Following the indictment of Paul Manafort and the guilty plea of Michael Flynn, Matt Gertz noted that Fox News is being increasingly venomous towards special prosecutor Robert Mueller. A Fox host said that Trump should be exonerated because he won the election. Another Fox host called for a “cleansing” of the FBI and DOJ. A frequent Fox News guest said that the entire FBI may need to be shut down. And now, Fox News warned during an interview with Kellyanne Conway that the Mueller investigation may be “a coup in America.” There are plenty of problems with the FBI and DOJ, but independence from the executive is not one of them.
Fox News’ coverage of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation is growing ever-darker, as my colleague Simon Maloy noted last week, with the network’s Trump-loving commentators offering up increasingly hysterical warnings that Mueller needs to be fired before he destroys the rule of law and the republic.
Eight nights ago, for example, Sean Hannity declared Mueller a “direct threat to you, the American people and our American republic.” Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett chimed in, claiming that “Mueller has been using the FBI as a political weapon,” turning the bureau into “America’s secret police” just like “the old KGB.”
This discussion was irresponsible and dangerous. But it also set a new bar for fearmongering about the Mueller investigation. And so the president’s lackeys, who are eager to kill Mueller’s probe before its completion, have spent the last week going on Fox and trying to clear it.
They are on an invective escalator. Every new development in the Russia probe requires ever-more-inflammatory rhetoric — for Jarrett and Hannity, the false KGB comparison was just the logical next step from comparing the Mueller team to the Mob. The tenor of the criticism only becomes more hysterical. A new, baseless “conflict of interest” for a member of Mueller’s team raises the bar. But so does a former Trump aide copping a plea in exchange for working with the special counsel’s office — it gets presented not as evidence Mueller’s probe is on the level, but evidence that it is not.
Meanwhile, their audience — which at times includes the president — receives increasingly dire warnings that a professional probe run by a Republican who was appointed FBI director by a president of each party is actually a corrupt effort at a deep state coup.
But how do you top comparing the FBI to the KGB?
Jeanine Pirro calls for a “cleansing” of the FBI and DOJ
Over a seven-plus-minute monologue, she specifically called for “handcuffs” for FBI agent Peter Strzok and Deputy Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe, and piled on criticism for Mueller, James Comey, senior DOJ official Bruce Ohr, and current FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The stench coming out of the Justice Department and the FBI is like that of a Third World country, where money and bullies and clubs decide elections. It all started when ‘Cardinal’ Comey destroyed our FBI with political hacks to set events in motion to destroy the republic because they didn’t like the man we chose to be our president. Well, it’s time to take them out, in cuffs,” she concluded.
Pirro is a friend and sometime adviser to the president, who regularly tunes in to her program. She reportedly took her conspiracy theories to the White House last month, denouncing Comey and Mueller in an Oval Office meeting with the president and his top aides. Pirro may be angling to join the administration so she can carry out this purge of the law enforcement apparatus; she reportedly interviewed to be deputy attorney general during the transition
Tom Fitton asks if the FBI needs to be shut down because it is now a “KGB-type operation”
For Tom Fitton, head of the conservative advocacy group Judicial Watch, those who are simply calling for Mueller’s firing haven’t gone far enough:
Fitton’s comments last night are an obvious one-up on last week’s KGB comparison — the situation may now be so dire that it requires destroying the entire bureau in order to save it.
Lou Dobbs: Trump should be exonerated because he won the election
On December 11, Lou Dobbs said on his Fox Business show that Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation may be because he’s been blackmailed by the “deep state.” After Fox contributor Jason Chaffetz criticized Sessions, calling for congressional action but clarifying that he’s “not saying it has to go the Republicans’ way,” Dobbs replied, “Why the hell shouldn’t it go the Republicans’ way? We elected a Republican president.” Dobbs added that the congressional Republican leadership should be “standing shoulder to shoulder with Trump” and “bring this thing to a conclusion.” And there it is, a direct call for ending the Mueller investigation purely because it targets the Republican administration. It’s hard to top that. But they’ll find a way.
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.
While “wanna be dictator” Trump fans the racist flames of unrest……………….
