Even while under fire for requiring its outlets to run conservative content, Sinclair Broadcasting is increasing the "must run" segments across its affiliates featuring former Trump White House official Boris Epshteyn to nine times a week, the company confirmed on Monday.
The move comes as the company is seeking to dramatically expand its holdings by purchasing Tribune Media for $3.9 billion, which would make it the largest local television operator in the country, with more than 200 stations.
But Sinclair’s unusual practice of requiring all its stations to run reports dictated from the corporate offices has been flagged by critics of the Tribune acquisition and even become a subject of late-night TV ribbing by HBO’s John Oliver.
"Should this Tribune acquisition go through, there are going to be even more good journalists having to see their hard work placed alongside terror-desk nonsense, just as there will be more unsuspecting audience members who will get a heaping dose of Sinclair content, possibly without realizing that," Oliver said, referring to one of Sinclair’s required segments, Terrorism Alert Desk. "You should find out who owns your local station and bear that in mind as you watch."
Epshteyn was hired by Sinclair as chief political analyst in April after a short ride in the White House overseeing the choice of Trump surrogates for TV appearances.
Now, on Sinclair, he is offering his own political commentary.
His "Bottom Line with Boris" segments already air three times a week, but will now triple in frequency, featuring a mix of his political commentary as well as "talk backs" with local stations and interviews with members of Congress. The segments will have a “billboard,” meaning they’re sponsored, but will not be sponsored content, a Sinclair spokesperson said.
Epshteyn’s segments are “must runs,” so all the Sinclair stations across the country will air them along with their other “must run” segments including conservative commentary from Mark Hyman and the Terrorism Alert Desk segments. Epshteyn reliably parrots the White House’s point of view on most issues. For example, he claimed last month that former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony on Capitol Hill was more damaging to Hillary Clinton and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch than to the president.
"Contrary to widespread expectations, we actually learned much more about the president’s opponents and his critics from Comey’s testimony that about any issue involving the president himself," Epshteyn said.
Sinclair declined to comment on what went into the decision to add more segments from Epshteyn.
But the company defended its practice of requiring stations to run certain types of content, even in the wake of Oliver’s ridiculing.
"While we appreciate John Oliver’s unique brand of humor, we stand by our approach to sharing content among our stations to supplement the excellent work our newsroom staffs do every day in service to their communities," Sinclair said in a statement.
The Smith family, which has owned the Maryland-based Sinclair since its founding in 1971, is known for its conservative views.
Last month, POLITICO reported that Frederick G. Smith, vice president and director of Sinclair Broadcasting, sent a contribution to Montana’s Republican representative Greg Gianforte on the day after Gianforte was charged with assault for putting a "body slam" on a reporter for The Guardian.