Trump Throws His FCC Under The Bus For Pointing Out Sinclair May Have Lied During Its Merger Sales Pitch

from the damn-you-for-doing-your-job dept

So back in 2015 you might recall that Republicans threw a tremendous hissy fit when the then Obama administration surprisingly threw its full support behind Title II classification of ISPs and real net neutrality. It was surprising in large part because Obama's first FCC boss pick, Julius Genachowski, was comically wishy washy, often refusing to take hard positions on much of anything. It was also surprising because Genachowski's replacement, Tom Wheeler, appeared to be the type of person to change their mind after being presented with hard evidence, a notably unfashionable trait in DC these days.

The histrionic claim at the time, you might recall, was that Obama had broken some long-established law by expressing a preference for a direction of FCC policy. This despite the fact that there is no law preventing the White House from doing so, and history is filled with examples of both sides of the aisle doing just that (from George W. Bush urging former FCC Chairman Michael Powell to eliminate media ownership rules, to when Bill Clinton urged former Chairman Reed Hundt to ban hard liquor advertising on TV).

Fast forward to this week when President Trump decided to have a little hissy fit about the FCC's decision to kick the Sinclair Tribune merger over to an administrative law judge, largely because even Ajit Pai's FCC couldn't sign off on some of the logistical nonsense Sinclair was engaged in to try and seal the deal:

So one, you'll notice that the same folks that threw a hissy fit because of Obama's public support of net neutrality are suddenly nowhere to be found when the shoe's on the other foot (though again, Trump's Tweet is perfectly legal). Two, the FCC didn't block the deal, it simply passed an order passing off review to an administrative law judge. Why? Because, as the FCC's Hearing Designation Order (pdf) argues, Sinclair was engaged in all kinds of bullshit in a bid to fool regulators that the deal would fall under the current media ownership cap designed to protect smaller local news competitors (and quality discourse) from major industry domination.

That included efforts to try and pretend the merger (which would result in Sinclair reaching 72% of homes) would fall under the media ownership cap (which states no single broadcaster can reach any more than 39% of homes) by engaging in bogus broadcast station "divestitures." More specifically, Sinclair proposed a number of what critics say are "sham" transactions that involved "divesting" local broadcasters to shell companies or Sinclair partners still arguably controlled by Sinclair.

Some of these companies had zero experience in broadcasting (Like Steven Fader, CEO of a car dealership), would have nabbed the stations at seriously discounted rates, and there was every indication that Sinclair would either still control these divested stations, or simply buy them back for a song post merger. The distortions and falsehoods were so bad that even Pai, whose allergy to factual data was made glaringly obvious during the net neutrality repeal, was forced to balk, admitting that, as structured, Sinclair's merger pitch likely would have violated Sections 309(a) and 310(d) of the Communications Act of 1934.

Again if you've watched Pai routinely twist reality itself, his forced retreat should give you some idea how badly Sinclair botched its merger approval application. And while the fact that an FCC investigation into potential corruption and cooperation with Sinclair may have also motivated Pai's sense of political self-preservation to kick in, it still wound up being an overall good move, even if potentially for the wrong reasons. Especially if you've had a chance to see the kind of facts-optional nonsense Sinclair routinely forces its local broadcast stations to air in creepy, lobotomized unison.

That said, shoveling merger approval off to an administrative law judge, while sometimes fatal, doesn't guarantee the merger dies. As former FCC boss Tom Wheeler noted this week in a blog post, the administrative hearing could still be used as an "administrative smokescreen," with the broader deal still being approved thanks to a year's worth of efforts by Pai to weaken media ownership rules. Trump's Tweet would appear to be an attempt to pressure the Pai FCC toward approving the remainder of the deal anyway, regardless of how misleading Sinclair's sales pitch has been.

Filed Under: ajit pai, donald trump, fcc, mergers
Companies: sinclair, sinclair broadcasting


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jul 2018 @ 6:34am

    Trump needs to go through obedience school. Twitter can the treat he gets when he's a good boy and does the trick successfully.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Jul 2018 @ 8:50am

      Re:

      "Twitter can [be] the treat he gets when he's a good boy"

      Trump may soon be "treating" himself to Twitter in more ways than one. Twitter is now the latest target of Trump's "hissy fits" and we'll see if he gets much support for his idea to (potentially) regulate social media sites.

      https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1022447980408983552

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 26 Jul 2018 @ 10:16am

        Re: Re:

        He can drum up all the support he wants; until the legislature/the Supreme Court repeal or undo every law that says Twitter management has every right to moderate a privately-owned platform however they choose (albeit within the limits of those existing laws), he can go fuck himself for all that it matters.

