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?

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.

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Labor Day weekend leftovers

I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure you’ve had a busy week, between getting used to having your kids in school or planning what to do on this long holiday weekend.

Sorry for the folks in “sunny Florida” with plans ruined while dealing with Tropical Storm Gordon. (But you’re welcome for this souvenir to help you remember the occasion.)

amx_loop

I’ve been doing a lot of reading, besides taking my Google IT Support Professional Certificate class on Coursera, so I haven’t been able to share them on this blog like I should. I say “should” because they follow-up on issues I’ve raised here and you deserve a resolution to what you read here. Often, I put information on social media (my Twitter feed @feedbaylenny is on this page), or in the comments section of blog posts, but it’s only right to follow through in the format you saw it, and update the original. Unfortunately, most media don’t do so.

There may be a lot but it’ll go by quickly.

Ajit Pai fcc wikipedia
Ajit Pai (Wikipedia)

I’ll start with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai being cleared by his agency’s own inspector general. Reuters reported the Donald Trump appointee was under investigation to determine whether he was unfairly biased in favor of the Sinclair Broadcast Group–Tribune Media merger. Just weeks before the deal was announced, Pai raised suspicion by bringing back a rule – the UHF discount – that would’ve helped the largest U.S. television broadcast group stay within national ownership limits. But the inspector general said in his report there was

“no evidence, nor even the suggestion, of impropriety, unscrupulous behavior, favoritism toward Sinclair, or lack of impartiality related to the proposed Sinclair-Tribune merger.”

Of course, the deal never happened since the FCC eventually questioned Sinclair’s candor over necessary sale of some stations. Tribune backed out and sued Sinclair for $1 billion for alleged breach of contract. According to Reuters, Tribune said Sinclair

 “mishandled efforts to get the transaction approved by taking too long and being too aggressive in its dealings with regulators.”

feature Tribune gavel Sinclair

Now, Sinclair is countersuing.

“In Delaware Court of Chancery, Sinclair rejected Tribune’s allegations and suggested the companies had been very close to winning U.S. Department of Justice approval.”

It accused Tribune of pursuing a

“deliberate effort to exploit and capitalize on an unfavorable and unexpected reaction from the FCC to capture a windfall.” Tribune called Sinclair’s counterclaim “entirely meritless” and “an attempt to distract from its own significant legal exposure.”

Do you have access to the internet? Of course you do, since you’re reading this. (OK, maybe you’re reading a friend’s printout of this post.) Regardless, in December, the FCC under Ajit Pai repealed many net neutrality rules passed in 2015 during the Obama administration. Think of it as price up or speed down. Those internet service providers (ISPs) you love to hate, according to Variety, had been banned from

“blocking or throttling traffic, or from selling ‘fast lanes’ so websites and other types of content can gain speedier access to consumers.”

person on computer typing facebookBut luckily, denying all Americans equal access to a free and open internet got very controversial. Friday, California lawmakers passed a bill what Variety called “the strongest government-mandated protections in the country” and it’s now on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. Brown hasn’t said whether he’ll sign it. But the FCC ’s repeal forbids states from passing their own net neutrality rules. If Gov. Brown signs California’s bill, this could go to court. Pai, a former Verizon lawyer (think Fios), claims net neutrality stifled investment and burdened ISPs with regulation. Since June, ISPs have been able to make changes as long as they’re disclosed. So far, Reuters reports major providers have made no changes in internet access.

fcc logoHere’s more controversy from the FCC, and something I hadn’t written about before. This time, the agency is accused of lying to its watchdog, Congress, and it involves a TV comedian. More than a year ago, during the height of the net neutrality debate, the FCC claimed its “comment filing system was subjected to a cyberattack,” according to The Verge. On May 7, 2017, our old friend John Oliver, who I’ve shown on this blog several times, asked Last Week Tonight “viewers to leave pro-net neutrality comments on the commission’s ‘Restoring Internet Freedom’ proceeding.” Oliver encouraged them

“to flood the FCC’s website with the use of memorable links like gofccyourself.com and justtellmeifimrelatedtoanazi.com. That night, the FCC’s filing system crashed.”

LANGUAGE: Viewer discretion advised.

The next morning, senior officials concluded, according to emails uncovered by the inspector general, “some external folks attempted to send high traffic in an attempt to tie-up the server.” Of course, the site was shut down by a surge of valid complaints. Several people disputed the unsubstantiated fabricated traffic claim in emails, but the DDoS theory was passed on to commissioners, like Pai, who told members of Congress (Fake News Alert!) what happened that evening was “classified as a non-traditional DDoS attack.” Now, the agency’s inspector general is reporting

“there was no distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, and this relaying of false information to Congress prompted a deeper investigation into whether senior officials at the FCC had broken the law.”

Turns out, an Oliver producer gave the FCC a “heads up” days before running the episode but it never responded, and the commission knew Oliver’s show had the power to move enough viewers to crash their system! According to that busy inspector general’s report, “We learned very quickly there was no analysis supporting the conclusion” that it was a DDoS attack. That’s when FCC officials started being investigated for allegedly breaking the law by providing false information to Congress. But the Justice Department decided not to prosecute.

We knew Facebook has been on the hot seat with Americans angry about how it handled 50 million users’ people’s data, as far back as March, but President Trump was more concerned about Amazon. Then, days later, I reported, “‘Vice President Mike Pence is concerned about Facebook and Google,’ according to a source. He argues those companies are dangerously powerful, and is worried about their influence on media coverage, as well as their control of the advertising industry and users’ personal info.” It looks like the Pence position is winning. Trump spent the week tweeting about fake news and according to Axios, attacked Google “for allegedly silencing conservative voices.”

Ars Technica reported that on Wednesday, Trump tweeted this

“video that claimed, incorrectly, that Google did not feature his first speech to Congress as president.”

(Hit the play button.)

It also reported Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) wrote a formal letter to the Federal Trade Commission, released Thursday, asking it to “reconsider the competitive effects of Google’s conduct in search and digital advertising.” But it wasn’t just Google for Trump.

Politico quoted him as saying,

“I think what Google and what others are doing, if you look at what is going on with Twitter and if you look at what’s going on in Facebook, they better be careful because you can’t do that to people. …I think that Google and Twitter and Facebook, they are really treading on very, very troubled territory and they have to be careful.”

nbc nightly news lester holtAnd as you just read, the president also claimed NBC Nightly News anchor “Lester Holt got caught fudging” his tape on Russia, but the peacock network fought back and posted the video of Trump’s extended, unedited interview with Holt last year.

No wonder he hates the media!

Of course, I won’t completely defend the news media from allegations of dumbing down and doing anything for profit in too many cases. But I’d love to see some of these disagreements fought out in open court. I don’t care who sues who. I just want the evidence presented so the truth becomes obvious to everyone.

2013-08-17 Leonard Cohen wikipedia Kings Garden Odense Denmark
Wikipedia: Cohen at King’s Garden, Odense, Denmark, Aug. 17, 2013

Also, I want to know why all Lenny Cohen searches show Leonard Cohen the musician instead of me!

As for the big tech companies, Yahoo! Finance reports,

“Wednesday morning, the Senate Intelligence Committee will question Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg on their responses to foreign disinformation campaigns. The committee also invited Google CEO Sundar Pichai, but he declined to testify — another Google representative will testify in his place.

“Wednesday afternoon, the House Energy & Commerce Committee will quiz Dorsey on Twitter’s ‘algorithms and content monitoring.’”

NBC News has reported Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced changes to the platform’s news feed product since the data issue March, with “more posts from friends and family” and “less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses.” Now, NBC continues,

“The goal was to make Facebook more social with fewer commercial and product posts. Publishers ranging from big businesses to mommy bloggers are forced to post more content that they create personally, rather than sharing products or affiliate links.

“With these changes, some small publishers claim to see a massive downside.”

What I want to know is why in July, Zuckerberg decided Facebook would not ban Holocaust deniers! Fortune reported,

“Zuckerberg, who is Jewish, said he found Holocaust deniers ‘deeply offensive.’ Then he said, ‘but at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong—I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong. It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent.’”

So Holocaust deniers are simply uninformed? Are you kidding me, Mark? I would’ve hoped Sandberg, who grew up in North Miami Beach, whose brother David was my high school class valedictorian, would’ve set him straight. The Times of Israel reports Sandberg “said in an interview last year that, as a tech company, Facebook hires engineers — not reporters and journalists.” Personally, I find this would be one fight losing my job over. There has to be a line somewhere. Go far enough and you’re “just following orders” and we know what made that phrase so well known.

Zuckerberg later clarified in an email,

“I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that.” Then, he “reiterated a distinction he tried to draw in the interview: Posts that advocate violence will be taken down, but those that peddle misinformation will stay but ‘would lose the vast majority of its distribution in News Feed.’”

Sounds like he has lost the vast majority of his mind!

Also coming up this shortened Labor Day week, Morning Brew reports Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will “introduce a bill requiring major employers—like Amazon, Walmart, and McDonald’s—to cover the cost of government assistance programs its workers rely on…programs like food stamps, public housing, Medicaid, and more.” For years, there has been criticism years about the way Amazon pays and treats workers at its warehouses. According to The Washington Post, the Democratic Socialist said his goal

“is to force corporations to pay a living wage and curb about $150 billion in taxpayer dollars that go to funding federal assistance programs for low-wage workers each year. The bill … would impose a 100 percent tax on government benefits received by workers at companies with 500 or more employees. For example, if an Amazon employee receives $300 in food stamps, Amazon would be taxed $300.”

Keep in mind, Amazon owner Jeff Bezos (another who spent years in Miami) also owns The Washington Post!

Two last things: The cemetery near Detroit finally fixed my grandfather’s grave. In June, it took hours to find the marker since it was buried under inches of dirt. Now, it has been raised and leveled.

oakview cemetery

bar mitzvah shirt

And this weekend is the 3?th anniversary of my bar mitzvah. The party had an animal theme, of course, and all the kids got t-shirts like this. (Yes, I’m keeping the specific year as evergreen as the narrator says on that Philadelphia show The Goldbergs on purpose, even though there are readers who were there!)

So that’s about it. All the original pages I found have been updated.

Before I go, I also have to thank every one of you for more than 16,800 page views on this site! The numbers have risen exponentially recently, and I wonder why. Please let me know if there’s anything I should be doing more here.

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.

Sanctions against Sinclair? Sounds justified

It’s either coincidence, karma or a higher power when things come together in ways previously thought impossible.

This weekend, Jewish people around the world read the Torah portion Shofetim (שֹׁפְטִים, or “Judges,” comprising Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9).

The best-known line in it is the third, “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף, Deut. 16:20).

Shofetim also happens to be the Torah portion from my bar mitzvah and it’s interesting that it’s coming up this week because an article in Axios yesterday said,

Sinclair Broadcasting’s failed effort to buy Tribune Media may soon become more than just a costly embarrassment. It could result in the company ultimately losing its broadcast licenses.”

Isn’t that what I suggested should happen, weeks ago, back on July 27?

And two days earlier, how

“It looks like one of the seven deadly sins – greediness – may have killed the (merger) deal!”?

Yesterday, Axios wrote,

“The conservative broadcaster has been accused of lying to the FCC, and of acting in bad faith with Tribune.”

There’s not much a huge corporation can do to anger the Federal Communications Commission these days – if it follows the rules, which get eased all the time – but lying is its one big crime.

Back on Jan. 27, I wrote the FCC was going to allow the deal but

“force Sinclair to sell off a bunch of stations because it’ll be (way, way, way) too big.”

And that was the crux of the problem: ownership limits and which stations would be sold off. Oh, and would the companies buying really be associated with Sinclair and let Sinclair control the stations?

Ajit Pai fcc wikipedia
Ajit Pai (Wikipedia)

In mid-July, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement:

“Based on a thorough review of the record, I have serious concerns about the Sinclair-Tribune transaction. … The evidence we’ve received suggests that certain station divestitures that have been proposed to the FCC would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law. … When the FCC confronts disputed issues like these, the Communications Act does not allow it to approve a transaction. Instead, the law requires the FCC to designate the transaction for a hearing in order to get to the bottom of those disputed issues.”

That was a huge surprise and the turning point in the drawn-out deal.

On July 24, the newspaper in Sinclair’s hometown, The Baltimore Sun, wrote what finally did the deal in:

“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’ Monday about whether the deal would serve the public interest.”

Ah, the public interest! It’s always nice to hear about that, since we’re talking about use of the public airwaves.

I quoted TVNewsCheck’s Harry A. Jessell on the seriousness of what Sinclair had actually been doing pretty quietly doing for years:

“Its mishandling of its merger application has badly stained its permanent FCC record in a way that could greatly complicate its future regulatory dealings. … And a liar is what the FCC has accused Sinclair of being by obfuscating the fact it would continue to control three major market stations that it told the FCC it would spin off to other broadcasters to comply with ownership limits.

sinclair before tribune
Sinclair’s reach. Large enough?

“You see, the FCC acts on the honor system. It presumes that you are obeying all the rules and expects you to confess any infractions. It’s the principal way the FCC polices those it regulates. That’s why lying – the ever-polite FCC calls it “misrepresentation” or “lack of candor” – is taken seriously and is the FCC equivalent of a capital crime. … As the lawyers pointed out to me this week, once indicted for misrepresentation as Sinclair has now been, it sticks because it goes to the broadcaster’s basic character qualifications to be a licensee. It cannot buy or sell a station or even renew a license until it resolves the character question. Sinclair’s best move now is to walk away from the merger and promise, no, swear on a stack of Bibles, that it will never, ever mislead the FCC again.

“Sinclair has no one but itself to blame for this fiasco. It pushed too hard to keep as many of the Tribune stations as it could and somewhere along the line lost sight of the larger goal – get the transfer through the FCC and get to closing. … (David Smith) kept going back to the FCC (and the Justice Department) demanding more and more. Ironically, he will likely end up with nothing, except maybe a new set of regulatory hassles.”

feature Tribune gavel Sinclair

Tribune called off the deal and sued Sinclair for $1 billion.

— UPDATE: Sinclair counter-suing Tribune, accusing its onetime takeover target of a “deliberate effort to exploit and capitalize on an unfavorable and unexpected reaction from the FCC to capture a windfall.” —

Of course, Sinclair denied everything and said in a statement,

“We have been completely transparent about every aspect of the proposed transaction.”

fcc commissioners 2018One thing Sinclair failed to do after telling the FCC it was withdrawing the deal was asking the administrative law judge, who FCC commissioners unanimously recommended look into Sinclair’s representations during the Tribune negotiations, to end his planned hearing. The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau said it had no problem if the hearing was terminated.

