Putin: Russian borders “do not end anywhere” – some of the election sabotage back story

Dimitri Skorobutov, a former editor at Russia’s largest state media company, sat in a bar in Maastricht, a college town in the Netherlands, with journalists from around the world and discussed covering Donald Trump. Skorobutov opened a packet of documents and explained that they were planning guides from Russian state media that showed how the Kremlin wanted the 2016 U.S. Presidential election covered.

Among the journalists, Skorobutov’s perspective was unique. Aside from Fox News, no network worked as hard as Rossiya, as Russian state TV is called, to boost Donald Trump and denigrate Hillary Clinton. Skorobutov, who was fired from his job after a dispute with a colleague that ended in a physical altercation, went public with his story of how Russian state media works, in June, talking to the U.S. government-funded broadcaster Radio Liberty. The organizers of the Maastricht conference learned of his story and invited him to speak. He flipped through his pages and pointed to the coverage guide for August 9, 2016, when Clinton stumbled while climbing some steps. The Kremlin wanted to play the story up big.

Skorobutov started working in Russian state media companies when he was seventeen years old, and has worked in print, radio, and TV. During the 2016 campaign, he was an editor for “Vesti,” a daily news program. Skorobutov described it as a mid-level position, with four layers of bureaucrats separating him and the Kremlin. His supervisor was a news director who, he said, got his job after making a laudatory documentary about Putin. Before joining “Vesti,” Skorobutov worked as the press secretary of the Russian Geographical Society, a pet project of Putin, which made headlines last year when Putin declared at a Society event that Russian borders “do not end anywhere.”

In his speech at the journalism conference, Skorobutov explained that as a young journalist he believed that working for the state media was not necessarily corrupting. “When I came to TV, in 2000,” he said, in his prepared remarks, “there was another Russia: with independent media, so-called freedom of speech, with a hope for a better life associated with the new President Vladimir Putin. I was convinced that everything we do on TV is for the better life to come soon. But the life was getting worse and worse.”

In his telling, it was the 2011-2012 protests in Moscow that changed everything. Those protests, which Putin blamed on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, spooked the Russian President, according to Skorobutov. “People were imprisoned. Media were taken under control of the State. Censorship introduced,” he said. “It was a point of reflection for me. The state was against its people. Human freedoms, including freedom of speech, were gradually eliminated.” (Others would note that this is a self-serving chronology, as Putin’s dismantling of democracy began long before 2011, and that Skorobutov remained at state TV through the annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine, when Russian media propaganda was especially noxious.)

After the suppression of the 2012 protests, Skorobutov said, he became increasingly disturbed by his role in “helping the state to create this new and unpleasant reality,” resigned his job as the press secretary at the Russian Geographical Society, and began looking for a new job, but without any luck.

As is often the case with state censorship, the workings of Kremlin-controlled media, as Skorobutov described them, were far more subtle than is popularly imagined. He described a system that depended on a news staff that knew what issues to avoid and what issues to highlight rather than one that had every decision dictated to it. “We knew what is allowed or forbidden to broadcast,” he explained. Any event that included Putin or the Russian Prime Minister “must be broadcast,” while events such as “terroristic attacks, airplane crashes, arrests of politicians and officials” had to be approved by the news director or his deputy. He offered a list of embargoed subjects: “critique of the State, coming from inside or outside of Russia; all kinds of social protests, strikes, discontent of people and so on; political protests and opposition leaders, especially Alexey Navalny,” an anti-corruption figure despised by the Kremlin. Skorobutov said that he overcame censorship rules and convinced his network to cover stories only twice: for a story about a protest against the construction of a Siberian chemical plant and for one about the food poisoning of children at a kindergarten.

During the 2016 election, the directions from the Kremlin were less subtle than usual. “Me and my colleagues, we were given a clear instruction: to show Donald Trump in a positive way, and his opponent, Hillary Clinton, in a negative way,” he said in his speech. In a later interview, he explained to me how the instructions were relayed. “Sometimes it was a phone call. Sometimes it was a conversation,” he told me. “If Donald Trump has a successful press conference, we broadcast it for sure. And if something goes wrong with Clinton, we underline it.”

Skorobutov said in his speech that the pro-Trump perspective extended from Kremlin-controlled media to the Moscow élite.

“There was even a slogan among Russian political élite,” he said. “ ‘Trump is our president.’ And, when he won the elections, on 9th November, 2016, Russian Parliament or State Duma even applauded him and arranged a champagne party celebrating the victory of Donald Trump.” That night, Skorobutov and his colleagues played clips of the party on the news.

In Skorobutov’s opinion, Putin’s effort to make Trump a reliable ally ultimately failed. He said that Trump’s airstrike in Syria in April ended the romance for Russian élites. “Russian authorities failed with their hopes that financial and media support will make Trump really Russian,” he said. “They were wrong as they didn’t take into consideration the U.S. political system and mentality. Russian authorities hoped—literally—to buy Donald Trump, using bribes and tricks. But they failed.”

