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TV anchors decrying ‘fake’ news put spotlight on Sinclair Broadcast Group

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By Monday, the video had put Sinclair back under the media spotlight, leading Trump to tweet in defense of the TV behemoth as “far superior” to its “fake” competitors including “even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.”

The video and resulting fallout have drawn fresh scrutiny to Sinclair, its politics and the ongoing controversy over its proposed $3.9 billion acquisition of the Tribune Company — a deal that would give Sinclair reach into seven out of 10 U.S. households.

Sinclair’s willingness to push political content on its local broadcast stations has been a topic of contention going back to 2004, when it was criticized for a program that attacked the military record of the Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry just before the election.

Based in Hunt Valley, Maryland, the company has showcased conservative commentators on dozens of its stations. Boris Epshteyn, a Russian-born former Trump adviser, now serves as Sinclair’s chief political analyst.

More recently, the company has mandated that its stations run a segment about the so-called deep state that featured former White House aide Sebastian Gorka, who has pushed a pro-America foreign policy position and claimed shadow government employees are trying to undermine the U.S. government.

The injection of politics in Sinclair’s programming was examined last year on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.”

Sinclair owns or operates more than 190 broadcast stations across the U.S., including 22 NBC affiliates and others of ABC, CBS and Fox in major markets. Except for their own programming, the networks do not control the content that appears on Sinclair-owned affiliates.

It was not immediately clear how many Sinclair stations aired a version of the script.

In a memo sent to Sinclair employees and obtained by NBC News, Scott Livingston, senior vice president of news at Sinclair, responded to criticism of the company in relation to the Deadspin video.

“The critics are now upset about our well-researched journalistic initiative focused on fair and objective reporting,” Livingston wrote. “For the record, the stories we are referencing in this campaign are the unsubstantiated ones (i.e. fake/false) like ‘Pope Endorses Trump’ which move quickly across social media and result in an ill-informed public. Some other false stories, like the false ‘Pizzagate’ story, can result in dangerous consequences.”

Livingston referenced a Monmouth University poll released Monday. The poll found that three in four Americans agreed that major TV and newspaper outlets report “fake news.”

“This poll underscores the importance of our journalistic responsibility effort. We hold ourselves to the highest standards of accuracy and fact checking,” Livingston wrote.

Perceived bias in media coverage has been under scrutiny since Trump took office last year and repeatedly accused media outlets, including NBC News, of being “fake.”

“Confidence in an independent Fourth Estate is a cornerstone of a healthy democracy,” Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said in a statement. “Ours appears to be headed for the intensive care unit.”

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Sinclair, meanwhile, has been working to acquire more TV stations. If the Federal Communications Commission approves its acquisition of Tribune, Sinclair would control more than 220 stations, including in larger markets such as Chicago, New York and Washington. Sinclair has said it will sell but continue to operate the TV stations in Chicago and New York if the deal is approved.

The company has been accused of wielding influence within the Trump administration to get federal regulations eased that would both eliminate many longstanding rules that put limits on media ownership and pave the way for a successful merger with Tribune.

The Tribune deal was announced after new FCC regulations went through in April 2017 in a 3-2 Republican-majority vote.

Democrats and critics on the left have voiced outrage, saying it shows the Trump administration playing favorites to get more conservative-oriented voices on local news stations.

“This agency is organizing all of its media policies around the interests of this one company,” Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic member of the FCC, told NBC News in November. “That’s troubling. That’s not right. It deserves an investigation.”

Late in 2017, the FCC inspector general launched an investigation into FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and whether the moves he spearheaded had been meant to aid Sinclair.



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Twitter temporarily suspends GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene

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Twitter suspended Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., for 12 hours on Sunday, saying that she has repeatedly run afoul of the company’s misinformation policy.

“The account referenced has been temporarily locked out for multiple violations of our civic integrity policy,” a Twitter spokesperson said.

Greene’s most recent posts included one in which she made false claims about widespread voter fraud in Georgia in both the November election and in the Jan. 5 Senate runoffs and another series of tweets in which she repeated more debunked claims and called Georgia’s elections officials “morons.”

Twitter restricted those posts from further promotion and slapped them with warning labels. Her account remained live, but she is unable to post.

Following the riot at the Capitol earlier this month, Twitter has ramped up its crackdown on misleading and false information on its platform. Since the violence, Twitter has suspended tens of thousands of accounts tied to the QAnon conspiracy theory, in addition to indefinitely barring President Donald Trump.

Twitter’s civic integrity policy states the company “will label or remove false or misleading information intended to undermine public confidence in an election or other civic process.”

“This includes but is not limited to: disputed claims that could undermine faith in the process itself, such as unverified information about election rigging, ballot tampering, vote tallying, or certification of election results; and misleading claims about the results or outcome of a civic process which calls for or could lead to interference with the implementation of the results of the process,” the company’s policies state.

A freshman lawmaker and a vocal supporter of Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, Greene has previously expressed sympathy for QAnon, though she has since sought to distance herself. Greene, who already pledged to try and impeach President-elect Joe Biden on his first day in office, has come under fire from both Democrats and Republicans since the riots.

“She’s cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs,” Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., wrote in an op-ed, criticizing House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., for not disavowing her campaign.



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The stakes are high for Biden’s inaugural address. Here’s what to expect.

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As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office facing more crisis than any other president in modern-American history, the stakes for his inaugural address could not be higher.