But Broadcasting & Cable reported “The FCC docket was still open” as of Monday and got confirmation from an FCC spokesperson,

“Although Sinclair’s pleading states that the applications ‘have been withdrawn’ and are to be dismissed with prejudice, it fails to specifically seek such relief from the Chief Administrative Law Judge.”

B&C added,

“That’s because the licenses are now before him, rather than the FCC staffers who had been vetting them before the hearing designation.”

tv airwavesThis is a world of bigger and bigger broadcasting companies – in part because of competition from cable, satellite and the internet – but as I’ve said about a million times, the broadcasters have special responsibilities since they use the public airways. And they need a tougher FCC to keep them, and the newer companies, in line.

On the other hand, Axios quoted Dennis Wharton, executive vice president of communications for the National Association of Broadcasters as saying,

“Scale matters when we are competing against massive pay TV conglomerates, Facebook, Apple and Netflix. If you want a healthy broadcast business that keeps the Super Bowl on free TV, that encourages local investigative journalism and allows stations to go 24-7 live with California wildfire coverage, broadcasters can’t be the only media barred from getting bigger.”

The FCC is still determining whether to raise the limits on TV station ownership above 39 percent. Most experts told Axios they

“believe that cap will be lifted above 50 percent, but they don’t know what the exact limit will be, or when it will be passed and implemented.”

RKO General 1962Anyway, the FCC has taken away broadcast licenses before. I wrote about the RKO General situation all over the country, and also allegations of impropriety in the granting of a Boston television license.

According to experts Axios spoke to, Sinclair’s first batch of licenses comes up for renewal in June 2020. (Look for more activist challenges then.)

They also

“describe Sinclair as a ‘hard headed’ company that rarely engages with D.C. and which recently lost its top lobbyist.”

That description should come as no surprise to any regular reader of this blog.

So for now, there’s no deal, but a lawsuit, between Sinclair and Tribune.

Sinclair’s alleged misrepresentations to the FCC

“can be reviewed by an administrative law judge during a license renewal hearing, were the FCC to recommend such a hearing (which may be likely, given FCC’s concerns and Sinclair’s many outside critics),”

according to Axios.

The judge could revoke Sinclair’s licenses outright, which would teach the industry and its investors a big, important lesson. But a telecom lawyer Axios spoke to said,

“A more likely scenario … is that the FCC would reach a settlement whereby Sinclair is required to divest stations.”

My opinion: Crush them or cut them down to size, but at least do something.

One last note is that Sinclair is going to have trouble finding another merger partner due to its potential license renewal issues, but also because Tribune’s lawsuit accused the company of being “belligerent.” It’s what happens when you’re too big.Tribune Broadcasting Company

Now to the Tribune side, where there is less justice.

Reuters reported the company is going to pay big

“bonuses to executives who worked for more than 15 months on its failed merger.”

You’d think they’d be in line for bonuses after a successful merger!

How big are these bonuses? Reuters reported the company said,

“16 percent of target annual bonuses, which had been conditioned on completion of the Sinclair merger.” (I underlined. –Lenny)

money dollars centsAre you hearing this, shareholders?

This is what it adds up to. Three top executives – chief financial officer Chandler Bigelow, president of broadcast media Larry Wert, and general counsel and chief strategy officer Edward Lazarus – will be getting

“between $102,000 and $160,000. Other executives will get bonuses based on a similar percentage of their targeted annual bonuses.”

Why?

“In recognition of the substantial efforts and time that each of them devoted to the company’s anticipated merger with Sinclair and their contributions to maintain and grow the company’s business,”

according to the company.

That’s if the company was actually spending money to “maintain and grow” the business which is doubtful because companies in the process of being bought are cheap, not replacing employees or equipment so the financial sheets look better.

And what about all the employees who were encouraged to work under harder conditions and so much uncertainty for so long?

That’s the world, these days, kids.

Reuters also mentioned,

“Last week, Tribune Media Chief Executive Officer Peter Kern told investors it (was) ‘open to all opportunities’ in terms of industry consolidation or remaining independent. He noted on an investor call there was ‘tons of activity out there.’

“Kern said he would continue to run the company until Tribune reached a ‘permanent state.’”

Keep in mind, last Monday, Tribune announced it

“reached a comprehensive agreement with Fox Broadcasting Company to renew the existing Fox affiliations of eight Tribune Media television stations, including KCPQ-TV (Seattle), KDVR-TV (Denver), WJW-TV (Cleveland), KTVI-TV (St. Louis), WDAF-TV (Kansas City), KSTU-TV (Salt Lake City), WITI-TV (Milwaukee), WGHP-TV (Greensboro, NC). Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.”

disney abc logo

But knowing Fox is selling most of its assets to Disney/ABC and looking for more stations to buy, especially those in NFL football team markets, I’d consider Tribune a seller rather than a buyer.

TVNewsCheck’s Jessell agrees, pointing out,

“Recall that just prior to the announcement of the Sinclair deal, Fox tried to swoop in and buy Tribune out from underneath Sinclair. It coveted some of Tribune’s stations and it feared Sinclair becoming too big an affiliate group for it to push around.”

Fox TV stations

I’d also consider telling the FCC not to let Fox buy any of those eight stations, except Seattle, because it owned them at one point and sold them when it made sense for the company. In other words, it showed no commitment to the communities or their people. Companies shouldn’t be allowed to sell unneeded stations and then buy them back when they feel they’ll make more money.

standard media

Besides Fox, which could face ownership limits, Jessell pointed to Soo Kim’s new Standard Media, which was going to buy nine Tribune stations in seven cities, and Nexstar as potential buyers.

Jessell also mentions there are a lot more stations on the market now than two years ago.

cox media group

Cox is looking for someone to buy its 14 stations, Gray is buying Raycom and has to spin off nine stations, and Cordillera will be leaving the industry once it sells its 11 stations.

So complicated!

But some more from Jessell on Sinclair:

“Not in the entire history of broadcasting, with the possible of RKO, has a major company so thoroughly managed to trap itself in such a regulatory and legal morass. …

“If Executive Chairman David Smith did not control the board, he would be thrown out for directing this debacle and hobbling the company at a critical time for it and the industry. It will be interesting to see who is made the scapegoat. …

“Sinclair can continue to churn out cash, but, from a strategic standpoint in broadcasting, is indefinitely sidelined. Until it resolves the alleged character issues at the FCC, it cannot buy a broadcast license. It can’t even renew one.

“Sinclair’s challenge today is to start digging out — and it’s going to be costly. First it must settle with Tribune. And then it has to return to the good graces of the FCC.” …

Also, “The Sinclair independent shareholders (could) file a lawsuit against Smith and his team for gross mismanagement.” …

And, “Indeed, Sinclair did everything wrong, allowing arrogance and self-righteousness to overcome its good sense at every turn.”

I think a lot of justice is what’s needed here, and soon.

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Tribune to Sinclair: Judge’s gavel instead of merger’s handshake

It’s a great day in broadcasting, or as great as things can get in this day and age. There will be no merger between Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media.

Today, according to Axios, Tribune announced it

“terminated its $3.9 billion merger agreement with Sinclair Broadcasting and that it has filed a lawsuit for breach of contract.”

— UPDATE: Sinclair counter-suing Tribune, accusing its onetime takeover target of a “deliberate effort to exploit and capitalize on an unfavorable and unexpected reaction from the FCC to capture a windfall.” —

Tribune sued in Delaware Chancery Court. It’s asking for “approximately $1 billion of lost premium to Tribune’s stockholders and additional damages in an amount to be proven at trial,” according to TVNewsCheck.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tribune alleges Sinclair “failed to make sufficient efforts to get their $3.9 billion deal approved by regulators.”

The first sign of trouble from the Federal Communications Commission, other than delays, came last month. It was a surprise, considering how the FCC greased the wheels for the takeover, whether on purpose or not. (That’s under investigation.)

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

TVNewsCheck continued,

“Tribune claimed that Sinclair used ‘unnecessarily aggressive and protracted negotiations’ with the Department of Justice and the FCC over regulatory requirements and that it refused to sell the stations it needed to in order for regulatory approval.”

In the filing, Tribune said:

“Beginning in November 2017, DOJ repeatedly told Sinclair that it would clear the merger if Sinclair simply agreed to sell stations in the 10 markets the parties had identified in the merger agreement. DOJ’s message to Sinclair could not have been clearer: if Sinclair agreed to sales in those 10 markets, ‘We would be done.’”

That’s what happens when you get into business with a company like Sinclair. I’ve written plenty about it and its top officials, including those who inherited the company.

Personally, it proves what I wrote here on July 25,

“Even better, it looks like one of the seven deadly sins – greediness – may have killed the deal!”

The deal, while complex and controversial, should not have been a problem.

The biggest hurdle was supposed to be national ownership rules, but ironically, the FCC took care of that just weeks before the deal’s May 2017 announcement.

Bloomberg reported,

“Broadcasters may own stations that reach 39 percent of U.S. households – but how that audience is measured has been in dispute. Last year, the FCC’s Republican majority reinstated a measure that treats ultra-high-frequency or UHF band stations as counting for just half of their lower-frequency counterparts, enabling broadcasters to own more stations and enjoy greater reach.”

Democrats had gotten rid of the so-called UHF discount the year before, since it started way back at a time when there where major reception differences between VHF and UHF stations on your television dial.

“FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed by President Donald Trump,” is even under investigation by his own agency’s inspector general because of the timing of the reinstatement and whether it was done for Sinclair.

But still, the deal would’ve been so big that some stations would have to go, and that’s what led to problems. Specifically, it was which stations the combined Sinclair-Tribune would own, would have to go.

Sinclair and Tribune are two of the country’s largest broadcasters.

Sinclair, the largest, claims it “owns, operates and/or provides services to 191 television stations in 89 markets.”

According to TVSpy,

“Sinclair was proposing to control 233 stations in 108 markets, adding 42 Tribune stations to their current roster.”

sinclair before tribune
Sinclair’s reach, without Tribune

That would’ve included the nation’s biggest TV markets where Sinclair has no presence, like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia.

But there was a lot of pushback from public interest groups fighting for smaller companies and localism, and against micromanaging the largest group of stations in the country.

Boris Epshteyn clip art

They were joined by Democrats concerned Sinclair would give even more stations its conservative bent. Sinclair requires so-called must-runs, including airing commentaries by one of President Trump’s former communications spokespersons, Boris Epshteyn. The company also forced anchors at their stations to read a message that parroted President Trump’s talking points about the media.

jared kushnerAnd 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 when he was running against Hillary Clinton, which Sinclair vehemently denied.

Plus, conservative media outlets were afraid Sinclair would get in the game and interfere with their efforts to compete with Fox News. And all the time passing didn’t help Sinclair’s case.

Meanwhile, Sinclair defended the merger as necessary consolidation in the face of competition from cable and tech, according to NBC News.

The network also reported it came “in the face of opposition from the FCC and questions about whether Sinclair tried to mislead the government with its divestiture plan, in which it sought to sell some stations to parties close to Sinclair.” (I’ve written about these so-called sidecar agreements time and time again.)

The first sign of trouble, other than delays, came last month.

TVNewsCheck wrote Pai, perhaps the deal’s biggest cheerleader after President Trump, decided he had “serious concerns” about the Tribune stations Sinclair would get in Chicago, Dallas and Houston – that Sinclair might still be able to operate them “in practice, even if not in name.”

WGN-TV

TVSpy put it this way:

“Pai suggested Sinclair would sell but still operate those stations, which is illegal. The FCC then sent the deal for review by an administrative law judge.”

Sinclair has been known to use shell corporations, local marketing agreements and joint sales agreements to operate stations it doesn’t own. (See Cunningham Broadcasting, for example. Click here for Baltimore and here for mid-Michigan.)

There were also concerns about spinning off stations for unreasonably low prices.

Tribune’s complaint alleges

“Sinclair’s material breaches were willful breaches of the merger agreement, because they were deliberate acts and deliberate failures to act that were taken with the actual knowledge that they would or would reasonably be expected to result in or constitute a material breach.

“As a result of Sinclair’s breaches, Tribune has sustained financial harm and has lost the expected benefits of the merger agreement.”

As I wrote here on July 27, “Tribune can leave Sinclair at the alter/chuppah on Aug. 8.” That was yesterday.

This morning, Tribune released this statement:

“Tribune Media Company today announced that it has terminated its merger agreement (the ‘Merger Agreement’) with Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. (‘Sinclair’), and that it has filed a lawsuit in the Delaware Chancery Court against Sinclair for breach of contract. The lawsuit seeks compensation for all losses incurred as a result of Sinclair’s material breaches of the Merger Agreement.

“In the Merger Agreement, Sinclair committed to use its reasonable best efforts to obtain regulatory approval as promptly as possible, including agreeing in advance to divest stations in certain markets as necessary or advisable for regulatory approval. Instead, in an effort to maintain control over stations it was obligated to sell, Sinclair engaged in unnecessarily aggressive and protracted negotiations with the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission (the ‘FCC’) over regulatory requirements, refused to sell stations in the markets as required to obtain approval, and proposed aggressive divestment structures and related-party sales that were either rejected outright or posed a high risk of rejection and delay—all in derogation of Sinclair’s contractual obligations. Ultimately, the FCC concluded unanimously that Sinclair may have misrepresented or omitted material facts in its applications in order to circumvent the FCC’s ownership rules and, accordingly, put the merger on indefinite hold while an administrative law judge determines whether Sinclair misled the FCC or acted with a lack of candor. As elaborated in the complaint we filed earlier today, Sinclair’s entire course of conduct has been in blatant violation of the Merger Agreement and, but for Sinclair’s actions, the transaction could have closed long ago. (I highlighted that last sentence. —Lenny)

“‘In light of the FCC’s unanimous decision, referring the issue of Sinclair’s conduct for a hearing before an administrative law judge, our merger cannot be completed within an acceptable timeframe, if ever,’” said Peter Kern, Tribune Media’s Chief Executive Officer. ‘This uncertainty and delay would be detrimental to our company and our shareholders. Accordingly, we have exercised our right to terminate the Merger Agreement, and, by way of our lawsuit, intend to hold Sinclair accountable.’”

