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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Salaries, senators and a spat between a Fox News host and the A.P.

I’m actually going to start optimistically and thank you for reading. The blog is getting very close and may have 12,000 hits after this post. (It’s at 11,927 as I start formatting at 7:11pm). Please, if you haven’t, subscribe with your email address or WordPress account. There are places on the right side of your desktop screen, and also at the bottom of your desktop, tablet and mobile device.Michael Cohen trump lawyer twitter

I also want to remind you I’m NOT RELATED to President Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, who’s being investigated for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations. The Washington Post named those possibilities “according to three people with knowledge of the case.”

Nobody in my family is under investigation, as far as I know. We have no comment in English or Russian.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders now says Trump thinks special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has “gone too far,” according to Axios.

map manhattanYesterday, FBI agents raided Cohen’s Manhattan office, home and hotel room as part of the investigation, seizing records about his clients and personal finances. The Post didn’t mention why he needed both a home and hotel room in the same New York borough.

It did report,

“Among the records taken were those related to a 2016 payment Cohen made to adult-film star Stormy Daniels, who claims to have had a sexual encounter with Trump, according to a fourth person familiar with the investigation.”

The New York Times went even further (I didn’t say all the way), reporting the FBI wanted info on payments to Karen McDougal, who also had an affair with now-President Trump. They were also looking for any potential role from the publisher of The National Enquirer.

The feds even collected communications between Cohen and his clients, including between the president and his lawyer.

The raids were part of an investigation referred by special counsel Robert Mueller to federal prosecutors in New York but

“the agents were acting on a warrant ‘personally signed off on’ by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Axios mentioned The Times noted. President Trump has increasingly pushed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to shut down the broader Mueller probe.”

But a former U.S. attorney told Axios,

“Here’s what must have happened: Mueller bumped into evidence of criminal conduct that was beyond his scope, so he referred it to the Rod. … Stormy is almost certainly just the tip of the iceberg. Cohen’s lawyer said the [search warrant] was based ‘in part’ on referral by Mueller. I expect that after getting the initial referral, the SDNY (federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York) started poking around and developed independent interest for obtaining the SW (search warrant).”

A Cohen lawyer called the tactics “inappropriate and unnecessary.”

Trump repeatedly called the raid a disgrace, saying,

“I have this witch hunt constantly going on for over 12 months now or longer. It’s an attack on our country in a true sense; it’s an attack on what we all stand for.”

According to The Post, the fraud allegations

“suggest prosecutors have some reason to think Cohen may have misled bankers about why he was using particular funds or may have improperly used banks in the transfer of funds. Cohen has acknowledged facilitating a $130,000 payment in October 2016 to Daniels, who claims she had a sexual relationship with Trump in 2006.”

Last week was the first time Trump talked about the payment. He said he didn’t know about it.

The Post also reports “Cohen has said he used a home-equity line of credit to finance the payment to Daniels” and “Banks don’t usually require much explanation from customers about how they use such credit lines.”

But Cohen may have been asked about making – get this – “large-dollar transfers he made when he moved the money to a shell company and then to a lawyer for Daniels.”

He said “neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign reimbursed the $130,000.”

According to The Post, the payment allegation could mean investigators are looking into possible violations of election law.

According to a source close to the president,

“Mueller’s investigation has been drip, drip. This was a giant leap forward … a personal hit. … They were moving in inches. Today, they moved a mile.”

Post Columnist Randall D. Eliason called it

Robert Mueller wikipedia
Robert Mueller

“yet another example of the legal walls closing in on one of the people closest to Trump — someone who may have a wealth of information about the president’s own conduct.”

He points out Mueller didn’t obtain the warrant himself, but referred it to New York prosecutors, so “Whatever the subject matter of this particular investigation, it apparently falls outside of Mueller’s jurisdiction” like a conspiracy with Russians to influence the election or related crimes such as obstruction of the special counsel’s investigation.

Also, it takes more to get a search warrant than a grand jury subpoena, so prosecutors had “to go before a federal judge to demonstrate probable cause that a crime has been committed and evidence of that crime can be found in the premises to be searched.”

Plus, “that the raid took place at a lawyer’s office further highlights the seriousness of the investigation. Searches of an attorney’s office are extremely rare and are not favored, due to their potential to impinge on the attorney-client relationship.”

white houseEliason adds, “And to the extent that Cohen, part of Trump’s innermost circle, might have knowledge relevant to Mueller’s inquiry, we can’t rule out the possibility that his own legal troubles could induce him to cooperate in the Russia investigation.”

He started his column with the summary,

“When your lawyers need lawyers, it’s usually a bad sign. When your lawyers have their offices and homes raided, it’s a really bad sign.”

Sanders said she isn’t sure if Cohen still represents Trump, but Trump hasn’t spoken to Cohen since the raid and thinks he has the power to fire Mueller if he – as Sanders put it – “chooses to do so.” We’ll see if that happens and what Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ future holds.

Click here for what The Post reports Trump said, along with some fact-checking and analysis.

 

Again, to reiterate, no relation, but I’m sure my whole family is equally as interested as the rest of the country.

howard kurtz
http://www.foxnews.com/shows/media-buzz.html

Fox News “Media Buzz” host Howard Kurtz has defended the president and also his network, but something may have slipped through the cracks.

Sunday, reports “said his Sunday show mistakenly posted a graphic that showed the cable network is less trusted than its competitors.” Actually, a new poll shows that’s absolutely true, by far.

The Washington Post explained, “Kurtz had been talking about a new Monmouth University poll on ‘fake news’ and American trust in the media.”

That’s when this graphic appeared on-screen that Chris Cuomo, of CNN’s New Day, later tweeted out.

“Do the media report fake news regularly or occasionally?” Kurtz asked, according to The Post. “Seventy-seven percent say yes.”

But “Kurtz quickly noticed” and said, “This is not the graphic we’re looking for. Hold off. Take that down please.”

Yesterday, Kurtz he went on a diatribe against the A.P. on Facebook because the control room put the graphic up too early, causing the A.P. to say it created “a false impression by not mentioning that I called for the very same graphic shortly afterward.”

