Labor Day weekend leftovers

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

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

amx_loop

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

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

Ajit Pai fcc wikipedia
Ajit Pai (Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

feature Tribune gavel Sinclair

Now, Sinclair is countersuing.

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

It accused Tribune of pursuing a

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

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

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

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

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

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

LANGUAGE: Viewer discretion advised.

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

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

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

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

Ars Technica reported that on Wednesday, Trump tweeted this

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

(Hit the play button.)

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

Politico quoted him as saying,

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

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

No wonder he hates the media!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zuckerberg later clarified in an email,

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

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

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

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

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

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

oakview cemetery

bar mitzvah shirt

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

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

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

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

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Media mega-merger may be moving closer, impacting Miami

I’ve avoided writing much about Sinclair Broadcast Group trying to buy Tribune Media because I’ve been busy and I don’t want to jinx any possibility the merger will fall through.

But there has been some news, and the biggest for a local TV market could be Miami/Fort Lauderdale (of course!).

feature no sinclair tribune miami

You’ll remember, one of the biggest, nastiest TV station groups has been trying to buy another biggie. (Click here for the official Federal Communications Commission docket.)

Of course, I’m referring to Sinclair Broadcast Group doing everything it can to spread its conservative information campaign to most of the U.S. that the company doesn’t already reach.

One week ago, TVNewsCheck‘s Harry Jessell noted,

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

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

To follow through, it would need government approval: from the Justice Department for antitrust worries and the FCC to approve ownership limits. (And Sinclair may have already gotten “help” from FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who was selected by President Trump. Pai is now under investigation by his own agency’s inspector general. Keep reading.)

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

The $3.9 billion deal would still require a number of stations to be sold. The questions partially responsible for holding things up were how many, and in which cities? About six weeks ago, I explained TV ownership limits are very complicated, with four rules in play: 1. national TV ownership, 2. local TV multiple ownership, 3. the number of independently owned “media voices” – 4. and at least one of the stations is not ranked among the top four stations in the DMA (that’s the “designated market area” or city, and ranking based on audience share), and at least eight independently owned TV stations would remain in the market after the proposed combination.

angry womanPlus, there have been literally thousands of complaints from activists who know how important this is. Click here to see 4,497 total FCC filings since July 5, 2017, including 891 in the past 30 days. THANK YOU if your name is on the list! Keep reading for directions on how to say no.

Now, click here to see some of the “33 concurrently filed applications on FCC Form 315 that seek the Commission’s consent to a transaction,” back in July, 2017, and what the companies consider “Public interest benefits of the transaction.” You’ll soon know better if you actually believe there are public interest benefits! You’ll also notice the companies fighting for every last station they could, to grow even larger.

sinclair broadcast group

On April 24, The Wall Street Journal reported Sinclair “reached deals to sell nearly two dozen television stations as it works to get regulators to sign off on its purchase of Tribune.”

Sinclair said it’ll spin off 23 stations in 18 markets – some owned by Sinclair and others by Tribune.

Also on April 24, Deadline magazine reported, “Sinclair expects the transactions for the station sales to close the same day the Tribune deal is approved, and now estimates it all will be wrapped up by June.”

Folks, that’s next month!

So let’s take a look at the “List of stations to be divested,” filed with the FCC in April. Click here for the complete 138 pages.

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

sinclair divest

and these are the stations currently owned by Tribune.

tribune divest

So now we know who is expected to own the stations a Sinclair-Tribune combination would not be allowed to keep. Unfortunately, it’s not as clear as the charts above that list call letters and cities.

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

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

So let’s take a look.

Cunningham Broadcasting

Cunningham Broadcasting Corporation is the most controversial. It calls itself “an independent television broadcast company that, together with its subsidiaries, owns and/or operates 20 television stations in 18 markets across the United States.”

First, notice “owns and/or operates.”

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

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

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

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

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

SIDEBAR: Wednesday, The TV Answer Man Phillip Swann reported PlayStation Vue removed Sinclair-owned local stations affiliated with Big 4 networks from its streaming lineup without an explanation. Just Tuesday, subscribers got an e-mail that live channels would be replaced May 1 (that day) with an On-Demand version.

PlayStation Vue

Sinclair said it pulled the stations and blamed “Sony (for) failing to comply with certain contractual provisions.” It didn’t elaborate but urged Sony subscribers to consider other video distributor options, including Sony competitor YouTube TV.

Sony hasn’t commented.

The Baltimore Sun reports, “Sony describes PlayStation Vue as a live streaming TV service for up to five devices at once that offers sports, news and other programs along with premium channels and a cloud DVR.”

BACK TO THE STORY: Under David Smith, who wouldn’t comment for the article, Sinclair went from three cities – Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Columbus – to what it is today.

sinclair before tribune
Sinclair today, without Tribune

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

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

So much for public service!

But then came the controversial Cunningham, arguably rigging the system.

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

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

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

PUSH pushing FCC over Sinclair/Glencairn

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

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

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

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

FCC fines Sinclair for Glencairn control

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

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

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

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

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

lisa asher
http://cunninghambroadcasting.com/about-us/

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

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

But there’s a lot more evidence.

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

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

Fox TV stations

Looking at its list of stations — something the Fox Television Stations Group never posted on its own website despite me calling them out for it herehere, here, here (so far in no particular order, although I may have missed a couple), and my favorite, here — you may realize Sinclair recently bought Bonten Media Group (Disclosure: I used to be Digital Media Manager at the former Bonten’s WCYB but left before the sale.) but Cunningham bought the stations Bonten operated. Notice those stations listed on the website have no websites of their own. And I’ll get back to Fox later. I’ll bet they can’t wait!

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

But not just WBFF.

WNUVSo is WNUV-54 (CW affiliate), which says it’s “owned and operated by Cunningham Broadcasting Corporation and receives certain services from an affiliation of Sinclair Broadcast Group.”