A group of national-security experts set chance of civil war at roughly 35 percent
CNN’s Fareed Zakaria reports that in the New Yorker, Robin Wright considers the fragility of “the Union, our republic, and a country that has long been considered the world’s most stable democracy.” She cites a Foreign Policy survey that found a consensus among a group of national-security experts of a roughly 35 percent chance of civil war breaking out in the next 10 to 15 years, and interviews one of those experts, Keith Mines, a former diplomat, who puts the chances of civil war at 60 percent.
“We keep saying, ‘It can’t happen here,’ but then, holy smokes, it can,’ Mines told me after we talked, on Sunday, about Charlottesville,” Wright writes.
“Based on his experience in civil wars on three continents, Mines cited five conditions that support his prediction: entrenched national polarization, with no obvious meeting place for resolution; increasingly divisive press coverage and information flows; weakened institutions, notably Congress and the judiciary; a sellout or abandonment of responsibility by political leadership; and the legitimization of violence as the ‘in’ way to either conduct discourse or solve disputes.”
“The dangers are now bigger than the collective episodes of violence,” Wright writes.
The full Robin Wright story;
After the brawling and racist brutality and deaths in Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe asked, “How did we get to this place?” The more relevant question after Charlottesville—and other deadly episodes in Ferguson, Charleston, Dallas, St. Paul, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, and Alexandria—is where the United States is headed. How fragile is the Union, our republic, and a country that has long been considered the world’s most stable democracy? The dangers are now bigger than the collective episodes of violence. “The radical right was more successful in entering the political mainstream last year than in half a century,” the Southern Poverty Law Center reported in February. The organization documents more than nine hundred active (and growing) hate groups in the United States.
America’s stability is increasingly an undercurrent in political discourse. Earlier this year, I began a conversation with Keith Mines about America’s turmoil. Mines has spent his career—in the U.S. Army Special Forces, the United Nations, and now the State Department—navigating civil wars in other countries, including Afghanistan, Colombia, El Salvador, Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan. He returned to Washington after sixteen years to find conditions that he had seen nurture conflict abroad now visible at home. It haunts him. In March, Mines was one of several national-security experts whom Foreign Policy asked to evaluate the risks of a second civil war—with percentages. Mines concluded that the United States faces a sixty-per-cent chance of civil war over the next ten to fifteen years. Other experts’ predictions ranged from five per cent to ninety-five per cent. The sobering consensus was thirty-five per cent. And that was five months before Charlottesville.
“We keep saying, ‘It can’t happen here,’ but then, holy smokes, it can,” Mines told me after we talked, on Sunday, about Charlottesville. The pattern of civil strife has evolved worldwide over the past sixty years. Today, few civil wars involve pitched battles from trenches along neat geographic front lines. Many are low-intensity conflicts with episodic violence in constantly moving locales. Mines’s definition of a civil war is large-scale violence that includes a rejection of traditional political authority and requires the National Guard to deal with it. On Saturday, McAuliffe put the National Guard on alert and declared a state of emergency.
Based on his experience in civil wars on three continents, Mines cited five conditions that support his prediction: entrenched national polarization, with no obvious meeting place for resolution; increasingly divisive press coverage and information flows; weakened institutions, notably Congress and the judiciary; a sellout or abandonment of responsibility by political leadership; and the legitimization of violence as the “in” way to either conduct discourse or solve disputes.
President Trump “modeled violence as a way to advance politically and validated bullying during and after the campaign,” Mines wrote in Foreign Policy. “Judging from recent events the left is now fully on board with this,” he continued, citing anarchists in anti-globalization riots as one of several flashpoints. “It is like 1859, everyone is mad about something and everyone has a gun.”
To test Mines’s conjecture, I reached out to five prominent Civil War historians this weekend. “When you look at the map of red and blue states and overlap on top of it the map of the Civil War—and who was allied with who in the Civil War—not much has changed,” Judith Giesberg, the editor of the Journal of the Civil War Era and a historian at Villanova University, told me. “We never agreed on the outcome of the Civil War and the direction the country should go in. The postwar amendments were highly contentious—especially the Fourteenth Amendment, which provides equal protection under the law—and they still are today. What does it mean to deliver voting rights to people of color? We still don’t know.”
