, and when the Thursday night contract ends and the number crunchers have their say through the 2022 season, the NFL’s other TV rights will be up for grabs. This could greatly determine the price of them then. And don’t forget all the other sports out there, out for rights money!

sports generic

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The rights of TV station owners vs. the public

tv news advertising

By now, I’m sure you realize I’m a fan of the underdog. Fly, Philadelphia Eagles, fly!

I also strongly believe in holding people in high positions accountable for their acts, even off the clock. Can’t deny that after the recent string of sexual harassment allegations and confessions from some of the smartest and most talented people in America.

That’s why I reacted so strongly when I saw this article by the editor of TVNewsCheck, one of several industry websites.

I’ve written articles condemning the loosening of many regulatory protections, like net neutrality.

Harry Jessell, who I tried to reach privately on LinkedIn (I always try to reach somebody privately before writing about them), wrote a column called “End Discriminatory Regs Against Broadcast” and it’s exactly what you may expect.

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He argued TV stations face too many rules and that Sinclair Broadcast Group should not have to pay a tentative $13.4 million fine to the Federal Communications Commission for “allegedly airing news programming that was paid for by a sponsor.”

fcc federal communications commission

Keep in mind, Sinclair owns 193 TV stations in 89 cities. See if they’re on the air where you live. They may be soon! Not too shabby!

sinclair before tribune
from http://sbgi.net/tv-stations/

That’s because FCC rules were recently loosened — reportedly cheered on by President Trump — so it can buy the Tribune Media stations around the country. That’ll get Sinclair’s controversial perspective on a tremendous number of new screens in big cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Miami, among others, for the first time. Not too sympathetic!

It just bought Bonten Media Group‘s five stations including WCYB in the Tri-Cities of TN/VA, where I used to work. Click here and see how the WCYB website’s look seemed to change overnight. It’s like everything is becoming the same and there’s no need nor room for creativity. (Try to be creative and risk being kicked out, even if you’re specifically asked for suggestions during your interview. Companies want their own style and tone.)

wcyb
www.wcyb.com

Sinclair requires conservative commentaries sent from its Maryland headquarters to air during its stations’ local newscasts. That causes viewers to think the biased people they see every night, tossed to by their local anchors, are local as well.

In 2004, Sinclair barred the ABC affiliates it owned from airing the episode of Nightline that profiled American soldiers killed overseas. (It owns stations affiliated with all of the networks.) The same year, it tried to get its stations to carry a pre-election film that bashed presidential candidate John Kerry. (Some might even say the First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech is only for station owners, not employees nor the public.)

sinclair broadcast group

Its gargantuan size already has liberals worried about its influence on elections.

tv owner population share
http://www.biakelsey.com

Jessell called the “sponsored news” rule antiquated and discriminatory, and claimed “native advertising has been around forever” under “names like advertorial, sponsored content, promoted content and infomercial.”

He also said it’s everywhere, and that print and digital media companies even get paid to invent it.

Plus, the rules may have been OK decades ago when broadcasters were becoming more powerful, rather than today when they face new competition from “aggressive digital giants.”

And he trusts viewers will eventually spot the advertising and change channels or media.

But I disagree. First, I don’t give viewers as much credit. There needs to be a separation — between news and opinion, as well as advertising — and I’d hate to be a journalist losing credibility by following Sinclair’s unique requirements.

I do admit with more competition, a broadcast license is no longer a license to print money as it used to be.

tv airwaves

But the airwaves belong to the public. TV stations have special responsibilities. Owners who don’t like them should be in a different business.

Anybody can print a newspaper, start a website, or even shoot material for a cable channel if they can get it carried.

Meanwhile, broadcasters get special protection like must-carry on cable systems, or they can demand money to be carried — which is much more common. (Then, of course, the network they’re affiliated with will demand a chunk of cash. It’s called reverse compensation.)