A transition official tells NBC News Biden has been working on the speech this weekend with family and his senior adviser Mike Donilon and it will emphasize familiar themes from his campaign: unity, healing and a vision for the many crises the country is facing.

Advisers also say the address will echo some of Biden’s recent speeches, which have doubled as opportunities to test inaugural themes. As he unveiled his $1.9 trillion economic package last week Biden cast bipartisanship as essential to addressing the economy and the Covid-19 pandemic: “Unity is not some pie in the sky dream — it’s a practical step to getting the things we have to get done as a country, get done together,” he said.

Still, we are told not to expect Biden’s speech to be filled with soaring rhetoric. Biden believes he connects with people more effectively by taking a plain-spoken approach.

As one Democratic source noted, while some of the most famous lines in American political history are from inaugural addresses — Lincoln’s “malice toward none, charity toward all,” FDR’s “only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you” — most Americans likely couldn’t recall major lines from most of the rest.

There is pressure on speechwriters to “write for history.” But Biden’s allies believe that the speech offers an opportunity to continue in the leadership role he has been playing already throughout the transition — at a moment of crisis, demonstrating to the much wider audience that will be tuning in that someone is firmly in charge. That’s why Biden’s speeches throughout the transition have often included a simple line: “Help is on the way,” according to this Democratic source.

“People are just yearning for a little bit of normalcy, and someone who knows what they’re doing and has their hand on the wheel. He’s really good at that,” the Democratic source said. The speech is “going to be Joe Biden” because “unity is part of who Joe Biden is. That’s what he believes.”

Donilon is a chief architect, as he has been of Biden’s message not just in this campaign but most of his previous campaigns. He’s working alongside Vinay Reddy, Biden’s director of speechwriting, who worked for Biden when he was vice president.

Biden’s challenge will be reaching the voters who are still staunchly behind President Donald Trump. He told NBC’s Kristen Welker during the last presidential debate that, if elected, he would use his address to say, “I’m an American President. I represent all of you, whether you voted for me or against me, and I’m going to make sure that you’re represented.”

Aides say Biden will likely end on a similar note that he has highlighted in almost every speech he has given for the past six months: there is nothing Americans cannot do in spite of these challenges if Americans do it together.

In an interview on Sunday with ABC’s “This Week,” incoming White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield said the speech “will be a reflection of a lot of what you heard from him on the campaign trail, which is that he believes we can bring this country together. He believes that we have to bring this country together, that a unified America is the only way that we’re going to be able to tackle the massive crises that we’re grappling with.”

She added, “I think you can expect that this will be a moment where President-elect Biden will really work to try to turn the page on the divisiveness and the hatred over the last four years and really lay out a positive, optimistic vision for the country, and lay out a way — lay out a path forward that really calls on all of us to work together.”



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Trump should not be prosecuted for Capitol riot incitement, former FBI Director James Comey says

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President Donald Trump should be convicted by the Senate, but not criminally prosecuted for inciting Capitol rioters, former FBI Director James Comey said Sunday, adding that it would give America space to “heal.”

“The country would be better off if we did not give him the platform that a prosecution would for the next three years,” Comey told British broadcaster Sky News, which like NBC News, is owned by Comcast Corp.

“Instead, turn off the camera lights,” said Comey, who was fired from his role as FBI Director in 2017 by Trump while he was leading a probe into the president’s 2016 presidential campaign’s possible collusion with Russia, added.

“I’d like to see some of the lights go out and he can stand on the front lawn at Mar-a-Lago and shout at cars in his bathrobe and none of us will hear it,” he said.

Trump became the first U.S. president to be impeached twice last week for his role in inciting a violent mob of his supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

The Senate will now decide whether Trump should be convicted on the incitement of insurrection charge, and there has also been discussion of potential criminal charges arising from the same conduct after he leaves office.

Comey, 60, said he would like to see Trump convicted by the Senate and barred from ever holding public office again, but the ex-FBI boss said he was concerned a prosecution would impede Biden’s efforts to reunite the nation.

“The country needs to find a way to heal itself and the new president needs the opportunity to lead and heal us — both literally and spiritually,” Comey said. “And that will be much, much harder if the Donald Trump show is on our television screens every single day in the nation’s capital.”

He said the trial would give Trump the attention he craves.

“That would go on for three or four years,” Comey said. “How does Joe Biden do what our country needs him to do in that environment?”

The decision to prosecute a former president should be a balancing test between the strength of the criminal case, and the socially and politically divisive consequences of a trial, according to NBC News’ legal analyst Danny Cevallos.

“If the case against Trump for incitement was a slam dunk, then the benefit of prosecution may outweigh the potential harm to the republic,” Cevallos said in response to Comey’s comments. “The prosecution’s case is not a slam dunk. Trump has formidable free speech and other defenses to incitement.”

History has seen America faced with a similar dilemma, he said, adding that President Gerald Ford issued a controversial pardon for former President Richard Nixon, which many say cost Ford his popularity and a longer term as president.

“We’ll never know, but a Nixon prosecution might have prolonged — rather than solved — the country’s pain,” he added.

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The attack on the Capitol, the seat of American democracy, reverberated through the country, causing political upheaval just days before Joe Biden comes into power and leaving authorities throughout the country on alert for more violence ahead of Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

Comey said he was optimistic that the threat of new violence will be neutralized, but said it has to be taken very seriously by law enforcement.

He said he was “sickened” by the attack on the Capitol and the failure to defend the building.

“It mystifies and angers me,” Comey said, adding: “It will be important for our country to understand that failure.”



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