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

But that’s not all, folks!

WUTBThere’s still WUTV-24 (MyNetworkTV affiliate), with the same look as the other websites, which says it’s “a SBG Television affiliate owned and operated by Deerfield Media, Inc and receives certain services from an affiliation of Sinclair Broadcast Group.”

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

How’d that happen?

In Nov., 2012, TVNewsCheck reported,

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Sinclair and Deerfield were already in cahoots.

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

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

The next day, TVNewsCheck reported,

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

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

“While Sinclair was buying, it was also selling.

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

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

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

And that was the start of the Deerfield connection!

tv airwaves

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

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

SIDEBAR: The purpose of the reverse auction is “broadcaster licensees bid (low price) to relinquish spectrum usage rights.” Then, “the FCC will reauthorize and relicense the facilities of the remaining broadcast television stations that receive new channel assignments in the repacking” so the remaining stations are close together and that will happen in waves because there are so many. And finally the FCC will sell that spectrum to commercial wireless service providers (high price) to expand mobile broadband services. (That has all happened already except for stations moving to their new assignments.)

It looks like stations sold $10 billion of spectrum and wireless providers bought $19 billion, so the FCC made money.

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

To the next perspective buyer…

hsh Howard Stirk HoldingsHSH stands for Howard Stirk Holdings, and is owned by conservative journalist, entrepreneur and producer Armstrong Williams. Wikipedia described Howard Stirk Holdings as “a media company affiliated with Sinclair Broadcasting that has made numerous television station purchases.”

Don’t believe it? It’s somewhat true, after a controversial beginning.

In a Broadcasting & Cable article on the news section of HSH’s website dated July, 2013, and was written in first-person, Williams mentions suing the FCC for not reviewing

“its broadcast ownership rules every four years. …

“This is one of the reasons why my company, Howard Stirk Holdings, LLC (HSH), has sued the FCC. As an African American licensee of two television stations, I believe that by refusing to complete its 2010 quadrennial review, the FCC has unlawfully withheld taking an action required by Congress and the law, and thus is arbitrarily and capriciously retaining burdensome regulations that are no longer in the public interest.”

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

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

But there’s more.

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

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

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

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

armstrong williamsWilliams and his supporters suggest a more partisan motive: his conservative views.

In fact, it seems every article in HSH’s News section mentions Sinclair or those joint sales agreements designed to get by without abiding by the FCC’s ownership rules!

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

But I found it eventually gets somewhat better.

hsh jobs
http://www.hsh.media/search-openings/

Howard Stirk Holdings’ website’s Content Creation page calls it “a leading broadcast television company” but have you heard of it before starting this article? The page doesn’t say how many TV stations it owns or operates on its own. Even the page to search job openings offers no links (except the top navigation which doesn’t say much), and that includes its Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Something was obviously wrong, so I turned to the FCC and found no entities or file names from before 2012.

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

But that was then.

A year later, he actually, really bought three stations from Sinclair: one in Charleston and two in Alabama.

Charleston wasn’t planned. The first two paragraphs from a Sept., 2014, Broadcasting & Cable magazine article is posted on HSH’s website’s News section.

Howard Stirk Holdings Grabs WCIV for $50,000

“Howard Stirk Holdings, run by Armstrong Williams, has agreed to acquire WCIV Charleston for $50,000. Sinclair picked up WCIV, an ABC affiliate, when it acquired Allbritton. While Howard Stirk is acquiring the license, among other assets, it and Sinclair will share some aspects related to the station, and Sinclair will provide services.

“‘We’ll continue some of the wonderful business relationships we have with them,’ said Armstrong Williams, principal at Howard Stirk Holdings.”

WCIV’s services came up because of a tangled web of local marketing agreements. There were ownership conflicts over licenses and other assets of three stations.

charleston 36Sinclair owned MyNetworkTV affiliate WMMP-36 for years. Then, in 2001, it bought and spun off Fox affiliate WTAT-24 to Glencairn (to become Cunningham) and crafted a local marketing agreement between the two stations. That got Sinclair fined Sinclair $40,000 for illegally controlling a duopoly.

But in 2013, Allbritton sold its entire television group, including ABC affiliate WCIV-4, to Sinclair, which intended to sell WMMP’s license but still control it. Thus, three stations!

Unfortunately for Sinclair, WMMP had that local marketing agreement with WTAT. So Sinclair decided to cut ties from WTAT, keep the more established WCIV and sell WMMP.charleston 4

But Sinclair told the FCC it couldn’t find a buyer for WMMP, so it would shut down WCIV and keep WMMP because its facilities were better — but move WCIV’s affiliation and all its programming to WMMP. Then, WMMP’s programming including MyNetworkTV would move to a subchannel.

Instead, Sinclair filed to have WCIV’s license sold to HSH to avoid shutting it down. Thus, the low price of $50,000. Then, the two stations swapped licenses, Sinclair let Williams’ WCIV share studio space at WMMP’s facilities and Williams explained he hoped to “continue some of the wonderful business relationships we have with [Sinclair]” through the deal — but operated independently from Sinclair.

Shortly after, this page on the company’s website’s News section lifts the first four paragraphs from a Feb., 2015, Broadcasting & Cable magazine article.

Howard Stirk Acquires KVMY Las Vegas

“Howard Stirk Holdings has agreed to acquire KVMY, the Las Vegas MyNetworkTV affiliate, for $150,000. Armstrong Williams is the principal at Howard Stirk, which is closely aligned with Sinclair. The price reflects $25,000 for the equity assets, including the FCC license, and $125,000 for the transmission assets.

“According to the following, Howard Stirk ‘acknowledges that it is not buying the Business of KVMY-TV as a going concern.’” (There was a call letter and affiliation change, but Howard Stirk Holdings runs several digital subchannel networks on the signal.)