There used to be strict limits as to how many stations an owner can own. They’ve practically disappeared. Orders come from out of the area.

Owners were not allowed to own two stations in the same city. Now they can under certain circumstances.

Owners were not allowed to own two stations in neighboring cities (a grade-B overlap), since people who live in between can pick up both. Now they can.

Station owners are fighting like hell to be able to own newspapers. I believe the only one allowed without being grandfathered in that was OK was WNYW-Fox 5 in New York. Otherwise, the New York Post would’ve gone out of business. But then Fox also bought WWOR-Channel 9 and got rid of its news department — a big blow to New Jersey. (Fox’s newspaper business was later spun off into a different company.)

new york post
from WikiVisually

You give them an inch and they ask for a foot!

Look at this example in an ad on Rick Gevers & Associates’ website and newsletter!

many stations

That’s six stations and not a joke!

The two Democrats on the five-member FCC pretty much called the Sinclair fine peanuts because Sinclair aired the sponsored content 1,723 times on 77 stations, has had trouble with the FCC before and grossed $2.7 billion in revenue last year. The fine could’ve been $82 million.

Go to the article’s website and check out the comments. My favorite:

Fair enough Harry. (1) Remove broadcasters’ FCC licenses. (2) Charge broadcasters 8% of gross annual revenue for the right to transmit on the public airwaves. (3) Remove all special treatment regarding cable/satellite “must carry and retrans.”

Jessell’s response:

1) broadcasters could police airwaves privately; 2) station owners paid plenty for most of their frequencies; few got them for free; 3) retrans could be privatized and broadcasters would get the same amount of money. I have no love of must carry.

Did you notice the first part? Somebody else commented:

Broadcasters POLICE THEMSELVES??? haaaaaaaa, hysterical

And that person commented in a separate post:

Harry Jessell – is this particular article “End Discriminatory Regs Against Broadcast” – PAID FOR, in any way, shape or form?

What I wrote (using my own name):

Broadcasters use the public airwaves. Unlike other media, the airwaves broadcasters use belong to the people. They need to be protected, and the government has every right to regulate broadcasters in exchange for letting them use those airwaves. Throughout the decades, the government has been more and more lenient with broadcasters, letting them own more and more stations, and in closer proximity to each other, and licencing them for a longer time. If broadcasters don’t like it, then they should give up using the public’s airwaves that don’t belong to them and get into one of those other businesses you mentioned. Then they won’t have to worry about public service.

I think Sinclair should consider itself lucky. Very lucky.

I hope the underdog Eagles are as lucky in the NFC Championship against Minnesota and make it to the Super Bowl!

Philadelphia Eagles

The news where I used to work: Unbelievable!

Most of you know I was a web producer for the Fox station in Philadelphia, but fewer of you know I haven’t worked there since last August.

Fox grade sized

The reasons are still to be discussed, and probably won’t be public.

However, I’ve come across some interesting and incorrect content from that station while working on my computer at home — material that would’ve caused me to be questioned, but not everyone there is treated the same.

For example, while I was still working there, a colleague was working on a story about “captured Georgia inmates” but used another picture — one of Bill Cosby, a police officer and a member of the fallen star’s entourage — by accident, instead. The mistake was caught by somebody at another Fox station and corrected. I don’t know how long it was up. The person who did that still works there.

cosby

At least in that case, somebody at another Fox station looked at the Philadelphia site better than the Philadelphia people themselves!

I’d love to have nothing to do with a place I used to work, but on Christmas, I accidentally hit Firefox on my home computer and the homepage for WTXF-Fox 29 came up. I never use Firefox and that was the home site for that particular browser.

Since I used to work on the website, I scrolled down to see what they would have on Christmas Day. Most was typical. The web team probably didn’t have its full staff in place on that Monday. (I know the guy who worked Christmas last year wasn’t there this year!)

be right back

Then, I got to the section on the homepage about their show The Q, starring Quincy Harris, and it was blank! It simply went from the title, to a link for “More Stories” on the bottom, with no links to the latest videos from his show in between. It looked bad for the station, the show, and the star. Didn’t anybody know?