Skorobutov, who is back in Moscow now, told me that he left state media after a drunken colleague beat him up at work and, in his telling, the Kremlin-controlled network tried to cover up the assault. Being away from the network allowed him to think about his role as a longtime Russian-government propagandist and led him to start speaking out.

“I have to say that me and my colleagues, we didn’t think too much about censorship or propaganda,” he said in his speech. “We get used to it. As we were inside the system, inside television, inside a virtual reality. When you are inside, you can’t see outside. But I’m glad that I escaped from that wonderland, like Alice of Lewis Carroll. Better late than never.”

https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/russian-journalist-explains-how-the-kremlin-instructed-him-to-cover-the-2016-election

Ryan Lizza is the Washington correspondent for The New Yorker, and also an on-air contributor for CNN

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TV weather reporting aids and abets Trump’s climate denial propaganda

Trump lies as victims of global warming die

Legendary independent journalist I.F. “Izzy” Stone often cautioned, “All governments lie.” But even Izzy would have been dizzy with the deluge of lies pouring out of the Trump administration, including President Donald Trump’s claim that human-induced climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to hurt the U.S. economy. Global warming has exacerbated recent catastrophic events from Houston to Miami to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and, now, to raging fires sweeping across California. The corporate TV weather reporting aids and abets Trump’s misinformation by consistently ignoring the role of climate change in this string of disasters.

This year’s hurricanes have struck with historic force. On our warming planet, with rapidly warming oceans, hurricanes occur with more frequency and more strength. The 10th hurricane this year, Ophelia, has just been named. There have not been 10 hurricanes in one season since 1893.

At least 82 people died when Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Gulf Coast, inundating Houston. The storm also led to millions of pounds of pollutants being released into the air and water by Houston’s sprawling petrochemical industries. Initial estimates for the rebuilding are currently about $190 billion.

Hurricane Irma killed at least 134 people, of whom 90 were in the United States, including 14 elderly residents who were trapped in a hot, flooded, blacked-out nursing home in Hollywood, Florida. Accu-Weather’s founder and president, Dr. Joel N. Myers, said, “Also unprecedented is that this particular storm, Irma, has sustained intensity for the longest period of time of any hurricane or typhoon in any ocean of the world since the satellite era began.” His initial cost estimate for recovery from Irma, primarily in Florida, is $100 billion.

Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean has yet to be fully assessed. Puerto Rico had its entire power grid destroyed. After three weeks, at least 85 percent of the island remains without electricity. The Federal Emergency Management Agency reported that 63 percent of the island’s 3.4 million residents have access to clean water, although that claim has not been independently verified. The official death toll on Puerto Rico alone at the time of this writing is 48, with scores still missing, but these are surely underestimates, as remote regions of the island have had very little contact with the outside world, and a new wave of serious infections related to poor sanitation are now afflicting people on the island. Even less is known about the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

Across the United States, in California, over 20 wildfires are sweeping across the state. In Sonoma and Napa, fires have wiped out entire neighborhoods, turning thousands of homes into piles of smoldering ash and forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands. At the time of this writing, 21 people are confirmed dead from the fires, but hundreds are reported missing.

Scientists have found a direct link between climate change and the fires in California. Park Williams, bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said on the “Democracy Now!” news hour, “The amount of area that has burned due to human-caused climate change … is about half of the area of forest in the western U.S. that has burned over the last 35 years: the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined.”

When asked about the failure of network TV meteorologists to make the connection between extreme weather and climate change, Williams said: “The terms ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ have been politicized. But in the circles that I work with, with real climatologists who are working on these issues every day, there is no hesitation to use those terms. As you put greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the globe warms, whether it’s the Earth or another planet. It’s just the law of physics. And so, it is surprising to see trained meteorologists on TV steer away from those terms.”

It is not only surprising. This massive omission reinforces the efforts of climate change deniers to confuse the American public and stall climate action. You have to ask if we had state media in this country, how would it be any different?

President Trump has withdrawn from the Paris climate agreement. His Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, declaring, “The war on coal is over,” signed an order intending to rescind President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which would have curbed polluting powerplant emissions. The Trump administration’s lies about climate change are having real impacts today. More devastatingly, the lies all but guarantee a future filled with more and more deadly disasters.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!” and the coauthor, with Denis Moynihan and David Goodman, of “Democracy Now!: 20 Years Covering the Movements Changing America.”

Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan

EPA administrator – the devil

“real news” about our extreme weather and Climate Change

Breaking: E.P.A. announces repeal of major Obama-era emissions rule.

It’s not regulation that’s a threat to jobs, it’s climate change.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announces withdrawal of Clean Power Plan.

How the 1% are preparing for the apocalypse.