“In September, Sinclair agreed to acquire NBC affiliate KSNV Las Vegas for $120 million. It also owns CW outlet KVCW.

“Last year, Howard Stirk Holdings acquired the license and other assets to WCIV Charleston from Sinclair for $50,000.”

So they’ve been in business several times, and it may not be over.

George W BushSome more about Williams: In 2004, the Bush administration paid him $240,000 to promote the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law on his nationally syndicated TV show and urge other black journalists to do the same. USA Today reported the campaign was part of an effort to build support among black families and Williams was “to regularly comment on NCLB during the course of his broadcasts” and interview Education Secretary Rod Paige for TV and radio spots that aired during the show. Williams said he understood critics could find the arrangement unethical, but “I wanted to do it because it’s something I believe in.”

Two years ago, The Washington Post reported Williams settled a sexual harassment and retaliation suit filed by a former salesman at a DC Jos. A. Bank. Court records reportedly showed the complaint alleged Williams had sought sexual favors after befriending and mentoring the other man. That man did get jobs at the Washington Times and then at a Howard Stirk Holdings TV station, but he lost that job.

It wasn’t Williams’ first such situation.gavel judge

In 1997, Williams’ former personal trainer-turned-producer sued him, contending he “repeatedly kissed and fondled him for almost two years,” before being fired. Williams claimed he was fired for incompetence. That case was also settled.

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

standard media

Then there’s Standard Media Group. I hadn’t heard of them either. Its website says Standard General was founded in 2007 and is pretty much an investment advisor, but getting into the broadcasting business. We’ll see how long that lasts. Investment firms are more likely to sell than others with broadcasting in their blood, especially ones who invest in their communities.

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

The stations are Fox affiliates except where noted: Oklahoma City, Grand Rapids, York PA, Greensboro NC (ABC), Richmond, Sinclair’s role in a Wilkes Barre Fox-CW-MyNetworkTV triopoly, and Des Moines.

meredith corporation

You may have noticed Meredith Corp. on the list of buyers. TVSpy noted Meredith “has signed a deal to acquire KPLR (CW) from Tribune for $65 million, pairing it with KMOV (CBS) which Meredith has owned since 2013. … Sinclair already owns KDNL (ABC) and will also own KTVI (FOX) in the market.” Great for owners’ synergies. Bad for the number of independent voices in such a big city. Which do you care more about?

WGN-TV

Of the other big city stations, Tribune’s legendary WGN-TV9 is supposed to go to WGN TV LLC but that’s really code for Steven Fader, a Maryland auto dealer and business associate to Sinclair chairman David Smith, for a mere $60 million. Sinclair would also have an option to buy WGN-TV outright within eight years and you know it’s counting on the FCC to relax its ownership rules even more within that time frame!

Concerning WGN, there are now plans for a Sinclair news channel. Yesterday, Politico reported,

“Sinclair Broadcast Group, which for months has denied any interest in challenging Fox News while awaiting approval of a merger with Tribune Co., is gearing up to do just that.”

TVNewser put it this way:

“Even though Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley has said a 24-hour national news network is not in the works, his boss (David) Smith seems to like the idea of a few hours of prime time opinion programming to challenge Fox News.”

Fox News is carried in more than 90 million homes, compared to 80 million for WGN America which Sinclair would own if regulators approve, and 55 million for the Tennis Channel which Sinclair already owns.

If your cable or satellite company doesn’t offer either of those last two, then expect it to get a call when any deal with Sinclair is about to expire.

Politico quotes “a person familiar” saying “Smith has been holding meetings with potential future employees, including former Fox News staff members, and laying out a vision for an evening block of opinion and news programming that would compete with Fox’s top-rated lineup.”

So, the discussions are over “a block of at least three hours, but also potentially up to six. Smith is settled, though, on basing his new operation in Washington, D.C.” That’s because the company already owns local station WJLA-7, where it produces some of its national content.

Greta Van Susteren Wikipedia
Wikipedia

One apparent Sinclair target is former Fox News host Greta Van Susteren, who left the network in Sept., 2016, and then had a short stint at MSNBC before signing on with Voice of America. Van Susteren wrote in an email she has spoken with Smith.

“If the Sinclair deal happens, I might talk to him further. … but it would have to be something that would not take me from VOA,” Van Susteren said.

“Other potential hires are former Fox anchor Eric Bolling and reporter James Rosen,” who both left Fox under sexual harassment allegations. Neither admitted whether they met with Smith or other Sinclair executives.

Talks with former Fox host Bill O’Reilly reportedly fell apart.

The slant of a national news block hasn’t been decided. We know where Sinclair stands, politically, but TVNewser notes, “There are already national challengers from the right, including Newsmax TV and OAN.”

WPIX

And in the nation’s largest market, Tribune’s WPIX-11 is now off the market. It was supposed to go to Cunningham for a mere $15 million. That’s pennies on the dollar, and it would’ve been run by Sinclair. Now, it’ll just go to Sinclair so it’s not on the list.

Tribune Broadcasting Company

But what about those TBDs (to be determined)? They are all owned by Tribune: the Fox affiliates in San Diego, Seattle/Tacoma, Cleveland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City and Denver, and the CW affiliate in Miami/Fort Lauderdale.

And you may have noticed Rupert Murdoch’s Fox conglomerate was not listed as one of the buyers, but that’s sure to change.

The Hollywood Reporter wrote, “Sinclair and Tribune have been negotiating a sale of up to 10 stations to 21st Century Fox, and those talks are still proceeding.”

Jessell of TVNewsCheck was more direct, saying all Sinclair

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

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

Fox network

First, Fox actually used to own the Cleveland, Salt Lake City and Denver stations but sold them to a company called Local TV which sold itself to Tribune. So much for Fox — selling stations and then buying them back later — caring about communities. IMHO, that company can’t make a case for a second chance at ownership.

