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‘The most dangerous US company you have never heard of”: Sinclair, a rightwing media giant!

2 Apr

 

Sinclair is the largest broadcast company in America. But its partisan politics – and connections to the White House – are raising concerns

 

Most Americans don’t know it exists. Primetime US news refers to it as an “under-the-radar company”. Unlike Fox News and Rupert Murdoch, virtually no one outside of business circles could name its CEO. And yet, Sinclair Media Group is the owner of the largest number of TV stations in America.

“Sinclair’s probably the most dangerous company most people have never heard of,” said Michael Copps, the George W Bush-appointed former chairman of Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the top US broadcast regulator.

John Oliver – host of HBO’s weekly satirical show Last Week Tonight – used a similar line when he introduced an 18-minute segment on Sinclair last month by referring to it as “maybe the most influential media company you never heard of”.

But that is beginning to change. Sinclair’s size, rightwing politics and close connections to Donald Trump’s White House are starting to attract attention. Democrats are wading in to the fray and demanding answers over Sinclair’s close ties to the Trump administration, which, they say, could mean the group is getting preferential treatment.

The New York Times refers to the group as a “conservative giant” that, since the Bush presidency, has used its 173 television stations “to advance a mostly right-leaning agenda”. The Washington Post describes it as a “company with a long history of favoring conservative causes and candidates on its stations’ newscasts”.

More recently, Sinclair has added a website, Circa, to its portfolio. But not any old website. Circa has been described as “the new Breitbart” and a favorite among White House aides who wish to platform news to a friendly source (a process otherwise known as “leaking”). As the US news site the Root put it: “What if Breitbart and Fox News had a couple of babies? What if they grew up to be a cool, slicker version of their parents and started becoming more powerful? Meet Sinclair and Circa –Donald Trump’s new besties.”

The growing anxiety in America over the rise of Sinclair stems from the belief the company’s close connections to Trump have allowed it to skirt market regulations. Already the biggest broadcaster in the country, Sinclair is poised to make its biggest move yet. If the FCC approves Sinclair’s $3.9bn purchase of an additional 42 stations, it would reach into the homes of almost three-quarters of Americans.

 

 

Another cause for concern, and increased scrutiny, is what’s seen as the company’s pronounced political agenda. Sinclair forces its local stations to run pro-Trump “news” segments. In April, they hired Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump campaign spokesman and member of the White House press office, as its chief political analyst. His “must-run” 10-minute political commentary segments unsurprisingly hewed closely to the Trump administration’s message. The news and analysis website Slate, referring to Epshteyn’s contributions, said: “As far as propaganda goes, this is pure, industrial-strength stuff.”

Some local stations have reportedly chafed at the idea of pro-Trump “must run” packages. Sinclair’s management says the packages are necessary to provide viewers with diverse viewpoints as a counterweight to progressive leanings they’re convinced are held by the media, including the staff of their own local stations. “Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the media is left of center,” David Smith, then Sinclair’s CEO, told Rolling Stone in 2005.

But Sinclair’s politics isn’t restricted to Epshteyn’s contributions. It has a long history of airing material which has often been controversial, and for which it has been sanctioned in the past – all the while purporting to simply report the “news”.

While it doesn’t have the cultural cachet of major conservative networks like Fox News, Sinclair’s influence is more subtle. Unlike Fox News, which brands itself clearly and proudly, most viewers of Sinclair’s local stations have no idea who owns them since they are not branded as part of the Sinclair network.

But it is their intended purchase of a collection of new stations owned by Tribune Media – the former owners of the illustrious Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times – that has thrust them into the national spotlight unlike ever before.

“It used to be a few years ago there were some mergers that were unthinkable,” Copps, now with the DC-based watchdog group Common Cause, told the Guardian. “We’re in a period now when everything’s so wild that nothing is unthinkable.”

 

 

For the Trump administration, Sinclair has obvious appeal

The figure that looms large behind Sinclair is David Smith, whose father founded the company in the Nixon era. Smith recently ended his 28-year reign as CEO, and along with his brothers maintains what an industry publication called “iron-clad control” of the billion-dollar media empire as well as the company’s majority financial interest.

The Smith family, based in and around Baltimore, likes to keep a low profile – they give few interviews and David Smith has no Wikipedia page. “We would tend to maintain as much anonymity as we can,” he told the Baltimore Sun in 1995, one of the rare times he’s spoken to the press.