She added, “Does that make us vulnerable to a repeat of the past? I don’t see a repeat of those specific circumstances. But that doesn’t mean we are not entering something similar in the way of a culture war. We are vulnerable to racism, tribalism, and conflicting visions of the way forward for our nation.”
Anxiety over deepening schisms and new conflict has an outlet in popular culture: in April, Amazon selected the dystopian novel “American War”—which centers on a second U.S. civil war—as one of its best books of the month. In a review in the Washington Post, Ron Charles wrote, “Across these scarred pages rages the clash that many of us are anxiously speculating about in the Trump era: a nation riven by irreconcilable ideologies, alienated by entrenched suspicions . . . both poignant and horrifying.” The Times book reviewer noted, “It’s a work of fiction. For the time being, anyway.” The book’s author, Omar El Akkad, was born in Egypt and covered the war in Afghanistan, the Arab Spring, and the Ferguson protest as a journalist for Canada’s Globe and Mail.
Before Charlottesville, David Blight, a Yale historian, was already planning a conference in November on “American Disunion, Then and Now.” “Parallels and analogies are always risky, but we do have weakened institutions and not just polarized parties but parties that are risking disintegration, which is what happened in the eighteen-fifties,” he told me. “Slavery tore apart, over fifteen years, both major political parties. It destroyed the Whig Party, which was replaced by the Republican Party, and divided the Democratic Party into northern and southern parts.”
“So,” he said, “watch the parties” as an indicator of America’s health.
In the eighteen-fifties, Blight told me, Americans were not good at foreseeing or absorbing the “shock of events,” including the Fugitive Slave Act, the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision, the John Brown raid, and even the Mexican-American War. “No one predicted them. They forced people to reposition themselves,” Blight said. “We’re going through one of those repositionings now. Trump’s election is one of them, and we’re still trying to figure it out. But it’s not new. It dates to Obama’s election. We thought that would lead culture in the other direction, but it didn’t,” he said. “There was a tremendous resistance from the right, then these episodes of police violence, and all these things [from the past] exploded again. It’s not only a racial polarization but a seizure about identity.”
Generally, Blight added, “We know we are at risk of civil war, or something like it, when an election, an enactment, an event, an action by government or people in high places, becomes utterly unacceptable to a party, a large group, a significant constituency.” The nation witnessed tectonic shifts on the eve of the Civil War, and during the civil-rights era, the unrest of the late nineteen-sixties and the Vietnam War, he said. “It did not happen with Bush v. Gore, in 2000, but perhaps we were close. It is not inconceivable that it could happen now.”
In a reversal of public opinion from the nineteen-sixties, Blight said, the weakening of political institutions today has led Americans to shift their views on which institutions are credible. “Who do we put our faith in today? Maybe, ironically, the F.B.I.,” he said. “With all these military men in the Trump Administration, that’s where we’re putting our hope for the use of reason. It’s not the President. It’s not Congress, which is utterly dysfunctional and run by men who spent decades dividing us in order to keep control, and not even the Supreme Court, because it’s been so politicized.”
In the wake of Charlottesville, the chorus of condemnation from politicians across the political spectrum has been encouraging, but it is not necessarily reassuring or an indicator about the future, Gregory Downs, a historian at the University of California at Davis, told me. During the Civil War, even Southern politicians who denounced or were wary of secession for years—including Jefferson Davis—ended up as leaders of the Confederacy. “If the source of conflict is deeply embedded in cultural or social forces, then politicians are not inherently able to restrain them with calls for reason,” Downs said. He called the noxious white supremacists and neo-Nazis the “messengers,” rather than the “architects,” of the Republic’s potential collapse. But, he warned, “We take our stability for granted.”
He dug out for me a quote from the journalist Murat Halstead’s book “The War Claims of the South,” published in 1867. “The lesson of the war that should never depart from us,” Halstead wrote, “is that the American people have no exemption from the ordinary fate of humankind. If we sin, we must suffer for our sins, like the Empires that are tottering and the Nations that have perished.”