Kurtz wrote as part of that diatribe you can read in full, below, if you wish, “The Associated Press should be embarrassed by a story that utterly distorts what happened. … The news agency had published a story with the headline, ‘Fox News mistakenly posts graphic showing it lags in trust,’” which has since been corrected.

What Kurtz wrote matches the graphic.

The most trusted cable networks vs. Trump – in order – are CNN first, MSNBC just three percentage points behind and Fox News way behind. Another major point: Trump loses to all three cable news networks in trust. Now, let me ask: Do you trust the cable news networks?

most trusted poll

Keep in mind that Monmouth reports the 77 percent “believe fake news reporting happens at least occasionally has increased significantly from 63 percent of the public who felt that way last year.” So trust in news reporting is down significantly and trust in Trump is even lower than that.

Click here for a link to the poll and results. The part concerning the Kurtz issue is in the “Trump versus Cable News” section.

This time, Kurtz and his network were right, and the A.P. was wrong, but let’s face it. That certainly doesn’t entitle anybody to bragging rights in this spat.

Mark Zuckerberg faced a joint session of the Senate Commerce and Judiciary Committees about Facebook’s failures.

According to Axios, he apologized to lawmakers for not handling user data properly, but “didn’t waver in defending the company’s business model or its value to society.”

“He said Facebook is going through a ‘broader philosophical shift in how we approach our responsibility as a company’” after “data firm Cambridge Analytica inappropriately accessed the data of 87 million Facebook users.”

featured fb zuckerberg cambridge

Some other takeaways from the man at the top, and Axios:

– Facebook didn’t tell the Federal Trade Commission, with whom it has a privacy settlement, about the Cambridge Analytica situation when it occurred because it thought the firm had deleted the data. You know what happens when you assume!facebook phone mobile

– Zuckerberg didn’t know if Special Counsel Robert Mueller subpoenaed Facebook, but Mueller’s team interviewed Facebook staffers.

– Why didn’t Facebook tell millions of users they’d been affected by the Cambridge Analytica incident in 2015, or ban the data firm then? Zuckerberg initially said the company hadn’t been an advertiser in 2015, but found out after meeting with his staff that in fact they had been later in that year — so they could have been banned.

– Question from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on privacy concerns. He asked Zuckerberg what hotel he’s staying at in Washington. Zuckerberg wouldn’t say.

– Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and others wanted to know whether Facebook handles content in a way that skews liberal. Zuckerberg denied that, and also Cruz’s suggestion Facebook might weigh job candidates’ political views.

– Some good news for many: Senators talked about regulation but Zuckerberg responded, “there will always be a version of Facebook that is free.”

Even better for some: Facebook shares climbed 4.5 percent, mostly while Zuckerberg testified. There could be three reasons, according to Axios: Zuckerberg is considered a competent leader, Congress probably won’t impose strict regulations and a possible paid product for users demanding stronger privacy protections could make money. Zuckerberg made about $2.8 billion in the market, this afternoon. What about you?

– Zuckerberg may have gotten the last word, but not the first. Senate Democrats Edward Markey (Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) did. They “introduced ‘privacy bill of rights’ legislation” – “the first concrete piece of legislation to come from the Facebook controversy, and … attempt to apply privacy to web companies like Facebook and Google,” according to Axios. “The bill would direct the FTC to require companies to get consumers’ opt-in consent before using, sharing or selling their personal information.”

I couldn’t finish a blog without the name Sinclair somewhere. I’ve showed you here and here how local news organizations remain the most trusted source of information in Pew Research Center’s polling on trust in media – even though in January, a Pew Research Center report announced fewer Americans regularly rely on TV news, down to 50 percent of U.S. adults, from 57 percent a year prior.

sinclair broadcast group

Now, The Poynter Institute says Emory University researchers found

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

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

The researchers examined 7.5 million transcript segments from 743 local news stations and saw huge differences between other stations, and outlets owned by the nation’s largest local broadcasting chain, Sinclair Broadcast Group.

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

Boris Epshteyn clip artAlso, a summary of the findings “noted the shift to the right of new Sinclair stations: The ‘slant scores,’ based on repetition of ideologically linked phrases, increased by about one standard deviation after acquisition by Sinclair as compared to other stations in the same markets.” We know Sinclair has been trying to buy another big group, Tribune Media.Tribune Broadcasting Company

Researchers warn this programming could spur nationalistic and polarizing movements, “be expected to reduce viewers’ knowledge of the activities of local officials” — and hurt accountability, especially “given the decline of local print media,” they write.

BTW, the GOP is saying IDK when it comes to deregulating legacy media companies, like Sinclair. It would let them compete with tech companies like Facebook, which could face more regulation. Regulating industry usually takes consensus, which is one thing Congress is lacking. (FYI, BTW=By the way and IDK=I don’t know.)

WORKING WOMEN WIN: The Washington Post reports, “A federal appeals court ruled Monday that employers cannot justify paying a woman less than a man doing similar work because of her salary history — a move advocates say will help close the wage gap between the sexes.”

Why should a lower salary history apply to just women? Don’t most minorities suffer the same way, and even white men?

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, relatively liberal, would’ve done better by taking all workers into account.

woman doctorA woman who trained educators on how to better teach math sued her employer of three years after learning her male colleagues made significantly more money, despite having less experience.

In court, her

“employer admitted that her salary was lower and argued that the discrepancy stemmed from her prior salary — which, it asserted, had nothing to do with her gender.”

woman on computerThe Post reports in the U.S., women earn an average of 82 cents for every dollar paid to men, according to the latest Pew Research Center analysis of median hourly earnings – up from 60.2 cents for every dollar in 1980 “but the chasm hasn’t narrowed much over the last 15 years.”

Then, the article goes into how much less minorities make, which I already mentioned.

There is one victory: Since the suit, Delaware, Massachusetts, California, Oregon and Puerto Rico all passed laws blocking managers from requesting an applicant’s prior salary.