Their political agenda is somewhat less mysterious. Campaign finance records show the Smith brothers have historically donated overwhelmingly to Republicans. And a Washington Post analysis of the company’s 2016 presidential election coverage found Sinclair stations were unusually favorable towards Trump and negative towards Hillary Clinton.

During last year’s presidential campaign, Sinclair conducted zero interviews with Clinton. But it touted 15 “exclusive” ones with Trump, which aired mostly in critical swing states in the final months of the election and without any commentary, despite the copious fact-checking Trump interviews tend to require. Sinclair has insisted it had no special arrangement with the Trump campaign and that Clinton simply did not make herself available to them. Clinton campaign officials say they spurned Sinclair for a reason, though her vice-presidential nominee, Tim Kaine, gave a handful interviews to Sinclair stations.

According to Politico, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner told a room full of Manhattan business executives that the campaign had struck a deal with Sinclair to secure better coverage in the states where they needed spots most.

 

Former FCC Commissioner Pai and Chairman Wheeler testify at House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the FCC’s 2016 budget.

 

The manner in which Sinclair looks set to expand – specifically, with Trump paving the way – is causing widespread anxiety throughout media and political circles. The focus of the concern is Ajit Pai, the man Trump appointed as head of the country’s top broadcasting regulator, the FCC.

Since he began work in January, Pai has been busy relaxing the protections for local broadcasting that had previously limited Sinclair’s expansion.

Trump’s new-look FCC has moved swiftly to clear the hurdles for Sinclair’s proposed takeover of Tribune. A day before Trump was inaugurated, Smith invited Pai to a meeting at the Washington-area headquarters of the company’s ABC affiliate. Within 10 days of taking over the FCC, a New York Times investigation found, Pai had already relaxed a restriction on TV stations’ sharing of resources, including ad revenue – precisely the topic Smith had met with Pai about.

Since January, the Times report found, “Pai has undertaken a deregulatory blitz enacting or proposing a wishlist of fundamental policy changes advocated by Mr Smith and his company.”

Tom Wheeler, Pai’s predecessor at the FCC, who is now at the Brookings Institution, said: “What’s surprising is how fast the Trump FCC moved and how they moved without any real opportunity for public comment and without any following of procedural due process … So you look at that kind of behavior and scratch your head.”

To better understand such behavior and where it’s leading, it helps to consider where Sinclair began.

David Smith’s father, Julian Sinclair Smith, described by the company’s official history as “patriarch to the Smith brothers”, founded the company in 1971, and kept a hand in the business until his death, following a battle with Parkinson’s, in 1993. But the company’s greatest evolutionary changes began around 1990, when the brothers bought up the remainder of their parents’ stock, kicking off an extended buying spree that would last decades.

As Sinclair grew, so did the scrutiny. And increasingly, the Smith brothers found themselves not just the broadcasters, but the subject of the news.

In 1996, David Smith was arrested on suspicion of soliciting a prostitute who performed what the police called “unnatural and perverted sex on him” in a Mercedes owned by Sinclair. More disturbing to critics than the misdemeanor sex offense, though, was the unusual way he got out of doing the court-ordered community service that resulted from his plea bargain in the case: by having his broadcasting company do what amounted to publicity hits for local drug counseling programs, packaged as news.

LuAnne Canipe, a former reporter for Sinclair, said the incident was also indicative of a broader culture of office sexism. “Let’s just say the arrest of the CEO was part of a sexual atmosphere that trickled down to different levels in the company,” said Canipe, who left Sinclair in 1998. “There was an improper work environment. I think that because of what he did, there was a feeling that everything was fair game.”

One person concerned by Sinclair’s growth: Rupert Murdoch

The growth of Sinclair may have passed below the radar, but not past another media mogul – Rupert Murdoch, chairman and acting CEO of Fox News.

Although Sinclair has insisted it has no interest in competing with national cable news platforms like Murdoch’s, industry observers say the mogul is already planning a strategy to combat the rise of a potential rival. After a failed attempt to outbid Sinclair for Tribune, Murdoch is threatening a switch of Fox’s broadcast affiliates from Sinclair-owned stations to those of a smaller independent broadcaster.

 

Donald Trump with media mogul Rupert Murdoch in July 2016.

 

But it isn’t just Sinclair’s business interests that are a cause of creeping concern – its political affiliations could be, too.

Take the case the former congressman Bob Ehrlich, a Maryland Republican who later become governor. After pressing the FCC to fast-track Sinclair’s request to acquire more stations, Ehrlich enjoyed company perks like the frequent use of a Sinclair executive’s luxury helicopter, as the Baltimore Sun reported in 2002. By the time full details of the report emerged, Ehrlich had already won his gubernatorial election.