Don’t consign poor countries to wild storms and flooding.

China is winning the future. Here’s how.

Horrific Napa, Sonoma fires show need for new firefighting strategy.
Climate change is lengthening the fire season in the West. Congress and Western state legislatures should be amping up prevention 

 

 

Questions grow over Legitimacy of 2016 Election

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)    Andrew Harnik/AP

At a packed press conference on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, provided a progress report on his panel’s investigation of the Trump-Russia scandal. Naturally, this is a touchy and dicey matter for a Republican, and Burr tried to make some points that appeared designed to limit President Donald Trump’s political vulnerabilities on this front.

First, Burr declared that although Russian hackers had probed or penetrated the election systems of at least 21 states, he could confidently state that the Russian meddling in the 2016 election resulted in no changes to the vote tallies. That is, there’s no reason to question Trump’s Electoral College win. And second, Burr said that Russia’s use of Facebook ads during the presidential campaign seemed “indiscriminate” and not designed to help a particular candidate—meaning the recent revelations do not bolster the case that Trump was the Kremlin’s choice. But Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.), a feisty member of the intelligence committee, says both assertions are bunk. In an interview with Mother Jones on Thursday, Wyden argued that Burr’s confidence in the election system was unwarranted. “The chairman said that he can say ‘certifiably’ that there was no vote tampering,” said Wyden. “I do not agree with this judgment. I don’t think it is possible to know that. There was no systematic analysis of the voting or forensic evaluations of the voting machines.”

Wyden pointed out that the Department of Homeland Security has noted that its assessment that there was no finagling with the vote count was made with only “moderate confidence.” For Wyden, that’s not good enough for such a sensitive and significant matter—and it sends the misguided signal that the voting system is doing just fine. Wyden believes that’s the wrong message. This week he sent a letter to the major manufacturers of voting machines demanding information about how they protect themselves from cyberattacks.

Wyden also said that Burr erred in declaring that the Russian Facebook ads—some of which targeted swing states—did not favor a presidential candidate. (Presumably Wyden has seen or been briefed on the content of the ads.) “That’s one reason why the ads need to be released to the American people,” Wyden remarked, “so Americans can make up their minds.”

At the press conference, Burr said the committee would not be releasing the ads, which Facebook has turned over to the panel. And Facebook so far has declined to make the ads public. Wyden and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the committee, have called on Facebook to release the material. “If the ads don’t come out,” Wyden noted, “it’s within the power of the committee to get them out.” The Russian social media campaign targeting the 2016 election, Wyden said, “certainly hasn’t gotten the attention it should have.” And he noted it has been a focus of his efforts on the intelligence committee. The intelligence committee has scheduled a hearing with representatives from Facebook, Google, and Twitter for November 1.

Wyden worries that US elections remain vulnerable to interference from Russia and other adversaries. He emphasized that Trump has yet to nominate a secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, the lead federal agency that deals with protecting state voting systems from cyber assaults. Other key cybersecurity DHS positions remain vacant, as well. He said that at the moment just three or so states are taking significant steps to secure their voting systems from hackers. Wyden scoffed at Burr’s assertion that the Trump administration was treating the issue seriously. “The idea that Trump and DHS are full steam ahead on election security? No way!” Wyden exclaimed. “They certainly haven’t moved quickly on this.”

Wyden cited one example of an issue that requires deeper digging from the intelligence committee. When Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a White House adviser, met privately with committee investigators, Kushner released a statement declaring he had engaged in no wrongdoing. He insisted, “I did not collude…with any foreign government. I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities.” Wyden pointed out the wording of the last part of this denial: I have not relied on Russian funds. “Some lawyer got paid a lot of money to come up with that,” Wyden said. “It doesn’t mean ‘I did not have business dealings with Russians.’”

Wyden added that Kushner should not be able to get away with only a private meeting with the committee instead of a full public hearing where he could be questioned by senators about this statement and many other topics. “Jared Kushner has to come to the intelligence committee in the open,” he said. (Wyden, the top Democratic on the Senate finance committee, has blocked the confirmation of a senior Treasury Department nominee because the department has not provided the finance committee with documents he requested related to Russian banking and money laundering. )

Wyden also took issue with Burr saying that it was not the intelligence committee’s role to probe Trump’s firing of FBI chief James Comey and that this matter should be left to the Senate judiciary committee. “I don’t agree with that,” Wyden said. “This is about connections with Russia.”

While Burr suggested that the intelligence committee might finish its investigative work regarding the Trump-Russia scandal by the end of the year, Wyden said the panel still had “a long way to go.” Wyden noted that the committee’s efforts to “follow the money” require much more work, and he hinted that the committee might not have enough people working on the investigation to do the job thoroughly. “The committee will need a lot of staff power to get all this done,” he said.