Eric Foner, the Columbia University historian, won the Pulitzer Prize, in 2011, for his book “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery.” Like the other scholars I spoke to, Foner is skeptical that any future conflict will resemble America’s last civil war. “Obviously, we have some pretty deep divisions along multiple lines—racial, ideological, rural versus urban,” he told me. “Whether they will lead to civil war, I doubt. We have strong gravitational forces that counteract what we’re seeing today.” He pointed out that “the spark in Charlottesville—taking down a statue of Robert E. Lee—doesn’t have to do with civil war. People are not debating the Civil War. They’re debating American society and race today.”
Charlottesville was not the first protest by the so-called alt-right, nor will it be the last. Nine more rallies are planned for next weekend and others in September.
Robin Wright is a contributing writer for newyorker.com, and has written for the magazine since 1988. She is the author of “Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World.”
We might as well mail our ballot boxes to Moscow!
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) blasted President Trump’s idea of working together with Russia on election hacking, saying if that were to happen, “we might as well mail our ballot boxes to Moscow.”
“I don’t think we can expect the Russians to be any kind of credible partner in some cyber security unit. I think that would be dangerously naïve for this country. If that’s our best election defense, we might as well just mail our ballot boxes to Moscow,” Schiff told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.”
Trump said in tweets earlier Sunday that he had pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin on Russian election meddling, but said the two leaders discussed forming “an impenetrable Cyber Security unit.” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on the same show called for further cooperation with the Russians on cyber security, despite a lack of trust between Washington and Moscow.
“We need them, you know, what we think should happen, shouldn’t happen, and if we talk to them about it, hopefully we can get them to stop,” Haley said on CNN.
“It doesn’t mean we ever take our eyes off of the ball, it doesn’t mean we ever trust Russia. We can’t trust Russia, and we won’t ever trust Russia. But you keep those that you don’t trust closer, so that you can always keep an eye on them and keep them in check,” she continued.
Vladimir Putin could be of “enormous assistance”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Sunday joked that he thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin could be of “enormous assistance” regarding cybersecurity because he is the one doing the hacking.
During an interview on CBS’s “Face The Nation,” McCain was asked about President Trump’s earlier tweet in which the president said he talked with Putin during their meeting about creating an “impenetrable Cyber Security unit” to guard against election hacking.
“I’m sure that Vladimir Putin could be of enormous assistance in that effort since he is doing the hacking,” McCain said, laughing.
Read our previous post: The voice of the resistance not so much racism and stupidly undermine MSNBC
Lawrence O’Donnell, host of MSNBC’s “The Last Word,” has just four weeks left in his contract, and the cable network does not appear to be interested in renewing his deal. Four well-placed sources tell HuffPost that MSNBC has not been in contact with O’Donnell’s team of representatives to negotiate a new deal.
The absence of active negotiations weeks before a contract expires is highly unusual and often a sign that a contract won’t be renewed. News networks normally don’t risk letting the contract of a host who has a highly rated program expire or even come close to expiring before renegotiating. A short time-frame puts the network at a strategic disadvantage in talks, that’s why cable networks often start negotiating renewals six to nine months in advance of a contract ending.
A spokesman for NBC News declined to comment on “ongoing negotiations.” Although, multiple sources from inside and outside the network have told HuffPost that no negotiations have taken place.
O’Donnell, who has been appearing on the network since its inception, has hosted his highly rated program since the fall of 2010. “The Last Word” is the cable network’s second-highest rated program, according to Nielsen figures, behind only “The Rachel Maddow Show.”
O’Donnell has even been, on some nights, besting Sean Hannity’s program on Fox News among viewers ages 18 to 49, the demographic that television advertisers care about the most.
If O’Donnell’s contract is not renewed, that would not come as a surprise to many network insiders. Andy Lack, the chairman of NBC News, is no fan of O’Donnell’s program, sources say. Some say it’s because he doesn’t appreciate the liberal nature of “The Last Word,” but others say it’s about the fact that O’Donnell rejected Lack’s request to move his program from 10 p.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time. This decision was O’Donnell’s prerogative, two sources said, because his contract stipulates that his program must air in prime time.
