On Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver took on Sinclair Broadcast Group, “the most influential media company that you’ve never heard of.”
The media giant is in the process of shelling out $4 billion for Tribune Media’s 42 local TV stations. The move would make Sinclair the owner of the most local stations in the U.S. The purchase is still awaiting government approval.
What may on the surface seem like a typical corporate acquisition actually has dire consquences for our local news, Oliver says.
“Local news fills an important role, finding stories that national news is missing. This show uses local news all the time,” Oliver told viewers.
And Sinclair, if you didn’t know, has a very conservative agenda. It’s an agenda that they’ve taken serious steps to inflect into their news coverage across all their media platforms (the company also runs a digital subsidiary called Circa).
“As best we can tell, no other major owner of TV stations distributes its own commentary segments to run during local news,” Oliver says.
These segments, called “must-runs”, include commentary from a guy named Mark Hyman, who does standing monologues— called “The Point” discussing the “cancer” that is multiculturalism, how marriage can reduce domestic violence, and championing the NFL franchise name the Washington Red Skins.
In fact, Sinclair’s chief political analyst is Boris Epshteyn, a former senior adviser to Donald Trump, and a big fan of spreading the Republican point-of-view.
“Do Trump surrogates even know why they are lying, or are they driven by some vague instinct, like when a cat sits inside a box?” Oliver joked.
Oliver warned that with this Tribune takeover, Sinclair will possibly be “injecting Fox-worthy content into the mouths of your local news anchors.”
In fact, last week many of their stations ran a “must run” that tried to spin a story that the FBI had a personal vendetta that led them to pursue their investigation into Michael Flynn. “There is real power in hearing your trusted local news anchors using ‘FBI’ and ‘personal vendetta’ in a sentence,” says Oliver. “If those same newscasters used ‘Daniel Stern’ and ‘explosive ejaculation’ in the same sentence, you could never watch Home Alone the same way again.”
But stations are fighting back. KOMO in Seattle, for example, is airing its “must-runs” at times when the station has the lowest viewership, like 5 a.m.
But the fact remains, if the Sinclair deal goes through, conservatively-biased content is going to be making its way into your local news, perhaps sometimes in ways that aren’t as obvious as a commentator hotly breathing into the camera about social justice snowflakes.
“You should find out who owns your local stations and bare that in mind as you watch,” Oliver said.
Last Week Tonight even put together a fantastic PSA for any Tribune channel that might be preparing to be bought by Sinclair. Featuring the Soprano’s Steve Schirripa (he played Bobby Baccalieri) standing in front of a green-screened America flag, the PSA warns viewers that the channel they are watching might soon show a lot of biased content other than the usual, “weather, sports, i-team investigations, and human interest stories featuring cute animals.”
You can watch the whole segment below: