Syria, Gaza and the FCC chair babying broadcasters

Industry leaders have been meeting in Las Vegas for the National Association of Broadcasters Show and Adam Symson, president-CEO of the E.W. Scripps Co., made an interesting comparison between broadcast and digital.

“Broadcasting has been traditionally a very protected business — protected by regulation and economically protected because not everybody could have a television station in a market,” he said, according to TVNewsCheck. “That protection allowed us to develop our business in a certain way, historically.”

old tv sets

Running a digital business, on the other hand, “you’re forced to deal with a truly capitalistic, competitive environment,” he said.

fcc logoWhat he’s saying is that there is not a level playing field.

If you want to own a TV station or FM radio station, you need to find one and buy it. It has already been allocated to the area and licensed to operate using the public airwaves, under Federal Communications Commission rules, in the public interest.radio

(For AM radio stations, just find an unused frequency in the area, get the required technical tests done to sow you’re not interfering with anyone else. That should include antenna height and signal power, probably less at night, and then apply. The rules were different way back!)

As I’ve said for years, workers don’t have the First Amendment right to freedom of speech; the station owner does.

black laptop computer keyboardBut there aren’t really a lot of rules when it comes to digital. Anybody can have a website. What you’re reading proves it. So there’s unlimited competition from all over the world, as in World Wide Web.

No, people under 13 should not be filling out information. No porn without at least a warning (and maybe more, as if that works). And it’s not nice to post fake news.

newspaperDon’t forget all the advertising you can sell, since like a newspaper or magazine, digital publishers can have as many pages as they want and even make them longer. TV and radio stations are limited to 24 hours a day. Keep in mind programming and any other content is just to get people from one commercial break to the next, so you can charge more, but too much advertising will cause people to look or listen somewhere else.

 

Of course, looking or listening is free to them and somebody has to pay the bills. Subscriptions usually mean fewer or no commercials since money is coming in. (See: basic cable.)

So, keeping this simple, would you rather have your own TV station or website?

I’d go for the TV station. Yes, it costs more to operate (and even more than that if you want the product to be good). Digital can be done by one person and two cats with a computer connected to the internet.

But the number of TV stations is limited. They used to be referred to as a license to print money. Now, not as much as 50 years ago since, due to the growth of UHF and then cable, but there are still a limited number of stations.

And since they use the public airwaves (not cable, which has its own rules), they have to serve the public. But you’re the owner. You can hire engineers. You can own more than one station. And the number of rules you have to follow is dropping.

TVNewsCheck’s Harry A. Jessell reported FCC Chairman Ajit Pai spoke at that Las Vegas meeting, yesterday. You’d think broadcasters would’ve wet their pants, but what he said wasn’t new.

Pai said his approach to broadcast regulations is, “You either believe in scrapping outdated regulations or you don’t. We do.”

Ajit Pai fcc wikipedia
Ajit Pai (Wikipedia)

So now, eight rules are gone. They include ending the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban and also the main studio rule, which Pai claims “gives broadcasters greater flexibility without sacrificing transparency or community engagement. And it’s already making it easier for broadcasters to add new service or maintain existing service in rural communities” but the rule simply required broadcasters to maintain a main studio in or near their community of license. Think that’s important? Would somebody quite a distance away be an expert or even know enough about your town? So much for localism!

And there are more rules to go.

As for what’s next to go, 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.”

Click here for O’Rielly’s January blog post on the subject.

girl watching tv

Monday, Jessell wrote, “O’Rielly told a group of broadcasters he would like to get rid of the current rule requiring TV stations to air three hours of children’s programming in the form of 30-minute shows each week between 7 and 10am.”

Instead, he expects it to be “more directive” than a call for reform ideas but didn’t have any definite proposals.

The commissioner said his goal is to

“further understand the market and determine if each requirement has produced the benefits to our nation’s children and families and examining these rules to see if they have resulted in any unintended consequences.

“Can we breathe some flexibility into our rules and make them more dynamic and responsive to the needs of kids? For example, studies show that children have shorter attention spans … but our rules only count programming that is 30 minutes in length.”

Jessell also 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.

And BGR reports Pai, the former Verizon lawyer (gotta love THAT!), is still trying to keep the net neutrality rules dead. Those rules regulate telecom companies and the speed in which they get your computer to certain websites, but the FCC killed them in December. You shouldn’t have to pay more and neither should the owner of the website to see it faster. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should treat all data on the internet the same.woman on computer

Now, Peoria Public Radio says there are “several states scrambling to keep net neutrality protections before the federal repeal date of April 23.” Sounds difficult to me because internet traffic, like the public airwaves, is interstate commerce which makes it a federal matter.

However, the Illinois proposal “would ask internet service providers who contract with the state to disclose if they don’t plan to follow net neutrality rules.” That’s allowed through transparency rules. U.S. News & World Report says “The Cybersecurity, Data Analytics and IT Committee voted 6-2” in favor of it today, so it’ll move to the state House floor.”