O’Donnell’s refusal to move his program could have led Lack, who is known to bristle at dissent, to sour on O’Donnell, sources said. A senior NBC News executive disagreed with the idea that Lack isn’t a fan of O’Donnell’s show saying, “He is proud of and enthusiastic about all the work that’s being done across all of MSNBC’s primetime slate, including Lawrence’s program.”
There does appear to be some evidence of Lack’s distaste. O’Donnell has not had a face-to-face meeting with him since Lack returned to the network in 2015 after stints at Sony Music and Bloomberg Television, two sources said.
A senior NBC news executive said that Lack doesn’t take a heavy-handed approach with the cable network’s on-air talent and that frequent face-to-face meetings are often a sign that he isn’t satisfied. Sources familiar with the production of “The Last Word” say that Lack doesn’t interfere with the program’s editorial direction. And in Lack’s previous stint as NBC News president he was the one that pushed for O’Donnell to appear on the then nascent cable MSNBC network when it was founded in 1996.
Andrew Lack (second from left) meets with executives from Microsoft, General Electric and Drugstore.com in Manhattan to announce the creation of MSNBC.
Lack’s programming decisions and leadership style have caused tension internally at MSNBC leading staff members and on-air talent to express their displeasure internally and externally. For this story, HuffPost spoke to more than 10 sources inside and outside the network who asked to remain anonymous because they are not authorized to speak publicly about network business.
If O’Donnell’s contract is not renewed, the news would certainly be welcome to President Donald Trump, who has had a long-running feud with O’Donnell.
In 2011, O’Donnell called on NBC to fire Trump, then the host and executive producer of “The Celebrity Apprentice,” for pushing his racist and inaccurate “birther” conspiracy against President Barack Obama. In 2015, he also claimed that Trump was lying about his wealth. Trump threatened to sue O’Donnell for making false statements but never followed through on his threat (which O’Donnell had predicted).
According to three sources, Trump has pressured MSNBC President Phil Griffin to fire O’Donnell on multiple occasions. Griffin alluded to Trump’s push for O’Donnell’s ouster in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter last month, saying, “[Trump] started calling me all the time in 2011 to say Lawrence O’Donnell was a ‘third-rate’ anchor.” Griffin and O’Donnell enjoy a cordial relationship but Griffin’s power as the President of MSNBC has been diminished by Lack since he returned in 2015. As a result, Lack will be the one to decide whether O’Donnell stays and under what terms.
There is a fear, among some at MSNBC, that Lack is making programming decisions in an effort to appease the Trump administration (an accusation that has been made of CNN and Fox News), which may lead to more access to the White House and in turn, conservative viewers.
A senior NBC News executive pushed back on this claim. “Is he bringing in more voices from all over the political spectrum? Yes. But that’s to make better programming and more informed analysis. We don’t do things to appease people in power. We hold them accountable.”
If MSNBC failed to renew O’Donnell’s contract, it would be unprecedented, given his high ratings.
It’s unclear who would replace O’Donnell if MSNBC declines to renew his contract. Multiple sources have told HuffPost that Brian Williams, whose program, “The 11th Hour,” is on MSNBC at 11 p.m. Eastern, has been eager to have an earlier start in the evening schedule.
If MSNBC failed to renew O’Donnell’s contract, it would be unprecedented, given his high ratings, but multiple sources tell HuffPost that Lack attributes O’Donnell’s high-ratings to heightened interest in Trump and the fact that his program’s lead-in is the top-rated Rachel Maddow show, and doesn’t credit O’Donnell’s star power and fan base for the high-ratings. Despite this, Lack is said to dislike when people attribute his cable network’s blockbuster ratings to Trump: He believes, according to multiple sources, that the high ratings are largely a product of his programming decisions.
A senior NBC News executive disputes both of these characterizations saying that Lack believes ratings success is more nuanced than attributing it to one or two factors. “He considers prime time to be the “op-ed section” of the cable news network, and believes MSNBC is on top right now because it has the smartest, most insightful and most dynamic opinion hosts in the business,” the executive said.
O’Donnell is not giving up on what appears to be his quest to stay at MSNBC. On May 3, he tweeted about “The Last Word” program beating Hannity in the ratings. “We need audience support now more than ever,” O’Donnell replied. “So thanks again.”