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/10/did-russia-hack-the-2016-vote-tally-this-senator-says-we-dont-know-for-sure/

Anything to defend Trump: Republicans now attacking FBI

 Nunes demands Russia dossier intel and threatens to hold Jeff Sessions in contempt

“Disgraced” House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) went after Jeff Sessions in a letter threatening to subject the attorney general to a public hearing if he won’t hand over the intelligence surrounding the Russian dossier.

CNN obtained the letter, which details Nunes’s threats to subject Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray into a public hearing. He also threatened to hold the two in contempt of Congress if the dossier intelligence isn’t turned over.

The explosive 35-page dossier linked Donald Trump to Russian efforts to interfere with the election, and was published by the media shortly before his inauguration.

Nunes had his committee issue subpoenas in August specifically asking whether the FBI or Justice Department compiled any investigation or research into the dossier. He also asked for information on whether the dossier was used as a justification for any surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Nunes intends to extend his deadline to Sept. 14 but refused to wait around any longer.

“If all responsive documents are not produced by the revised deadline, the Attorney General and Director of the FBI shall appear before the committee at 9 a.m. on September 14, 2017 in room HVC-210 of the US Capitol during an open hearing, to explain under oath DOJ’s and FBI’s unwillingness or inability to comply in full with the subpoenas issued on August 24,” Nunes threatened in the letter.

He further demands that if the two refuse to turn over documents he’ll hold them in contempt, which could mean a up to a year in prison.

“We’ve got to run this thing to ground,” said Rep. Michael Conaway (R-TX), the GOP leader of the House Russia investigation.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who heads the Democratic side of the committee, objected to the subpoenas, saying he thinks they are being used by Nunes to “undermine” claims about the Trump campaign and Russia.

Conway isn’t sure what will happen if both the FBI and Justice Department refuse to hand over information and enforcement of contempt will be left to House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Nunes refused to comment.

http://www.rawstory.com/2017/09/devin-nunes-loses-it-with-jeff-sessions-demands-russia-dossier-intel-and-threatens-to-hold-him-in-contempt/

Mr. Bullshit Benghazi; Twenty months, $5 million dollars and one movie later, the GOP’s Hillary slayer is still on the war path now targeting the FBI

Mr. Bullshit Benghazi Trey Gowdy

A key House committee investigating an opposition-research dossier containing salacious details on Donald Trump has reportedly subpoenaed personally the heads of both the FBI and the Justice Department over their agencies’ noncooperation with the panel’s previous efforts.

According to a report Tuesday in the Washington Examiner, the House Intelligence Committee is gathering a “growing frustration … over the FBI and Justice Department’s lack of cooperation in the Trump-Russia investigation.”

The panel wants to know what relationship the FBI and Justice had with Christopher Steele, the document’s compiler, and whether it was used to justify spying on Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign.

According to the Examiner, the House panel subpoenaed the FBI and Justice both for documents related to those matters, to be provided by Sept. 1.

“We got nothing,” Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican, and an Intelligence panel member, told the Examiner on Tuesday. “The witnesses have not been produced and the documents have not been produced.”

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/sep/5/trey-gowdy-fbi-not-cooperating-trump-dossier/

The House Intelligence Committee has issued subpoenas requesting that the FBI and Department of Justice provide documents related to an unverified dossier about President Donald Trump. The latest subpoenas reportedly call on FBI Director Christopher Wray and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to appear before the House panel.

The House Intelligence Committee is one of several congressional committees investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Robert Mueller, a Justice Department special counsel, is overseeing a separate FBI investigation into the matter. Divisions between the congressional investigators and those with the Justice Department have been rising, CNN reported Tuesday morning, and the subpoenas seem to provide further indication of that tension.

On August 24, the committee issued two identical subpoenas to the FBI and Justice Department, the Washington Examiner reported Tuesday evening, citing an interview with Congressman Trey Gowdy, a committee member. The committee had given the bureau and department until September 1 to provide the information, the report said. When the committee did not receive the information by the deadline, it reportedly extended that deadline to September 14.

“We got nothing,” Gowdy, a Republican, told the Washington Examiner. “The witnesses have not been produced and the documents have not been produced.”

Congressman Trey Gowdy speaks a House Intelligence Committee hearing concerning Russian meddling in the 2016 United States election on March 20. On September 5, the committee issued subpoenas for information about an unverified dossier, according to Gowdy.

On Tuesday, the committee issued two new subpoenas, one for FBI Director Christopher Wray and one for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Washington Examiner reported. The new subpoenas call on the officials to appear before the committee and explain why they did not comply with the previous requests, the report said.

Christopher Steele, a former British spy, wrote the intelligence dossier, about Trump and his alleged ties to Russia. Republican lawmakers have shown interest in the dossier, and some have alleged that it possibly began as an opposition research project against Trump. Buzzfeed published its contents in January.