        Incidentally, his entire complaint is based on a VICE article that claimed Twitter was “shadowbanning” conservatives for being conservative. All he and his supporters want from Twitter is a special “you can’t ban us” privilege that shields conservatives, and only conservatives, from the consequences of misbehavior (i.e., breaking the Terms of Service). If they hate being told that their behavior is unacceptable, they should get off the platform and go make one of their own.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 26 Jul 2018 @ 10:47am

          Re: Supreme Court repeal or undo every law

          You mean, the same Supreme Court that Trump is busily stacking with Conservatives?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            David, 26 Jul 2018 @ 10:56am

            Re: Re: Supreme Court repeal or undo every law

            I find it rather annoying how Americans have hijacked words like "conservatives" and "liberals" to mean utterly different things than the common English language meanings. I mean, those are words with _inherent_ political meaning, and the Merkins are taking a big humptydumpty all over them.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Thad, 26 Jul 2018 @ 10:57am

            Re: Re: Supreme Court repeal or undo every law

            If you think any of the conservatives on the Supreme Court are in favor of limiting corporate speech, then you really haven't been paying attention.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 27 Jul 2018 @ 5:25am

            Re: Re: Supreme Court repeal or undo every law

            What is a conservative?
            - Is it "social conservative" (mostly a political and religious construct and more regressive/counter-culture than conservative): Man and woman marriage, 100 % ban on abortion and no use of prevention?
            - Is it "originalism" (A legal interpretation that is not on its own actual conservative, but certainly gives more room for it!): Very literal interpretation of legal texts?
            - Is it "Machiavellian republicanism" (By this point in history that is very regressive and hereditary monarchic as opposted to republican, but it holds some deep fascination to many conservatives): No taxes and no gun restrictions of any kind. If you need money you kill your rich enemies and seize their assets or plunder thy neighbors through honourable war!
            - Is it "libertarianism" (libertarianism is an economic ideology, not a political value): No or as little regulation as possible of the economy?

            When you conserve something you preserve its core. It ain't as tasty and appealing as fresh, but it won't perish like that either. Conservativism is to protect what is (moral, economy, laws, traditions) against "disruption" and only accept slow change! For god, king and country!

            Republicans in USA are to some degree regressive as opposed to conservative and counter-culture as opposed to slowing cultural shifts. It would be fine with a conservative media, but that would probably befall Bloomberg or Politico more than the ones called it today.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              The Wanderer (profile), 27 Jul 2018 @ 9:20am

              Re: Re: Re: Supreme Court repeal or undo every law

              I've considered that same question myself, in the context of wondering how the terms "liberal" and "conservative" came to be applied to the political factions.

              How I think it came about is as a way of describing those factions' (then) attitudes towards expenditure of resources.

              One faction took a position of "spend our resources freely, to produce positive results". This position came to be described as "liberal", in a sense of that word meaning "unstinting; without restraint", such as is used in "spread butter liberally over the toast".

              The other faction took a position of "conserve our resources, so that we have them available for later use". This position came to be described as "conservative".

              Everything else that's attached to those adjectives in a political sense came about later, by association. (And of course, to some extent, the factions later shifted away from the positions those adjectives originally described.)

              I have zero historical evidence to use to back that up, but it's the only way I've been able to reconcile the political meanings of those words with their more ordinary-English meanings.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                Uriel-238 (profile), 27 Jul 2018 @ 10:33am

                Stimulation vs. Austerity

                The association with moral values associated with conservatism was hatched by the Religious Right who endeavored to politicize religion starting around the 70s and 80s. Before that, churches made a point to stay out of politics, though also they were less threatened by non-Christian ideologies, whether antitheism or competing faiths like Islam and Hindu.

                But the right has been about preserving the status quo. Things are fine the way they are. Often because the King says so.

                And the left has been about changing the parts where things are going wrong, usually because too many people are miserable.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 26 Jul 2018 @ 11:48am

          Re: Re: Re:

          " they should get off the platform and go make one of their own."

          People who do just that, and set up their own platform for almost any kind of "unacceptable" (but legal) online content can expect to get kicked out by their domain registrar, kicked out by their hosting provider, and kicked out by their payment processor. The tactics developed and used by the entertainment industry's copyright pressure groups against bittorrent and related content sites years ago have more recently been used as a weapon against racist white nationalist sites to knock them offline and constantly keep them scrambling trying to stay alive in a never ending game of Whac a mole.

          It's not just tiny extremist sites that have been affected. Fox News and Breitbart have been hit by advertiser boycotts due to activist pressure against companies that advertise there. As has Infowars, which responded by marketing it's own snake oil "dietary supplements" claimed to ward off evil spirits or whatever.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Stephen T. Stone (profile), 26 Jul 2018 @ 11:57am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            We should question the inherent power of controlling speech that lies in the hands of domain registrars and hosting companies, yes. The harder conversation is about whether we should force those organizations to host speech they do not want to, and otherwise would not, host. We should—we must—have those conversations now, before registars and hosting companies use this power for far more nefarious reasons than kicking a White supremacist forum off the web.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Jul 2018 @ 8:49am

      Re:

      Trump needs to go through obedience school.

