Sinclair Is Bad for Democracy. So Are Other Media Monopolies.

Remember when right-wing media company Sinclair Broadcast Group took over 40 percent of local TV news stations? The results are beginning to speak for themselves:

This is only the most chilling and most recent example of the company enforcing its Trumpist ideological views on its local subsidiaries:

The broadcaster has aligned itself with the Trump administration: In addition to the “one-sided news” script featured last week, Sinclair stations are also required to run political commentary from the network’s chief political analyst, Boris Epshteyn. Epshteyn previously worked for the Trump White House and Trump’s 2016 campaign.

The Post-Intelligencer noted that another must-run segment aired on KOMO last week featured former Trump White House official Sebastian Gorka. (During a panel on Sinclair-owned WJLA in October, Gorka lamented “black Africans” killing each other “by the bushel” in Chicago.)

Gorka, Post-Intelligencer reported, spoke about an alleged “deep state” attempting to undermine the Trump presidency. The segment’s producer, according to the report, was Kristine Frazao, who before working for Sinclair was a reporter and anchor for the Russian state-owned network RT.

Sinclair doesn’t dare push too far too fast for fear of backlash, but make no mistake that these are merely the beginning trial balloons. Sinclair began insisting on these segments, and local stations would come up with ways around it, including by airing the segments in the wee hours of the mornings. Sinclair has gotten wise to that and is demanding prime newstime spots. The intrusions will become ever more propagandistic and severe as time goes on.

What’s all the more galling about this is the decades-long conservative complaint about a liberal media cabal, when back on planet Earth the only media cabals are explicitly conservative. Fox News exists as a fact-free conservative talking point organ, and sits much further to the right than MSNBC does to the left (let me know when Fox News devotes three hours of daytime programming to a Democratic Congressmember turned insufferable talking head.) The New York Times and Washington Post opinion sections are far more equitably balanced ideologically than the Wall Street Journal’s. You would have to look at alt weeklies to see anything even approaching a left-leaning equivalent of the numerous explicitly right-wing tabloid and conservative publications like National Enquirer and Washington Times. Clear Channel Communications have gone out of their way to suffocate progressive voices while elevating an army of Rush Limbaughs, Laura Ingrahams and all of their clones. The farthest left station you can find outside of a few large urban enclaves is NPR and, well, NPR stations don’t actually devote much airtime devote to actual politics, the content is painfully he-said she-said, and if you value progressive viewpoints you should probably tune out when Marketplace comes on.

The real threats to consolidated control of the media come from the right, not from the left.

Conservatives have always painted themselves as the poor benighted victims of the very same tactics they use most often. Media control is no different.

Preserving democracy will require breaking up the monopolistic corporate control of media across all media platforms. Facebook and Google must control far less of our news. Sinclair must be broken up and local news content remanded back to local control. Clear Channel must be broken apart, and a greater variety of voices must be allowed to flourish while AM/FM radio is still a part of people’s media diets. The very few corporations that control the vast majority of our news and programming must forced to break apart as well.

Only then will a true diversity of voices be born, and only then will both the right and left be comfortable in the knowledge that no media cabal is exerting control over our democracy.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.