Spokespeople for the FBI and Justice Department were not immediately available to comment on the subpoenas Tuesday evening.

http://www.newsweek.com/house-intelligence-committee-subpoenas-fbi-justice-department-659960

 

Racist Rob: “I don’t have anything against the Indians”…..“I don’t get it,”….NO SHIT

Trump protege Robin Percival Arkley

WannbeKing Rob would be such a good steward of the land.  Just look how well he’s done with his other properties, like the balloon tract in Old Town or the “dog ranch” in Somoa and several others that don’t have nicknames.   If you look past the repeated arson, crossbow murder, robberies, drug use and transient encampments it’s almost as if the areas are pristine!!!!  Imagine what he could do with the ancient village Tuluwat??? (gasp)

Rob Arkley said he doesn’t understand why there’s been so much backlash against his proposal to buy Indian Island from the city of Eureka instead of allowing the property to transfer to the Wiyot Tribe.

“I am stunned by this whole thing. I don’t get it,” he said, when reached by phone Tuesday at his Security National office in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Arkley said in the wake of his proposal, first made public during a morning talk radio spot on July 31, he, his family and his business have received threats.

“I don’t have anything against the Indians, the issue is access for the people and fair price,” he said.

Arkley said he’s mainly concerned about what public access to the island will be like if the land transfer goes through and about Eureka giving away valuable land when the city faces “limitless financial issues.”

“I want to know why they’re declaring it surplus land to begin with,” he said.

Indian Island, which the Wiyot people call Tuluwat, is the location of the ancient villages Tuluwat and Etpidolh. For generations, the yearly World Renewal Ceremony was held on the island until the massacre of Wiyot men, women, elders and children in 1860. The ceremony was held on the island again in 2014 after a 154-year hiatus.

“This is absolutely the equivalent of paying reparations, which is foolish,” Arkley said about the transfer.

He disagreed when asked if giving the island back would help right a historical wrong, calling it a “bogus argument.”

Since 2000 the tribe has been buying back private parcels of the island and in 2004 the city of Eureka transferred about 45 acres of the island to the tribe. In June, the Eureka City Council committed to moving forward negotiating an agreement to transfer the remaining 200 acres of land the city owns on the island to the Wiyot Tribe.

City manager Greg Sparks previously said the land is appraised at $200,000 and that the council hasn’t discussed Arkley’s offer.

“They’re talking about giving it away, you’ve got to be kidding me!” Arkley said. “That’s why I offered $500,000.”

He said that if his offer is taken up he will set up a charity, similar to how Friends of the Dunes operates, to provide stewardship to the land. Arkley also said it will remain open for public use like it is today. He said he doubted that the tribe would keep the island for public use outside of tribal members and that the tribe hasn’t conducted as much environmental and habitat restoration as they say.

“They’ve done a fraction of what they said they would do,” Arkley said.

According to the tribe’s website, over 60 tons of scrap metal and additional tons of garbage has been removed from the island, a brownsfield assessment and remediation plan was completed, erosion control was implemented and native plants have been planted.

“The tribe has invested more than $3 million in the direct cleanup and restoration project,” Wiyot tribal administrator Michelle Vassel wrote in an email to the Times-Standard on Wednesday. “That number does not include the blood, sweat and tears of countless volunteers who have lent their hands to the project, and the countless hours of fundraisers, grant writing and administrative work managing the project.”

She said the tribe’s plan for the island has remained the same over the past 50 years.

“This includes clean up of environmental hazards, restoration of wildlife habitat. It also includes protection of grave sites, cultural resources, return of ceremony and living Wiyot cultural practices to the Island,” Vassel wrote.

She added that is not about exclusionary practices.

“The Wiyot Tribe is a government which by nature is a public not private entity,” she wrote. “The tribe has no intention of excluding people, we have worked long and hard with the city of Eureka and other government agencies local native and non-native, people and organizations in this community to come together to work toward these goals.”

Vassel asserts that what the tribe is doing benefits everyone.

“The work the tribe has done and plans to do on the island benefits the whole community,” she wrote. “In ceremony, we do not pray only for Wiyot people we pay for all people, really the whole world.”

Times standard

http://www.times-standard.com/general-news/20170809/arkley-responds-to-backlash-over-offer-to-buy-indian-island

Threatened Rightwing propaganda media take over still looms

 

RIGHT-WING PROPAGANDA MEDIA ARM REACHES INTO HUMBOLDT COUNTY

How Trump’s FCC aided Sinclair’s expansion

Use of a regulatory loophole will allow Sinclair to reach 72 percent of U.S. households after buying Tribune’s stations.

Sinclair Broadcast Group is expanding its conservative-leaning television empire into nearly three-quarters of American households — but its aggressive takeover of the airwaves wouldn’t have been possible without help from President Donald Trump’s chief at the Federal Communications Commission.