That should go for every state. A person’s worth when they’re hired should not depend on what they made at a previous job. It’s also another reason labor unions should be more powerful.

working men women

SAUDIS VS. SYRIA: Saudi Arabia will join France, the UK and of course the US, if necessary, after Syria used chemical gas on its own people yet again. That’s according to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. President Trump is warning forceful action is coming. On the other hand, Russia repeated itself and vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would further investigate and determine responsibility for Saturday’s attack. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley told the council, “Russia chose protecting a monster over the lives of the Syrian people.” And Turkey is telling the 3 million Syrian refugees it took in to go home. Impeccable timing!

PRESIDENT CANCELS PERU VISIT: Friday and Saturday’s Summit of the Americas in Peru “was to be the centerpiece of President Trump’s first visit to Latin America, and the first time he met many of the region’s leaders.” Instead, Trump suddenly announced he won’t go and will send Vice President Mike Pence instead. Trump will stay in Washington to focus on Syria.

COMING AND GOING: Today, it’s official. The Trump White House has had more first-year departures than any other president in at least 40 years. The latest is White House homeland security advisor Tom Bossert. We hear he earned his freedom. But today, John Bolton started as President Trump’s new national security adviser — his third in 13 months.

Goodbye!

P.S. Maybe a little less news and a bit more nonsense next time. 🙂

Who Trump hates more, Facebook or Amazon? Oh, and Stormy Daniels’ motion to make him speak!

OK. Let’s get this right. Lawmakers and many Americans are angry about Facebook and how it handled 50 million users’ people’s data, but President Trump really hates Amazon.

facebook amazon

First, it’s owned by Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, which Trump also hates.

Second, sources told Axios Trump has talked about changing Amazon’s tax treatment – using antitrust or competition law – because he’s worried about mom-and-pop businesses being run out of business.

Today, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters  Trump is “always looking to create a level playing field for all businesses and this is no different.”

The site adds,

“Trump’s wealthy friends tell him Amazon is destroying their businesses. His real estate buddies tell him — and he agrees — that Amazon is killing shopping malls and brick-and-mortar retailers.”

An Axios reporter writes,

“Trump told Axios last year he doesn’t mind Facebook because it helps him reach his audience. He’s an old-school businessman who sees the world in terms of tangible assets: real estate, physical mail delivery, Main Street, grocery stores. It reminds me of the story (Axios co-founder and CEO) Jim (VandeHei) wrote a while back about Trump’s fixation with 1950s life. Amazon takes direct aim at some of the core components of mid-century business.”

usps amazon

One problem with the president’s thinking is Amazon abusing the U.S. Postal Service. On the contrary, one source says, “The post office actually makes a ton of money from Amazon” and it actually added delivery on Sunday in some cities because Amazon made it worthwhile.

Sounds good for some jobs – just not good for some stocks.

social-media

Axios also notes, “The ‘so-called FANG stocks have had a terrible week, losing a combined $168.6 billion in market value over the past five trading days.
— Facebook  down 8.34 percent. $42.12 billion in lost market cap.
— Amazon  down 8.74 percent. $66.3 billion in lost market cap.
— Netflix  down 8.5 percent. $11.49 billion in lost market cap.
— Google  down 6.52 percent. $48.67 billion in lost market cap.”

On the other hand, “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.

“When private discussions have turned to the idea of busting Facebook and Google, Pence has listened with keen interest and is open to the suggestion that these two companies need shaking up.”

Also being shaken up: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Tonight, President Trump announced he fired embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary, David Shulkin, and plans to replace him with Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, who is also a Navy admiral.

CBS News reports Shulkin had been under fire for blunders “including reported insurgencies inside his own department to complications surrounding his improper use of travel expenses.”

I’m not aware if Trump fired Secretary Shulkin on Twitter like he did former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

CBS noted Shulkin raised eyebrows last summer for traveling to Europe with his wife, at the VA’s expense. Also, “He was one of five Trump cabinet officials whose travel practices were scrutinized by internal watchdogs.”

Plus, “In a 97-page report released last month, the VA’s inspector general found that Shulkin made ‘misleading statements,’ ‘improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets’ and turned an aide into a ‘personal travel concierge’ to plan ‘high tea’ and ‘Roman baths’ at the request of Shulkin’s wife.”

Shulkin worked for the Obama administration. Trump elevated him to lead the department when he took office.

Ronny JacksonAccording to his nominated replacement Dr. Jackson’s Navy biography,

“In 2006, while still in Iraq, Jackson was selected as a White House physician. Since arriving at the White House, he has directed the Executive Health Care for the President’s Cabinet and Senior Staff, served as physician supervisor for the Camp David Presidential Retreat, held the position of physician to the White House and led the White House Medical Unit as its director. He has served as White House physician during the past three administrations and was the appointed physician to the president for President Barack Obama. He currently serves as the appointed physician to the president for President Donald J. Trump.”

Trump – the oldest president in American history – had been treated for decades by Dr. Harold Bornstein, who has an office on New York’s Upper East Side. During the campaign, he wrote a short letter declaring that Trump would be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency. Despite that, “He told STAT in December that he had not been asked to move to Washington.”

Today, CNBC reported how “Facebook unveiled a raft of measures aimed at making it easier for users to see and access the data the social network holds on them and make changes where needed.”facebook f logo

First, Facebook “said it redesigned the settings menu on mobile devices to make things easier to find. All the different sections under the settings tab will now be a in a single place.”

Second, it added a privacy shortcuts menu where users can add extra security when logging in, review and delete what was shared – from search history to friend requests – and manage profile information and who sees posts.

Third, according to CNBC, “Facebook is also introducing a tool called ‘Access Your Information’ to let you see the comments you’ve left or posts you’ve shared and delete them. The company also said it will make it easier for users to download their data, such as photos and contacts you’ve added to your account, and even move it to another service.”

person on computer typing facebookFinally, the Terms of Service. New ones are proposed. Facebook says it’ll be updating its data policy to “better spell out what data we collect and how we use it.” The technology firm said that most of the updates “have been in the works for some time,” but the recent events “underscore their importance.”

But that may not be enough. CNBC says, “The changes should help current Facebook users learn more about what data Facebook has, and make it easier to delete that data.” However,

“Facebook also owns two other highly popular applications: Instagram, with more than 800 million monthly users as of September and WhatsApp, with more than 1.5 billion monthly users as of January.

