Several weeks ago, a viral compilation of local news hosts hit the internet. With a smartly edited and clear message, the local reporters from across the country were repeating, verbatim, from a script. They were all employed by Sinclair Broadcast Group, headquartered in Maryland.
Ironically, the topic was fake news, and like drones, these newscasters read — some with personality, some dry — about its dangers, about how they pride themselves in reporting facts. “This is extremely dangerous to our democracy,” they said one after the other.
So, too, is Sinclair.
Concentrated power and corporatism have made what should be a good cause — a representative of conservative media, which is sorely underrepresented — into the very thing they fear: bloated, monopolistic and dangerous. American conservatism has always been centered on a healthy disregard for all concentrations of power, beginning with the British Empire.
President Donald Trump, with his characteristic knack of being more provocateur than leader, had tweeted recently, “Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.” Mr. President, while you may think so, there is a serious problem here beyond them being Not-CNN or Not-NBC. Just because they aren’t liberal doesn’t make them safe.
Sinclair is set to merge with Tribune Media, with a $3.9 billion purchase. What reach they had prior would only expand, almost double. Bad move, as it has united both Left and Right media organizations against them.
Again, conservative media are lacking, so when people like Christopher Ruddy at Newsmax or Glenn Beck, or One America News in San Diego, or even the Republican former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, you know there is trouble for the Right. Civil war is especially bad for a rare breed like conservative media, but some wars are necessary.
Newsmax’s CEO Christopher Ruddy puts it simply: “It’s going to give them enormous reach — 70 percent of the country — and it’s going to dwarf anything else in scale that’s on cable news or any of the major TV networks right now. And it’s a danger to not only liberals but also to Republicans and conservatives.”
To boot, not only is such a concentration of corporate power dangerous for the American mind, but it’s also dangerous to our very economic ideology. Capitalism guarantees fair competition. Where is that, when 70 percent of the media are under one man in Maryland?
Starter companies or the relatively unknown news outlets would suffer and be stomped on by the giant’s foot. Newsmax? Kiss it goodbye. One America News? Sayonara. These organizations provide genuine news precisely because they are not caught up under anything.
“Why are you saying this?” some defenders may say. “You yourself admitted that conservatives are fighting a losing battle against the liberal media. Do you want more liberals to control the media? Because that is what will happen!”
Response: Let’s play a game. Imagine, if you will, that the ideologies were switched. Let’s say Sinclair Broadcast Group didn’t come from Maryland, but from Silicon Valley. They’re liberal, not afraid of it, not going to change that. And here they are, taking up 70 percent of all available news. What would you say?
There’d be a conservative outcry. There’d be calls for investigations. This isn’t about ideology; it’s about fair competition. Would you really think it possible for other conservative channels to fairly compete against the behemoth?
French economist Frédéric Bastiat, a champion of free-market economy who created the so-called parable of the broken window about opportunity costs, once noted, “Competition is merely the absence of oppression.” If Sinclair were to get its way, competition would drastically plummet, oppression rising in its ashes.
We want our local news to be local, not corporate and dictated from Washington and New York. If we get corporate news in the guise of local, then where, truly, is the local news?
Luckily, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) can still stop this merger and keep the limit on how many homes any one television network can reach. Before the acquisition is complete, it must be approved by both the FCC and the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Newsmax, throwing itself in the ring, issued a petition to dismiss the merger. “Democracy demands access to a panoply of voices from a variety of viewpoints,” the outlet said in the petition. “If this transaction is approved, the FCC will allow a single entity to reach 72 percent of U.S. households, operate 233 local broadcast stations (78 more than the its nearest competitor), and broadcast in 108 local markets (including key markets like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Dallas).”
Conservatives, along with Trump, have benefited tremendously from local media across red state America by a diverse media not controlled by New York media mavens. Local television news still remains the way most voters get local news, and there is yet to emerge any serious internet competition in these local markets.
Congress, the FCC, and DOJ should stop the Sinclair deal and press for a free, fair and diverse press.
The First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press. No one should dispute that. But Sinclair is going beyond a news organization and becoming something monstrous, too big for its own good. The public airwaves are limited, and Sinclair wants to be one of the dominant players as NBC, CBS, and ABC quickly follow suit by scooping up local TV stations.
Inevitably, fair competition will be stomped down and simply be unable to survive. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
Congress, the FCC, and DOJ should stop the Sinclair deal and press for a free, fair and diverse press. We all win under those rules.
Craig Shirley is a New York Times best-selling author and presidential historian. He has written four books on President Ronald Reagan, along with his latest book, “Citizen Newt: The Making of a Reagan Conservative,” about the early career of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. He lectures frequently at the Reagan Library and is the Visiting Reagan Scholar at Eureka College in Illinois, the 40th president’s alma mater. He also wrote the critically acclaimed “December 1941.”
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