Q 1st
fox29.com

Quincy may have been on vacation for some time since Thanksgiving, but that shouldn’t matter. The latest should have remained there. Instead, there was nothing — just blank space that was an obvious error.

Quincy is a great guy, like so many of my former co-workers, and also incredibly talented. It was just a few of the managers who made my life a living hell. The living hell part has been brought up and will be discussed ASAP.

talk to q
twitter.com/feedbaylenny and fox29.com

So I privately tweeted to Quincy and his team about the computer situation but if they told anyone, then nobody cared.

The next day, I was back on the computer and decided to check in again. Maybe a member of the station’s web team repaired Quincy’s section, which was probably a really quick fix. Still nothing.

I tweeted that publicly with a big circle where the missing links should’ve been. Maybe you saw it. I also supplied a link to Quincy’s page that contains his content. I hope it helped. Quincy shouldn’t have had to suffer.

q circled
twitter.com/feedbaylenny and fox29.com

Then, on Day 3, I was prepared to do something similar, like put a CBS3 logo in that area, but it didn’t come to that. Somebody, somewhere, changed the section to Entertainment. So the good news is, at least there’s content instead of blank space. The bad news is, there’s nothing special in that feed section that’s not on dozens of other websites and our local talent Quincy loses out, along with promotion for his show, weekdays at noon.

quincy w parents
November, 2016: Quincy with my parents

Let’s get something straight. I know it was the holidays but this is the fourth largest TV market in the country, based on the number of potential viewers in the area. It’s a TV station owned by one of the big four networks, a company that plans to sell off almost everything it owns (except for the network, TV stations, Fox News, and Fox Business) which makes its 28 stations in 17 cities an even more important part of the company. (And Fox may be buying more over the next few months, so watch out in places like Seattle, San Diego, Kansas City, and who knows where else?)

Was there absolutely nobody at the station to fix it? Nobody who could’ve been called in to fix it? What about emergency procedures, where somebody from another of those 28 stations in 17 cities can get in there and see what’s happening?

Disgraceful. There’s no excuse. I doubt there were even consequences after this major error it seems nobody noticed but should’ve. Well, they can’t try to blame me for this!

So to the Fox 29 web team, which for some reason was moved to the creative services department from the news department, you have issues: planning, scheduling, knowledge, not noticing something big missing from your home page, and not calling for help.

But apparently that’s how your bosses want it. Once, I had to put six job postings on the proper page. Five of the six were either part time or per diem. Only one was full-time. That’s what they budgeted. What did they expect to get? What would the head of Fox Television Stations say? What would Rupert Murdoch say? (Looks like several full-timers left the station since then. Several others left when I did. Notice a trend?)

That’s the problem with many conglomerates. They can’t get anything done. When I was working in the Tri-Cities, we could do almost anything using somebody in the building or calling on one of our four sister stations. Just four.

wcyb flag
Casey would rather work there than here!

Too many TV station managers like I worked with talk about how important Facebook is, and say it gets people to the station website which can make money, but putting up crap and doing it badly won’t get people to click. It only destroys any credibility left, and that’s happening faster in the age of Trump.

What people have been seeing is something that does not relay trust and stability.

Let’s take this past Friday as an example. It was a weekday, not a holiday, and a big news and weather day as well — the type of day journalists have to step up to the plate and be at their best.

I follow the station on Twitter and it follows me. First, I found somebody never learned how to use an apostrophe. Honestly, that skill isn’t needed to go on-air, but it’s very important for TV and web producers. Eventually, they got my message and fixed it. Then, it got better! I realized the story underneath was very fitting.

The error couldn’t have happened to better people. It’s just sad for the people of the Philadelphia region and beyond what’s left of this news-gathering group for the web.