(Tribune’s statement continued with earnings information and then returned to the Sinclair situation. See that at the bottom of this post, along with its CEO’s memo to employees.)

That’s a big change from exactly three weeks ago, July 19, when Tribune responded to the FCC issuing its Hearing Designation Order with this statement:

“Tribune Media has now had the opportunity to review the FCC’s troubling Hearing Designation Order.  We are currently evaluating its implications and assessing all of our options in light of today’s developments.

“We will be greatly disappointed if the transaction cannot be completed, but will rededicate our efforts to running our businesses and optimizing assets.  Thanks to the great work of our employees, we are having a strong year despite the significant distraction caused by our work on the transaction and, thus, are well-positioned to continue maximizing value for our shareholders going forward.”

Click here for the 62-page complaint.

In case you don’t plan to read it all, The Washington Post reported Tribune accused Sinclair of

“engaging in ‘belligerent and unnecessarily protracted negotiations’ with the FCC as well as the Justice Department.” Also, it argued “in its lawsuit that Sinclair had been ‘confrontational with and belittling of DOJ staff.’ During negotiations, for example, Sinclair’s general counsel, Barry Faber, challenged the Justice Department’s top antitrust official, Makan Delrahim, telling him at one point, ‘sue me,’ Tribune alleged. In another meeting, Faber accused Delrahim of ‘misunderstand[ing] the industry,’ the suit said.”

Also new, The Post reported Tribune alleged it threatened to sue Sinclair in February if it didn’t divest stations to secure the DOJ’s support, prompting Sinclair to revise its offer.

Click here for 176 pages of exhibits.

Sinclair, for its part, put out this response:

“Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. announced today that it received a termination notice of its Merger Agreement from Tribune Media Company. In response, the Company subsequently has withdrawn with prejudice its FCC applications to acquire Tribune and filed with the Administrative Law Judge a notice of withdrawal of the applications and motion to terminate the hearing.” ‘’

“‘We are extremely disappointed that after 15 months of trying to close the Tribune transaction, we are instead announcing its termination,’ commented Chris Ripley, President & Chief Executive Officer. ‘We unequivocally stand by our position that we did not mislead the FCC with respect to the transaction or act in any way other than with complete candor and transparency. As Tribune, however commented, in their belief, the FCC’s recent designation of the deal for a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge would have resulted in a potentially long and burdensome process and, therefore, pursuing the transaction was not in the best interest of their company and shareholders. As for Tribune’s lawsuit, we fully complied with our obligations under the merger agreement and tirelessly worked to close this transaction. The lawsuit described in Tribune’s public filings today is entirely without merit, and we intend to defend against it vigorously.

“‘Nonetheless, we wish to thank both our and Tribune’s employees and our many advisers who have committed a tremendous amount of time and effort over the past 15 months towards the acquisition of Tribune. It is unfortunate that those efforts have not been realized. The combined company would have benefited the entire broadcast industry and the public through the advancement of ATSC 3.0, increased local news and enhanced programming.’”

FTVLive’s Scott Jones brought more from Ripley.

Chris Ripley statement

Despite Sinclair stock starting lower today, the company announced it’s buying back up to $1 billion of its Class A common shares.

“We strongly believe in the long term outlook of our company and disagree with the market’s current discounted view on our share price,” Ripley said. “The $1 billion authorization does not use our future free cash flow generation, but simply the excess cash currently on our balance sheet.”

Sinclair stock ended the day 2.58 percent higher, but fell in after-hours trading.

The FCC did not comment today.

The Sinclair-Tribune deal would’ve led to several others. Stations that put the combination above the legal ownership limit were supposed to be spun off to several different companies. Now they won’t.

One of those companies is 21st Century Fox, which The Hollywood Reporter described as partially merging with Disney/ABC. Disney still plans to buy “the Fox film and TV studio, Nat Geo, FX Networks, Star India, 39 percent of Sky and 30 percent of Hulu … along with 22 regional sports networks (RSNs).”

Disney is selling those regional sports networks because the Justice Department was worried they “coupled with ESPN would create a sports monopoly.”

Yahoo! Finance reports Disney will have 90 days from the deal closing to sell, and CEO Bob Iger said on Tuesday’s earnings call,

“The RSNs will be sold, and the process of selling them is actually already beginning. Conversations are starting, interest is being expressed. And it’s likely that we’ll negotiate a deal to sell them but the deal will not be fully executed or close until after the overall deal for 21st Century Fox closes.”

It added, Iger said Disney “assumed the responsibility of divestiture” in December 2017 when it first made an offer to Fox, “if the regulatory process demanded that we do that.”

There was never a possibility Fox would keep the networks or buy them back.

Yahoo! suggests potential buyers are Comcast, which has its own RSNs and lost the bidding war for Fox’s assets; Discovery Communications; AT&T, owner of DirecTV and now also Time Warner, but the Justice Department is appealing that; Verizon, owner of Fios; and another cable company, Charter Communications.

So Fox will be left with “the Fox broadcast network, FS1, FS2, Fox Business Network and the Fox News Channel, which, collectively, is known for now as New Fox,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.

It planned to buy some of those stations that had to be spun off from the Sinclair-Tribune deal, probably insisting on the number and places (NFL football markets), or threatening to pull the stations’ affiliations and put Fox programming on a competitor.

“Live sports is clearly the most valuable content in our industry,” executive chairman Lachlan Murdoch said during a conference call, yesterday. His company is now paying a fortune for rights to Thursday Night Football.

Thursday Night Football logo

But now, with no merger, the station sales to Fox and others are in jeopardy, and decisions whether to sell or not return to Sinclair and Tribune.

However, new deals may already be in the works. Just Monday, Tribune announced it

“reached a comprehensive agreement with Fox Broadcasting Company to renew the existing Fox affiliations of eight Tribune Media television stations, including KCPQ-TV (Seattle), KDVR-TV (Denver), WJW-TV (Cleveland), KTVI-TV (St. Louis), WDAF-TV (Kansas City), KSTU-TV (Salt Lake City), WITI-TV (Milwaukee), WGHP-TV (Greensboro, NC). Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.”

So we can expect those stations to keep airing Fox programming unless there’s something in the “terms of the agreement” that mentions the merger not happening.

On top of that, last week, FTVLive’s Scott Jones reported, “Fox is very interested in a number of the Tribune stations” – still – and, “the suits from Fox have been spotted inside (those) Tribune stations looking around” as if to buy. So we’ll see if it ends up with more Tribune stations than it was expected to buy under the deal.

Fox WSFL WSVN

Not mentioned is Miami/Fort Lauderdale Tribune station WSFL. That CW affiliate was going to be sold to Fox, even though Fox has an affiliation agreement with Sunbeam’s WSVN in South Florida. What would’ve happened if Fox bought a competitor was anyone’s guess, but that’s now a moot point.

Of course, the big question is whether Tribune will still sell at all. TVNewsCheck’s Harry Jessell reported Tribune CEO Peter Kern cast some doubt on that today, telling analysts the company may want to “enhance” its TV station portfolio.

cox media group

We know Cox Media Group is exploring selling. Others will if the price is right, and prices should rise if there are fewer, bigger companies in the business – especially if they’re allowed to buy more after the FCC takes another look at raising ownership caps.

Despite uncertainty, there’s probably a lot of relief at Tribune stations they won’t have bosses from Sinclair.

TVNewsCheck’s Harry Jessell – who I quote a lot – recently wrote

“how Sinclair’s aggressive approach in its dealing with the Justice Department and the FCC with regard to its merger with Tribune has been polluting the best regulatory atmosphere in Washington since the Reagan administration.”

Jessell ended his column by writing,

“So, let’s recap. Sinclair’s attempt to win regulatory approval of its Tribune merger has so far severely damaged Sinclair’s standing at the FCC, aggravated the most broadcast-friendly FCC chairman in decades, subjected its own and several other broadcast groups’ basic business dealings to intense Justice Department scrutiny and exposed those same groups to (an antitrust) lawsuit that, no matter how frivolous, needs to be answered.”

As promised earlier, this is the rest of today’s Tribune statement:

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

Sinclair Acquisition

On May 8, 2017, the Company entered into the Merger Agreement with Sinclair, providing for the acquisition by Sinclair of all of the outstanding shares of the Company’s Class A common stock and Class B common stock by means of a merger of Samson Merger Sub Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Sinclair, with and into Tribune Media Company (the “Merger”), with the Company surviving the Merger as a wholly owned subsidiary of Sinclair.

In the Merger, each share of the Company’s common stock would have been converted into the right to receive (i) $35.00 in cash, without interest and less any required withholding taxes, and (ii) 0.2300 of a share of Class A common stock of Sinclair.

The consummation of the Merger was subject to the satisfaction or waiver of certain important conditions, including, among others: (i) the approval of the Merger by the Company’s stockholders, (ii) the receipt of approval from the FCC and the expiration or termination of the waiting period applicable to the Merger under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976, as amended (the “HSR Act”) and (iii) the effectiveness of a registration statement on Form S-4 registering the Sinclair Common Stock to be issued in connection with the Merger and no stop order or proceedings seeking the same having been initiated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”).

Pursuant to Section 7.1(e) of the Merger Agreement, Sinclair was “entitled to direct, in consultation with the Company, the timing for making, and approve (such approval not to be unreasonably withheld) the content of, any filings with or presentations or submissions to any Governmental Authority relating to this Agreement or the transactions contemplated hereby and to take the lead in the scheduling of, and strategic planning for, any meetings with, and the conducting of negotiations with, Governmental Authorities relating to this Agreement or the transactions contemplated hereby.” Applications to regulatory authorities made jointly by Sinclair and Tribune in connection with the Merger were made at the direction of Sinclair pursuant to its authority under this provision of the Merger Agreement.

On September 6, 2017, Sinclair’s registration statement on Form S-4 registering the Sinclair Common Stock to be issued in the Merger was declared effective by the SEC.

On October 19, 2017, holders of a majority of the outstanding shares of the Company’s Class A Common Stock and Class B Common Stock, voting as a single class, voted on and approved the Merger Agreement and the transactions contemplated by the Merger Agreement at a duly called special meeting of Tribune Media Company shareholders.

The applications seeking FCC approval of the transactions contemplated by the Merger Agreement (the “Applications”) were filed on June 26, 2017, and the FCC issued a public notice of the filing of the Applications and established a comment cycle on July 6, 2017. Several petitions to deny the Applications, and numerous other comments, both opposing and supporting the transaction, were filed in response to the public notice. Sinclair and the Company jointly filed an opposition to the petitions to deny on August 22, 2017 (the “Joint Opposition”). Petitioners and others filed replies to the Joint Opposition on August 29, 2017. On September 14, 2017, the FCC’s Media Bureau issued a Request for Information (“RFI”) seeking additional information regarding certain matters discussed in the Applications. Sinclair submitted a response to the RFI on October 5, 2017. On October 18, 2017, the FCC’s Media Bureau issued a public notice pausing the FCC’s 180-day transaction review “shot-clock” for 15 days to afford interested parties an opportunity to comment on the response to the RFI. On January 11, 2018, the FCC’s Media Bureau issued a public notice pausing the FCC’s shot-clock as of January 4, 2018 until Sinclair has filed amendments to the Applications along with divestiture applications and the FCC staff has had an opportunity to review any such submissions. On February 20, 2018, the parties filed an amendment to the Applications (the “February 20 Amendment”) that, among other things, (1) requested authority under the FCC’s “Local Television Multiple Ownership Rule” (the “Duopoly Rule”) for Sinclair to own two top four rated stations in each of three television markets (the “Top-4 Requests”) and (2) identified stations (the “Divestiture Stations”) in 11 television markets that Sinclair proposed to divest in order for the Merger to comply with the Duopoly Rule and the National Television Multiple Ownership Rule. Concurrently, Sinclair filed applications (the “Divestiture Trust Applications”) proposing to place certain of the Divestiture Stations in an FCC-approved divestiture trust, if and as necessary, in order to facilitate the orderly divestiture of those stations following the consummation of the Merger. On February 27, 2018, in furtherance of certain undertakings made in the Applications and the February 20 Amendment, the parties filed separate applications seeking FCC approval of the sale of Tribune’s stations WPIX-TV, New York, New York, and WGN-TV, Chicago, Illinois, to third-party purchasers. On March 6, 2018, the parties filed an amendment to the Applications that, among other things, eliminated one of the Top-4 Requests and modified the remaining two Top-4 Requests. Also on March 6, 2018, the parties modified certain of the Divestiture Trust Applications. On April 24, 2018, the parties jointly filed (1) an amendment to the Applications (the “April 24 Amendment”) that superseded all prior amendments and, among other things, updated the pending Top-4 Requests and provided additional information regarding station divestitures proposed to be made by Sinclair in 15 television markets in order to comply with the Duopoly Rule or the National Television Multiple Ownership Rule, (2) a letter withdrawing the Divestiture Trust Applications and (3) a letter withdrawing the application for approval of the sale of WPIX-TV to a third-party purchaser. In order to facilitate certain of the compliance divestitures described in the April 24 Amendment, between April 24, 2018 and April 30, 2018, Sinclair filed applications seeking FCC consent to the assignment of license or transfer of control of certain stations in 11 television markets.

On May 8, 2018, the Company, Sinclair Television Group, Inc. (“Sinclair Television”) and Fox Television Stations, LLC (“Fox”) entered into an asset purchase agreement (the “Fox Purchase Agreement”) to sell the assets of seven network affiliates of Tribune for $910.0 million in cash, subject to post-closing adjustments. The network affiliates subject to the Fox Purchase Agreement are: KCPQ (Tacoma, WA); KDVR (Denver, CO); KSTU (Salt Lake City, UT); KSWB-TV (San Diego, CA); KTXL (Sacramento, CA); WJW (Cleveland, OH); and WSFL-TV (Miami, FL). The closing of the sale pursuant to the Fox Purchase Agreement (the “Closing”) was subject to approval of the FCC and clearance under the HSR Act, as well as the satisfaction or waiver of all conditions of the consummation of the Merger, which was scheduled to occur immediately following the Closing.

On May 14, 2018, Sinclair and Tribune filed applications for FCC approval of additional station divestitures to Fox pursuant to the Fox Purchase Agreement. On May 21, 2018, the FCC issued a consolidated public notice accepting the divestiture applications filed between April 24, 2018 and May 14, 2018, for filing and seeking comment on those applications and on the April 24 Amendment, and establishing a comment cycle ending on July 12, 2018.