Also, “a lawsuit involving several attorneys general against the FCC is pending.” There are 23 attorneys general signed on. Gizmodo named them: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia. Personal note: I don’t see Florida.

Today, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) wrote in The Logan Daily News,

“Right now, I’m working with my Senate colleagues to pass a resolution in Congress to overturn this disastrous decision. My resolution would reinstate the rules that guarantee us an open Internet. With 50 votes at the ready, we only need one more Republican who is willing to work across the aisle and stand up against corporate special interests.
“The Internet doesn’t belong to a wealthy few.”

What about using the Congressional Review Act (CRA) that can review new federal regulations issued by government agencies and overrule them by passing joint resolutions?

Congress has a window of time lasting 60 legislative days (in session) but there are lots of details on how it works, so that’s probably unlikely. A vote by Congress, which controls the FCC, and the Illinois technique sound better.

And last month, Pai “dwelled on the lack of high-speed internet in rural communities,” after his FCC

“rolled back several provisions meant to protect internet access for low-income and rural citizens, undoing a rule that would force providers to at least maintain existing DSL internet lines, and axing a subsidy for wireless service for low-income residents.”

money dollars centsHe quoted an unnamed politician: “Cable companies panicked at [the Internet’s] threat to their business, so they monopolized Internet connectivity themselves.”

My take? They went too far. If cable and internet companies want to dig to serve one person in a municipality, then they should be forced to serve everyone in that municipality, whether they care to subscribe or not. Don’t electric and phone companies have to? But poor, rural people don’t make these companies money.

In May 2017, John Oliver encouraged viewers to voice their displeasure to the FCC in a particularly creative way:

But acting completely different from gutting rules, the UHF discount is back, putting Pai under investigation by the FCC inspector general. (That rule started because it used to matter whether a 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 a company’s ownership cap should only be half for those stations, compared to VHF stations. It was ended because today’s technology means it doesn’t matter anymore.) Regarding the UHF discount’s revival, The New York Times wrote, “A few weeks later, Sinclair Broadcasting announced a blockbuster $3.9 billion deal to buy Tribune Media — a deal those new rules made possible.”

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

NO sinclair tribune

It also wrote,

“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.

Pai is not very popular among many Americans who know who he is. According to Jessell, he ended by “thanking broadcasters for their personal support during some of the ‘challenges’ he has faced.” There were death threats after he led the FCC in eliminating the net neutrality rules.

At the end, Pai told the broadcasters,

“I do want … to let you know that … I very much cherish your statements, emails, tweets … personal conversations when I see you in the hallways, and for your thoughts and prayers from afar. They mean more than you know.

“So, on behalf of myself, the Pai family, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to you. Thank you for being there for me and for us when it counted. I’ll never forget it.”

That was after, Jessell reported,

“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?!

Now to the Israel-Gaza Strip border.

Gaza map

Tonight, the liberal Israeli paper Haaretz reported an IDF (Israel Defense Forces) spokesman told them, “The Israeli air force hit a Hamas target in the Gaza Strip.”

Then, “Hamas militant shot machine guns towards the aircraft, triggering rocket alert sirens throughout southern Israel in the regional councils of Shaar Hanegev and Sdot Negev.”

And Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s assistant and Representative for International Negotiations, tweeted that Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza and has been galvanizing weekly violent protests there, must cede control to the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, which rules Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said the army “holds Hamas responsible for everything that takes place in the Strip and will not allow the organization to turn the fence into a confrontation zone.”

This is a better look at the situation on the other side of the border.

Remember, in 2005, the Israeli army withdrew and dismantled all settlements in the Gaza Strip. Then, the terror group Hamas was elected as the Palestinian government in Gaza. There are no Israelis on that side.

Palestinians have been burning tires at the Israeli border — more than 10,000 last Friday alone — at the Israeli border, “to obscure the vision of the security fence separating Israel from Gaza so that Israeli troops could not not see infiltrators into the land,” according to The Daily Wire.

This video, in which you see that thick black smoke, is less than a minute long.

Then — get this! — “A spokesman for the Palestinian Transport Ministry complained of the ensuing shortage of tires, demanding that Israel supply more.”

Muhammad Hamdan: “We have been informed by the Israeli side that imports of tires have been halted until further notice. There is no doubt stopping tire imports will have a negative effect on Palestinians in Gaza especially considering there is a shortage of them there. We are going to exert all efforts so that Israel reverses its decision.”

The Times of Israel is reporting the Hamas-run Gazan health ministry claims, “The Israel Defense Forces has so far killed 30 Palestinians in border clashes over the past two weeks.”

The paper reports, “One was apparently shot in the torso while wearing a ‘press’ vest and filming in an area engulfed in thick black smoke caused by protesters setting tires on fire.”

Yet yesterday, I rebutted a friend who posted this on Gacebook.

fb0

I think I used the phrase “war is hell” recently. It applies here too.

fb1
https://unitedwithisrael.org/arabs-on-social-media-slam-hamas-protests-defend-israel/

Then, I got into an argument with some self-hating Jewish stranger on that string.

fb2

It’s almost 8pm in the eastern United States. That makes it the middle of the night in Syria. The timing is perfect, as I remember from the First Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm.