But now, 21st Century Fox plans to sell off most of its assets like its studio, cable networks and regional sports networks to Disney – keeping just its Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, its FS1/FS2 cable sports channels, adding to its TV stations, and its network, which will focus on live events, especially NFL Football. The new, smaller company is being referred to as New Fox.NFL Logo

That’s the reason Fox has tried to own stations in cities that have NFC conference football teams since it got the rights to most of their away games in 1994 – and even trade or sell other stations for them – despite the fact a regular season of 16 games could mean the home audience would see its team play about 12 games a year on its local Fox station, unless the team makes the playoffs.

Whether paying a fortune for NFL rights that keep skyrocketing is questionable. It wasn’t questionable in 1994 when Fox arguably overpaid the NFL to get the New World stations to switch away from the Big 3 networks. We’ll see about Fox doing the same on Thursdays, when it doesn’t have popular programming.

Thursday Night Football logo

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

What has changed is Fox bought the rights to Thursday Night Football, which should split games between NFC and AFC teams. That means Fox has become more interested in AFC team cities, even though there’s no pattern as to which teams play on Thursdays.

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

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

Remember what Fox did in Charlotte? It dropped a good affiliate, WCCB-Channel 18, because it wanted to own a station where the NFC Carolina Panthers play. Instead, it bought a nothing station, WJZY-Channel 46, and started it from scratch. And it had to do that a second time when it tried to be too different and less traditional the first time! (And, for disclosure: It got a great new news director who is a former colleague.) Remember, Charlotte pretty much sits on the North Carolina-South Carolina line. Old timers are pretty traditional. Was the move worth it for Fox?

Miami is a different story. Fox has a very good affiliate, WSVN-7, owned by Ed Ansin’s Sunbeam Television. (Disclosure: I got my start in journalism there.) It gives Fox great coverage of breaking news in South Florida. Several people at Fox News Channel used to work there. The ratings are great. So what’s the problem?

WSVN

The Miami Dolphins play there, and as an AFC team, they show up on Fox on a few Sundays and may now also be seen on Fox on Thursdays.

But the station that’s available is Tribune’s WSFL-39, a CW affiliate without a news department despite a few morning attempts. WSVN owner Ansin has shown he’ll probably take the station to his grave, with or without any affiliation, so there’s no realistic possibility there.

WSFL

Should Fox dump WSVN and start from scratch with WSFL? Would it be worth the effort?new wsvn 1

Unlike Charlotte, WSVN is a #1 station. And Miami is a very different place. There’s big news regularly and the two main Spanish stations do better than most of the English! People who aren’t bilingual can’t watch all the available stations, which really limits its size, making it actually smaller than the 16th largest market. We’ll have to see who wants WSFL, since a Sinclair-Tribune merger can’t include it due to FCC ownership rules.

One thing I’d say for sure is that WSFL loses its CW affiliation because CBS and Warner Brothers (Time Warner) own the network, and CBS doesn’t only own WFOR-4 (CBS station) and but also WBFS-33 (MyNetworkTV affiliate) and the CW does better.

Staying with this possibility, WSFL could become the new MyNetworkTV affiliate, and MyNetworkTV is owned by Fox.

It’s not so unusual for a network to own stations but not air the network on them.

Let’s take CBS, for example. It owns independents in New York (WLNY-55) and Los Angeles (KCAL-9). In Dallas, WTXA-21 is also independent.

In Miami, WBFS ended up with MyNetworkTV to please Tribune since CBS got the CW in so many other cities when the WB and UPN combined. It’s similar in Boston where WSBK-38 airs MyNetworkTV, but that’s expected to change since Sunbeam’s WLVI-56, which used to be owned by Tribune, airs the CW.

Single CBS-owned stations in Atlanta, Seattle and Tampa air the CW while affiliates owned by other companies air CBS programming.

And in Indianapolis, CBS’ WBXI-47 airs Decades, while the actual CBS affiliation changed from one outside company to another. CBS dumped a strong WISH-8 and went to half of Tribune’s duopoly, independent WTTV-4, over a disagreement with the former Media General.

WPLGA last possibility if Fox is determined to buy a Miami station is ABC affiliate WPLG-10. That station, stable under Post-Newsweek (now Graham Media) for decades, was sold to Berkshire Hathaway as its only broadcast property. We’ve talked about synergies (BH, as an “only child,” has none) and know Warren Buffett wants to turn a profit, so we can imagine Fox dumping WSVN for WPLG, but can’t assume ABC will take its affiliation to WSVN. Remember how CBS didn’t do that in 1989? But that’s highly unlikely.

And somebody will end up with WSFL.

A lot of the information on which stations would be sold was expected since Sinclair hinted in a February filing which stations it planned to sell, to avoid owning more than allowed.

Deadline noted, “For decades, the maximum reach by one single owner has been 39 percent, but the Federal Communications Commission has been re-evaluating the cap.”

old tv sets

More specifically, rather than gutting rules like a good conservative would ordinarily do, the FCC under Pai brought the UHF discount is back. That rule started because it used to matter whether a local TV station was VHF or UHF, due to antennas and how old TV sets were not made for the UHF band. So the FCC decided the amount towards a company’s ownership cap should only be half for those stations, compared to VHF stations. It was ended because today’s technology means it doesn’t matter anymore.

Regarding the UHF discount’s revival, The New York Times wrote, “A few weeks later, Sinclair Broadcasting announced a blockbuster $3.9 billion deal to buy Tribune Media — a deal those new rules made possible.” (Oh, and led to Pai’s investigation. But luckily, Harry Jessell of TVNewsCheck wrote critics of station consolidation say it “now serves only to allow groups to circumvent the intent of Congress, which was to limit groups to 39%” and they’ve “challenged the perpetuation of the UHF discount in court (D.C. Appeals Court), and seem to have made some headway in their oral arguments.”)