“The company didn’t mention any changes to those apps today, and did not immediately respond to a question about whether the company was planning to update their privacy settings.

“And these apps can collect plenty of information, too.”

Click here for details on Terms of Service for Instagram and WhatsApp.

Also, Mark Zuckerberg has decided he will testify before Congress. Facebook sources told CNN, “The 33-year-old CEO has come to terms with the fact that he will have to testify before Congress within a matter of weeks, and Facebook is currently planning the strategy for his testimony.” This is how he apologized and what he said about that, last week.

 

There has been a lot of pressure from lawmakers, the media and the public after the British data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica improperly accessed the data of 50 million Facebook users at a time political campaigns were increasingly looking to sway voters on popular digital platforms. In 2016, it was the Trump campaign. Politico reported “nobody is certain how much” help it was.

Zuckerberg blamed apps that may be leaking user data to third parties and pledged to crack down on them, plus identify them to us.

As I wrote in my last post, Zuckerberg’s testimony will be before the Senate Judiciary Committee. CNN reported its Facebook sources “believe Zuckerberg’s willingness to testify will also put pressure on Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to do the same. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has officially invited all three CEOs to a hearing on data privacy on April 10.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who’s on that committee, had said in a statement she wanted to know “what Facebook knew about misusing data from 50 million Americans in order to target political advertising and manipulate voters.”

But The Huffington Post reports she’s not satisfied and wants Cambridge Analytica on the stand next. Plus, it says the House Energy and Commerce Committee also wanted Zuckerberg and sent him a letter, Friday, saying

“The hearing will examine the harvesting and sale of personal information from more than 50 million Facebook users, potentially without their notice or consent and in violation of Facebook policy,” it continued. “The hearing will also explore broader questions about Facebook’s policies at the time Facebook Platform was launched, today, and in the future regarding both Facebook’s use of user information and the access to user information Facebook provides to others.”

Don’t forget, Facebook and other technology companies rely on the tremendous amount of data they gather from billions of their users. That information makes money for their products, services and – most importantly – advertising sales based on user information.

money dollars cents

Also today, Zuckerberg turned down a request from British lawmakers to answer questions on the social network’s privacy practices. He’ll send two deputies instead.

And Monday, the Federal Trade Commission confirmed the existence of a non-public investigation into the company’s user privacy practices.

“The FTC is firmly and fully committed to using all of its tools to protect the privacy of consumers. Foremost among these tools is enforcement action against companies that fail to honor their privacy promises… [T]he FTC takes very seriously recent press reports raising substantial concerns about the privacy practices of Facebook. Today, the FTC is confirming that it has an open non-public investigation into these practices.”

Last week, Facebook shut down a Palestinian news agency’s page for violating the anti-incitement policy by calling murderous terrorists “martyrs.” It reportedly happened after a meeting between Israel’s Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and a Facebook representative. Safa’s staff claims it’s a legitimate news organization with 1.3 million followers, and the site’s social media manager said it “has not incited to violence and has followed all of Facebook’s guidelines for making posts.”

But World Israel News reports it recently praised the killer of Rabbi Raziel Shevach in a drive-by shooting in January as a “hero.” According to Palestinian activists quoted in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, some 500 Facebook pages of Palestinians have been taken down since the start of the year.

This comes a week after President Trump signed the Taylor Force Act as part of the $1.3 trillion spending bill. That part of the law – named for a 28-year-old former U.S. serviceman who was stabbed and killed while visiting Israel in March 2016 – cuts financial aid to the Palestinian Authority unless it ends its payments to terrorists and their families.

Meanwhile, Apple CEO Tim Cook is one of Mark Zuckerberg’s biggest critics. Today on MSNBC, he took his most direct shots, questioning Zuckerberg’s leadership.

Meanwhile, for Apple, Cook wants what Axios calls, “a major new location to house technical support staff, among other workers.”

So is Amazon, you may be thinking, but Cook said it won’t be a second headquarters.

He did say:

Of course, Axios points out,

“It’s not like Apple is averse to getting tax incentives when it opens new facilities. Apple is currently the world’s most valuable company and is on its way to a trillion dollar valuation, but Amazon is following close on its tail.

And fitting for the bottom of this column: The porn star and the president.

Stormy Daniels wants to make President Trump answer questions under oath. He may consider it sadomasochism but this morning, her lawyer

“Michael Avenatti asked a federal judge for permission to depose the president and his private attorney Michael Cohen for a period ‘of no greater than two hours’ about a non-disclosure agreement she signed just 11 days before the 2016 election,” as CBS News described it. CBS explained, “The aim of the deposition is to determine if the president had a role in the $130,000 payment from Cohen to Daniels.”

Avenatti appeared on CBS This Morning shortly after filing this 31-page motion you can scroll through, saying it relies on U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

He noted, in the case of Bill Clinton v. Paula Jones, the majority concluded the

“Constitution does not offer a sitting President significant protections from potentially distracting civil litigation.”

“It is well founded, it was well thought out, it’s incredibly documented,” Avenatti told CBS. “It’s well supported by the law and we’re confident” once they “get to the bottom of this,” they will prove America has been told a bucket of lies.”

“We want to know the truth about what the president knew, when he knew it and what he did about it as it relates to this agreement. We’re gonna test the veracity or the truthfulness of Mr. Cohen’s, his attorney’s, statements,” he said.

The motion also references a meeting one week ago between lawyers, during which Avenatti said Trump’s lawyer was unable to answer whether Trump was a party to the nondisclosure agreement. Mark your calendar for a hearing April 30. That’s a Monday.

According to The Washington Post, “About 22.1 million of us settled in during Sunday night’s family hour to watch 60 Minutes and hear what Stephanie Clifford, a.k.a. Stormy Daniels, had to say about her alleged affair with Donald Trump.”

Here is some of Anderson Cooper’s interview, in case you missed it (and don’t say I didn’t warn the target audience that the newsmagazine was starting late!).

This story contains clips, including the parts about Daniels claiming she was threatened with her infant daughter, her lawyer saying Trump’s lawyer threatening to sue her was to intimidate her, and her explaining she lied in the nondisclosure agreement by denying an affair with Trump because of fear.

Click here to watch the whole 60 Minutes interview.