      He already did. Didn't you see him in Helsinki?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 26 Jul 2018 @ 6:42am

    "So one, you'll notice that the same folks that threw a hissy fit because of Obama's public support of net neutrality are suddenly nowhere to be found when the shoe's on the other foot."

    BUT WHAT ABOUT BENGHAZI? - The folks mentioned

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 26 Jul 2018 @ 6:54am

    Creepy, to say the least

    This would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People.

    We are talking here about a unification of news outlets. News outlets are supposed to report on facts and those are the same all over the country.

    Having a plurality of those would seem like a good thing. If a unification is "great and much needed", we are either talking about extraordinary facts that would fall apart when viewed by independent outlets or extraordinary conclusions that would fall apart when drawn by independent outlets.

    In other words, Trump openly wants a nation-wide uniform propaganda outlet of unprecedented scale.

    I'd consider his Tweet definitive evidence that the merger should be denied exactly for the reasons the rules for such a merger exist. While it's not clear his administration or government is equally problematically involved here, it is very clear that the president very much wants to dig in with both of his hands in this cookie jar.

    That alone should be reason enough to stop this merger.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jul 2018 @ 8:01am

    So what's wrong with lying?

    The president does it all the time!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 26 Jul 2018 @ 8:48am

      Re: So what's wrong with lying?

      Nothing wrong with lying. It's just that in order to avoid contradictions, you want to be lying with one voice.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Jul 2018 @ 12:25pm

      Re: So what's wrong with lying?

      That, I am afraid, is the lesson children are learning.
      "If you want to be somebody important someday, like the President, you need to start practicing your lying now."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 26 Jul 2018 @ 8:55pm

        Re: Re: So what's wrong with lying?

        I recall a story often told in early grade school to extol the virtues of telling the truth. It was the old "Washington as a kid chopped down a cherry tree" fairy tale. Best of all? Once Washington's dad forgave his son, the story immediately transits to Washington becoming the first President. "Admit to the truth, become president of a country!" was the message given to impressionable children.

        Never mind the fact that the two are completely exclusive events with no bearing on the other, the story was complete fiction to begin with - not that anyone would tell kids, or realize that for themselves, in the era before the Internet.

        Today, kids are learning at increasingly younger ages that to get anywhere in politics you have to lie your ass off. Preferably somebody else's ass off along with it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 26 Jul 2018 @ 8:46am

    DoublePlus Good.

    All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.

    What can you do against the lunatic who is more intelligent than yourself, who gives your arguments a fair hearing and then simply persists in his lunacy?

    Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.

    In a way, the world−view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it. They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening. By lack of understanding they remained sane. They simply swallowed everything, and what they swallowed did them no harm, because it left no residue behind, just as a grain of corn will pass undigested through the body of a bird.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jul 2018 @ 11:42am

    "Why? Because, as the FCC's order points out, Sinclair was engaged in all kinds of bullshit in a bid to fool regulators that the deal would fall under the current media ownership cap designed to protect smaller local news competitors (and quality discourse) from major industry domination."

    Yes when we lie to the feds, we don't get measly slaps on the wrists, we go to jail for a long time. It would be nice to have one day actual punishments for the executives in charge here.*

    *Now if that actually happened, all the exec would do is scapegoat an underling who they made lie to the feds. so there is still that. But its a step we can deal with.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jul 2018 @ 9:48pm

    I made the mistake of looking at the Trump Twitter feed. While I did expect a lot of partisan shouting, I was not fully prepared for the sheer amount of stupid contained therein.

    There is simply no way a person of honesty and integrity will ever become president (or probably any other federal elected official) with that much blind acceptance and unrestrained vitriol coming from people in both major parties. The USA is in trouble both due to its people and its leaders :(

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      The Wanderer (profile), 27 Jul 2018 @ 9:23am

      Re:

      Reminds me of a recent opinion article entitled "Trump is America's Greatest President".

      The thrust of the argument is that in all of Trump's faults, he perfectly represents many of America's faults - both current and historical - and so may be a better representation of the American people than any president before him.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 27 Jul 2018 @ 4:31pm

        Re: better representation of the American people

        Except more people voted for Clinton than for him.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          The Wanderer (profile), 28 Jul 2018 @ 3:46am

          Re: Re: better representation of the American people

          While true, that's irrelevant to the question of how good a mirror of America he is.

          Part of the design of the system was to help make sure the people elected to high office were better than the population which elected them; if nothing else, that's part (if not all) of the purpose of the Electoral College.

          If historically the system has generally been achieving that, but failed in the case of Trump, then Trump may be a better mirror of the country (past as well as present) even without having been elected by a majority of that country.

          I don't necessarily agree with the argument (from/underlying) that article, mind. But it does make a certain amount of intuitive, or possibly poetic, sense.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    javiroccam (profile), 14 Feb 2019 @ 10:07am

    Increible

    Trump does it all the time


    Mira mi empresa de limpieza en El Ejido, busco calidad y mejorar siempre.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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