Look what else I found they posted that day while I was going through my Facebook feed.

purple drank
facebook.com/fox29philadelphia

Ever heard of purple drank? Probably not. Does this post tell you anything specific about it? No. Care to guess if the Arlington is in Virginia or Texas? I wouldn’t waste my time. There’s no Arlington around Philadelphia, and I’ll explain where this came from in a moment. Plus, WHOA should probably be followed by an exclamation point.

connecticut man
facebook.com/fox29philadelphia

A Connecticut man? I think I’m seeing two. Unless one is from a different state. Am I supposed to guess? Does this post tell who the second guy is? No. Does it matter? No. Would I click? Not unless I’m into the gruesome. And what’s with the MORE and link at the end when someone can simply click like in the purple drank article? We called those MORON teases. A real tease would tell me at least one new thing I’d learn if I clicked.

police burglar

Here, it’s as if adding the word “police” somewhere near the top, even if it makes absolutely no sense, counts as attribution. Of course, the headline says he started out as a burglar. I don’t buy it. Probably an attempted burglar. Seems he was too busy to steal before he was caught! By the way, this was the only one of those three posts that did decently for the station. Viewers saw through the others.

None of these stories were exclusives, nor anything you’ll remember long-term. But you’ll find them on many of the other Fox-owned stations’ Facebook pages and websites because the stations share. I just looked at Los Angeles and Dallas. (LA mentioned the guy accused of breaking into the home happened in the Bay Area, and Dallas mentioned Arlington is theirs.)

kdfw drank
from Dallas
kttv connecticut
from Los Angeles
kdfw chickens
from Dallas
kttv burglar
from Los Angeles

The competition does, too, but there’s no verifying and the Fox stations that “borrowed” the article cannot change it, and that includes fixing mistakes. As for Facebook, the teases for those stories vary slightly but often not much. Too much trouble. Stations also repeat their posts, hoping they work better at a different time.

See for yourself. Click here for the Fox-owned stations website (rather than separately-owned affiliates around the country in places like Miami). Unfortunately, you may need to search by city name and the word Fox because the Fox Television Stations Group website doesn’t bother to list its stations nor their websites! (But you can complain, because there is press contact information listed: a phone number and email address!)

Then, go to their websites and Facebook pages. You won’t be overwhelmed by originality.

But there’s another issue at play here, and it’s a legal matter.

I seem to remember back on June 30, 2017, at 12:37pm, the senior web producer emailed:

Please be aware, new captioning guidelines go into effect tomorrow.  If anything appears on TV and is then cut for the web or social, it MUST have captions. Reporter packages, short clips, what have you. All must have captions. (From Lenny: For the record, the emailed version’s bold part was in bright red.)

There’s video, rather than just a picture, in this Facebook post, and I’m impressed they spelled San Bernardino correctly, with the R in the middle. Of course, they tagged the sheriff’s department’s Facebook site, which knows how to spell its own name.

bernardino
facebook.com/fox29philadelphia

Shouldn’t the video have been captioned, like this example from Sunday night?

Those of us old enough have known about closed-captioning since the 1980’s. It replaced a person using sign language for people who are deaf or hearing impaired. It’s nice to have during entertainment programming but necessary during news — whatever you define that as, these days — especially emergencies.

These days, stations offer real-time closed-captioning. That means there’s somebody listening live, probably in another city, and getting all the words on screen.

Closed-captioning means you can turn it off if you don’t want it, and open-captioning means it’s there and you have no choice. Back in the 1990s, some stations used captioning that wasn’t real-time. In other words, if it was in the newsroom computer, then it appeared, misspellings and all. Ad libbing and live shots were not captioned.

kttv bernardino
from Los Angeles

This video, from the Los Angeles area, certainly aired, but the version chosen to put on Facebook is slightly different. For example, it doesn’t have the lower thirds for locators and people who speak, nor the station logo and maybe the time and temperature that are put on live when you see them on TV.