On July 16, 2018, the Chairman of the FCC issued a statement that he had “serious concerns about the Sinclair/Tribune transaction” because of evidence suggesting “that certain station divestitures that have been proposed to the FCC would allow Sinclair to control [the divested] stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law,” and that he had circulated to the other Commissioners “a draft order that would designate issues involving certain proposed divestitures for a hearing in front of an administrative law judge.”

On July 18, 2018, at the direction of Sinclair pursuant to its authority under the Merger Agreement, Sinclair and Tribune jointly filed an amendment to the Applications reflecting that the applications for divestiture of WGN-TV (Chicago), KDAF (Dallas), and KIAH (Houston) filed in connection with the April 24 Amendment were being withdrawn, that WGN-TV would not be divested, and that KDAF and KIAH would be placed in a divestiture trust pending sales to one or more new third parties. The applications for divestiture of WGN-TV, KDAF and KIAH were withdrawn by concurrent letter filings. On July 19, 2018, the FCC released a Hearing Designation Order (“HDO”) referring the Applications to an FCC Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) for an evidentiary hearing to resolve what the FCC concluded are “substantial and material questions of fact” regarding (1) whether Sinclair was the real party-in-interest to the divestiture applications for WGN-TV, KDAF, and KIAH, and, if so, whether Sinclair engaged in misrepresentation and/or lack of candor in its applications with the FCC; (2) whether consummation of the merger would violate the FCC’s broadcast ownership rules; (3) whether grant of the Applications would serve the public interest, convenience, and/or necessity; and (4) whether the Applications should be granted or denied. The HDO designated as parties to the proceeding the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau and persons who had filed formal petitions to deny the Applications, and directed the ALJ to establish a procedural schedule by Friday, August 24, 2018.

On August 2, 2017, the Company received a request for additional information and documentary material, often referred to as a “second request”, from the United States Department of Justice (the “DOJ”) in connection with the Merger Agreement. The second request was issued under the HSR Act. Sinclair received a substantively identical request for additional information and documentary material from the DOJ in connection with the transactions contemplated by the Merger Agreement. The parties entered into an agreement with the DOJ on September 15, 2017 by which they agreed not to consummate the Merger Agreement before certain dates related to their certification of substantial compliance with the second request (which occurred in November 2017) and to provide the DOJ with 10 calendar days’ notice prior to consummating the Merger Agreement. Although Sinclair and DOJ reached agreement on a term sheet identifying the markets in which stations would have to be divested, they did not reach a definitive settlement and their discussions on significant provisions remained ongoing as of August 2018.

Pursuant to the Merger Agreement, the Company had the right to terminate the Merger Agreement if Sinclair failed to perform in all material respects its covenants, and such failure was not cured by the end date of August 8, 2018. Additionally, either party may terminate the Merger Agreement if the Merger is not consummated on or before August 8, 2018 (and the failure for the Merger to have been consummated by such date was not primarily due to a breach of the Merger Agreement by the party terminating the Merger Agreement). On August 9, 2018, the Company provided notification to Sinclair that it had terminated the Merger Agreement, effective immediately, on the basis of Sinclair’s willful and material breaches of its covenants and the expiration of the second end date thereunder. In connection with the termination of the Merger Agreement, on August 9, 2018, the Company provided notification to Fox that it has terminated the Fox Purchase Agreement, effective immediately. Under the terms of each of the Merger Agreement and the Fox Purchase Agreement, no termination fees are payable by any party.

On August 9, 2018, the Company filed a complaint in the Chancery Court of the State of Delaware against Sinclair, alleging breach of contract under the Merger Agreement. The complaint alleges that Sinclair willfully and materially breached its obligations under the Merger Agreement to use its reasonable best efforts to promptly obtain regulatory approval of the Merger so as to enable the Merger to close as soon as reasonably practicable. The lawsuit seeks damages for all losses incurred as a result of Sinclair’s breach of contract under the Merger Agreement.

This is Tribune CEO Kern’s memo to employees, thanks again to FTVLive’s Scott Jones:

Tribune Team,

Earlier this morning we announced the termination of our proposed merger with Sinclair and that we have filed a lawsuit against Sinclair for breach of contract—attached (above —Lenny) is the press release we issued a short time ago.

Given the developments of the last few weeks, and the decision by the Federal Communications Commission to refer certain issues to an administrative law judge in light of Sinclair’s conduct, it’s highly unlikely that this transaction could ever receive FCC approval and be completed, and certainly not within an acceptable timeframe. This delay and uncertainty would be detrimental to our company, to our business partners, to our employees and to our shareholders. Accordingly, our Board made the decision to terminate the merger agreement with Sinclair to enable us to refocus on our many opportunities to drive the company forward and enhance shareholder value.

As for the lawsuit, we are confident that Sinclair did not live up to its obligations under the merger agreement and we intend to hold them accountable. A suit like this does not get resolved overnight and it is the last thing you should be thinking about, but I want you to know that Tribune did everything it was supposed to do, and we will make sure we are treated fairly.

Right now, I am sure many of you are still absorbing the news and wondering what it means for our company, for our future, and most especially for each of you. I want to take a moment to answer these questions and address some of your concerns as we now re-adjust to the old normal of running our great and storied Tribune Media Company.

So, let’s begin there—Tribune Media remains as strong as ever, with great TV stations, important local news and sports programming, a re-energized and financially powerful cable network, and a terrific history of serving our viewers, our advertisers, and our MVPD and network partners. You need look no further than the exceptional financial results we released today for proof of that. Our consistent success is directly related to your talent, your experience, your innovation, and your willingness to give your best every day.

As for the future, we continue to live in complex times in the media world. New consumer habits, new entrants to the space, new competitors every day, and consolidation going on all around us. Rapid change has become the norm—it’s impossible to predict the next big thing. What I do know, though, is that we’ve got valuable assets, great people running them, and we remain one of the preeminent broadcasting companies in America.

No doubt the rumor mill will begin anew with speculation about who might buy us or who we might buy or whether the regulatory landscape still favors consolidation. We can’t do anything about such speculation. What we can do is rededicate ourselves to our own performance. Let’s shake off the cobwebs of deal distraction, ignore the outside noise, and continue delivering on our commitment to each other, to our customers, to our partners and to the communities we serve. If we do that, the rest will take care of itself.

Let’s get together for a companywide town hall meeting tomorrow at Noon ET. We’ll broadcast the meeting live to our business units, talk more about all these issues and take your questions—you can submit questions in advance of the meeting to: questions@tribunemedia.com.  In the meantime, if you have any concerns, our HR team is ready to help; and Gary Weitman can handle any media inquiries you might get.

Thank you, again,
Peter

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Sinclair sinks, Trump’s temper, Cox’s cash value

There’s something to be said for waiting before starting to write. That’s not my nature. I want to get things out first. I type very well but nobody can do it as quickly as my brain, so I often dictate into a phone and email myself. Then, I make any corrections and additions, and create the graphics and email preferences.

But this saga of Sinclair Broadcast Group trying to buy Tribune Media that has been going on for more than a year and suddenly failing last week – supposedly failing – is full of interesting details.

NO sinclair tribune

I wrote about a lot of them, Tuesday night. That was mostly background. You know how little I admire Sinclair and the people who run it. Tonight, you’ll see exactly what went wrong for the deal and what I think should be done. Let’s just say what went wrong could’ve been a lot of what I wrote Tuesday night!

I’m going to suggest starting by reading that last post, if you haven’t. It gives a lot of background about why Sinclair is so despised – that I’ve written about for months but conveniently put in one place – so there’s no sense repeating it here.

cox media group

But first, the latest, and that’s Cox Media Group – one of the best corporations owning TV stations out there, and a private one – is exploring putting itself up for sale.

Yesterday, FTVLlive’s Scott Jones got a secret copy of the talking points Cox managers are supposed to use while talking to employees. Let’s face it, “talking points” is another phrase meaning public relations. In other words, they’re trying to convince the workers to keep working extra hard because everything is going to be great! (I hope you used your best Tony the Tiger when you read that.)

Of course, that’s not how employees are feeling. When your company suddenly sets itself up to be bought, there is lots of uncertainty. You know spending will go down and jobs will not be filled, so the company’s financials look more attractive. And being bought by another major established company could lead to layoffs. But you know that’s not in the talking points which you can see below in this six-page slideshow.

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Cox’s 14 TV stations are pretty good and most are highly-rated ones. From left to right, by row, they’re the ABC affiliate in Atlanta; ABC and independent in Orlando; Fox in Boston; CBS in Seattle; NBC in Pittsburgh; ABC and independent in Charlotte; Fox and CBS in Jacksonville; Fox in Memphis; CBS in Dayton, Ohio; Fox in Tulsa, Okla.; and also a “supply-side platform that brings automation and data-driven targeting to the buying and selling of television advertising” called Videa.

cox stations

There are also 61 radio stations, 4 daily newspapers, 11 non-daily papers, 16 digital brands, and one local cable channel.

FTVLive’s Scott Jones also got a market analyst report from Wells Fargo about how much Cox Media may be worth. The answer it gives is $2.65 billion, but consider many factors including the number of willing buyers, whether the stations get split up, and whether Tribune goes back on the market.

wells fargo cox

See Tuesday’s post for a lot more links to, and details on, the rest of Atlanta-based Cox.

So FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was arguably putting himself on the line while supporting the Sinclair-Tribune merger when surprisingly, last week, he said in a statement:

“Based on a thorough review of the record, I have serious concerns about the Sinclair-Tribune transaction. … The evidence we’ve received suggests that certain station divestitures that have been proposed to the FCC would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law. … When the FCC confronts disputed issues like these, the Communications Act does not allow it to approve a transaction. Instead, the law requires the FCC to designate the transaction for a hearing in order to get to the bottom of those disputed issues.”

How surprising?

Pai embraced the merger so much, he’s under investigation by the FCC’s inspector general for allegedly greasing the wheels by bringing back the UHF discount rule weeks before the deal was announced. That way, the new, larger company could still meet the FCC ownership limit of 39 percent of U.S. households, rather than vastly exceeding them.

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

sinclair before tribune
Sinclair’s reach now, without Tribune

Then yesterday – at an awkward moment for Pai, Sinclair and Tribune – a Washington-based U.S. Appeals Court rejected a challenge to the FCC reinstating the UHF discount that could’ve and could still pave the way for the merger. The three-judge panel was comprised of two President Barack Obama nominees and one President Trump nominee. They dismissed the case on technical grounds without considering its merits, ruling the activist groups that filed suit hadn’t shown they’d be injured by the consolidation at the heart of their case. What this really means is Tribune could be worth more if it pulls out of the deal, because other potential suitors will have more flexibility to make offers. Tribune can leave Sinclair at the alter/chuppah on Aug. 8.

The UHF discount, started in 1985, let companies with UHF (channels 14+) stations only count half the coverage area towards the ownership limit. But that was when there was a big difference between watching channels 2 to 13, and channels 14+. With today’s technology – and cable, satellite and computers added to the mix, and broadcast signals digital rather than analog – the quality looks the same. The rule was ended in 2016, just before the end of President Obama’s administration.

So why bring back the rule last year? For big corporations, up against the ownership limit, urging Pai to reinstate it so they could buy more stations – exactly what Sinclair needed to merge with Tribune.

According to Variety, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, the sole Democrat on the FCC at the time, warned it would diminish diversity, competition, and localism, and she predicted a wave of mergers and acquisitions.

Variety wrote at the time,

“She showed a chart from Bloomberg showing how major station groups benefit from the discount. The largest, ION Media, reaches 33.7% of the country with the discount, but 65.2% without. Univision reaches 23.6% with the discount, but 44.8% without. When the discount was repealed last summer, station groups were allowed to retain their existing holdings, but they would be forced to divest assets in the event of a merger or corporate takeover.”

tv owner population share

But Pai argued the FCC would start examining the media ownership cap and reinstating the UHF discount would give the FCC a “blank slate.” The examination started in December.

generic tvA year later, in April 2018, Variety reported a panel of appellate judges asked why the FCC reinstated the rule and raised some concerns. Two of the three judges on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals also expressed concerns the FCC had restored a rule that was considered obsolete.

According to Variety, Judge Gregory Katsas noted to the FCC’s attorney, James Carr, that while the FCC

“might want to raise the cap,” there was “no reason for thinking at that the end of the day, part of the solution will be keeping the discount.”

“I think that is probably fair, your honor,” Carr replied. He argued that the UHF discount shouldn’t be eliminated without considering its implications to the 39% cap.

Meanwhile, CEO Chris Ruddy of conservative TV news network Newsmax said, “The judges on the D.C. Circuit reviewing the FCC’s UHF discount were left scratching their heads wondering why the rule was re-instated when everyone — Republicans and Democrats alike — agree that the discount is an analog relic and makes no sense in a digital world.

“The FCC should avoid the appearance of impropriety and proceed with a transparent national ownership cap proceeding to set a level playing field before approving any merger that benefits just one company, namely Sinclair.”

He also said he told President Trump strict limits on national TV ownership are needed not only to keep a lid on Sinclair, but also on the ‘liberal’ broadcast networks.

I told him [Trump] about my opposition because Sinclair would reach 70 percent of U.S. homes and — while I don’t disagree necessarily with Sinclair’s editorial point of view — I did not want to see NBC and ABC and the big liberal networks…[reaching] 70 percent.

“I think that would have been very dangerous if NBC was dictating the local news coverage in Des Moines, Iowa,” Ruddy said.

Keep in mind, Ruddy’s Newsmax and also Sinclair want to challenge Fox News Channel for conservative news viewers.

Politico summed it up by saying,

“Sinclair has been a frequent target for Democrats and liberal groups disturbed by reports that it favors President Donald Trump in its coverage via ‘must-run’ segments pumped to its network of stations.”

During the 2016 presidential election, The Washington Post reported Sinclair

“gave a disproportionate amount of neutral or favorable coverage to Trump during the campaign” while airing negative stories on Hillary Clinton, and Politico reported “on a boast by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner that the president’s campaign had struck a deal with the broadcast group for better media coverage. Sinclair disputed the characterization, saying it was an arrangement for extended sit-down interviews that was offered to both candidates.”

