Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Station in chain buying Tribune TV stations refused to share reports on Gianforte's assault on reporter

Greg Gianforte (Billings Gazette photo)
U.S. Rep.-elect Greg Gianforte and Republican leaders are trying to move on after Gianforte admitted to attacking a reporter on the eve of Montana's special election, and one media conglomerate is helping.

Gianforte apologized during his victory speech on Thursday, as he kept Montana's sole House seat in Republican hands. He faced misdemeanor assault charges for allegedly throwing the Guardian's Ben Jacobs to the ground and breaking his glasses, James Hohmann writes for The Washington Post. After his victory, Republican leaders such as Speaker Paul Ryan and President Trump stood behind Gianforte.

The Montana NBC affiliate reportedly refused to cover the Gianforte story at all on Wednesday night, Hohmann writes. Sources at the network appear to have contacted New York magazine’s Yashar Ali to complain: "KECI news director Julie Weindel was called by NBC News to see if KECI would cover the story or had any footage of the Gianforte incident that NBC News and its affiliates could use. ... She was unyielding in her refusal to share any footage she may have had access to, or run a report on the story. ... Weindel said that they weren’t covering the story, though it was running in outlets across the country at the time, explaining, 'The person that tweeted [Jacobs] and was allegedly body slammed is a reporter for a politically biased publication.' Weindel then added, 'You are on your own for this.'"

Conservative media conglomerate Sinclair Broadcasting acquired the station last month. Sinclair recently struck a deal with Tribune Media to buy dozens of local TV stations. "Already, Sinclair is the largest owner of local TV stations in the nation. If the $3.9 billion deal gets regulatory approval, Sinclair would have seven of every 10 Americans in its potential audience," Margaret Sullivan wrote in a Washington Post column May 21. That would leave Sinclair with 215 stations, including some in big markets such as Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago. To date, it has 173 stations. "There’s no reason to think that the FCC’s new chairman, Ajit Pai, will stand in the way. Already, his commission has reinstated a regulatory loophole — closed under his predecessor, Tom Wheeler — that allows a single corporation to own more stations than the current 39 percent nationwide cap," Sullivan explains.

"When Sinclair bought Washington’s WJLA-TV in 2014, the new owners quickly moved the station to the right," Sullivan writes. "It added conservative commentary pieces from a Sinclair executive, Mark Hyman, and public affairs programming with conservative hosts. And Sinclair regularly sends 'must-run' segments to its stations across the country. One example: an opinion piece by a Sinclair executive that echoed President Trump’s slam at the national news media and what he calls the 'fake news' they produce."

Many of Sinclair's stations are in small or medium-sized markets in battleground states such as Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, even bragged, according to Politico, that the campaign cut a deal with the media conglomerate for uninterrupted coverage of some Trump appearances.

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