However, you hear an anchor’s voice tossing to a reporter package and the video was clearly edited. In other words, everything here aired but not “100 percent exactly” as you see on Facebook.

But it still has to be captioned, according to the Federal Communications Commission, which licenses TV stations, even though this is on the web rather than TV.

Click here for the FCC’s page on Captioning of Internet Video Programming. It says:

FCC rules require captioned programs shown on TV to be captioned when re-shown on the Internet.

Look at the word re-shown. One would think this video was not not re-shown since it lacks the lower thirds, station logo, and time and temperature.

That got me wondering whether using video that has everything except the bells and whistles that were put on live when the newscast aired is a legal trick to get out of having to caption.

However, click here for the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, which says:

Title 47: Telecommunication
PART 79—ACCESSIBILITY OF VIDEO PROGRAMMING
Subpart A—Video Programming Owners, Providers, and Distributors

  • 79.4   Closed captioning of video programming delivered using Internet protocol.

(a) Definitions. For purposes of this section the following definitions shall apply:

(1) Video programming. Programming provided by, or generally considered comparable to programming provided by, a television broadcast station, but not including consumer-generated media. (The underlining is mine.)

Leaving out bells and whistles that may help the TV viewer is definitely considered comparable to programming. Therefore, it seems to me stations including Fox’s in Philadelphia are putting up video without captioning.

Again, web producers were told anything that aired had to be captioned on the internet (website, Facebook page, etc.), per FCC rules.

Go ahead and look at Fox stations’ Facebook pages. I did on different browsers. Ignore pictures. Ignore raw video that didn’t air, like most long news conferences. Ignore viewer video of something cute that goes on and on.

fb example
facebook.com/fox29philadelphia

Then, as you see above, put your cursor on the playing video and click the Captions button. Nothing? Then click More Settings, which is just below Captions. On this next screen, make sure your settings are correct.

caption choices

If you’re still having trouble, you may want to click here and go down to the section ‘Video Programming on Television and Other Equipment’ for details on filing a complaint.

Keep in mind, video with graphics like this are NOT captioned. They are put on by a central hub for all Fox-owned stations as decoration. The sound is NOT transcribed.

hub
facebook.com/fox29philadelphia

I suggest you do it, if not for yourself, then millions of other Americans. Besides, who knows what can happen to you one day?

President Trump has talked and talked about getting rid of regulations. His allies in the FCC already gutted net neutrality. It would be another shame if they decide to get rid of the captioning rules as well. It would be a shame for our hearing impaired neighbors, especially as the American population ages.

F caption grade sized

Disgraceful daughter

into the great wide open
1991: Cover art for the song Into the Great Wide Open (Wikipedia: fair use)

Every situation is different, but death always seems to be a hard topic. We could be talking about a close relative, an acquaintance from years ago, a pet, or a famous person. How people respond is unique and usually understandable.

Usually. And I will say it. Tom Petty’s younger daughter seems to be an exception.

Monday afternoon, I heard about her father’s sad situation as a quick breaking story on some local newscast. It all but said he was dead. I think it also credited TMZ which, like it or not, would’ve been sued out of business if it wasn’t so right on the money. Again, it turned out to be true.

petty people

Then, since I get emails from People magazine for some reason, this came: “Rock Legend Tom Petty Dead After Full Cardiac Arrest at Age 66.”

I really didn’t think much of it because it had become expected, and being in the news business for decades jaded me. I was tired after watching hours of Las Vegas shooting coverage and if I had thoughts at the moment, they would’ve been to get file video, old facts, and be on top of whatever new was being reported.

But there seemed to be no update on TV for far too long. I’m not so heavily into music but even I was familiar with Tom Petty. Maybe it was the Florida connection.