And watch what Anderson Cooper said he thinks will happen next:

The Washington Post published a Kathleen Parker column that says in part,

“While children may have been diverted elsewhere, it is a given that most school-aged youngsters by now have likely heard of the adult-film actress, just as children a generation ago learned about oral sex from a previous president. … This reminds us that indecency is not new to the White House.”

I’ve written how Fox shelved the Diana Falzone story, “in October, 2016, a month before the presidential election in which Trump won. It could’ve been a major scoop and possibly changed the election results.” Two weeks ago, Falzone settled a lawsuit with Fox News and left the company.

Instead, it was this month that NBC News reported:

— President “Trump’s personal attorney used his Trump Organization email while arranging to transfer money into an account at a Manhattan bank before he wired $130,000 to adult film star Stormy Daniels to buy her silence,”

— “The lawyer, Michael Cohen, also regularly used the same email account during 2016 negotiations with the actress … before she signed a nondisclosure agreement,” and

— “Clifford’s attorney at the time addressed correspondence to Cohen in his capacity at the Trump Organization and as ‘Special Counsel to Donald J. Trump.’”

The adult film star claimed she had a one-time sexual encounter with Trump in 2006 – a year after Donald and Melania Trump were married – and was paid to keep quiet about it.

Clifford/Daniels alleges the nondisclosure agreement “she signed when receiving the funds is null due to the lack of president’s signature” and offered to return the $130,000 in exchange to speak freely about her interactions with Trump.

Trump lawyer Cohen (absolutely no relation) has said Trump “vehemently denies” any affair.

Also from The Washington Post:
Click here for the billionaire behind the ads you’ve probably seen about impeaching the president.
Click here for how the administration’s decision to add a question about citizenship in the 2020 Census is being met with fierce pushback from critics, mostly in Democratic states.
Click here to see how a GOP congressman from Philadelphia’s outer suburbs just demonstrated how much of a headache retirements will be for Republicans in 2018’s midterm elections.

P.S. It may not feel like spring everywhere but America’s Pastime returns tomorrow, and get this: Every Major League Baseball team will play. CBS Sports called it “the return of a true Opening Day” and “that hasn’t happened since way back yonder in 1968,” when the schedule was announced, last September.

The Phillies will open against the Braves in Atlanta at 4:10pm, and then play a second away series against the New York Mets. Their home opener won’t be until April 5 at 3:05pm against the Miami Marlins.

trump stormy

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Facebook: Friend or foe? Keep or delete?

If you were reading the Sunday paper, you may have come across this full-page ad from Facebook with a letter signed by Mark Zuckerberg. Seems like he spent a fortune but needed to for a chance to save his company.

2018-03-25 facebook apology

Axios reports the ad ran “inside the front section of today’s N.Y. Times, on the back cover of today’s WashPost, and in The Wall Street Journal. In London, it’s running in The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, The Observer, The Mail on SundaySunday Mirror and Sunday Express.”

mark zuckerberg facebookZuckerberg used part of the letter to say he failed to better control Facebook’s customers’ data, and should’ve allowed more experiments with leaked data like a university professor got away with in 2014, just “to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

But he was far too late.

What happened was a political marketing firm that worked with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign — Cambridge Analytica — improperly accessed the data of 50 million Facebook users. This came at a time political campaigns were increasingly looking to sway voters on popular digital platforms. Politico reported “nobody is certain how much” help it was to the campaign but said Trump’s name added to the furor.

It added, “Facebook has always been slipshod about privacy” since Zuckerberg “sins, seeks forgiveness in confession, and then with that naughty boy expression pasted on his face he goes forth and sins again. Zuckerberg’s filibustering apology and promise today to be a better boy is just more of the same.”

Zuckerberg’s ad mentioned what his company has done, what it’s doing and what it will do, before promising “to do better for you.”

But should’ve come about a week earlier and before the social network’s shares tumbled 14 percent.

Mashable reports it also happened after Facebook’s “lawyers threatened to sue the news outlet reporting the story.”

Campbell Brown
Campbell Brown, Wikipedia

That would be The Guardian.

But Facebook’s head of news partnerships, Campbell Brown, tried to make the company’s regret very clear. She noted it was “not our wisest move. … “If it were me I would have probably not threatened to sue The Guardian,” CNET reported her as saying.

Mashable summarized, “In other words, Facebook threatened legal action to prevent accountability and reform. And they definitely think that was a bad idea.”

And Techdirt reports Facebook was one of the companies that helped kill

“some pretty basic but important consumer privacy rules. The protections, which would have taken effect in March of 2017, simply required that ISPs be transparent about what personal data is collected and sold, while mandating that ISPs provide consumers with the ability to opt of said collection. But because informed and empowered consumers damper ad revenues, ISPs moved quickly to have the rules scuttled with the help of cash-compromised lawmakers.”

sheryl sandbergNow, Deadline magazine reports, “Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg acknowledged that the social network will likely be subject to regulation.”

“It’s not a question of ‘if regulation’ it’s a question of what type,” Sandberg said in an interview Thursday with CNBC’s Julia Boorstin. “We are not even waiting around for regulation.”

(Disclosure: Sandberg grew up in North Miami Beach and went to the same schools as me. Her brother David was my senior class valedictorian. I respect both a lot.)

facebook f logo

Facebook and other technology companies rely on the tremendous amount of data they gather from billions of their users. That information makes money for their products, services and – most importantly – advertising sales based on user information.

We volunteer some of that information, like email addresses and birthdays. On the other hand, we give Facebook even more by simply using it. That’s how Facebook knows our likes and friend connections.

Zuckerberg blamed apps that may be leaking user data to third parties and pledged to crack down on them, plus identify them to us.

person on computer typing facebook

But the incident raised new questions about Facebook’s ability to protect user data and led to an online movement calling for users to drop their accounts with the social media giant.

Other developers have been working on us keeping all our data on our computers or a cloud storage provider we choose. Think of it like an encrypted phone book. Then, if we want to use an app, we’d simply give “it a key that could decrypt all that personal information” we control. And if we “later decided the app was no good,” we could simply take back the key, so we control the information.

“There’s no company in the middle that’s hosting all the data,” developer Muneeb Ali explained.

