Sinclair preps to challenge Fox News
The company has met with former Fox staffers as it awaits approval of its merger with Tribune Media.
By JASON SCHWARTZ
05/03/2018 02:35 PM EDT
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.
Sinclair executive chairman David 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, according to a person familiar with the meetings.
Sinclair currently owns the Tennis Channel, and, as part of the $3.9 billion Tribune deal pending before the Federal Communications Commission, would acquire WGN America, a cable network that currently reaches 80 million homes.
Smith, who has been personally involved in at least some of the meetings, still appears to be working through several aspects of the plan, including which of those networks would house his news and opinion programming. He has been discussing 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., just down the road from Sinclair headquarters in Baltimore, said the person familiar with the discussions. The company already owns local Washington station WJLA, where it produces some of its national content.
The meetings conflict with past statements by Sinclair, denying interest in a national news platform. CEO Chris Ripley told Variety last summer, “After we acquired Allbritton [Communications] in 2014, we looked hard at launching a national cable news channel, but we decided the world didn’t need another cable news platform. ... Our strength is local news. The market for national cable news is very well served.”
Sinclair did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Smith’s meetings with cable-news figures have sparked chatter in media circles, including speculation about which current or former Fox News personalities might join a new Sinclair network.
“They are taking meetings, and they’re laying out what their plans are,” said one television news agent, adding that word of Sinclair’s meetings is starting to make its way around the industry.
One apparent Sinclair target is former Fox News host Greta Van Susteren, who left the network in September 2016 and then had a short stint at MSNBC before signing on with Voice of America. Van Susteren wrote in an email that she has spoken with Smith.
“I am intellectually challenged by my weekly VOA show, which broadcasts all over the world and is translated into many languages, including Farsi (airs in Iran), Mandarin etc.,” Van Susteren wrote. “I do know [executive chairman] David Smith and have over time spoken to him. 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.”
Sinclair, which owns local news stations across the country, has stirred controversy by forcing its stations to air conservative “must-run” commentary, and the company sparked outrage at the end of March by requiring local news anchors to read a promotional script that echoed lines from President Donald Trump bashing the media.
Any news and opinion block would likely feature a similar tone and perspective. While Smith’s plans are not yet firm, there is also potential for some news reporting mixed into the block, which could provide a counterbalance to conservative commentary, much the same way Fox News points to its daytime news programming to argue that that it is “fair and balanced,” said the agent.
“If you want to stunt or counter the narrative that you’re going to outflank Fox on the right, you start trying to convince people you have some good talent on the reportorial side,” the agent said. Other potential hires are former Fox anchor Eric Bolling and reporter James Rosen, who both declined to address whether they’ve met with Smith or other Sinclair executives.
The New York Post reported Wednesday night that Bolling, who has just signed on to do a show with digital streaming network Conservative Review TV, has also been in talks with MSNBC, Newsmax and Sinclair. A person familiar with Bolling’s situation said that the CRTV job would not preclude a return to television.
“I’ve had meetings with several different media groups, let’s just leave it at that,” said Bolling, who left Fox News in September amid a sexual harassment probe.
Rosen would also come with baggage. Shortly after he left in December, NPR reported that Rosen was facing harassment accusations. But Sinclair has shown a willingness to stomach those sort of complications. Last fall, reports emerged that the network had talked with former Fox host Bill O’Reilly, though those discussions fell apart and O’Reilly no longer appears to be on the table.
Over the past several months, Fox News seems to have been girding itself for a challenge from the right, installing pro-Trump stalwart Laura Ingraham in its prime-time lineup last fall and then standing by her through a recent advertiser boycott sparked by her statements about Parkland-shooting survivor David Hogg. Fox has also maneuvered its website more to the right.
“I think they’re very concerned about it,” said the agent, speaking of Sinclair’s threat. “They don’t let on, but they are.”
Fox News did not respond to request for comment.
Fox News is currently in more than 90 million homes, compared to 80 million for WGN America and 55 million for the Tennis Channel. But, if the Tribune deal goes through, Sinclair will own more than 200 stations reaching 72 percent of U.S. TV viewers, giving it tremendous leverage to negotiate with cable providers to carry their networks.
Sinclair has said it anticipates the Tribune merger will close near the end of the second quarter of this year.
Fox News Is Most Trusted News Source in Trump's America—As Faith In Media Plummets
By Graham Lanktree On 1/16/18 at 6:00 AM
President Donald Trump plans to announce his “fake news” awards Wednesday. These dishonors are being handed out by the Commander-in-Chief at a time when more and more Americans believe they can’t trust the media while also believing it is more important than ever to hold powerful people—like the president—to account.
The news is “critical” or “very important” to preserving democracy, according to 80 percent of the more than 19,000 American adults surveyed for a new Gallup/Knight Foundation study published Tuesday. Yet less than half said they could pick out a news source they believe is objective.
Fox News—far above of The New York Times, CNN, and the BBC—is the most objective source, according to 24 percent Americans surveyed for the study. Although that percentage is low, the other outlets scored much lower. Fox News' rating is largely due to the network’s dominant position among Republicans (60 percent of whom say it is objective) and their near complete distrust of other sources.
