David Smith, CEO of Sinclair Broadcast Group, photographed on September 8, 1998.
Photo: Portland Press Herald/Getty Images
David Smith, the executive chairman of Sinclair Broadcast Group, said he dislikes and fundamentally distrusts the print media, which he believes “serves no real purpose.” In emails to New York, Smith said that print — as in newspapers and magazines — is a reality-distorting tool of leftists. Print media, he said, has “no credibility” and no relevance.
“I must tell that in all the 45 plus years I have been in the media business I have never seen a single article about us that is reflective of reality especially in today’s world with the shameful political environment and generally complete lack of integrity. Facts and truth have been lost for a long time and likely to never return,” Smith said.
“The print media is so left wing as to be meaningless dribble which accounts for why the industry is and will fade away. Just no credibility.”
Smith may not be as identifiable as Rupert Murdoch or Jeff Bezos, but he’s as powerful; his influence saturates American homes through the 193 television stations he owns or controls, peppered throughout 39 states, spanning from New York to California (though concentrated in the South and Midwest).
Founded as the Chesapeake Television Corporation in 1971 by his father, Julian Sinclair Smith, his company began its expansion and changed its name to Sinclair Broadcasting Company in 1985, the year before the Fox Broadcasting Company was launched. David Smith and his brothers assumed control of the business; previously, David had been a partner at Ciné Processors, a bootleg porn manufacturer owned by the elder Smith’s company, the Commercial Radio Institute, according to a 2005 story in Rolling Stone. Fox News is usually given credit for the media-induced changes to the conservative movement, and to American politics more broadly, over the last two decades. But in the Trump era, Sinclair’s creeping domination has emerged more obviously.
The topic of some interest in the last year, in part due to a long segment on Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, Sinclair became the subject of horrified fascination in a more mainstream way over the weekend, when Deadspin published a supercut of dozens of its anchors, from San Antonio to Michigan, reciting an anti-media script on the air.
The eerie video, in which dozens of well-coiffed men and women robotically read the same words and phrases into the camera in segments from last month, went viral, attracting tens of thousands of retweets and millions of views.
“We’re concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country,” the Sinclair script read. “Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think. This is extremely dangerous to a democracy.”
On Monday, 15 minutes before he was scheduled to host a breakfast reception for the White House Easter Egg Roll, President Donald Trump took a break from his central morning activities — needling China into a trade war and posturing for his anti-immigrant supporters — to defend Sinclair on Twitter. “So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased,” he said. “Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.”
New York communicated with Smith in mid-November, after requesting an interview. “Appreciate the interest in your wanting to do a story but we don’t talk to the print media as a general principal as we find them to be so devoid of reality and serving no real purpose. Have a great holiday,” Smith said in response. Later, he added, “Again my experience has consistently been that even with an interview it’s of no consequence in terms of spin, facts or distortion, political bent etc. The print media is so left wing as to be meaningless dribble which accounts for why the industry is and will fade away. Just no credibility. see ya.”
For a pundit or a far-right politician, statements like Smith’s have become expected in the Trump era. But from one of the most powerful media executives in the country, they’re not. “The media” is typically talked about as though it’s a monolith, with no distinctions made between news or opinion, reporters or columnists, anchors or commentators. To cast doubt over certain swaths of the industry, then, is to risk unsettling whatever faith is left in the whole gamut. And if TV is the only pure and honest news source, what about the websites of TV networks, like NBC.com or CNN.com, where reporting that is technically considered print appears? Or what about TV reporting that’s informed by stories that appeared in the New York Times or the Washington Post? Is any information that doesn’t come directly from Sinclair or from the mouth of David Smith himself suspect? Perhaps that’s the idea.
When New York asked Smith if he’d be open to meeting off the record at least, he replied, “I have also learned that there is no such thing as off the record. Bye.”