Another benefit is our information is spread out across billions of separate machines, making any single breach far less damaging. Think Equifax.

That’s different in a lot of ways than Facebook, which we’ve been trusting to hold our information.

Politico shared on Wednesday about Facebook, “Once celebrated for its all-seeing, all-knowing, all-tracking ways, it’s now damned for those same attributes.”

 

So should we delete our Facebook accounts?Elon Musk June 2015 flickr

The Washington Post reports Elon Musk followed through on a promise to many of his Twitter followers. The automaker and aerospace innovator – and chief executive – deleted the Facebook pages of both companies he runs, Tesla and SpaceX. Now, go to them and you’ll see pages with a generic Facebook message, “Sorry, this content isn’t available right now.” Along with not being able use Facebook to provide information on his companies, he also lost 5 million combined users’ “likes.”

content isnt available right now

What led to Musk’s big decision was personal. The Post reports he saw a tweet Brian Acton, co-founder of Facebook-owned WhatsApp, wrote Tuesday.

The message could hardly be more simple: The sentence “It is time.” And the hashtag #deletefacebook.

Then, some sarcasm. Musk claimed not to know SpaceX even had a Facebook page.

Shortly after, it became a dare.

dare Musk delete FB

Musk deleted Tesla’s Facebook page, writing it “looks lame anyway.”

Tim Cook January 2009Saturday, Bloomberg reported Apple’s CEO Tim Cook called for stronger privacy regulations that prevent the misuse of data.

Bloomberg said, “Cook called for ‘well-crafted’ regulations that prevent the information of users being put together and applied in new ways without their knowledge.”

Also according to the report, “Cook said his company had long worried that people around the world were giving up information without knowing how it could be used.”

“The ability of anyone to know what you’ve been browsing about for years, who your contacts are, who their contacts are, things you like and dislike and every intimate detail of your life,” Cook said, “from my own point of view it shouldn’t exist.”

But according to Mashable,

Deleting Facebook won’t fix the data privacy nightmare we’re only just waking up to” and “there is no way to undo the damage that’s been done. Scores of developers could still be hoarding our old Facebook data and there’s nothing we can do about it. Moreover, it’s not just Facebook you should be worried about. Almost everything you touch in your digital life is tracking you in more ways than you know. … We, as digital citizens, need to take more responsibility for our data and who we let have it. And companies (likely with the help of some good, old-fashioned government regulation) need to fundamentally change as well. It’s the only way our privacy nightmare ends.”

Mirror Online interviewed leading privacy advocate and CEO of MeWe, Mark Weinstein: Is there any way to use Facebook without giving up all your data?

He said no:

“There is no way to use FB without giving up all your data. People forget or don’t understand that Facebook is a “data” company and that is their true business. So even the facade of “privacy” settings on FB have absolutely nothing to do with their ability to spy on you and track everything you and your friends do. Facebook creates a data packet on you that may include 2,000+ points of information. And Facebook tracks their members across the Web – not just at Facebook but at thousands of sites. If a person wants privacy and data ownership – then Facebook is the wrong company to use.”

USA Today columnist Jefferson Graham has an idea if you choose to keep it:

“Review what apps have access to your Facebook data, then start deleting. … Facebook says it has stricter controls than it used to, and will now take a good, hard look at all its app developers to weed out abuses. You can take that at face value and either believe them, or be highly skeptical. (I’m in the latter camp.) … While you wait for Facebook to (hopefully) change, you can take action. Get rid of as many apps as you can now.”

He also says users “grant sign-on access via Facebook with one click, and in turn, those app developers can get personal data” so “It’s smarter to register for access with the app itself, instead of using the Facebook sign-in.”

Plus,

“Check your Facebook setting to see how many apps have been granted access. … To delete the apps, click the checkmark next to the question mark at the top right of the News Feed, select Settings, then Apps on the left-side menu, and then Apps, Websites and Plug-ins. From there, take a look at who you’ve granted access to, and start deleting those apps you don’t use.” But Facebook makes it difficult since there’s “no Select All button, or even a way to select multiple apps at once. You’ll have to delete each one, one by one.”

Jordan Crook of Tech Crunch says it’s easier. Have a copy of all your Facebook information. Click here for directions on downloading “an archive of your account, which includes your Timeline info, posts you have shared, messages and photos, as well as more hidden information like ads you have clicked on, the IP addresses that are logged when you log into or out of Facebook, and more.”

But he adds, “Oddly, finding the button to delete your Facebook account isn’t available in the settings or menu. It lives on an outside page, which you can find by clicking right here.”

Then, you’ll come up with this:

delete fb

Business Insider has an article “10 reasons to delete your Facebook account.” They include “Facebook’s Terms of Service are completely one-sided,” “Facebook is pulling a classic bait-and-switch,” and “The Facebook application itself sucks.” I’ve discussed several of them. Click here to get the rest and more details.

But Business Insider has another article called “I can’t bring myself to break up with Facebook – and it’s because I used the login to sign into all of my other accounts.” It’s pretty much for app lovers.

One quote:

“I know why I’d used Facebook to log into all these things: It was quick, convenient and secure, or so I thought. But I didn’t foresee the consequences of linking so many applications to one account.”

So how did it happen?
Cambridge Analytica wikipedia

 

Tuesday, CNN reported Aleksandr Kogan said “he gathered information on 30 million Americans through his Facebook personality test app in 2014 — data he then passed to Cambridge Analytica, which later worked on the Trump campaign.”Aleksandr Kogan twitter

 

Then, “When Facebook learned in 2015 that Kogan had shared the information with Cambridge Analytica, it demanded the data be deleted, saying that transferring or selling it was against its company guidelines.”

But the 32-year-old claimed he’s not alone and “suspects thousands of other developers and data scientists had used similar methods to gather information on Facebook users.”

Kogan also claims Facebook is making him a scapegoat, since

“Christopher Wylie, then a Cambridge Analytica staffer, assured him he was doing everything in accordance with Facebook policy. Wylie’s revelations about his former company, reported by The New York Times and The Observer, sparked the current crisis facing Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.”christopher wylie

Wylie, a 28-year-old Canadian with red hair, “came up with an idea that led to the foundation of a company called Cambridge Analytica,” according to The Guardian. The data analytics firm helped the Brexit Leave campaign in the UK to get out of the European Union.

