Two months before Monday’s announcement that Sinclair Broadcast Group would pay $3.9 billion for Tribune Media and add to its dominance as the nation’s largest owner of local TV stations, a top executive at Sinclair beamed a short commentary piece to many of the company’s 173 stations.
In the segment, which looks like it belongs in a newscast, Sinclair vice president for news Scott Livingston stands before a wall of video monitors and warns that “some members of the national media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think.” He accuses the national media of publishing “fake news stories” — a direct echo of President Trump’s frequent complaint — and then asks viewers to visit the station’s website to share “content concerns.”
The piece was a “must-run,” meaning news directors and station managers from Baltimore to Seattle had to find room for it. While other station owners also push “must-runs,” typically station promotions, Sinclair appears unique among broadcasters for what some analysts see as a political slant to its programming — from news coverage and must-runs sent by headquarters critical of Democrats to last month’s hiring of Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump White House official, as Sinclair’s chief political analyst.
In Seattle, where Sinclair owns KOMO-TV, some newsroom staffers complained to their union that the must-run spot interfered with their jobs as journalists.
“The must-runs look like they are part of the news,” David Twedell, business manager of a local camera workers’ union in Seattle, said. “And they’re clearly not.”