It also wrote,

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

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

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

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

Last week, Broadcasting & Cable’s John Eggerton wrote FCC chair Ajit Pai suggested at a House Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee hearing “the FCC had not yet had a chance to fully evaluate” the Sinclair-Tribune deal, but, “He would not agree to delay a decision on the Sinclair-Tribune deal until a court ruling on a related issue, the UHF discount.”

However, “Pai said he would factor the potential court decision into the FCC’s decisionmaking.”

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) told Pai the spin-off of WGN-TV Chicago to the owner of a car dealership owned by Sinclair’s executive chair, “stretches the definition of divestiture under the plan to something unrecognizable” and the planned divestitures make a mockery of FCC rules.

Author Eggerton suggested, “One thing the FCC could do would be to condition the deal on the court upholding the UHF discount” and Jessell expects a decision to come in August or September.

Pai denied Rep. Quigley’s request to hold off on a decision on Sinclair until the UHF discount court decision, saying that was a case of clashing hypotheticals — both what the court would do with the discount and what the FCC would do with the proposed merger.

The nerve, since Congress controls the FCC!

Jessell of TVNewsCheck brought up the old saying, “Possession is nine-tenths of the law, and that is no less true when the thing being possessed is a broadcast license.” He also had a lot more details on the court case.

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

He led by saying,

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

But he said Sinclair is telling the FCC

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

So there’s a 7.6-point disparity, the difference between 58.7% and 66.3%. How’d that happen? And don’t forget about the part, “with the UHF discount, below the statutory 39% cap.”

Jessell explained Sinclair

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

Plus, with Dallas and Houston (but not Chicago), “Sinclair has put additional distance between itself and Cunningham” but will “have an option to buy the stations should the FCC ever ease the rules to allow it.”

So this is Jessell’s bottom line:

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

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

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

Then Jessell questioned Fox’s counting, assuming it’ll buy Miami, Cleveland, Sacramento as well as Seattle, Denver, Salt Lake City and possibly San Diego.

He calculated Fox reaches 36.8% of homes, but just 24.3% with the UHF discount. If it buys up all seven stations, its reach will grow to 45.9% but, well below the cap at just 30.4% with the discount.

But where will Fox find the money to buy the stations it wants? That’s another story!

Last year, Disney made a $52.4 billion offer to buy most of Fox, including its stake in the European pay TV company Sky.

But The Hollywood Reporter said on Wednesday, “Back in 2004, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts bid $54 billion to acquire The Walt Disney Co.” At the time, Comcast hadn’t bought NBCUniversal but Disney did own ABC. It was a 22 percent more than Disney was worth then, but former CEO Michael Eisner said no anyway.

Now, even though NBCUniversal has performed well, some say Roberts wants revenge by offering the same $52.4 billion as Disney for most of 21st Century Fox.

There could also be a bidding war overseas. Sky had agreed to let Fox, a 39 percent shareholder, buy the portion it doesn’t already own – and that Disney agreed to buy from Fox in December. Comcast could ruin those companies’ plans.

sky news logo

CNN reports, “It pledged … to maintain investment in Sky News for 10 years, and ensure the division’s editorial independence.”

Rupert Murdoch wikimedia commons
Rupert Murdoch, Wikimedia Commons

Then, in January, a UK regulator advised the government to block Fox’s bid to buy the remaining 61 percent of Sky because it would give one family – the Murdochs – too much control over media in Britain.

So Murdoch had preferred Disney as the buyer, afraid the Comcast offer came with more regulatory risks. Then, Disney offered to buy Sky News just to help Murdoch buy full control of Sky News’ parent company, the broadcaster Sky. But CNN reported Fox made a new pitch to win approval for Sky by selling Sky News to Disney, and another proposal that would’ve legally separated Sky News from the rest of Sky to ensure its editorial independence.

Then, last month, The Hollywood Reporter reported, “The U.K. Takeover Panel … ruled that Walt Disney must make a mandatory offer to buy full 100 percent control of Sky if and when it completes its planned acquisition of large parts of 21st Century Fox, including Fox’s stake in Sky.”

Then, according to Deadline, “Disney will have 28 days from the completion of its $66 billion acquisition of Fox to make a $15 offer for all the shares of Sky if Fox’s own $15.7 billion takeover of Sky is not complete by then, or if Comcast’s rival offer has not been accepted. It also (decided) this would not be required if another third party has acquired 50 percent of Sky by then.”

But last week Comcast made its $31 billion bid for Sky official and that’s 16 percent higher. Deadline reported that caused Sky directors to withdraw their recommendation of a Fox takeover bid.

This all comes along with many mergers and acquisitions across the industry.

at&t time warner

In fact, a decision on this may not come until a judge determines whether to let AT&T buy Time Warner. The Justice Department has been fighting against it with an antitrust case. Closing arguments just finished and a decision is expected June 12.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, last week Fox said it’s “considering its options” on Sky and is believed to be prepping a sweetened bid. But Comcast is known for (usually) getting what it wants.

But back to Sinclair, which hasn’t been doing itself any favors.

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

So much for localism at a company that already owns or operates an astounding 193 TV stations, in 89 cities, covering a huge part of the American population. (You’ve read the different takes on the numbers.)

This is criticism from The New York Times

from the PBS NewsHour

from USA Today

and even Russia Today

and Al Jazeera English.

But Sinclair fought back against CNN’s criticism (and banned comments from YouTube!):

FTVLive’s Scott Jones showed a memo from Portland, OR – I’m sure one of many around the country – ordering employees not to complain.

katu memo

Notice KyAnn’s name. KyAnn Lewis was the news director until Scott reported today she was fired. No details why, especially in the middle of the May ratings period.