Steve Bannon – the Breitbart executive chairman-turned Trump campaign CEO-turned White House chief strategist – was Wylie’s boss in 2014. Plus, Republican donor Robert Mercer was Cambridge Analytica’s investor.

On top of that, Mediaite reports,

A former staffer at Cambridge Analytica … is now a member of his (Trump’s) administration. Records obtained by watchdog group American Oversight show Kelly Rzendzian served as a political affairs manager for the firm starting in March 2016, the same time during which it was hired by the Trump campaign. Her LinkedIn profile says she worked as a senior advisor for SCL Group, which is affiliated with Cambridge Analytica, from that time to February 2017. As of February 2017, Rzendzian has worked as a special assistant for the Department of Commerce secretary. According to her resume, her time with Cambridge Analytica involved engaging in ‘Collaborate Across Teams to Execute Targeted Engagement and Outreach Strategies, including Oversight of Audience Segmentation and Message Planning for Presidential Campaign.’ … Before she joined Cambridge Analytica, Rzendzian worked on the election campaigns of Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).”

But Wylie reportedly also came up with the idea “to bring big data and social media to an established military methodology – ‘information operations’ – then turn it on the US electorate.”

For what it’s worth, Kogan told CNN when he started looking into what can be predicted about a person based on what their Facebook “likes,” he was relying on research done by others like Wylie. Then, he found it wasn’t effective.

“What we found ourselves was that the data isn’t very accurate at the individual level at all,” Kogan said.

And that would mean Cambridge Analytica was selling a “myth” to political campaigns because it really couldn’t offer a more sophisticated method of targeting voters by determining their personality types through social media.

Does that make you feel better?

social media

Kogan told CNN he would be happy to testify before Congress and speak to authorities, but he hopes there’s a discussion about how social media companies like Facebook use personal information to sell ads.

He said, in exchange for free services like Facebook, users become the product that’s sold to advertisers.

“Are we concerned with being the product?” he asked.

man reading newspaper

The Guardian reports Cambridge Analytica is being investigated “in the US, as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Trump-Russia collusion,” but it’s also the key subject of two inquiries in the UK. The Electoral Commission wants to know the firm’s possible role in the EU referendum and the Information Commissioner’s Office is looking into data analytics for political purposes.

As for Wylie, “Going public involves an enormous amount of risk” since he’s “breaking a non-disclosure agreement and risks being sued. He is breaking the confidence of Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer.”

That’s his problem.

Plus, Mashable reports an FEC filing shows Facebook board member Peter Thiel, “who infamously supported the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, also happened to donate $1,000,000 in October of 2016 to the Super PAC Make America Number 1 — an organization that paid Cambridge Analytica $231,352 toward the end of the same year.”

It summarizes,

“In other words, a portion of Thiel’s wealth — some of which was derived from his early investment in Facebook — likely made its way into the coffers of Cambridge Analytica via Make America Number 1. … Of course, it’s unclear if Thiel knew that Make America Number 1 was shelling out tons of cash to Cambridge Analytica when he made his donation. But here’s the thing: it most certainly was. Thiel’s contribution was on October 26, 2016. FEC documents show that between October 3 and October 19 of the same year Make America Number 1 paid out $323,908 to Cambridge Analytica — $20,000 of which was for ‘DATA ACQUISITION SERVICES.’”

Unfortunately, Democrats did the same – earlier – and with special permission!

President Barack Obama Official White House Photo
Official White House Photo

Politico’s Eric Wilson points out,

And it’s not just Republicans who have taken advantage of Facebook’s invasive features. Far from it: During the 2012 campaign, President Barack Obama’s reelection team built an app that extracted the same types of data in the same fashion as the Cambridge Analytica data in question, with one critical difference: Obama’s team extracted nearly five times the information.

According to Carol Davidsen, a member of Obama’s data team, ‘Facebook was surprised we were able to suck out the whole social graph, but they didn’t stop us once they realized that was what we were doing.’ The social graph is Facebook’s map of relationships between users and brands on its platform. And after the election, she recently acknowledged, Facebook was ‘very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side.’ There’s been no word on whether the Obama team was asked to delete its data, nor has it been suspended from Facebook.”

black laptop computer keyboard

Now, you and I have things to think about:

Were we some of the 50 million affected? We’re supposed to be notified. When? We’ll see.

Do hundreds of gigabytes of unencrypted Facebook data still exist on Cambridge’s servers, contradicting assurances given to congressional investigators?

Is Facebook really back in control?

Congress

Will Zuckerberg testify about the situation? Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), said in a statement: “They say ‘trust us,’ but Mark Zuckerberg needs to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about what Facebook knew about misusing data from 50 million Americans in order to target political advertising and manipulate voters.”

facebook phone mobileVox points out, “For many people, using Facebook regularly is a required part of their job or education.” Find a reporter today who doesn’t have to use Facebook and other social media to break news and tease the product.

And keep in mind, deleting Facebook means we’ll need other ways to find and keep in touch with people we haven’t seen in years. Without it, we won’t be able to send baby (or cat) pictures to many of our contacts with not much more than a click of a button.

Decisions, decisions!

—–

Now, here is something that I realized I missed, although I did not read it anywhere – so it’s true, but you’re getting it late. I’m sorry.

I’ve written many times against Sinclair Broadcast Group buying Tribune Media, and how horrible it would be, and how unethically it’s being done – from the Sinclair people to the Federal Communications Commission.

One issue holding up the $3.9 billion deal, though there should officially be many more, is how many TV stations around the country will have to be sold off, since a Sinclair-Tribune combination will own more stations than the government allows. (Don’t forget the feds recently reestablished the UHF discount just before this deal was made, and FCC chairman Ajit Pai is under investigation because of that.) Another question is which stations would be spun off. And a third is whether the new conglomerate would be allowed to own more than one station (duopolies) in certain cities.

Now, there’s something called the Sinclair Divestiture Trust.

Radio + Television Business Report, which I’d never heard of over the years, reported more than a month ago – back on Feb. 21 – the controversial combination got a step closer.