Also, it was Trump who nominated Pai for the agency’s top post, so most experts felt the merger would eventually get the go-ahead due to President Trump’s public comments praising the media company, which boasts a conservative-leaning, anti-mainstream media news operation.

My last post mentioned many different cases of using shell companies under Sinclair’s control to still broadcast on more stations than allowed. Those so-called sidecar arrangements let Sinclair keep a stake in the revenue and programming of the spun-off stations.

I even asked, “Why was the FCC the last to find out? Or did it know and ignore the facts for political reasons?”

Today, I found a new example of a virtual triopoly (three stations in a market), when the FCC only allows duopolies (two stations in a market) and only under certain conditions.

So what changed? Politico reports problems in three cities.

WGN-TV

First, in Chicago, the plan was to sell

“WGN to Steven Fader, a Maryland business associate of Sinclair Executive Chairman David Smith who oversees car dealerships.”

According to Reuters,

“The draft order circulated by Pai’s office … said Sinclair’s actions around the divestiture of TV station WGN in Chicago ‘includes a potential element of misrepresentation or lack of candor.’”

Ouch! Not good for a company licensed to use the public airwaves. I used another example below and then offered a suggestion about what should happen to Sinclair.

Adweek added,

“The FCC feels Smith selling the asset to his friend and business associate presents a problem,”

and I’ll say the price of $60 million is ludicrous, considering the station is worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

According to The Chicago Tribune,

“The WGN services agreement would have kept Sinclair in charge of everything from programming to ad sales while giving it an option to buy back the station for the same price, subject to adjustments, within eight years.”

WPIX

Sinclair was also supposed to sell WPIX-New York, the nation’s largest TV market by far, for a measly $15 million to that same Cunningham Broadcasting, a company with close ties to the Smith family. That caused Pai to say he was concerned Sinclair’s proposed sales in Chicago and New York may have attempted to deceive the government.

Adweek said also troubling

“were the deals to sell stations in Dallas and Houston to Cunningham Broadcasting.”

The Tribune reported,

“The proposal also included an option to buy the stations back.”

According to Reuters,

“Separate filings with the FCC last month by the American Civil Liberties Union and conservative news outlet Newsmax Media” … raised “questions about whether Sinclair would continue to control some of the stations it proposes to divest.”

So Politico said,

“Pai announced an administrative law judge would review the station spinoff issues. The FCC takes that step when companies fail to persuade it that a transaction, even with conditions, would be in the public interest.”

Ars Technica reported the decision by FCC commissioners to adopt a Hearing Designation Order and have a judge review aspects of the deal was unanimous. Other options were

“denying the merger outright, approving the merger, or approving it with conditions.”

Click here for the full order. One of the key parts reads:

“Among these applications were three that, rather than transfer broadcast television licenses in Chicago, Dallas, and Houston directly to Sinclair, proposed to transfer these licenses to other entities. The record raises significant questions as to whether those proposed divestitures were in fact “sham” transactions. By way of example, one application proposed to transfer WGN-TV in Chicago to an individual (Steven Fader) with no prior experience in broadcasting who currently serves as CEO of a company in which Sinclair’s executive chairman has a controlling interest. Moreover, Sinclair would have owned most of WGN-TV’s assets, and pursuant to a number of agreements, would have been responsible for many aspects of the station’s operation. Finally, Fader would have purchased WGN-TV at a price that appeared to be significantly below market value, and Sinclair would have had an option to buy back the station in the future. Such facts raise questions about whether Sinclair was the real party in interest under Commission rules and precedents and attempted to skirt the Commission’s broadcast ownership rules. Although these three applications were withdrawn today, material questions remain because the real party-in-interest issue in this case includes a potential element of misrepresentation or lack of candor that may suggest granting other, related applications by the same party would not be in the public interest.”

This keeps getting better!at&t time warner

Politico said an administrative law judge was called in 2015 with the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal. The companies later abandoned it, rather than go through the hearing process. AT&T ended up with Time Warner, at least for now, after a federal judge allowed it without conditions, but the Justice Department is appealing.

By last Wednesday, Reuters reported Sinclair announced it would not divest the three TV stations currently owned by Tribune

“to ‘expedite’ the transaction after the FCC suggested the company would still control the stations,” and “two FCC officials who did not wish to be identified said Wednesday they believe the merger will not be able to proceed.”

Instead, Sinclair itself will acquire WGN-Chicago, and put KDAF-Dallas and KIAH-Houston into a divestiture trust and sold by an independent trustee (if the acquisition is finalized).

The Justice Department is also still reviewing the deal and the FCC may have even more concerns.

Sinclair denied any effort to mislead the FCC and issued this long statement:

“While neither Sinclair or Tribune have seen the draft HDO, Chairman Pai’s comments and press reports indicate the FCC is questioning the proposed divestitures in Dallas, Houston and Chicago.  Accordingly, in order to address such concerns and to expedite the Tribune transaction, Sinclair has withdrawn the pending divestitures of stations in Dallas (KDAF) and Houston (KIAH) to Cunningham Broadcasting Corporation and Tribune has withdrawn the pending divestiture of WGN in Chicago to WGN-TV LLC.  Sinclair intends to request permission from the FCC to put the Dallas and Houston stations into a divestiture trust to be operated and sold by an independent trustee following the closing of the Tribune acquisition.  Sinclair expects to have identified and entered into a purchase agreement with a third party buyer or buyers for the Dallas and Houston stations prior to closing.  As a result of the withdrawal of the application relating to WGN, Sinclair will simply acquire that station as part of the Tribune acquisition, which is, and has always been, fully permissible under the national ownership cap.

“Throughout the FCC review process of the Tribune merger and divestitures, Sinclair has had numerous meetings and discussions with the FCC’s Media Bureau to make sure that they were fully aware of the transaction’s structure and basis for complying with FCC rules and meeting public interest obligations. 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. All relevant agreements documenting such terms as required by FCC rules have been filed. While we understand that certain parties, which oppose the transaction object to certain of the buyers based on such buyers’ relationships with Sinclair, 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.

“While the structures put forth to the FCC throughout the process have all been in compliance with law and consistent with structures that Sinclair and many other broadcasters have utilized for many years with the full approval of the FCC, we have consistently modified the structure in order to address any concerns raised by the FCC. As a result and in light of the ongoing and constructive dialogue we had with the FCC during the past year, we were shocked that concerns are now being raised. Nonetheless, we have decided to move forward with these additional changes to satisfy the FCC’s concerns.

“There can be no question regarding misrepresentation or character given that Sinclair has fully disclosed all terms of all aspects of the transactions it has proposed. The FCC’s reported concerns with sales to certain parties have been eliminated in light of the withdrawals of the applications relating to Dallas, Houston and Chicago. Accordingly, we call upon the FCC to approve the modified Tribune acquisition in order to bring closure to this extraordinarily drawn-out process and to provide certainty to the thousands of Tribune employees who are looking for closure.”

So what’s next for Tribune? Will it stick by the deal as it said it intends? We don’t know for sure yet, but it has until Aug. 8 and I already mentioned reasons to separate from Sinclair.

This video was made before Cox threw its assets into the ring.

One big winner, so far, could be 21st Century Fox Inc. chairman Rupert Murdoch, who has become close with President Trump.

Bloomberg notes, over the decades, Fox and Sinclair have been in business together, but the conservative organizations have also been rivals.

Sinclair owns dozens of local Fox affiliates. So does Tribune. Last year, Fox tried unsuccessfully to outbid Sinclair for Tribune.

In the meantime, the companies divide the retransmission fees paid by cable and satellite operators (meaning what you and I pay). Networks say local stations have more value because of them.

Former Fox exec Preston Paddon remembers in his blog,

“By 1992, Congress found that cable systems were paying carriage fees to the non-broadcast channels but not to the broadcasters, and that this was unfair to the broadcasters.”

It’s why we pay for free local TV if we’re not watching with an antenna.

Anyway, Sinclair buying Tribune and its own Fox affiliates would’ve given it a stronger negotiating hand in talks with Fox about how to divvy up those fees.

So after losing out on Tribune,

“Fox threatened to pull its affiliates from Sinclair and switch the stations to an independent broadcaster. Eventually, in order to satisfy regulators, Sinclair agreed to sell some Tribune stations to Fox, which, in turn, said it would renew Sinclair’s affiliation with more than two dozen stations.”

Now, Fox may be able to buy even more stations.

And “Sinclair may soon compete with Fox News for right-leaning TV viewers” may not come to pass. It has reportedly been talking about hiring former Fox News stars to create a block of conservative programming using WGN America, which it would acquire, or The Tennis Channel, which it already owns. Former Trump advisor Boris Epshteyn and former CBS correspondent Sharyl Attkisson already work for Sinclair. Politico reported Sinclair has even approached current and former Fox talent such as Jeanine Pirro, and Greta Van Susteren and Eric Bolling. I already wrote Talks with former Fox host Bill O’Reilly fell apart. Sinclair won’t admit to any of that.

Also, the Justice Department appealed the ruling that let AT&T buy Time Warner. That’s good for Fox at the moment because it involves Fox News Channel rival CNN, and may have kept Comcast/NBC from buying most of Fox, as it downsizes to become “New Fox.” Murdoch prefers Disney/ABC buying the assets, which the government already approved, and “the Murdoch family would see more tax benefits in that deal.”

So what’s President Trump’s beef? You already read about his relationship with Sinclair.

Tuesday night, he tweeted it was “sad and unfair that the FCC wouldn’t approve the Sinclair Broadcast merger with Tribune,” but Republicans control the FCC, he appointed Ajit Pai as chairman, and Pai has been accused of being too cozy with Sinclair. But except for appointments, the FCC is independent from the White House.

Deadline reported Sinclair commentator Boris Epshteyn, who used to work for Trump, is for the deal. So is Steve Bannon, who got friendly with Sinclair stations in swing states before the election. And Trump has to like Sinclair’s publicity.

The only Democratic FCC commissioner at the moment tweeted her response to the president with just one word: disagree.

But Trump’s friend Rupert Murdoch – who also owns TV stations and the pro-Trump Fox News Channel – is said to be against the merger. That would be especially so if Sinclair starts putting conservative news on cable through WGN America and The Tennis Channel. Trump is so chummy with Murdoch, he called in December to congratulate him on the Disney-21st Century Fox deal.

I wrote another friend, NewsMax chief Chris Ruddy, is definitely against Sinclair-Tribune, as well.

Furthermore, the president compared Sinclair-Tribune to letting “Liberal Fake News NBC and Comcast (get) approved” which happened under the Obama administration and FCC. Trump criticized it as being too big.

He didn’t mention it’s on the level of AT&T-Time Warner, which a federal judge recently allowed but the Justice Department is appealing.

The difference between Sinclair-Tribune and Disney-Fox – and NBC-Comcast and AT&T-Time Warner – is that the first pair involve companies that make content but don’t distribute it. In the second pair, NBC and Time-Warner make content, but Comcast and AT&T actually distribute it — Comcast through cable and AT&T by DirecTV satellite, both of which are paid subscription services.

In April, Axios reported President Trump defended Sinclair after the company started

“forcing conservative, pro-Trump editorials on its” news anchors and “Deadspin created a video of Sinclair broadcasters spurning ‘fake news.’

Viewers of Sinclair’s 200-plus local stations had already seen “centrally drafted opinion items reflecting its conservative, often pro-Trump positions,” but not by their own local anchors and certainly not side-by-side along with so many others.

That was at 6:34am. Keep in mind, a great number of Sinclair’s stations are affiliated with the networks.

Then, at 6:58, Trump took on CNN…

and got pushback from its PR department.

CNN reports some Sinclair journalists said they were unhappy with President Trump’s portrayal of the company as “conservative” because they want to be recognized for their straight-forward, nonpartisan work. Despite their stations being forced to air pro-Trump commentaries and stories, most journalists at local stations don’t want to be labeled by the president or anyone else.

As for Sinclair’s claim of more localism if the deal goes through, FTVLive’s Scott Jones found Sinclair station WSYX-Columbus, Ohio, doing a series of reports called “Gator Week” (as opposed to Shark Week, that has been on the Discovery Channel since 1988). Still, Jones thought it was “odd” considering “you don’t see many alligators in Ohio.” Then, he found out about other Sinclair stations doing the same thing, “including WGXA (Macon, Ga.), WPMI (Mobile, Ala.), WPEC (West Palm Beach) and others.” He joked he wasn’t sure it was a must-run.

I, myself, found Shark Week on a retweet from the Cunningham Broadcasting station in mid-Michigan. Maybe WBSF was allowed to go a different route.

WBSF’s “About” section says it’s “owned and operated by Cunningham Broadcasting Corporation and receives certain services from an affiliation of Sinclair Broadcast Group.” So there are three terms/phrases: owned, operated, and “receives certain services from an affiliation of Sinclair Broadcast Group.” Maybe that’s because just above, it says to send all press releases to news@nbc25news.com. So maybe “certain services from an affiliation of Sinclair Broadcast Group” includes press releases.

But wait!

Below, there are nbc25news email addresses for comments, webmaster (the Sinclair owned, operated, and apparently “affiliated” websites all look similar), contests and weather.

And below that are Sinclair (sbgi.net) email addresses for corporate, two for national advertising, and the secondary person for closed-captioning concerns.

So maybe those are all the “certain services from an affiliation of Sinclair Broadcast Group.”

That’s all very interesting since I knew Sinclair controlled two other stations in the same location!

NBC affiliate WEYI has on its “about” section (with the same look) that it’s “owned and operated by Howard Stirk Holdings, LLC and receives certain services from an affiliation of Sinclair Broadcast Group.” That entire phrase is merely a substitution for Armstrong Williams’ company and we established in my last post that WEYI is one of a few Howard Stirk stations run by Sinclair. They also use the nbc25news email, but it’s more appropriate here.

Then there’s Fox affiliate WSMH that has on its “about” section (with the same look, of course) that it’s – wait for this! – actually “owned and operated by Sinclair Broadcast Group.” The email addresses are all wsmh.com. The “receives certain services” phrase is not there.

I did notice after the paragraph with the name of the owner, etc., and ties to Sinclair, is another called “Community Involvement.”

What’s funny is that all three stations start with “The owner and Sinclair Broadcast Group, LLC. continue to broaden its recruiting outreach…”

That means “the owner” can be whichever company actually holds the station license and it’s not named here, just referred to as “the owner,” out of laziness.