Sinclair, already the nation’s largest TV broadcaster, plans to buy 42 stations from Tribune Media in cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, on top of the more than 170 stations it already owns. It got a critical assist this spring from Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who revived a decades-old regulatory loophole that will keep Sinclair from vastly exceeding federal limits on media ownership.

The change will allow Sinclair — a company known for injecting “must run” conservative segments into its local programming — to reach 72 percent of U.S. households after buying Tribune’s stations. That’s nearly double the congressionally imposed nationwide audience cap of 39 percent.

The FCC and the company both say the agency wasn’t giving Sinclair any special favors by reviving the loophole, known as the “UHF discount,” which has long been considered technologically obsolete. But the Tribune deal would not have been viable if not for Pai’s intervention: Sinclair already reaches an estimated 38 percent of U.S. households without the discount, leaving it almost no room for growth.

The loophole is a throwback to the days when the ultra-high-frequency TV spectrum — the part higher than Channel 13 — was filled with low-budget stations with often-scratchy reception over analog rabbit ears. That quality gap no longer exists in today’s world of digital television, but under the policy that Pai revived, the commission does not fully count those stations’ market size when tallying a broadcaster’s national reach.

Sinclair Broadcast Group owns stations in 81 markets, making it the nation’s largest TV broadcaster. The maps below show Sinclair’s footprint proportional to its total reach — which now covers an estimated 38 percent of U.S. households.

Its $3.9 billion deal will give it stations in 19 new markets, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — and the ability to reach 72 percent of households.

Critics including the FCC’s most recent former chairman, Tom Wheeler, say the change amounts to a regulatory sleight-of-hand.

“Congress was explicit in black letter saying 39 percent viewership would be the maximum,” said Wheeler, a Democrat who got rid of the discount last year. But instead, he said, “There was funny math created to allow the count to come up to still be below 39 percent, wink wink.”

The FCC and Sinclair say a wide array of broadcasters — not just Sinclair — pushed for the return of the UHF discount, and they say Pai has been consistent in arguing that the agency shouldn’t scrap the discount without first undertaking a broader review of media ownership limits.

Pai, whom Trump elevated to chairman early this year, told House Democrats at a July 25 hearing that the commission didn’t single out Sinclair for special treatment. “If you look at any of our regulatory actions, they’re not designed to benefit any company or segment of the industry,” he said.

Still, the FCC action removed the most serious obstacle for Sinclair, which has been a target for Democrats and liberal groups disturbed by reports that the company favored Trump in its election coverage. While Sinclair doesn’t spend much on traditional lobbying, it has donated generously over the years to congressional Republicans, who have shown little inclination to throw up any roadblocks to the deal.

The Washington Post in December reported that Sinclair “gave a disproportionate amount of neutral or favorable coverage to Trump during the campaign” while airing negative stories on Hillary Clinton. That followed POLITICO’s reporting on a boast by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner that the president’s campaign had struck a deal with the broadcast group for better media coverage. (Sinclair disputed the characterization, saying it was an arrangement for extended sit-down interviews that was offered to both candidates.) In April, Sinclair hired former White House aide Boris Epshteyn, who had organized Trump’s TV surrogates, as an on-air political analyst.

Controversy over Sinclair’s politics predates Trump. The broadcaster came under fire in 2004 over reports it planned to air a documentary critical of then-Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry’s Vietnam-era antiwar activism, though the company instead aired a news special on some stations rather than the full documentary. But the company’s bid to get bigger via the Tribune deal has focused new attention on the company.

The broadcaster cultivated its ties with the FCC’s Pai in the weeks after Trump’s election, when the Republican commissioner was viewed as a top contender to lead the agency. Pai addressed Sinclair’s Nov. 16 general manager summit in Baltimore, where he also met with the company’s then-CEO, David Smith, according to a copy of Pai’s calendar obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Pai held a second meeting with Smith and newly named Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley in Arlington, Virginia, on the day before Trump’s inauguration, the records show.

A Sinclair spokeswoman said Pai was invited to speak at the general manager summit before the election, and noted that FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, addressed a similar gathering in the past.

On Pai’s first week on the job as chairman in late January, Sinclair urged the agency to reinstate the UHF discount, which allows ultra-high-frequency stations to count for only half their actual audience when calculating their national reach. Pai had dissented when the FCC’s then-Democratic majority abolished the discount in 2016, arguing that the commission should also review and adjust the national ownership cap.

Once installed as head of the agency, Pai brought back the discount in a 2-1 party-line vote in April over the objections of Clyburn, who pointed out the irony that a chairman who has emphasized slashing outmoded regulations was reviving a “relic of a bygone era.” A little over two weeks after the FCC vote, Sinclair announced its acquisition of Tribune Media.

The FCC said multiple broadcasters, including CBS, NBC and Univision, supported the move, and said Pai was simply acting on his long-held position. “Had the Commission teed up both the UHF discount and the national cap in 2013 as he had requested, then this entire situation could have been avoided,” an FCC spokesperson said in a statement.