Don’t forget, at least for now, 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.

Since then, The Poynter Institute said Emory University researchers found

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

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

Researchers warned,

“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. … And 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.”

So while everything plays out, from fighting the UHF discount in court, to negotiating spinning off stations, to Fox getting money to buy stations (while keeping its Sinclair affiliates), to counting how long the deal has taken (since May, 2017), to counting how long the steps still to be taken will last, the two companies’ bosses have no public complaints or worries.

Sinclair president and CEO Chris Ripley:

“After a very robust divestiture process, with strong interest from many parties, we have achieved healthy multiples on the stations we are divesting. …While we continue to believe that we had a strong and supportable rationale for not having to divest stations, we are happy to announce this significant step forward in our plan to create a leading broadcast platform with local focus and national reach. The combined company will continue to advance industry technology, including the Next Generation Broadcast Platform, and to benefit from significant revenue and expense synergies.”

Tribune CEO Peter Kern to employees:

“There is no reason to assume that this change won’t be for the better. … So try to focus, as you have always done, on the business at hand—delivering outstanding local journalism and great content for our audiences and communities, collaborating with your colleagues, and driving results for our customers.”

Of course!

Click here for a look at many other Sinclair sins, from must-runs, to forced network preemptions, to the script the local anchors where you may live were forced to read, plus John Oliver’s take on the man in charge of Sinclair holding more licenses than anyone else to broadcast over the public airwaves (at least in TV) despite being “charged with committing a perverted sex act in a company-owned Mercedes” in 1996, according to The Baltimore Sun — and also how to have your say and influence the FCC to deny Sinclair the chance to buy Tribune. Plus, get updates from StopSinclair.com.

Other stories of interest:
Big changes when Sinclair bought Seattle station
Veteran reporter fired after report on climate change
April 18 report DOJ days away from clearing the deal
Sinclair ABC station with no news fires commentator for threatening Parkland teen
Sinclair president/CEO email after forcing anchors to read the script
Top journalism schools voice displeasure with Sinclair
Sinclair allows paid ads attacking it, but sandwiched inside its opinion
Sinclair boss Smith’s response to criticism: ‘You can’t be serious!’
Confessions of a former Sinclair news director
Trump: “So funny to watch Fake News Networks … criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased”
Cincy Councilman says he’s boycotting local Sinclair station
Nick Clooney: ‘I have no idea what these folks are doing for a living, but it isn’t news’
Sinclair Chairman Claims Entire Print Media Has ‘No Credibility’
Sinclair’s “Terrorism Alert Desk” segments are designed to gin up xenophobia
Tom DeLay: Why Trump should block the Sinclair merger
Sinclair TV boss donated to Montana congressman who attacked reporter

Enough of big media controlling everything from corporate headquarters! This is what happens when it does. Locals should be in charge of local programming, following the rules of the FCC for using OUR public airwaves!

OK, since you read everything, I’ll give you John Oliver here!

Please, if you like what you read or watch here, subscribe to CohenConnect.com with either your email address or WordPress account, and get a notice whenever I publish.

Syria, Gaza and the FCC chair babying broadcasters

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

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

old tv sets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ajit Pai fcc wikipedia
Ajit Pai (Wikipedia)

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

And there are more rules to go.

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

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

girl watching tv

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

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

The commissioner said his goal is to

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

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

Jessell also said O’Rielly got “a call from an Ohio broadcaster who said his plans for a Saturday morning news program were ‘derailed’ by the need to make way for children’s programming.” I don’t know which station but will go to go out on a limb and say the news program would be much cheaper using a set already in the studio and an announcer already on staff. And where was the required children’s programming anyway? That’s just my two cents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NO sinclair tribune

It also wrote,

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

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

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

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

You decide.

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

At the end, Pai told the broadcasters,

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

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

That was after, Jessell reported,

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

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

Now to the Israel-Gaza Strip border.

Gaza map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fb0

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

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

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

fb2

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

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

map Duma Douma Syria

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s all considered confirmed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Barack Obama Official White House Photo
Official White House Photo

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

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

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

He told MSNBC,

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

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

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

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

jay solomon wsj

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

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

It said in 2012, President Obama said

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

It also reported,

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

Still no excuse if you draw a red line.

Business Insider concluded,

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

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

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My urge: Follow your conscience, despite the cost

Listen to this.

Ever heard anything so absurd? It’s not “Follow the Leader” because there is no leader. There are local TV news anchors. I don’t think one of them wants to be on the air reciting the crap their corporate bosses ordered them to do. Not even their managers on the job site.

But these local TV news anchors around the country, along with many others, are now reading those nonsense marketing scripts the rulers of Sinclair Broadcast Group demanded, and I’ve written about here and here. Of course, there are plenty more references to Sinclair on this blog, since they’re so awful and there’s so much to reveal.

According to yesterday’s Bloomberg, the statement takes “aim at the integrity of other U.S. media outlets.”

That left many – myself included – wondering why some of the company’s journalists with credibility didn’t just quit.

sinclair numbersSinclair owns or operates an astounding 193 TV stations around the country, in 89 cities, covering about 38 percent of the American population. It has been trying, unsuccessfully so far, to buy a smaller giant, Tribune Media. Let’s hope it stays that way until they fail.

And it seems most of the Sinclair anchors, among the highest paid employees at their stations – which isn’t saying much, depending on location – are angry over the whole thing. They don’t want to do it.

So why are they doing what they’re told, despite the fact they hate everything about it, personally and professionally? Wouldn’t you have more respect for someone who uses their conscience and just says no, regardless of the consequences?

Bloomberg reports,

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

Can you imagine?