I’m no military expert, but want to know why President Trump hasn’t retaliated against Syria for its “apparent chemical attack in the suburb of Douma at dusk on Saturday,” as The New York Times put it.

map Duma Douma Syria

— The Times says there’s still much “unclear or unconfirmed about the attack” and that includes what could happen in the future involving other countries, namely Russia.

— In the meantime, The Gray Lady reports, “Syrian government forces prevent access to Douma for journalists, aid workers and investigators.”

— It says several independent medical and rescue groups report, “About 500 people … had symptoms consistent with a chemical attack: burning eyes, breathing problems and white foam coming from their mouths and nostrils.”

— The World Health Organization said, “About 70 people died while sheltering in basements” and “Of them, 43 had signs of being exposed to ‘highly toxic chemicals.’”

— According to medical and rescue groups, “Videos circulated by anti-government activists showed graphic images of families sprawled out in their homes, dead from apparent suffocation. A stream of victims rushed into clinics on Saturday.” You probably saw some of it on TV, as did I.

— The next day, Sunday, “Thousands of rebel fighters in Douma agreed … to hand the area over to the government and be bused to an area outside the government’s control in the country’s north.”

That’s all considered confirmed.

But The Times reports, “The state news media in Syria denied that the government had used chemical weapons, and accused a rebel group of fabricating the videos to drum up international support.” Russia and Iran agree. The U.S. and its allies don’t. The United Nations hasn’t decided and members disagree on how to investigate.

The U.S. is still trying to figure out what was used, or whether the attack “was launched by the Syrian government or forces supporting the government.” I wonder, does it really matter?

And who knows what President Trump is going to do, despite these tweets this morning?

His next tweet also mentions Russia, but for a different reason. Is that telling?

This is far from the first time chemical weapons have been used in the Syrian civil war. The Times says it started in August 2013, there ave been several types of chemicals and it “has shown no signs of abating.”

The Times remembers, President Trump’s response to an April 2017 attack that killed dozens of people in Khan Sheikhoun, in northern Syria, didn’t work. He ordered a military strike against the airfield where the weapons were launched, but that had little practical effect. The monitoring group The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrians were using the airfield again within 24 hours.

So limited strikes don’t work, “but stronger responses carry significant risk of escalation,” according to the paper. Escalation could cause the collapse of the Syrian government, which I think sounds good “but could prolong the war and sow chaos for millions of Syrians. It could also invite a direct military confrontation with Russia, which warned that it would shoot down any missiles.”

President Barack Obama Official White House Photo
Official White House Photo

But something has to be done. President Obama doing nothing after drawing a “red line” was an embarrassment to America and a disgrace to the free world.

It seems “the Obama administration’s determination to close the Iran nuclear deal is to blame for the failure to act on its own red line in Syria.” In case you haven’t realized, I wasn’t pleased with President Obama on the Middle East, I don’t trust the Iranians (and the Arabs don’t either, except Syria) and I had higher hopes for President Trump on the Middle East issue.

Business Insider reported over the summer of 2016, months before the presidential election, the information came from “Wall Street Journal reporter Jay Solomon, who … wrote a book called ‘The Iran Wars.’

He told MSNBC,

“When the president announced his plans to attack [the Assad regime] and then pulled back, it was exactly the period in time when American negotiators were meeting with Iranian negotiators secretly in Oman to get the nuclear agreement.

“US and Iranian officials have both told me that they were basically communicating that if the US starts hitting President Assad’s forces, Iran’s closest Arab ally … these talks cannot conclude.”

And the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps reportedly “would not accept a continued engagement with the US if its closest ally was being hit.”

Click here to watch Solomon on Aug. 22, 2016’s Andrea Mitchell Reports.

jay solomon wsj

According to Business Insider, “Ned Price, spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, denied that US policy on Syria was a part of the Iran nuclear talks.” I don’t think there’s any good excuse for not doing anything.

The magazine was able to look back four years, from 2012 to 2016.

It said in 2012, President Obama said

“his red line with the Assad regime would be the use of chemical weapons. Later that year, Assad’s forces killed nearly 1,500 people in a chemical-weapons attack.”

It also reported,

“Obama gave The Atlantic several reasons for not enforcing the red line — uneasiness about a strike against Syria not being sanctioned by Congress, a lack of support from the international community and the American people, the possibility that the intelligence on the chemical-weapons attack wasn’t 100% solid.”

Still no excuse if you draw a red line.

Business Insider concluded,

“The Iran deal is thought to be the crowning foreign policy achievement of the Obama administration, and experts have speculated previously that his determination not to compromise the deal affected his policy on Syria.”

For one, I’d like to see Assad’s palace turned into rubble. It would be a form of punishment and create a lasting impression for anyone considering sing chemical weapons yet again.

Please, 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.

 

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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!