But what’s especially funny here is saying “The owner and Sinclair Broadcast Group” when Sinclair is really the owner!

But seriously, how does Sinclair operate the three stations with the same address, etc.? We learned in my last post that’s not allowed in Baltimore, with Sinclair, Cunningham and Deerfield Media. In fact, in Nov., 2012, TVNewsCheck reported the situation as “a virtual triopoly.”

The FCC’s webpage called Broadcast Ownership Rules clearly states in its section, Local TV Multiple Ownership:

“An entity is permitted to own up to two TV stations in the same Designated Market Area if either:

  • “The service areas – known as the digital noise limited service contour – of the stations do not overlap

  • “At least one of the stations is not ranked among the top four stations in the DMA (based on audience share), and at least eight independently owned TV stations would remain in the market after the proposed combination”

That’s the summary in its entirety! The stations cover the same area. An old website reports “eight full-power television stations in the Flint-Saginaw-Bay City market,” the others being CBS and ABC affiliates, two PBS affiliates and a religious broadcaster.

And the NBC, Fox and CW stations are controlled by the same company, for all intents and purposes. I’d bet the CW station is not in the top four rated, but the rules are for an entity “to own up to two TV stations” – just two!

(The MyNetworkTV affiliate is on a sub-channel of the CBS affiliate.)

I just found the mid-Michigan situation by accident and wonder how many other cities this has been going on in.

TVNewsCheck’s Harry A. Jessell put it this way, and then made lists of winners and losers at this point:

“Its mishandling of its merger application has badly stained its permanent FCC record in a way that could greatly complicate its future regulatory dealings. … And a liar is what the FCC has accused Sinclair of being by obfuscating the fact it would continue to control three major market stations that it told the FCC it would spin off to other broadcasters to comply with ownership limits.

“You see, the FCC acts on the honor system. It presumes that you are obeying all the rules and expects you to confess any infractions. It’s the principal way the FCC polices those it regulates. That’s why lying – the ever-polite FCC calls it “misrepresentation” or “lack of candor” – is taken seriously and is the FCC equivalent of a capital crime. … As the lawyers pointed out to me this week, once indicted for misrepresentation as Sinclair has now been, it sticks because it goes to the broadcaster’s basic character qualifications to be a licensee. It cannot buy or sell a station or even renew a license until it resolves the character question. Sinclair’s best move now is to walk away from the merger and promise, no, swear on a stack of Bibles, that it will never, ever mislead the FCC again.

“Sinclair has no one but itself to blame for this fiasco. It pushed too hard to keep as many of the Tribune stations as it could and somewhere along the line lost sight of the larger goal – get the transfer through the FCC and get to closing. … (David Smith) kept going back to the FCC (and the Justice Department) demanding more and more. Ironically, he will likely end up with nothing, except maybe a new set of regulatory hassles.”

Bloomberg quotes B. Riley FBR Inc. analyst Barton Crockett, who said in a note he has

“never seen such ‘harsh’ language from the FCC about an applicant for a merger. The ‘vitriolic’ tone of the FCC statement makes it dubious that Sinclair and Tribune will be able to come back with divestitures that will satisfy the FCC.”

Bottom line: Anyone who knows me knows I can be tough, especially on myself. The people who run and invest in the nation’s largest media company have been breaking rules all over the place for many years. It’s time the FCC gets extremely serious so it’s taken seriously when protecting the public interest from those using the public airwaves.

Does anyone remember the RKO situation? Have a seat and look for similarities. (I wrote this with information from several Wikipedia listings.)

RKO General 1962
1962 logo

RKO General was the main holding company through 1991 for the non-core businesses of the General Tire and Rubber Company.

It had been in broadcasting since 1943, and General Tire bought the RKO Radio Pictures movie studio in 1955, but dissolved it in 1959. From then until 1991, it operated six TV stations and more than a dozen radio stations. It also holds the record for the longest licensing dispute in television history.

KHJThe trouble began in 1965. RKO General applied for license renewal of KHJ-TV in Los Angeles (now KCAL-Channel 9). A local group, Fidelity Television, challenged it, charging RKO with second-rate programming, and later and more seriously, that General Tire conditioned its dealings with certain vendors on the basis they’d buy advertising time on RKO General stations. These “reciprocal trade practices” are considered anti-competitive. RKO and General Tire executives testified before the FCC and rejected the accusations. Four years later, in 1969, the commission issued an initial finding that Fidelity’s claims were correct.WNAC RKO

That same year, RKO faced a license challenge for WNAC-TV in Boston (now WHDH-Channel 7, not to be confused with the old WHDH-Channel 5), again charged with reciprocal trade practices.

WOR RKOFour years later, in 1973, the FCC ruled in favor of RKO in the Los Angeles case, pending findings in the still-ongoing Boston investigation. The next year, in 1974, when RKO applied for license renewal of WOR-TV in New York (now WWOR-Channel 9, technically Secaucus, NJ), the FCC conditioned the renewal on the Boston case as well.

SIDEBAR: Another Boston FCC case lasted 15 years – not the record, but from sign-on to sign-off – and involved the former WHDH-Channel 5. The DuMont Television Network applied for a construction permit for the channel, but shut down its network before getting it. The Boston Herald Traveler Corporation got the license, signed on in 1957, and shortly after, the FCC started investigating allegations of impropriety in the granting of the television license. (Allegedly, the controversy was over luncheon meetings the newspaper’s chief executive had with an FCC commissioner during the original licensing process.) So the old channel 5 (WHDH) never had a license longer than six months at a time while the standard was three years.

Eventually, the FCC ordered comparative hearings and in 1969, a local group called Boston Broadcasters was granted a construction permit for a new station on channel 5 called WCVB after it promised to air more local programming than any other station in America at the time. That’s even though the old channel 5 (WHDH) often broadcast more local programming than any other commercial TV station in Boston. Herald-Traveler Corporation lost its court case in 1972 and WCVB went on the air in its place. Luckily, everyone on the old channel 5 moved to the new channel 5 which still broadcasts from the suburb of Needham, since the old WHDH-TV refused to sell its studios, transmitter and tower to the new WCVB, which is now owned by Hearst.

NOW BACK TO THE STORY: In June, 1974, an administrative law judge renewed the WNAC-Channel 7 Boston license even after finding General Tire and RKO General had engaged in reciprocal trade practices. In December, 1975, a company competing for the license called Community Broadcasting asked the FCC to revisit the case. It alleged General Tire bribed foreign officials, maintained a slush fund for U.S. political campaign contributions, and misappropriated revenue from overseas operations. RKO denied all the allegations during a year-and-a-half series of proceedings. Then, in July, 1977, General Tire admitted to an eye-popping litany of corporate misconduct, including the bribery and slush fund charges, in order to settle an action brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission. But the TV situation wasn’t over yet. Still, the RKO proceedings dragged on!

Finally, in 1980, after a half-decade of hearings and investigations, the FCC stripped RKO of WNAC’s license. It found RKO “lacked the requisite character” to be the station’s licensee and gave as examples, the reciprocal trade practices of the 1960s, false financial filings by RKO, and General Tire’s gross misconduct in non-broadcast fields.

But the worst was RKO’s dishonesty before the FCC. During hearings, RKO withheld evidence of General Tire’s misconduct, including the fact the SEC had been investigating the company in 1976. RKO also denied it had improperly reported exchanges of broadcast time for various services, despite indications to the contrary in General Tire’s 1976 annual report. So the FCC found RKO had displayed a “persistent lack of candor” over its own and General Tire’s misdeeds, which threatened “the integrity of the Commission’s processes.” That FCC ruling meant RKO lost the KHJ-TV Los Angeles and WOR-TV New York licenses as well.

RKO appealed to the District of Columbia U.S. Court of Appeals, which upheld the revocation solely on the basis of RKO’s lack of candor. It wrote in its opinion, “[t]he record presented to this court shows irrefutably that the licensee was playing the dodger to serious charges involving it and its parent company.” But the court interpreted the candor issue so narrowly that it applied only to WNAC-TV, and ordered rehearings for WOR and KHJ. RKO General appealed again, this time to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1982, SCOTUS refused to review the license revocation, and it was over. RKO General sold WNAC’s assets to New England Television (NETV), a new company from the merger of Community Broadcasting and another competitor for the license, the Dudley Station Corporation. The FCC granted a full license to NETV on channel 7, which it renamed WNEV-TV. Since then, the station changed its call letters to WHDH-TV, had low ratings, and was sold to Ed Ansin’s Sunbeam Television Corporation. (This WHDH has no relation to the old WHDH-Channel 5.)

It could’ve been worse. In 1983, the FCC began taking competing applications for all of RKO’s broadcasting licenses, but Congress passed a law sponsored by Sen. Bill Bradley requiring the commission to automatically renew the license of any commercial VHF-TV station relocating to a state without one, meaning New Jersey and Delaware. Two months later, RKO General officially changed WOR’s city of license from New York to Secaucus, NJ, where it remains on paper. The FCC made the station move its main studio there and step up coverage of events in the Garden State. Still, WOR maintained its identity as a New York station. (It’s now owned by Fox, which also owns WNYW-Channel 5, and got rid of channel 9’s newscasts.)

In 1984, RKO sold its Radio Networks operation to United Stations. In 1986, under pressure, RKO put WOR up for sale. MCA/Universal won the bidding war and the FCC approved the purchase. In 1987, MCA changed the call letters to WWOR. (Remember the slogan Universal 9, about 15 years before NBCUniversal was formed?)

RKO was lucky it sold WOR. In 1987, an FCC administrative law judge found it unfit to be a broadcast licensee due to a long history of deceptive practices he called the worst case of dishonesty in FCC history, and ordered RKO to surrender the licenses for its two remaining two TV stations and 12 remaining radio stations. RKO declared all of the employees responsible for the misconduct had been fired and appealed, claiming the ruling was deeply flawed. But the FCC made it clear it would probably reject any appeals and strip the licenses, and urged RKO to sell everything before that became necessary.

In 1988, under an FCC-supervised deal, the license of KHJ-Los Angeles was granted to Fidelity, the company that had originally challenged RKO General. Fidelity then transferred it to Disney, before it bought ABC, for $324 million. RKO got about two-thirds and Fidelity got the rest. By 1991, everything was sold. (Fort Lauderdale-Miami’s WAXY-FM 105.9 – which labeled itself “an RKO radio station” before giving its call letters, near the end – was sold in 1990. That was 28 years ago! Unbelievable!)

TVNewsCheck’s Harry Jessell put it this way:

“When people are making comparisons between your station group and RKO General, you know you have screwed up.”

I think there are too many changes going on in the industry right now as technology improves so quickly. Jessell mentioned certain former FCC commissioners would’ve gone the RKO route with Sinclair. I agree because now more than ever, broadcasters use the public airwaves and must pay us back with public service under tougher rules than its competitors. And the FCC needs complete and total honesty, with so much on its hands.

Sinclair needs to be brought down similarly for all it has done, with the same family as owners and no concern for anything but profit over the decades. The stations should be separated. Local broadcasters or broadcasting groups with no other industry interests should be given first shot at the stations. Then, they can hire experienced people with original ideas, and decisions would be made right there in the studio building.

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The FCC’s war on American children, adults

The Federal Communications Commission has a very important mission, but it’s not being fulfilled.girl watching tv

In fact, the opposite has been happening over the past few days and it’ll likely lead to less children’s programming – and less attention when you complain about your TV, phone company or internet service provider.

The FCC says its mission is to regulate

“interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. An independent U.S. government agency overseen by Congress, the Commission is the federal agency responsible for implementing and enforcing America’s communications law and regulations.”

But the amount of regulation looks to be receding faster than cars in a race.

Do you have kids, or know anyone who puts their kids in front of the TV?

trump quotes

Axios reports the FCC is starting to loosen broadcasters’ requirements for children’s TV programming. You know, those stations that are licensed by the government to use the public airwaves for the public interest.

schoolhouse rockYou probably watched Saturday morning cartoons. They weren’t just fun but also carried a message or lesson. Even breaks in programming like ABC’s Schoolhouse Rock! were educational. I’d go as far as to credit NBC’s The More You Know.

Cartoons were on all three networks when there were only three commercial broadcast networks, plus Fox may have even gotten into the act before the end. The new kid on the block did carry weekday afternoon cartoons, early on, when it had weaker stations that didn’t carry news.

smurfs
Common Sense Media

News. That’s the magic word. It’s cheaper to produce and stations can pretty much put as many commercials in as they want.

NBC was first with Weekend Today. Then CBS and ABC came up with weekend editions of their weekday morning shows. (CBS did have Sunday Morning before the Saturday cartoon era ended.) And eventually, local stations followed. The news looked a lot like the previous night’s 11:00 news, just with different people!

It wasn’t like there was much going on most of the time.

OK, so I did produce newscasts with JFK Jr.’s deadly plane crash and Elián González’s capture from his Miami relatives’ closet on weekend mornings while at WCAU in Philadelphia. I had the morning off from KYW-TV when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas while returning to Earth, killing all seven crew members.

But the new newscasts didn’t have to be good back then. It was the same when TV stations started putting local news on, weekday mornings. The TV station just had to let viewers know the world hadn’t ended, we weren’t at war and what the weather would be like.

Now, the FCC says the old rules aren’t needed because kids these days have apps and streaming services just for them! (Do they all have access? Really?)

Axios reports Nielsen data says the prime target of the rules — kids between 2 and 11 – are watching about 22 percent less regular TV between 2014 and 2017. Any wonder, when there’s nothing on for them? Put the youngsters in front of Fox News Channel and Days of Our Lives.

sesame street muppet wikia
http://muppet.wikia.com

Instead, they’re using “apps like YouTube Kids, 24/7 kid-friendly cable channels like Nickelodeon and Disney Junior, on-demand shows like Sesame Street on HBO, and over-the-top kids programming on Netflix.”

FCC commissioners who want to lessen the kid rules refer to them as among the many “outdated, unnecessary, or unduly burdensome” ones on the books, according to Deadline magazine.

They say TV broadcasters have too many rules to follow, while tech companies don’t have any, so this would just make things fairer. But I say that’s because tech companies don’t use the public’s airwaves!

What are those rules and how burdensome are they?

Axios says,

“In 1990, Congress passed the Children’s Television Act, which requires broadcasters to air three hours of educational programming per week (with limited advertising) in order to maintain their license. Children’s programming must also meet certain ‘Kid Vid’ requirements with respect to educational purpose, length and the time of day it is aired.”