Echoing that stance, Sinclair said Pai’s call for a broad review of the entire ownership cap was well established.

“The majority Commissioners’ positions that media ownership reform is needed has been widely known for many years,” Sinclair Senior Vice President of Strategy and Policy Rebecca Hanson said in a statement. “Therefore, any suggestion that the reinstatement was done on Sinclair’s behalf is false.”

Pai, who is viewed as friendly to broadcasters, also moved quickly to advance TV stations’ ability to offer a new transmission standard for higher-quality, over-the-air video. That’s of particular interest to Sinclair, which has invested more than $30 million in the next-generation TV technology and says its expansion via the Tribune deal will help speed the rollout of the service.

The FCC chairman has further proposed eliminating a rule that requires each TV station to have a main studio in or near the community it serves, arguing that modern technology allows community interaction without an in-person visit to a local studio. Critics charge that’s another handout to Sinclair, with Wheeler warning in a July blog post that “Sinclair — long known for requiring their stations to carry right-wing programs produced by headquarters — will have an open field to replace local voices with national control.”

With the regulatory path eased for its Tribune transaction, Sinclair is looking at relatively smooth sailing in GOP-dominated Washington. Ripley, the CEO, has expressed confidence the deal will receive regulatory approval from the FCC and the Justice Department, while acknowledging that the company might still have to drop some TV stations in select markets to fully adhere to ownership rules.

Sinclair isn’t showing signs of massively boosting its bare-bones lobbying operation in Washington, though it’s increasing its investment. The company spent roughly $60,000 on lobbying in the first half of this year, nearly the amount it spent in all of 2016, and recently brought back a second, in-house lobbyist who previously lobbied for the broadcaster. One of the lobbyists, Hanson, has mostly focused on tamping down any Democratic opposition in Congress.

In June, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) led seven Democratic colleagues in calling for hearings on the deal. Sinclair’s KOMO TV station in Seattle, in Cantwell’s home state, has become a focal point for local station resistance to demands from the corporate office, according to a New York Times story in May that described how KOMO journalists would rebel against “must-run” content by airing it at times of low viewership.

“We just want local content. We want the folks to be local — we don’t want this metroplex of content just coming in,” Cantwell said in an interview.

“Local television broadcasters have long served the public interest. The Sinclair-Tribune merger threatens to upend this responsibility by consolidating local news into a single voice that reaches into 70 percent of American homes,” Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel, told POLITICO. “It’s no secret that Sinclair has used its large platform to push extremely conservative programming, while cutting deals with the Trump campaign to provide favorable coverage.”

Sinclair, which says consolidation will allow it to invest more in local programming, has argued that TV broadcasters need to get bigger to survive. The largest TV broadcaster in the country is still the little guy when compared with the other companies in the media landscape with which it negotiates and competes, including Comcast-NBCU and AT&T-DirecTV, the company says.

So far, there’s little indication Republican leadership in Congress intends to apply much scrutiny to the Tribune deal. Sinclair, which began as a family-owned TV station in Baltimore in the 1970s, has endeared itself to many Republicans with its conservative leanings — and has a long history of donating to GOP candidates over the years.

In the 2016 election cycle, Sinclair and its executives donated nearly $300,000 to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The company gave to the fundraising efforts of House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Its vice president, Frederick Smith, gave to the pro-Trump Great America PAC as well as to Montana Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte’s campaign a day after the lawmaker was charged with assaulting a journalist this year.

But the company and its executives have also given to Democrats, chipping in $120,000 to the party and its candidates during the 2016 cycle. One week after announcing the Tribune deal in May, former CEO Smith, now the executive chairman, cut a personal check of $30,000 for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

With resistance to Sinclair’s transaction muted so far in Washington, criticism is popping up outside the Beltway.

John Oliver, host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” devoted nearly 20 minutes in a July show to mocking Sinclair’s “must run” segments and warning about the potential impact of the deal. “[I]n contrast to Fox News, a conservative outlet where you basically know what you’re getting, with Sinclair, they’re injecting Fox-worthy content into the mouths of your local news anchors, the two people who you know, and who you trust, and whose on-screen chemistry can usually best be described as two people,” Oliver quipped.

Sinclair has pushed back hard against such criticism. Epshteyn blasted Oliver’s segment, and Sinclair tripled the number of weekly segments featuring the former Trump aide’s commentary. A Sinclair executive sent a memo to station news directors defending the must-runs against what he said were irresponsible media reports.

More opposition could emerge during the regulatory review process. Public interest group Public Knowledge, the American Cable Association and DISH Network urged the FCC to slow down the review process and make Sinclair release more information about how the deal will benefit the public. Conservative website Newsmax — a potential competitor to Sinclair in the right-wing news business — also told the FCC that the deal raises “serious competitive concerns” in a filing supporting the request for more time and information. The FCC denied the requests.

