Over the weekend, it was revealed that Sinclair Broadcast Group, the right-wing company that has been buying up local TV stations, filmed a video where they forced all their news anchors, across all affiliates, to read from the same script, which reads in part:
“We’re concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media…
“Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’…This is extremely dangerous to a democracy.”
These remarks are brazen hypocrisy of the highest order. For the past year, several outlets have tracked the rise of Sinclair, with Mother Jones‘ Andy Kroll calling it “Trump TV.” They regularly force anchors across affiliates to air “must-run” stories, which can range from deep state conspiracy theories to the ravings of Trump associate Boris Epshteyn, and cover the President without barely any negativity – which is why it should come as no surprise that, in the 2016 election, Jared Kushner struck a deal with them to run exclusive interviews with Trump free of commentary.
But this morning, during one of his regular tweetstorms, Trump took a moment to defend Sinclair right after CNN aired a segment showing the corporation’s newscasters reading this script in unison:
So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased. Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 2, 2018
This is one of the most disgraceful tweets the President has sent out, and that is saying something. It isn’t just him saying that everything he hates is “fake news,” as he so often does. It’s that he’s praising a network that has no reason for existing other than to serve as his Pravda, telling him exactly what he wants to hear while dismissing the work of reporters who, under the protection of the First Amendment, shine a light on the truth. Presidents before Trump have never cast aspersion on media they don’t like this way, even though his predecessors have had reason to fear the great muckrakers of the past. Trump differs from them in his pathological fear of the truth, which has led to his “fake news” talking point.
The rise of Sinclair Media also represents the logical endpoint for the right-wing media game. If the truth, to paraphrase Stephen Colbert, has a liberal bias, then bottom feeders like Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson should have lost their jobs years ago. But as the base grew crazier and more openly xenophobic, businessmen like Sinclair VP Scott Livingston have found an opening for themselves to not only give them what they want but also to gobble up local stations and force them to broadcast their propaganda so that hapless viewers are denied any chance to think critically about the issues facing them today; instead, hearing it from talking heads paid to parrot what the government wants them to. The whole thing couldn’t be more transparent, but that’s conservatism today: an ideology of selfishness that consoles the victimhood of its adherents by giving them someone to blame.
The United States has long been a bastion for the free press, but under Trump, it has come to resemble the right-wing countries where such occurrences are normal. When Trump tweeted today in support of Sinclair, he endorsed their attempts to normalize him by forcing its newscasters to sing his praises, bringing himself one step closer to resembling the fascist tyrants that he admires so much.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.