My heart goes out to them.

Pee-Wee's Playhouse peewee wikia
peewwee.wikia.com

Nobody is saying the three hours of educational programming per week has to be original. The networks, or syndication companies, or companies that own more than 100 TV stations can come up with it!

Captain Kangaroo Bob Keeshan 1977 wikipediaOn the other hand, back in the day, it seemed every TV station had its own locally-produced children’s programming with live studio audiences, and I’m not referring to Captain Kangaroo which aired on CBS. Of course, back then, they also took news seriously, too!

Coming up next (using a TV phrase), it’s up to us – the public – to comment on the proposal. Then, the FCC will vote on final changes, later this year. If they succeed, Deadline says

“broadcasters could be able to satisfy government requirements that they produce appropriate children’s far by ‘relying in part on special sponsorship efforts and/or special non-broadcast efforts.’”

fcc commissioners 2018Speaking of the public telling the FCC what we think, that federal agency will probably soon start forcing us to pay $225 to file – and for them to review – a formal complaint against a telecom company! That means broadband, TV, and phone companies.

Yes, it’s hard to believe. No, I’m not making this up. This is America, 2018.

Thursday, according to Ars Technica, the FCC voted 3-1 to stop reviewing informal consumer complaints.

The fifth seat – to be held by a Democrat – has not been filled since Mignon Clyburn resigned last month. (As if that vote would’ve changed things!)

You’d still have to pay the $225 even if your internet service provider, which you pay every month, doesn’t respond to your informal complaint.

What would cause the FCC to make this move? I was wondering the same thing.

Turns out, Ars Technica reports the biggest change will be “the text of the FCC’s rule about informal complaints.”

In other words, this is how things have been!

“Nothing is substantively changing in the way that the FCC handles informal complaints,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said. “We’re simply codifying the practices that have been in place since 1986.”

That’s when Ronald Reagan was president.

But the commission’s only Democrat, Jessica Rosenworcel, remembered things differently.

Ars Technica reports she said the FCC has reviewed informal complaints in the past.

“This is bonkers,” she said at Thursday’s meeting. “No one should be asked to pay $225 for this agency to do its job. No one should see this agency close its doors to everyday consumers looking for assistance in a marketplace that can be bewildering to navigate. There are so many people who think Washington is not listening to them and that the rules at agencies like this one are rigged against them – and today’s decision only proves that point.”

Rosenworcel said the FCC gets 25,000 to 30,000 informal complaints a month.

“After they are filed, the agency studies the complaint, determines what happened, and then works with providers to fix consumer problems,” Rosenworcel said. “For decades, this has been the longstanding practice of this agency. But for reasons I do not understand, today’s order cuts the FCC out of the process. Instead of working to fix problems, the agency reduces itself to merely a conduit for the exchange of letters between consumers and their carriers. Then, following the exchange of letters, consumers who remain unsatisfied will be asked to pay a $225 fee to file a formal complaint just to have the FCC take an interest.”

On top of the formal complaint process being expensive, it’s also complicated.

“Parties filing formal complaints usually are represented by lawyers or experts in communications law and the FCC’s procedural rules,”

the FCC says.

If the change becomes final, two references to the commission’s review and “disposition” of each informal complaint will be removed from the FCC complaints rule.

Then, even if you get no response, you’ll have to file a formal complaint – and pay.

FCC headquarters, Ser Amantio di Nicolao-Wikipedia
FCC headquarters, Ser Amantio di Nicolao-Wikipedia

This comes as part of a larger rulemaking aimed at ‘streamlining’ the formal complaint process.

According to FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, “Today’s decision is another win for good government.”

I wonder what we did to deserve that!

Click here for my post containing Schoolhouse Rock! clips.

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The necessity of public unions, now no chance for compromise

NOTE: Shortly before publishing, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced he’ll retire effective July 31.

scotus trump usa flag

According to Axios, that’ll give President Donald Trump

“a chance to pull the court significantly to the right for decades to come. This is seismic — for politics as a whole, for the court and, ultimately, for the millions of Americans whose lives are shaped by its rulings. Replacing Kennedy with a more conservative justice would likely lead to new limits on abortion and LGBT rights, and could easily be the most consequential act of Trump’s presidency. … The confirmation battle will be intense. Republicans have just a one-seat majority in the Senate, and Democrats will be under enormous pressure from their base to try as hard as they can to block Trump’s nominee. Both sides are already prepared for a brutal fight.”

Kennedy was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988, but has long been the court’s swing vote. Winning him over was often the only way to build a majority.

Anthony Kennedy
Front row, left to right: Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer. Back row: Associate Justice Elena Kagan, Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch. Credit: Franz Jantzen, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

I was always a union member while teaching in Miami. Florida is a “right to work” state (that phrase makes no sense) and I didn’t have to join UTD, the United Teachers of Dade – but I did anyway for the benefits, protection, and because it was the right thing to do since they negotiated my pay in accordance with crushing state laws.

For example, in March, the Florida legislature passed new collective bargaining rules into law. It doesn’t target all public unions; just the teachers who spend more time with the Sunshine State’s children for most of the year than their parents. And the schools that feed many of those kids breakfast and lunch at free or reduced prices, while their parents let them starve or eat garbage all summer. According to the Tampa Bay Times, it requires

“local unions to prove they represent a majority of the teachers in their districts. The measuring stick: Having at least half of all employees eligible to be in the union paying dues.

“If they fall short, they could lose their authority to negotiate working conditions and pay with the school boards. And many might find themselves in that spot: Some larger districts including Miami-Dade and Pasco hover just below the level, as do some smaller ones including Calhoun.

“The big question is, what would happen next? Are unions that miss the mark dissolved, and their contracts along with them? … The answer remains unclear.”

So much for attention to detail and consequences, two things members of the Florida legislature could be taught! And most teachers are women, who these lawmakers are more likely to take advantage of. But I have to say, it also did the right thing on guns, the same month, and the NRA is suing. Details on that below.

But not being a union member would’ve made me a freeloader, and I write that with love and respect for many or my co-workers who chose that route. Some teachers complained about the money, and they may have had bigger families to support and student loans to pay back, but they would’ve made less if it wasn’t for the union. Now, that’s in dire jeopardy.

Earlier, as a member of AFTRA, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (before its merger with SAG, the Screen Actors Guild) in Philadelphia TV, I knew what I was getting into, just as the public union employees did.

I believe AFTRA did the right thing and had the perfect solution by letting some members pay less, so their dues did not go into any political fund and did not influence elections in any way.

I was hoping a compromise like that could withstand today’s Supreme Court ruling that public unions cannot collect fees from non-members, but no.

Axios reports,

“The court struck down so-called ‘agency fees’ that unions collect from non-members. Those fees can only be used for collective bargaining, not overtly political activity.”

But the Court, by a 5-4 vote, sided with critics who

“say that because these unions are bargaining with the government, their bargaining is inherently political.”

Now, Axios predicts

“without agency fees, unions won’t be able to afford the lawyers and other staff who drive their negotiations, making membership ultimately seem like a worse deal.”

I’ll add, this seems lopsided, and a fair deal for workers – not too much but also not too little – ultimately helps everyone. Fewer union members mean less money for Americans and more people on welfare. Is that what we want?

Besides, to the justices of the Supreme Court, aren’t most things inherently political?

We all pay taxes for schools, even if we don’t have children attending. We pay for police and fire departments, even though we hope we never need them. (I wonder what percentage of the population actually uses their services annually.)

It’s not a good day to be one of your town’s finest or bravest. Its leaders are naturally going to try to take your pay and benefits!

There’s also paying for parks we don’t go to, and roads we never drive on.

But nobody can opt out of those taxes because they are needed for society and the future.

The critics claim membership in a union violates their First Amendment rights but money is not speech, unless you agree with the Citizens United case. (Wikipedia says back in 2010, the Supreme Court ruled “the free speech clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for communications by nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporations, labor unions, and other associations.” That gave nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporations, labor unions, and other associations Constitutional protections that had gone only to actual, real people for more than 200 years, since the time of this country’s founders. Is it right they gave the rich more say and to do it secretly?)

us constitution
Article I of the Constitution, not to be confused with the First Amendment

Plus, the critics claim public unions aren’t fair because the workers vote, urge others to vote and then negotiate with the people elected. But don’t ordinary citizens have those same rights, the ability to assemble organizations and make requests of leaders on all levels?

A year ago, Forbes reported, “Across most developed nations, labor union membership is getting rarer.” It didn’t mean just the U.S.

Wikipedia reports the four countries that gained union worker percentages from 1970 to 2003 were Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Belgium. Those aren’t countries you see on any “bad places” lists.

Finland Sweden Denmark Belgium

Here, our nation’s government was built on a system of checks and balances. No government nor private employer wants to pay their workers more, and the people don’t want to pay any more taxes.

Already, too many states and municipalities are in the red over pension obligations that added up over the years. It’s not fair politicians from the past gave away too much in order to keep their own jobs on Election Day. Blame them, not the workers. (Compare it to how we’ll leave climate and the environment to our children and grandchildren).

Wikipedia goes on to say, in the U.S.,

“Public approval of unions … declined to below 50 percent for the first time in 2009 during the Great Recession. It is not clear if this is a long term trend or a function of a high unemployment rate, which historically correlates with lower public approval of labor unions.

“One explanation for loss of public support is simply the lack of union power or critical mass. No longer do a sizable percentage of American workers belong to unions, or have family members who do. Unions no longer carry the ‘threat effect’: the power of unions to raise wages of non-union shops by virtue of the threat of unions to organize those shops.”

But we know good teachers need raises (along with support from administrators, etc.) or they’ll leave the profession, while athletes arguably make too much money. (And yes, educators know what they’re getting into.)

what teachers do Facebook
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So what do the citizens of this country plan to do to make things fair and right, in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling?

The Tampa Bay Times quoted the president of the Association of Calhoun Educators in northern Florida, which was formed just two years ago. Until then, there was no collective bargaining unit to support teachers.

“We had no contract. … They would say, yes, there is money for a raise or, no, there isn’t. Whatever they decided, went.”

That doesn’t sound like a place where people who value themselves or their profession would want to work, unless they have no other choice. Perhaps that’s what the good folks of Calhoun County wanted. That’s too bad because I can’t imagine a bright future there, with jobs and rising property values.

Union Yes Wikimedia Commons

Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, wrote:

“With its decision in Janus v. AFSCME, the U.S. Supreme Court today turned its back on American workers—the educators, nurses, firefighters, police officers, and public servants who make our communities strong and safe.

“The Court’s ruling is a massive gift to the special interests and billionaires who already benefit from a system that is rigged in their favor and against the rights and freedoms of working people. They brought this case to silence our voice and make it more difficult to join together to advocate for our students and communities.

“But make no mistake: we will not be silent. We are organized and determined to stand together and fight for the resources our students need to succeed.

Take the #RedForEd pledge and stand with NEA as we continue to build a strong union that advocates for the opportunity students need to succeed.

“As we saw earlier this year in state after state that went #RedForEd, educators—joined by parents and community members—are a force to be reckoned with. We will do what it takes to roll back years of funding cuts and to make sure our students have up-to-date textbooks, desks and chairs that aren’t broken, the latest technology, and adequate school buildings.

“Now, we must continue to build this movement by coming together to advocate for students like never before.

So whether you are an educator, parent, or community member, please show your support for strong public schools by taking the #RedForEd pledge today.

“Thank you for your continued involvement with the National Education Association. Your support of great public schools for every child matters more and more every day.”

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten wrote:

“The Supreme Court may have ruled against us today, but don’t count us out.

“The right-wing extremists on the Supreme Court showed their true colors today. Their thirst for rigging the economy toward the powerful trumped the aspirations and needs of communities and the people who serve them. But, despite this decision, workers are sticking with the union because unions are still the best vehicle working people have to get ahead.

“Our union comprises some of the hardest-working and most compassionate people in the country. Every day, we care for patients, educate and support America’s children, ensure high-quality public services, and provide a world-class system of higher education. Together, through our union, we fight not just for ourselves but for the people we serve. When the Supreme Court overturns 40 years of precedent in an effort to weaken our ability to bargain for what we need, then we have to recommit ourselves to standing together in solidarity.

“Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos, the Koch brothers and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner are celebrating right now. The best way to take the wind out of their sails is to show the world that, despite their attacks, we’re sticking together. Let them know you’re sticking with the union.

“Let’s be clear, the Janus case was about defunding unions. It was about who will have power in our country—working people or big corporate interests. That’s why the case was being funded by wealthy donors and corporate interests. First, they pledged $80 million to ‘defund and defang’ unions. Then, the Kochs, after receiving the Trump tax cut, upped the ante with $400 million to undermine public education and ‘break’ the teachers unions. Why? Because unions fight for a better life for people, and corporate interests see that as a threat to their power.

“Strong unions create strong communities. We will continue fighting, caring, showing up and voting to make possible what is impossible for individuals acting alone. And we will continue to make the case—in the halls of statehouses and the court of public opinion, at our workplaces and communities, and at the ballot box in November—through organizing, activism, and members recommitting to their union.

“When we fight for resources for schools, we’re fighting for students. When we fight for safe staffing standards for nurses, we’re fighting for patients. When we have the resources to do our jobs, all of society benefits. We may be a threat to the power of wealthy corporate interests, but by sticking together, we are stronger than their attacks.

“Throughout the day, union members have been sharing selfies and videos on social media. Let’s show the world that we’re proud to be union members. You can start right now: Tell them you’re sticking with the union. Show the people attacking unions that you value your freedom to have a better life and your freedom to have a union.”

SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris, who you knew as Andrea Zuckerman on Beverly Hills 90210 but now serves as a vice president on the AFL-CIO’s executive council, said:

“The Court made the wrong decision; a decision in favor of increasing the power of employers at the expense of their workers. Without engaged workers, union protections become more vulnerable. This ruling is a direct attempt to weaken unions, the very organizations who allow workers to speak together as one, to have a voice in their wages, their safety at work, and their healthcare and retirement. The Supreme Court’s decision directly overturns a decision made by the Court in 1977. Have workers lives improved so much that unions can now be so blatantly attacked? Are workers all better off now? Are employers sharing in their success with all those who make them successful? No.