That’s because “A series of Form 314 filings have been made (that day) with the FCC indicating the divestiture of up to 23 broadcast television properties by Sinclair.”

The Sinclair Divestiture Trust is the place where those stations would be listed and trustee RAFAMEDIA LLC, led by veteran media broker Richard A. Foreman, told RBR+TVBR the stations – from both Sinclair and Tribune – were put in the trust “for the purpose of removing them from the licensee” – in other words, to be sold off.

The article listed these stations:
* Tribune’s KCPQ-TV and KZJO-TV in Seattle-Tacoma,
* Tribune’s KPLR-11 in St. Louis,
* Tribune’s FOX-affiliated KSTU-13 in Salt Lake City,
* Sinclair’s KOKH-TV and KOCB-TV, and also Tribune’s KAUT-TV and KFOR-TV, in Oklahoma City,
* Sinclair’s WXLV-TV and WMYV-TV, and Tribune’s WGHP-TV, in Greensboro, NC,
* Sinclair’s WWMT-TV in Kalamazoo, and Tribune’s WXMI-TV in Grand Rapids,
* Sinclair’s WHP-TV in Harrisburg, and Tribune’s WPMT-TV in York, Pa.,
* Sinclair’s WRLH-TV, and Tribune’s WTVR-TV in Richmond, Va.,
* Sinclair’s KDSM-TV, and Tribune’s WHO-TV in Des Moines, and
* Tribune’s WTTV-TV and WXIN-TV in Indianapolis.

I mentioned many of these stations in my last post, and also a Sinclair-Tribune combination would own four stations in Seattle, three in St. Louis, four in Oklahoma City, three in Greensboro and two in Richmond.

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

Don’t forget Sinclair wants all of America to be able to watch local stations it owns. That can’t happen because the limit is 39 percent of the American population. (However, the reinstated UHF discount I mentioned early only counts UHF stations as covering half the people in the market, so the percentage is actually higher. Of course, technology these days means it’s just as easy for you and me to watch a UHF station as a VHF station, so reinstating UHF discount is both controversial and unnecessary, except for large station owners like Sinclair to get even larger.)old tv sets

Sinclair has gotten around the rules, especially while the UHF discount was not enforced from 1985 to April 2017, with shell corporations either owned by the family that owns Sinclair, or others that let Sinclair program them through local marketing agreements. Sinclair doesn’t technically own all those stations, but operates them as if they do.

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

map Harrisburg Indy GreensboroThat’s because the proposed combination can’t simply decide to hold onto the two highest-rated stations in a city. There are FCC rules, detailed in the last post. They include the population of the market, and also not owning two of the top four rated stations. Sinclair asked the FCC for waivers to that in Harrisburg, Indianapolis and Greensboro.

 

So the trust is flexible.

With that in mind, Divestiture Trust Applications were reportedly being filed on Tribune’s WPIX in New York and KSWB in San Diego, so they may go into the trust but not necessarily.WPIX

WPIX, a CW affiliate, was reportedly going to be sold for just $15 million – rather than hundreds of millions – to Cunningham Broadcasting, owned by Sinclair’s founder’s survivors. Then, Sinclair will run it and possibly buy it back within eight years, if the ownership rules are relaxed further by then.

KSWB, a Fox affiliate, was reportedly going to be sold.

Sinclair Divestiture Trust
Trust list via http://www.tvnewscheck.com/tv-station-directory/group/1434

Not listed in the trust means Sinclair intends to keep KOMO-TV and KUNS-TV in Seattle; KDNL-TV in St. Louis; and KJZZ-TV and KUTV-TV in Salt Lake City.

RBR+TVBR reported Sinclair “intends to keep one of the stations being placed into trust in Indianapolis, Des Moines, Richmond, Harrisburg, Grand Rapids, Greensboro, and Oklahoma City.”

Without selling any stations, RBR+TVBR noted, “The combined company would reach 72% of U.S. television households, and would own and operate the largest number of broadcast television stations of any station group.”

Also, there was a 180-day timeline for the merger to happen, but it was stopped at Day 167 way back on Oct. 18, 2017, for additional comment and revised divestment applications. That means if this really happens, it will have taken much longer than originally thought. If not, then a whole lot of time and money were wasted.

Good!

sinclair broadcast group

And while I’m at it, and Sinclair has so much clout, here are some questions for those who run it:
* How about putting local news back on the air in Pittsburgh? Isn’t the Steel City big enough for four local news stations, especially when you do news in much smaller places?
* How about having local news anchors in local towns, like Toledo OH (where it owns the NBC affiliate) and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre PA (where it owns the Fox affiliate)? Instead, Sinclair’s anchors at its CBS affiliate in South Bend IN do news for all three places, even though they don’t know the other cities. Tell me why this isn’t a money-saver, in the best interest of shareholders rather than the public.
* Why do you really use companies like Cunningham Broadcasting, in which you already own 90 percent, and what would happen if you sold its stations to an outsider with no connection to you?
* How about selling the rest of the TV stations you don’t own the licenses for, using sharing services or local marketing agreements to get by FCC regulations?
* How about letting your local stations program their newscasts locally, rather than making time for your slanted must-carry stories you require them to air daily? You do use localism as a reason the deal with Tribune should go through.

NO sinclair tribune

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Call to action: Help stop Sinclair from taking over Tribune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instructions from Corporate (thanks to Esquire):

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

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

Script:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He wrote in a statement to CNN:

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

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

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

Wait. It gets worse.

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

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

CNN concludes its description with,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The CNN article found,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The article back then added,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does this sound rational or unnerving?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to the magazine:

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to The New York Times,

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

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

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

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

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

Ajit Pai fcc wikipedia
Ajit Pai (Wikipedia)

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

I wonder. This is what The Times thinks:

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

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

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

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

You decide.

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

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

WPIX

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

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

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

WGN-TV

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New York Times recently reported Sinclair submitted a proposal that

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

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

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

sinclair before tribune
Sinclair now, without Tribune

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

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

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

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

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

It continued,

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

CNN said,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sinclair has shown none of that matters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, send what you sent the FCC commissioners.

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

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

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