But Sinclair has said the commission has the information it needs, and the company believes it has a chairman who understands the broadcast business leading the regulatory review.

“Thankfully, we’ve got Chairman Pai, who’s launched an action to look at these antiquated rules which we think has artificially tipped the playing field away from TV broadcast to the point of making us uncompetitive,” Ripley told attendees at a Media Institute luncheon in June. “That’s one of the reasons why we’re optimistic on the regulatory.”

http://www.politico.com/story/2017/08/06/trump-fcc-sinclair-broadcast-expansion-241337

Trump has a new favorite Rightwing site aimed at viewers in their teens and 20s

Forget Breitbart: the White House has a new favorite rightwing media outlet

Circa, a video-heavy site aimed at viewers in their teens and 20s, has attracted attention from other outlets for a series of scoops on the Russian investigation

Fox News has such an influence on Donald Trump that US journalists now react to the president’s proclamations on Twitter by searching for the Fox and Friends segment that inspired them.

This intimate feedback loop between the Fox morning show and the president has made it “the most powerful TV show in America”, in the words of a New York Times critic. For Rupert Murdoch, a ruthless player in conservative politics across continents, such influence is striking. But it’s not new.

Liberal critics of the administration, however, are now turning the spotlight on what they see as a troubling new pro-Trump outlet. It’s not Fox News, with its angry anchors and aging audience. It’s Circa, a colorful digital media site aimed at viewers in their teens and 20s.

Circa is owned by the Sinclair Media Broadcast Group, which owns or operates more than 170 television stations across the country and calls itself America’s “leading local news provider”. As Sinclair expands, it has faced speculation that it could become a conservative challenger to Fox News. https://www.circa.com/

For months, Circa has attracted special attention from other news outlets for a series of scoops on the progress of the Russian investigation that many saw as shoring up the administration’s narrative.

The latest scoop came on Thursday, when Circa reported that a high-ranking FBI official, general counsel James A Baker, was “the top suspect in an ongoing leak investigation”, having allegedly leaked “classified national security information to the media”.

The report cited “multiple government officials close to the probe” who spoke “on the condition of anonymity”, and said an FBI spokeswoman declined to comment.

The scoop came at the end of a bruising week for the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who faced pressure from the president over his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, a move Sessions defended as the only lawful choice. On Twitter, Trump criticized Sessions’ “VERY weak position” on leaks. A day before the Circa scoop, Fox News reported that Sessions would soon announce an investigation into intelligence leaks.

On Thursday night, the MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow examined the way the story played into the administration’s “counter narrative”. Calling Circa a “pro-Trump conservative media outlet”, she said Sinclair was “emerging as kind of a successor to Breitbart News”.

Before he was fired, Maddow said, the former FBI director James Comey shared information about troubling interactions with the president with a small group of senior FBI officials, including Baker and now acting director Andrew McCabe. The latter has been publicly smeared by the president multiple times, over political donations his wife received from an ally of Hillary Clinton.

Maddow questioned why three FBI officials who might serve as witnesses in any inquiry about whether the president improperly interfered with the Russia investigation when he fired Comey had now either been fired or were coming under public attack.

“Of the six potential witnesses agains the president … three of them are now in the barrel,” she said.

The Circa story was concerning, Maddow said, “whether it’s just a pro-Trump conservative media threat or whether it’s a true report of a real criminal investigation launched by Sessions and the justice department”.

Sinclair and Circa did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Maddow’s segment. But Circa’s chief operations officer, John Solomon, formerly a reporter at the Associated Press and the Washington Post, has defended the company’s journalistic integrity.

In March, he told the Hill: “We have no point of view and you won’t find any opinion pieces on our website.

“I think labeling media outlets is not beneficial. There are people at outlets with conservative editorial boards doing great work and reporters at outlets with a liberal bent doing the same.”

The justice department did not immediately respond for a request for comment.

The controversy over Circa’s politics puts it in a spotlight that media observers might once have assumed would be focused on Breitbart, the aggressive, gleefully offensive, misogynistic and occasionally race-baiting far-right site which was once led by Trump adviser Steve Bannon.

Breitbart has had a tempestuous time since Trump’s election win, reflecting infighting between Bannon’s populist, nationalist faction and more centrist Republican advisers. The site has sometimes come out directly against the president, as it did in defending Sessions this week, arguing that his failure to prosecute Clinton was more a sign of weakness on Trump’s part than on Sessions’.

In attacking Sessions, whose justice department has pursued an anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ, tough-on-crime agenda, Trump was attacking his own base, Breitbart said.

After new White House communications chief Anthony Scaramucci slammed Bannon in an interview with the New Yorker – accusing him, in the polite translation of one news outlet, of “burnishing his own reputation” – Breitbart attacked Scaramucci too.

https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/jul/30/circa-sinclair-pro-trump-outlet-breitbart-fox-news