“This shameful decision only serves to strengthen our resolve to find ways to protect working families in this country. Now more than ever as professionals, we must come together and renew our commitment to speak as one. To be strong in the face of all attempts to minimize us. We know that fighting for a better life for you and your family is what unions do. It’s time for unions, and the workers who make them vibrant and strong, to show this court and those who would attack and diminish working people that this is unacceptable. When workers come together, workers win, and that did not change today.”

beverly hills 90210 wikipedia
Beverly Hills 90210 characters: Center: Dylan McKay; Clockwise from far left: Kelly Taylor, Steve Sanders, Andrea Zuckerman, Brandon Walsh, Brenda Walsh, Donna Martin, David Silver (Wikipedia)

WATCH: Florida Evans arguing with her husband over working as a black maid on Maude.

MORE MAUDE: Carol is passed over for a promotion due to gender discrimination.

AND THE MOTHER of all Maude labor episodes: Walter angry after workers at Findlay’s Friendly Appliances decided to unionize. This one starts with the classic opening theme!

It should be noted, also in March, the Florida legislature enacted “significant gun control measures in the state for the first time since the GOP took control … more than two decades ago,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

The historic moment happened weeks after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that killed 17 people – 14 students and three staff members.

Furthermore, Gov. Rick Scott – described by the paper as a “staunch Republican and longtime National Rifle Association member” – did not use his line-item veto authority to remove money from the sweeping $400-million school safety bill “for what many consider the most contentious part of the legislation – a program that allows school employees to bring firearms on campus.”

“The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act raises the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21, imposes a three-day waiting period for most gun purchases and bans the sale or possession of ‘bump stocks,’ which allow semiautomatic rifles to mimic machine guns.

“The NRA almost immediately filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of banning people under the age of 21 from buying firearms.

“Under Florida law, Scott could have used his line-item veto authority to reject the funding for a $67 million ‘guardian’ program that would allow some teachers to volunteer to carry guns after undergoing 132 hours of firearms and 12 hours of diversity training.”

rick scott bill nelson
Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) vs. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL)

It should also be noted Gov. Scott is expected to be running against longtime U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

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Paying for news, one candidate’s free airtime and asking for your comments

I hope you’ve had a terrific Tuesday!

I have a few thoughts (just a few) I figured I’d get out today.

paywall ny timesThis morning, Axios reported several news websites “launched new paywalls within the past year.”

Sorry! (But not this one.)

It named BloombergVanity Fair, WiredBusiness Insider and The Atlantic, and added, “Legacy institutions like The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalThe Washington Post and The Boston Globe have all tightened their paywalls over the past few years.”

We all know somebody has to pay the people who gather and publish the news in any media format. That’s a given, and anyone who has been in the business knows most employees are not paid nearly what they’re worth.paywall Science Direct That’s a shame and forcing good people out of the business, especially at a time we need the Fourth Estate to be as tough as ever — especially when reporting on news happening in American government and the world.

paywall ny times 2The people researching, making contacts and conducting interviews on the front lines need to make a living.

So what’s the best solution?

I really don’t know.

If you read what I post, you see I often use multiple sites for information and different viewpoints, but I don’t pay those sites. Instead, I credit them link to them, and hope they benefit when I — and then you — click for more information.paywall academic

But if these trusted sites use paywalls, there’s no way any of us would pay multiple sites. How many of us could afford to? Big newsrooms, even if they say they can’t, but you and I won’t have the information we need to be responsible citizens.

Newspapers (on paper) make money through both subscriptions and advertising. So do most cable networks and your cable/satellite company.

paywall south china morning postUnfortunately, today, it looks like news on the web is going the same way.

TV news websites aren’t the best. Maybe some major group could invest in the rights to some top publications and names, to drive our traffic to their own sites so we could be made more aware of important events. It’s too bad many of the companies that owned broadcast and newspaper/magazine assets split up.

no paywall logo
This graphic and all above are clip art

The first company that can do so and really publicize specific detailed content on a daily basis (not just that “we’re free and the newspaper isn’t” or “here are the top stories on our site at this hour”) during newscasts could get new readers who’d share the site with non-readers.

Just a thought.

A similar story from Axios about newspapers is not necessarily new but making news because Warren Buffett said it:

“No one except the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and now probably the Washington Post has come up with a digital product that really in any significant way will replace the revenue that is being lost as print newspapers lose both circulation and advertising … It is very difficult to see — with a lack of success in terms of important dollars rising from digital — it’s difficult to see how the print product survives over time.

newspaperAccording to Axios, “Local media executives have been saying for months that their biggest competition for subscriptions and eyeballs is large national newspapers.”Warren Buffett 2015

That’s bad for Buffett, who was speaking at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting, and his company owns more than 30 newspapers.

That’s especially bad for the rest of us because too much of what we see on local news deals with murders, crashes and fires. They’re often visual. But it’s the local papers that often investigate and dig, outside of ratings periods. If they go down, who will take their place?

There are also two updates on Facebook, which has been under fire since Cambridge Analytica “harvested personal data on millions of Facebook users, without their knowledge, for marketing and political purposes.”

Last week, the London-based political research firm announced it’s “closing all of its operations with plans to file for bankruptcy in the U.S.,” according to The Huffington Post.

Going further, Adweek says, “Its parent company, SCL Elections, will file for insolvency in the United Kingdom while ceasing all operations in both countries.”

Cambridge Analytica site
https://cambridgeanalytica.org/

The Post quoted from a statement on the firm’s website that it

has been the subject of “numerous unfounded accusations” and “vilified for activities that are not only legal, but also widely accepted as a standard component of online advertising in both the political and commercial arenas.”

I’m not so sure, and to hell with the letter of the law! How about ethics? I know many other people feel the same way.

person on computer typing facebookThat’s because The Wall Street Journal, citing a person familiar with the situation, reported “The decision to close up shop followed rising legal fees and a loss of clients over the investigation into their work and use of Facebook data.”

So there!

And The Huffington Post also reported,

“The firm also suspended its CEO, Alexander Nix, in March after he was recorded bragging about Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, Strategic Communication Laboratories, influencing more than 200 elections around the world with unethical practices.

“Those methods included bribery, entrapment and the use of sex workers and inaccurate information. Nix had said that he was lying when he said that.

“Cambridge Analytica did not immediately respond to a request for comment.”

Good riddance!

Cambridge Analytica had been hired by both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz’s Republican primary campaigns during the 2016 presidential race.

donald trump ted cruz

As for Facebook, a spokesperson told Recode in a statement,

“This doesn’t change our commitment and determination to understand exactly what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again. We are continuing with our investigation in cooperation with the relevant authorities.”

featured fb zuckerberg cambridgeThe Cambridge revelations led to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appearing before Congress to discuss his company’s data practices, and chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer doing the same in the British Parliament.

Meanwhile, take a look at this list:

Abortion… Budget… Civil rights… Crime… Economy… Education… Energy… Environment… Foreign Policy… Government reform… Guns… Health… Immigration… Infrastructure… Military… Poverty… Social Security… Taxes… Terrorism… Values…

facebook adsThey’re what Axios reports Facebook has defined as “issue ads” that’ll require authorization and labeling on its platform in the U.S.

facebook ads thumbs upAdvertising isn’t just to sell products to make money, but also selling ideas that can win activists money for lobbying and more advertising — and votes.

Eventually, an appeals process will be established and inevitable discrepancies about what’s considered an “issue ad” will be taken up there. That means the list may evolve over time.

facebook coca-cola ad

The reason is issue ads are often more difficult to regulate than regular election ads, which simply advocate for one candidate over another.

Of course, political ads on TV and the radio are heavily regulated since they’re on the public airwaves. That’s especially true for federal offices. This one is not.

That brings me to an article I tweeted earlier today.

Politico reported since the beginning of the year, Fox News has invited central Florida congressman and gubernatorial primary candidate Ron DeSantis on the air “roughly 100 times” while his opponent in the race – Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam – has not been invited even once. That airtime has been compared to $7.1 million in “national publicity value.”

So much for fair and balanced, and anything close to equal time!

ron desantis adam putnam
Ron DeSantis and Adam Putnam

Remember, this is a Republican primary and what Politico called, “a seemingly endless series of appearances on a news network favored by conservatives.”

Not just conservatives, but supporters of President Trump, who endorsed DeSantis.

And, “Since announcing his bid in January, DeSantis has been given frequent access to Fox’s best real estate — including Fox & Friends, Laura Ingraham, and the Hannity show.”

DeSantis on Fox
Only Ron DeSantis. No Adam Putnam. Not fair. Not equal.

Here is one more comparison.

Putnam is still the GOP frontrunner and has raised more than $20 million.

DeSantis has raised only $7.8 million between his campaign and political committee, but Fox News is probably why “roughly 40 percent of DeSantis’ contributions have come from non-Florida donors,” even though only Floridians will vote in their state’s gubernatorial primary.

Also,

“Of the nearly $4 million spent by Putnam and his political committee on TV ads, hundreds-of-thousands of dollars have been for time on Fox News programs” but “When those ads started to circulate, some of Fox News’ most prominent hosts gave DeSantis cover and tried to tie the ads to Putnam.”

That’s similar to how Sinclair Broadcast Group aired “a commercial from a liberal consumer watchdog that’s critical of the broadcaster’s actions” as it tries to merge with Tribune Media, but CNN reported, “the company is running its own message right before and after the ad. So viewers are seeing a 15-second defense of Sinclair, then 30 seconds of criticism, then another 15-second defense.”

SBG FloridaBTW, Sinclair owns or operates Florida stations in West Palm Beach, Pensacola (with Mobile, AL), Tallahassee (with Thomasville, GA) and Gainesville. See map.

SIDEBAR: This isn’t what I planed to write about but Sinclair’s wanna-be merger victim, Tribune, only owns WSFL-39 in Florida. It has been known as “SFL-TV, South Florida’s CW” in recent years, covering the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area. Friday, I reported the station will be spun off and not take part in the Sinclair-Tribune merger, even if it happens. Plus, I showed you the lists of Sinclair and Tribune stations submitted to the FCC document that said so. I stand by everything I wrote and showed.

tribune divest

Notice all the TBDs in the Buyer column. They include WSFL. I explained all the other TBD stations are Fox affiliates, and the ones in NFL football cities will probably be sold to the network itself, which is going to be a lot leaner and stressing live events — especially NFL football — which it will be adding on Thursday nights. That’s if Fox ever comes to an agreement with Sinclair.

WSFL is a CW affiliate without a news department and I dwelled on whether Fox would buy it and dump its Sunbeam-owned powerhouse affiliate WSVN. Again, it’s all here.

All of those stations have to be sold because otherwise, the proposed merged company would own more stations than the FCC allows. I also explained in detail what I consider sinister motives with Cunningham and other Sinclair buyers, on Friday.

The deal was supposed to happen in the second quarter of this year (by June). I just did an internet search and found nothing new from any reliable sources, but I did find something new on the FCC’s website. Yesterday, it published a letter from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s response to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) regarding Sinclair Broadcast’s proposal to acquire Tribune Media. Sen. Durbin and others have been especially concerned about Tribune’s WGN-TV9 in Chicago. The letter was written a few weeks ago but again, just published yesterday.

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

So I believe nothing has changed, despite seeing a website that appears to be WSFL’s. It’s called SFLTV.com. However, it looks like a generic Florida TV blog, does not look professional, does not have a detailed copyright, news I don’t believe from May 1 and today, and some strange graphics (below). I’m just warning you.

Click here for the real WSFL website. It looks like other Tribune sites, and these are current and former logos.

BACK TO THE STORYPolitico also reported, “A Fox News spokeswoman did not return a request seeking comment on why DeSantis is a regular guest or why Putnam has not been on the network this year.”

feature group
Another similarity: Ron DeSantis almost in Sinclair Broadcast Group style!

I’m reporting Politico put DeSantis’ name in the first line of its story, while Putnam’s didn’t appear until the tenth paragraph!

And no Democrats’ names appear at all!

Also not mentioned: Two-term Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) will be leaving Tallahassee behind to take on U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).

rick scott bill nelson
Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Bill Nelson

By the way, speaking of equal time, the Federal Communications Commission’s Equal-Time Rule specifies that U.S. radio and television broadcast stations must provide an equivalent opportunity to any opposing political candidates who request it, in news or advertising. It was created in §18 of the Radio Act of 1927 because the FCC was concerned broadcasters could easily manipulate the outcome of elections by presenting just one point of view, and excluding other candidates. (Like Fox News is doing? What lets them do it, in a moment.) The rule was later superseded by the Communications Act of 1934.

Then, the FCC writes, “In 1972, new rules regarding cable television became effective. … Cable television operators who originated programming were subject to equal time, sponsorship identification and other provisions similar to rules applicable to broadcasters.”

Now,

“Once a cable system allows a legally qualified candidate for public office to use its facilities, it must afford ‘equal opportunities’ to all other candidates for that office to use its facilities. The cable system may not censor the content of a candidate’s material in any way, and may not discriminate between candidates in practices, regulations, facilities or services rendered while making time available to such candidates. Candidate appearances which are exempt from the ‘equal opportunities’ rules include appearances on a bona fide newscast, bona fide news interview, bona fide news documentary, or during on-the-spot coverage of a bona fide news event.”

Bona fide newscast? Bona fide news interview? I just report. You can decide.

If I remember correctly, back in the day, Oprah’s talk show was considered news under this policy; not any others.

That’s different from the Fairness Doctrine (1947-1987) “that required the holders of broadcast licenses both to present controversial issues of public importance (not candidates) and to do so in a manner that was—in the FCC’s view—honest, equitable, and balanced.”

One very last thing and it’s the last thing you see on posts: the comments. Did you know I’m constantly updating articles in that section?

It’s not easy to find on the regular generic CohenConnect.com homepage you turn to when you want to see the latest articles (if you don’t subscribe with your email address or WordPress account). WordPress makes you go below the sharing and liking, and below all the categories and tags for the post you just read, and you’ll find a place for comments at the very end, just before the previous article begins.

generic site

After an article, WordPress makes you go below the sharing and liking, below the related posts (which it chooses, along with the categories beneath them), below all the categories and tags for the post you just read, below a link to the article before (and after, unless it’s the latest), and that’s where you’ll find any comments.

article page

So keep checking the bottom of an article out if you were really interested, even weeks after publishing, and you know what to do in some rare case you don’t think I’m right!

Besides, who do you trust more, WordPress or Facebook?

Also, please, 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.