In 2004, Sinclair leadership reportedly ordered its local affiliate stations to air a documentary critical of the Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry, based on allegations which later proved unfounded – that Kerry had exaggerated his record as a swift-boat officer in the Vietnam war.

A Washington DC bureau chief publicly resisted and was fired for the offense. The incident sent ripples through its stations, but Sinclair said media reports about the controversy exaggerated the issue.

Around the same time, as George W Bush faced criticism over the faltering war in Iraq, Sinclair ordered seven of its stations not to run an episode of Nightline in which host Ted Koppel read the names of every American soldier killed in the war, saying it “undermine[d] the efforts of the United States in Iraq”. The decision sparked a major backlash, including from the Republican senator John McCain, a Vietnam war veteran, who wrote a letter to David Smith calling the decision “unpatriotic” and “a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces”.

Other times, Sinclair’s influence has been more ambiguous. When the Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs was assaulted by the then US congressional candidate Greg Gianforte on the eve of his election in Montana, the local NBC affiliate, recently purchased by Sinclair, refused to air Jacobs’s audio recording of the incident, despite entreaties from NBC executives in New York. The local news director said she was not influenced by Sinclair, noting the purchase was not yet complete. Gianforte won the election, and, the day after the Montana Republican was charged with assault, Sinclair’s vice-president and director Fred Smith donated $1,000 to him.

Meanwhile, with its 2015 purchase of Circa, a mobile aggregated news app, Sinclair has control for the first time of a national text-based news outlet. Backed by a staff of 70, Sinclair transformed the app into conservative-leaning platform offering thinly sourced scoops – often written without any author byline other than “Circa staff” – that frequently seem to advance the Trump administration’s agenda du jour. Trump and his aides have returned the favor by linking to Circa’s content, and it’s become a favorite source of Sean Hannity, Fox News’s most obsequious Trump booster. (Sinclair denies Circa has any political orientation, noting that it does not carry op-eds.)

The rise of Sinclair has also recently stirred the Democrats in Washington, who have become increasingly vocal on the issue.

This summer, Senator Maria Cantwell led a group of colleagues in urging commerce and judiciary leaders to carefully examine the pending deal with Tribune, citing concern “about the level of media concentration this merger creates, and its impact on the public interest”, according to the lawmakers’ June letter.

And this week, House Democrats in top FCC oversight positions wrote directly to the FCC’s Pai expressing their dismay at what they perceive to be a “pattern” of preferential treatment toward Sinclair.

In addition to changes paving the way for Sinclair’s merger, Pai’s FCC has proposed eliminating one of its most fundamental rules, which requires local news stations to actually have a local studio where they broadcast the news.

Now, the agency seems poised to do away with local broadcast protections, which would allow Sinclair and other broadcasters to save money by cutting local staff and to impose more editorial input from corporate headquarters.

And that means many more Americans will be hearing from the most dangerous company most people have never heard of – whether they know it or not.

 

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Source: ‘The most dangerous US company you have never heard of”: Sinclair, a rightwing media giant | Media | The Guardian

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Black History Month | Bound for Freedom – Black Los Angeles in Jim Crow America 

26 Feb

 

Paul Bontemps decided to move his family to Los Angeles from Louisiana in 1906 on the day he finally submitted to a strictly enforced Southern custom—he stepped off the sidewalk to allow white men who had just insulted him to pass by. Friends of the Bontemps family, like many others beckoning their loved ones West, had written that Los Angeles was “a city called heaven” for people of color. But just how free was Southern California for African Americans?

This splendid history, at once sweeping in its historical reach and intimate in its evocation of everyday life, is the first full account of Los Angeles’s black community in the half century before World War II. Filled with moving human drama, it brings alive a time and place largely ignored by historians until now, detailing African American community life and political activism during the city’s transformation from small town to sprawling metropolis.

Writing with a novelist’s sensitivity to language and drawing from fresh historical research, Douglas Flamming takes us from Reconstruction to the Jim Crow era, through the Great Migration, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, and the build-up to World War II. Along the way, he offers rich descriptions of the community and its middle-class leadership, the women who were front and center with men in the battle against racism in the American West.