In a speech Wednesday, Republican Senator Jeff Flake is set to compare Trump’s distribution of the “fake news” awards to something that would happen under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
A majority of Americans said that social media and “fake news”—or false stories—are wreaking havoc on people’s perceptions of what’s true and helping polarize American society. Seventy-three percent of respondents to the study said the spread of inaccurate information or “fake news” online is a major problem.
Trump is also playing a role in undermining what trust remains, experts say. “There's no question the president plays a large role in cultivating this climate of distrust,” Gleb Tsipursky, an assistant professor of history at The Ohio State University, who studies emotions, decision-making, social control, and civic engagement, tells Newsweek.
Before Trump arrived on the political scene, from about 2004 to 2014, Tsipursky points out, Republican trust in the media hovered above 30 percent. Trump’s repeated accusations of “fake news” against mainstream media organizations during the 2016 presidential election saw that number drop to 14 percent.
“For the Republicans, for his supporters, he has a very large impact in undermining trust and I mean to such an extent that their trust in the media has fallen by more than half,” Tsipursky says.
Among Trump’s supporters, Tsipursky points out, the president’s hostility toward the media manifests itself in a behavioral science phenomenon known as “emotional contagion” where they adopt his attitudes and emotions. “So it would be incredibly surprising if Trump's attacks on the media weren't playing a large role in the emotions of his followers,” he says
Last weekend The Wall Street Journal, which has a slight right-wing tilt, published an audio recording of an interview with Trump after he accused the publication of misquoting him. Even with an audio recording and transcripts, the White House and conservative pundits continued to argue the paper was inaccurate.
The “fake news” awards the president plans to hand out on Wednesday will institutionalize this war on the mainstream media, says Tsipursky.
Simply by repeating Trump’s statements on everything from Muslims to NATO, many of which are verifiably false, journalists are helping sow misinformation, wrote George Lakoff, an author and retired professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, who studied the application of cognitive linguistics to politics, in a blog post last Saturday.
“Unfortunately, many intelligent people—including Democrats and journalists—ignore the findings of the cognitive and brain sciences,” Lakoff wrote, indicating that repetition of falsehoods is one of the key ways they spread. Among other strategies, he proposes that individual citizens and journalists take up the task of repeating the truth so it gets out.
According to the Knight Foundation study, however, Americans say that regardless of accurate information being available, they feel the media environment is awash with so many competing stories they are having trouble finding the truth. Some 58 percent say the multitude of information sources, including those online, make it harder than ever to find out what is accurate.
“Social media is a terrible, terrible source,” says Tsipursky, who points out that it allows misinformation to spread like wildfire. This is problematic, he says, when two-thirds of Americans say they now rely on social media to get their news. We’re seeing “disruptions in the information systems” that stood for decades, he argues.
Mainstream sources like Fox News, he says, are more and more taking up conspiracy theories that have germinated on social media and giving them oxygen. Tsipursky points to a retracted story by Fox about the murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, whom the network falsely tied to Russia’s hacking of the Democratic party.
Democrats also spread misinformation online, including stories that speculate about Trump’s mental health and calls for his resignation because he is mentally unfit for office, Tsipursky says. Other misinformation has included Hillary Clinton’s false claim that ID laws in Wisconsin cost her voters.
To fight “fake news” and try to begin rebuilding faith in public institutions, Tsipursky co-founded the Pro-Truth Pledge (PTP), a series of 12 ways that behavioral science researchers have identified to find those who value truthfulness.
Some of the behaviors include fact-checking information before sharing it, displaying balance by acknowledging and sharing information that doesn’t back your opinion, defending others who speak the truth, and changing your opinion if new facts become available. By doing this, through what behavioral science calls the “network effect,” people can influence their friends and neighbors to seek out the truth.
Most people, Tsipursky says, are overconfident about their ability to separate fact from “fake news” and that it’s up to each of us to put in the effort to find and foster the truth in our society.
Republicans responding to the Knight Foundation survey agree. Fifty-three percent said each individual citizen is responsible for staying informed.
The media, Tsipursky says, can only take responsibility for things that they can control, such as inaccurate clickbait headlines and how stories are written, but it’s not as though they can police the information environment.
Right now that environment is polluted, Tsipursky says, much like the ecological environment, and everyone needs to practice truth-seeking behaviors—in the way people practice recycling or composting—to clean it up.
“Our information ecosystem is broken right now. Everyone needs to take personal accountability for trust,” he says. If you’re not, “you’re part of the problem.”
Retracted or not, where is his proof that FOX' story is erroneous? I believe that he has none, which is likely the same reason that FOX retracted, not because it is not true, just because they cannot, at this moment, prove it. Soon, I hope... So is Tipursky not spreading fake news?
At any rate I will welcome another correct leaning news channel. Also, I predict that during the time periods where FOX has lefty hosts, like Shep Smith, ratings will plummet!