Anyway, I eventually clicked the People link and saw the headline “Rock Legend Tom Petty ‘Clinging to Life’ After Massive Cardiac Arrest at Age 66: Report.” Notice the evidence, as if necessary, how the original headline was reflected in the web address http://people.com/music/tom-petty-dead-66-heart-attack/.

petty real people

I became interested. This one-time soap opera fanatic knows real people don’t come back to life, and doesn’t waste time on fake news, or the people and sites that publish it.

My friend Eric, in the media whom I completely trust, posted on Facebook about what he’d done earlier:

“My Petty post was based on information from LAPD. Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office now says: LAPD did not handle Petty call. WE did. Petty has a DNR (legal Do Not Resuscitate order: Lenny) and is “clinging to life,” “not expected to make it through the night.” So, to recap, Petty not dead yet… but soon.”

The fact is, except for the victim, this was a local Los Angeles story. Who from outside the area knew there was a difference between the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department? Not me, even though I covered O.J. Simpson’s murder trial and those of us in the east of a certain age are familiar with the California Highway Patrol (CHiPs), thanks to NBC.

Then, the LAPD (police department) heard reports of Petty’s passing and tweeted this:

petty lapd tweets

“The LAPD has no information about the passing of singer Tom Petty. Initial information was inadvertantly (sic) provided to some media sources. However, the LAPD has no investigative role in this matter. We apologize for any inconvenience in this reporting.”

Yes, this was a huge story. Also, keep in mind most of the east coast media had been woken up early that morning for the Las Vegas massacre I alluded to, and members of the west coast media may have been up 20 hours. And nobody is perfect.

Back to a family tragedy. Loved ones rush to a hospital room. Nobody knows what’s going to happen, or when. There’s panic and confusion. People aren’t thinking clearly.

However, it seems the younger of Petty’s two daughters, AnnaKim Violette, spent a lot of time during this unfolding unexpected tragedy on an Instagram account, (warning about the next link) taking on Rolling Stone magazine which I don’t read. The last I heard of them, they retracted a story about purported group sexual assault at the University of Virginia and I read wire copy since I worked in Virginia shortly after that.

After-the-fact reports blame CBS for being first with the wrong story, but the network explained: “CBS News reported information obtained officially from the LAPD about Tom Petty.”

petty cbs

 

Then, between early Monday afternoon until about midnight (Pacific time), seeing the network’s first tweet caused other major media outlets and celebrities to react incorrectly.

Maybe Rolling Stone had something to do with it. I don’t know why Violette, in her 30s, picked on them, but the barrage of vulgarity was completely unreasonable to do by her dying dad’s bedside. I can’t think of any reason for her to be interacting with anyone she doesn’t know personally at that time, much less constantly be interacting with the whole world. (Last warning is over comments below this picture.)

petty instagram
Instagram post via http://uproxx.com/music/tom-pettys-daughter-slams-rolling-stone-annakim-violette-slams/

I don’t know what she was doing besides typing but if I was there with reason, I would’ve wanted her out of that hospital room.

Could anyone imagine Tom Petty wanting any of us to think about her misbehavior when they remember the end of his life?

Click here for pictures from the Instagram account. Click here and here for several other posts including thoughts and pictures from the same Instagram account.

Sorry to break it to you, AnnaKim, but your father was your father and also a human being, and he was also a celebrity whose premature death was news, whether you like it or not. A family statement would’ve solved a lot of this and you had too much time on your hands.

So take your inheritance (including any possible genetic gifts) and consider it the price of being born into a famous family, not that you chose to. Others would’ve appreciated your luck. You’re far from the only mourner out there. Millions are. You just seem to be the angriest and most out of line. Let’s hope.

Wikipedia Mircosoft Word clip art
June 20, 2016 at the Fillmore San Francisco (Microsoft Word clip art crediting Wikipedia)

P.S. The media should be embarrassed enough. At least this time, they’d been given incorrect information and had been up too many hours. They were wrong. Maybe there’s no excuse, but this comes close.