And that right to enforce the liquidated damages clause isn’t just a scare tactic.gavel judge

Bloomberg says last Oct. 13, it sued former reporter James Beaton of WPEC-West Palm Beach, Fla., for breach of contract, asking for $5,700 in damages as well as other related costs, according to a copy of the complaint filed in state court.

He “quit in 2015 to start a public-relations firm, leaving the news industry entirely,” after being “ordered to do ‘man on the street’ interviews that he felt were politically biased.”

The company’s bias is well-known. Add breach of contract penalties and that says to me, don’t work for Sinclair!

Bloomberg followed up.

“He said Sinclair offered to settle its lawsuit three months ago for $1,700 but demanded he sign a gag order promising not to talk to the press about Sinclair. ‘I told them to go jump in a lake,’ he said.”

Good for him!

As for the damage clauses, Bloomberg cited several employment lawyers as saying they’re rare for regular employees but

“more common in the broadcast industry, specifically when dealing with on-air talent. The clause serves to protect companies from costs associated with replacing an anchor who suddenly leaves, for example. Yet at Sinclair, at least some employees who never appeared on television were still required to sign such contracts, the former employees said.”

money dollars centsOn top of “the potential financial penalty,” there are forced non-compete clauses in contracts that mean employees must sit out and cannot go to the competition. In other words, they will have to move to a whole new city if they want to collect a paycheck. Luckily, states like California, Montana, North Dakota and Oklahoma ban them for the most part. I believe Missouri did a few years back, and Utah took action over the past few weeks.

Furthermore, there is forced arbitration which means no sympathetic jury for the employee.

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

But there’s no shortage of information.

Journalists, as natural storytellers, have put Sinclair under major scrutiny by having them share the same scripted, anti-media talking points around the country.

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

So much for communications! If a Sinclair reporter wants to talk to you, then don’t talk to them. If there is negative information about the company, shouldn’t it come clean? Not in this business!

Don’t forget Sinclair is conservative not impartial like newscasts are supposed to be. President Trump appointed Ajit Pai Federal Communications Commission chairman, and he’s under investigation for improperly pushing for rule changes to benefit Sinclair Broadcasting in its attempt to acquire Tribune Media.

jared kushner hillary clinton

And, 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.

Yesterday, The Huffington Post reported,

“Such efforts include promoting favorable coverage of Trump’s 2016 campaign and requiring affiliates to air conservative commentaries by Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump adviser.”

Back in January, I wrote:

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

So you decide on Sinclair’s push to conservatism, based on what you’ve seen here, or if you live in a market where there’s a Sinclair station. By the way, that’s a whole lot of the country!

sinclair before tribune
Sinclair territory, before it buys Tribune

It also fits nicely with what President Trump tweeted about the networks yesterday:

This is what he tweeted Monday:

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

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

And thanks again to FTV Live’s Scott Jones who found this gem from WGN-TV executive producer Jeff Hoover, whose Tribune station is technically not supposed to be bought by Sinclair, but instead by the chairman of Baltimore-based Atlantic Capital Group who’s a business partner of Sinclair executive chairman David Smith.

Oh, the price? A mere $60 million, rather than hundreds of millions for a highly-rated station in a big city like Chicago!

Who do you think will pull the strings? Same story in so many other cities where shell corporations, some almost entirely owned by the Smith family, hold the licenses that let Sinclair operate more stations than the rules allow.

Ethics? I think not. Overly controlling from the home office? Absolutely!

Yesterday afternoon, The Huffington Post reported,

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

Click here for more and to read the entire Sinclair employee handbook.

The publication says,

“Labor lawyers tell HuffPost such language is common in workplace handbooks and contracts. But Sinclair employees say the company’s culture and behavior have made them particularly mindful of such policies.”

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

Plus,

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

And so many of the anchors who have to read the propaganda say they feel awful.

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

“The Sinclair message you saw me and my colleagues in has damaged the trust you place in us — a trust that’s taken, me in particular, 22 years to build. That hurts. … I could have chosen to quit, but who among us has an alternate career in their back pocket ready to go? …I have a family to support. That’s not an excuse — that’s reality.”

(Full disclosure: Her boss wanted to hire me in Detroit in 2000 or 2001. Nice guy. This isn’t his fault.)

Then there’s Sinclair executive chairman David Smith, telling New York magazine yesterday,

“He dislikes and fundamentally distrusts the print media, which he believes ‘serves no real purpose.’ In emails to New York, Smith said that print — as in newspapers and magazines — is a reality-distorting tool of leftists. Print media, he said, has “no credibility” and no relevance.”

Yeah, so his company’s newscasts are where Americans should get their information about current events? Not newspapers with bigger staffs and specialists? Not TV or radio networks with people with decades of experience, some whom even covered Martin Luther King’s assassination 50 years ago tonight?

No, he forces his TV stations to go off on everyone else. What a bastard, who inherited the company from his daddy!

His earlier experience was as a partner at Ciné Processors, a bootleg porn manufacturer owned by his father Julian Sinclair Smith’s company, the Commercial Radio Institute, according to a 2005 story in Rolling Stone. Like father, like son.

David Smith even goes beyond Trump when it comes to not wanting publicity.

New York communicated with Smith in mid-November, after requesting an interview.”

“Appreciate the interest in your wanting to do a story but we don’t talk to the print media as a general principal as we find them to be so devoid of reality and serving no real purpose. Have a great holiday,” Smith said in response. Later, he added, “Again my experience has consistently been that even with an interview it’s of no consequence in terms of spin, facts or distortion, political bent etc. The print media is so left wing as to be meaningless dribble which accounts for why the industry is and will fade away. Just no credibility. see ya.”

Then, “When New York asked Smith if he’d be open to meeting off the record at least, he replied, ‘I have also learned that there is no such thing as off the record. Bye.’”