Friday night, he sent another Twitter message about his rankings. “Last night @maddow was #1 rated show in all of cable tv, not just cable news. @TheLastWord was #2,” he wrote. “Thanks for your support. We need it.”
Four local TV channels (ABC 23, CW17, UNI31 and Fox28) have been sold to a giant right-wing media group called Sinclair. Rumors abound that with Fox reeling from bad publicity that the timing could not be more fortunate for Sinclair Broadcast Group: a Republican president is in the White House, his regulators have just eased rules on owning television stations and FOX the dominant name in conservative media is reeling from a sexual harassment scandal.
Now the battle for a bigger audience is on, as Sinclair and Fox each look to broaden their reach in the Trump era.
A Coveted collection of TV stations (not showing Eureka acquisitions)
The Sinclair Broadcast Group, the largest owner of local TV stations, serving 81 markets, has today announced the purchase of Tribune Media’s TV stations, many of which are in larger markets, like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Sinclair, which has little name recognition but beams local television stations into a quarter of American homes, covers plenty of standard local news, including fires, shootings and traffic. But it has also used its 173 television stations to advance a mostly right-leaning agenda since the presidency of George W. Bush.
Fox, the media conglomerate controlled by Rupert Murdoch and his sons, has long dominated conservative political discussion with its Fox News cable channel. But Fox News is in disarray after several scandals. In the last weeks alone, Fox News lost its biggest star, Bill O’Reilly, and one of its most senior executives, Bill Shine.
With Fox News on the ropes, Sinclair, already the largest owner of local television stations, is looking to expand. Until last week it appeared to be closing in on acquiring Tribune Media, the second-largest owner of such stations. If completed, the deal would expand Sinclair’s footprint from mostly smaller markets to some of the country’s largest cities, including Chicago and New York.
Then Fox stepped in. Working with the private equity firm Blackstone, Fox is considering its own offer for Tribune, a move intended to thwart Sinclair’s expansion plans and prevent it from amassing too many local Fox affiliates, according to people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to speak publicly. Bids for Tribune are due Thursday.
Sinclair is eager to broaden its reach. Last month, the company hired Boris Epshteyn, a former spokesman for President Trump, as its chief political analyst and on-air commentator. And the company has been emboldened by the Trump administration’s easing of rules that had stymied its expansion.
“Sinclair was growing and building before there was this Fox controversy,” said Armstrong Williams, owner of Howard Stirk Holdings, the largest African-American-owned station group, which has two affiliates that have joint-operating agreements with Sinclair. “It was leveraging itself and looking for acquisitions.”
Representatives for Sinclair and Fox declined to comment for this article.
Founded in 1971 by Julian Sinclair Smith, an electrical engineer who understood the growing importance of broadcast television, Sinclair has expanded from one station serving Baltimore to 173 stations and 81 markets across the country.
Much of that growth has come under the helm of Mr. Smith’s son David, Sinclair’s longtime chairman. Under the younger Mr. Smith, one of four brothers who together control the broadcaster’s voting stock, Sinclair has spent more than $7 billion since the mid-1990s on acquisitions, according to data from Standard & Poor’s Global Market Intelligence.
“We’re forever expanding — like the universe,” Mr. Smith told The Baltimore Sun in 1995.
It also operates stations owned by affiliates, some of which are majority owned by the Smith family, pushing up against Federal Communications Commission boundaries on station ownership in individual markets.
In 2009, burdened by nearly $1.3 billion of debt and the recession, Sinclair warned that it might be forced to file for bankruptcy protection. But today the company has a market value of nearly $3.4 billion and has expanded into original content and sports, even acquiring the Tennis Channel.
Along the way, Mr. Smith and his brothers have become active in politics. Some of their giving has been to Democrats, mostly for state and local races in Maryland. But a vast majority of their money has been funneled to Republican causes, including the Republican National Committee and a Mitt Romney fund-raising committee in 2012, according to Federal Election Commission disclosures.
