Why conservatives should oppose the Sinclair-Tribune media merger

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Tribune Media Co. shareholders have approved the company’s takeover by Sinclair Broadcast Group. | AP file photo

A few weeks ago, a compilation of video clips of local news hosts hit the internet. The TV journalists, though working in different markets across the country, were repeating, verbatim, the same scripted commentary.

They all were employed by Sinclair Broadcast Group.

Ironically, the topic of their Sinclair-dictated commentary was fake news and, like drones, the newscasters read — some with personality, some dry — about its dangers, and about how they pride themselves in reporting facts. “This is extremely dangerous to our democracy,” they said, one after the other.

So too would be an engorged Sinclair.

OPINION

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 conservatives 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 Trump, with his characteristic knack for 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 Sinclair being Not-CNN or Not-NBC. Just because Sinclair isn’t liberal doesn’t make them safe.

Sinclair is set to acquire Tribune Media, whose flagship TV station is WGN in Chicago, with a $3.9 billion purchase. What reach Sinclair has prior to the purchase will 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 prominent conservatives like CEO Christopher Ruddy at Newsmax or Glenn Beck, or One America News in San Diego, or even Republican former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay express the same objections to the merger, 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.

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.”

Not only is such a concentration of corporate power dangerous for the American mind, it’s also dangerous to our very economic ideology. Capitalism guarantees fair competition.

Starter companies or the relatively unknown news outlets would suffer and be stomped on by Sinclair’s giant 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 counter. “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 an enormously lopsided share of all available local TV 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?

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 can 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.

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).”

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 stamped down and unable to survive. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Congress, the FCC, and the Justice Department should stop the Sinclair deal and press for a free, fair and diverse press.

We all win under those rules.

Craig Shirley is the author of four books about Ronald Reagan, including “Reagan Rising” and “Last Act.” He is also the author of the authorized biography of Newt Gingrich, “Citizen Newt: The Making of a Reagan Conservative.”

Reprinted with permission from Real Clear Politics.

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