FTV Live’s Scott Jones points out it was print media that reported on Smith’s arrest for committing a perverted sex act in a company-owned Mercedes a dozen years ago.

I wrote, less than a month ago:

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?

Jones concluded sarcastically, “But I’m sure that has nothing to do with his thoughts on how print does their job.”

Personally, I’d call his role in programming over the public airwaves into question.

Last year, you saw Last Week Tonight With John Oliver go off on the problems with Sinclair and how it shouldn’t be allowed to buy Tribune. You can watch it again here.

Now, HBO’s Oliver is at it again. (Parental warning about language!)

So Sinclair Senior Vice President of News Scott Livingston sent a memo to staff:

“There is a lot of noise out there about our company right now, and what is lacking in that analysis is something we constantly preach; context and perspective. The critics are now upset about our well-researched journalistic initiative focused on fair and objective reporting. … We are focused on fact-based reporting. That’s our commitment to our communities. That’s the goal of these announcements: to reiterate our commitment to reporting facts in a pursuit of truth. A new Monmouth University Poll out today says Americans are concerned, in fact, 77 percent of the respondents believe “fake news” is reported at least occasionally in mainstream media. https://www.monmouth.edu/polling-institute/reports/monmouthpoll_us_040218/. This is a concern that is shared by Democrats, Republicans and Independents. This poll underscores the importance of our journalistic responsibility effort. We hold ourselves to the highest standards of accuracy and fact checking.”

FTV’s Scott Jones has the rest of Livingston’s dribble here. I will say Livingston has a point about former Democratic political operative and advisor George Stephanopoulos anchoring on ABC, and NBC’s Chris Matthews’ past serving on the staffs of four Democratic members of Congress, as a presidential speechwriter during the Carter administration, and spending six years as Chief of Staff to longtime House Speaker Tip O’Neill (although he has said, “I’m more conservative than people think I am. … I voted for George W. in 2000.”).

I’m not a fan of anybody going from politics to impartial news anchoring (Stephanopoulos), although an analyst position is OK when the analysis is necessary to put the news into perspective.

Jones proves critics like him absolutely do “original journalism” (Livingston’s term) with a list of his own exclusives about the not-so-clean company here.

Considering Sinclair’s power and how much more it wants to buy, we’ll see how much longer local news organizations remain the most trusted source of information in Pew Research Center’s polling on trust in media.vince leonard 1958 bcast pioneers

I doubt legendary KYW-TV anchor Vince Leonard of Philadelphia, who recently died, would’ve put his reputation on the line, reading what Sinclair is telling its anchors to do. He left town in 1980, but I’ve heard wonderful things from people who worked with him and are still working there today.Nick Clooney wikipedia

The Cincinnati Enquirer asked Nick Clooney, who used to anchor at WKRC in the Queen City, and he said, “I have no idea what these folks are doing for a living, but it isn’t news.”

He added the concept of a scripted editorial not identified as scripted wouldn’t have happened in the 1970s or 1980s when he anchored at that station, now owned by Sinclair. He said sure, station owners would give editorials, but they’d give the editorials themselves, not tell anchors to read it for them.

How many of you have ever quit a decent-paying job over ethics? Care to share?

On a similar note are people at Philadelphia’s Fox TV station bragging about what a wonderful job they did, so high on themselves for working so hard covering snow, just like journalists were all over the region.

chris march 7 snow

But where were they when the bigger storm hit on March 21? Too scared to be live on-air like the competition? (I did comment to that above post, asking where they were during the bigger snowstorm, but that got taken down. How dare someone question their collective news judgment? I don’t know if the poster was asked to take it down, or did so on his own. I know it was up for at least a few days and nobody can deny the truth simply by deleting it.)

I don’t know about “the best content in Philly” since I wasn’t watching four TVs at once. In fact, I was working and hardly watched anything but I’m sure every station had its exclusive, great, memorable reporting moments.

However, if I had my choice, would I want to work at the station that does news “at likely half the staff & budget of competitors” or a station that wants to win, and pulls out all stops to do so?

The fact is, there are some very good people there who are smart, experienced and connected, and out-report others. Too bad they’re hardly seen – a “distant fourth” and repeat it again like the newspaper did, compared to stations 1, 2 and 3 – because the bosses only pay for “likely half the staff & budget of competitors.”

I’ve always striven to be the best and encourage others. How the people in charge can be happy with their competitive performance and keep their jobs while not doing the best for the people of the region is a shame – but as I’ve said time and time again, it’s profits before people. Oh, and an office twice the size it had been when I started there!

Meanwhile, I hope they have to strain tomorrow to cover both the Villanova championship parade and Phillies home opener. They better hope no other news happens with “likely half the staff.”

I think I’m going to use those insider lines regularly!

And since I like to end on a good note, The TV Answer Man,Phillip Swann, reports the newly-sold Weather Channel has expanded its live coverage by up to 10 minutes an hour! That means less recorded reality programming.

weather channel logo

The article says, “It’s unknown if the new owner influenced the change in programming strategy.”

“Many of you have told us that you want to see more of our trusted weather coverage and we’ve taken note,” viewers who subscribe to its newsletter read, Sunday. “Starting tomorrow (April 3), we will be extending our live coverage by up to 10 minutes per hour, giving you a chance to dig even deeper into the weather affecting you each day.”

That means collapsing “our Local On the 8s so that they run during our live segments. Where you use to see our traditional Local On the 8s segments, you will see the same weather information displayed on the right side and/or bottom of the screen.”

They had always run during breaks from the channel’s live coverage.

byron allen

The move comes just two weeks after comedian and entrepreneur Byron Allen acquired The Weather Channel from Comcast, Blackstone Group and Bain Capital for approximately $300 million, according to Bloomberg News.

Just hope none of the meteorologists visit your town for work-related purposes!

Philadelphia is expecting snow on Saturday.