In the last election cycle, the brothers donated tens of thousands of dollars to Republican causes, including at least $6,000 from Frederick Smith to a “super PAC” supporting Mr. Trump and $20,000 from David Smith to the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Despite Sinclair’s expansion in the last two decades, the nature of its holdings — a vast array of stations spread across markets and network affiliations — has meant that the company has never achieved the name recognition, or clout, of national broadcasters.
Still, critics say Sinclair’s programming makes its political bent abundantly clear.
While much of the station’s local news broadcasts are filled with local news, Sinclair also provides commentary and syndicated reports from its Washington bureau that have generally taken stances critical of Democrats and laudatory of Republicans.
Mark Hyman, a onetime Sinclair executive, has a twice-weekly segment on dozens of the group’s stations, promising to take viewers “behind the headlines.” What they find there are reliably conservative arguments on hotly contested political issues like voter identification laws, the Export-Import Bank and overhauling the Internal Revenue Service.
In the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Sinclair instructed anchors to read statements supporting Mr. Bush and his administration’s efforts to fight terrorism, The Baltimore Sun and others reported at the time.
Before the 2004 presidential election, Sinclair drew sharp criticism, including from Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, for its refusal to broadcast an episode of “Nightline” devoted to reciting the names of every member of the military killed in action in Iraq. The company, which sent Mr. Hyman and one of its reporters to Iraq earlier in the year to find positive stories that were not being told, said the broadcast amounted to an antiwar statement, The New York Times reported.
Then, just days before the election, Sinclair aired parts of a documentary critical of the anti-Vietnam War activities of John Kerry, the Democratic nominee. The company had originally planned to air the documentary in full, The Times reported, but pressure from advertisers and shareholders led it to run only excerpts during a program on the election.
More recently, Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and now a senior adviser in the White House, said at a meeting with business executives that the Trump campaign had reached an agreement with Sinclair to give more access to Mr. Trump and the campaign under the condition that the interviews be broadcast without commentary on the company’s affiliates, according to two people who had attended the meeting but were not authorized to discuss it. Taped in Sinclair’s Washington bureau, the interviews with Mr. Trump were broadcast across several swing states.
Sinclair has disputed reports that it engaged in any unusual arrangements with the Trump campaign, saying in a statement that it offered no deals on tone or subject matter and that it also approached Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign.
Still, questions about the ties between Sinclair and Mr. Trump have continued since Election Day.
In February, at one of his first news conferences as president, Mr. Trump granted the first of two questions to Scott Thuman, a reporter for Sinclair’s Washington ABC affiliate, WJLA, a rare distinction for a local broadcast affiliate.
When Mr. Epshteyn, one of Mr. Trump’s most visible on-air defenders during the campaign, was looking for a place to land last month after leaving a brief stint in the White House, he signed a deal with Sinclair.
“They have cobbled together this sort of old media infrastructure but have been so aggressive in their concentration and consolidation that it actually gives them a huge reach,” said Craig Aaron, president of Free Press, a consumer advocacy group. “And there is no question they are using this huge reach, especially in a lot of battleground states, to really push news with a Republican slant.”
Acquiring Tribune could further extend Sinclair’s influence, a potential expansion only recently made possible by the Trump administration.
Last month, after lobbying from media companies, the F.C.C. reinstated what is known as the “UHF discount.” While broadcasters are not permitted to cover more than 39 percent of American households, the discount lets companies exclude stations operating on ultrahigh frequencies from their calculations of station ownership. That move gives Sinclair plenty of breathing room to buy more stations.
Pursuing Tribune makes sense for Sinclair beyond politics. Becoming even bigger would allow Sinclair to push for higher fees from cable operators that retransmit its channels, while helping it fight similar fee demands from content providers, including Fox.
In particular, buying Tribune would make Sinclair the biggest owner of Fox affiliates by far, giving it more leverage over the Murdochs.
But Tim Graham, the director of media analysis at the Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog group, rejected the idea that Fox was under any imminent threat, from Sinclair or other competitors.
“You can talk a big game about Fox News on the ropes, but it’s still Muhammad Ali,” Mr. Graham said. “It’s still the champion, and everyone else is much smaller.”
sourced from: Lost Coast Outpost and New York Times