In addition to drawing a vivid portrait of a little-known era, Flamming shows that the history of race in Los Angeles is crucial for our understanding of r

 

Source: Bound for Freedom – Black Los Angeles in Jim Crow America 1st H/C Black History | eBay

 

 

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War On The Poor; These 5 States Have Seen the Most Rapid Increases in Homelessness Over the Past Decade 

26 Feb

 

There’s one primary reason why homelessness is on the rise in these areas.
 Homelessness increased in the U.S. in 2017 for the first time since 2010, and advocates for homeless people are alarmed. Ten city and county governments have declared states of emergency since 2015 in response; meanwhile, Department of Housing and Urban Development head Ben Carson shows ongoing disinterest in supporting local governments’ efforts. While cities like Los Angeles are facing a well-publicized crisis as they struggle to find long-term solutions, California is surprisingly not even one of the states with the five fastest increases in homelessness, according to a new survey compiled by Credit Loan.

Measuring homelessness in any city is a challenge. For one, most major cities count more homeless people in residing shelters than unsheltered people living on the street or in encampments (Los Angeles is a major exception). This survey includes both sheltered and unsheltered, but notes the frightening rise in unsheltered homeless (nationwide, about a third of the homeless lack shelter).

“Unsheltered homelessness is on the rise, and major cities are feeling it most,” said Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “As cities bear the burden of increasing unsheltered counts, it is essential that they address the affordable housing crisis, increase investments in proven housing interventions, and ensure that they have appropriate emergency shelter capacity.”

Beyond the division of sheltered versus unsheltered, experts disagree on the best methods of measuring rates of homelessness. The Credit Loan survey uses a point-in-time (PIT) count from HUD data that communities collect from physical outreach to determine how many individuals are literally homeless on a designated day. This data is pulled from PIT count numbers from 2007-2016. Other groups like the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness prefer to rely on the numbers generated through statewide data systems to measure homelessness in their states.

According to the Credit Loan survey, these are the states that saw the most significant increases and decreases in homelessness over the past 10 years:

The states vary significantly in geography and cost-of-living expenses (South Dakota, for example, is one of the least expensive states to live in, yet the same factors drive that state’s homelessness as in New York), but there is a surprisingly strong common thread explaining why so many people go without homes. In any city or state, the homeless crisis is directly tied to lack of available low-income housing.

A number of diverse factors make the situation in South Dakota unique. The state has seen the largest increase in homelessness in the past 10 years. Native American homeless rates are rising as it becomes more difficult to find affordable housing on reservations, where isolation and lack of abundant infrastructure make construction difficult. Elsewhere in the state, homeless advocates have noticed the homeless population getting younger.

Traci Jensen, homeless liaison for the Sioux Falls School District, told KSFY in December, “We do see the number of youth over the last couple years has increased.” Though a different estimate at the end of 2017 claims the homeless rate had dropped 12% in the past year in South Dakota, three shelters say that number doesn’t tell the full story. “The demand that we see for homeless services certainly hasn’t decreased,” Brett Johnson with the Sioux Empire Homeless Coalition, said. Many of the area’s homeless are living in cars or with friends, Johnson added. Local representatives are pushing for more inexpensive housing options. Rep. Kristi Noem recently wrote, “Despite South Dakota’s relatively low cost of living, finding affordable housing can still be a challenge for low- and middle-income families. That makes it no surprise that there are 120 families on the waiting list for Habitat Homes.”

In densely populated metro areas like D.C. and New York, homeless advocates are unanimous in blaming the problem on sky-high rents. “The one single thing that really has changed is the lack of affordable housing,” Michael Ferrell, the executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless, told the New York Times. “The housing that’s being created today in the District is not for working-class people,” he said. Gradually widening inequality is to blame: in D.C., as in many other American cities, the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. In New York City, the Coalition for the Homeless similarly reports that lack of affordable housing is the main cause for the city with the highest number of homeless people. Homelessness in New York City has reached the highest levels since the Great Depression in the 1930s, according to the Coalition for the Homeless.

There is some good news in the struggle to house the homeless. Though Michigan is hurting from the nationwide lack of affordable housing, the state managed to decrease its homelessness rate by 67% over the past 10 years, according to the survey. “We saw the incidence of homelessness spike during the recession and it’s been trending downward each year since in Michigan,” Eric C. Hufnagel, executive director of Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, told AlterNet. “That’s due in part to a short-term funding infusion, an improved economy and policies which have strengthened the homeless service delivery system in Michigan. Additional funding remains a key need, but there are many other barriers to ending homelessness, including the affordable housing crisis.”

These are come of the cities with the most homeless:

New York City shelters are notoriously crowded, and the city has seen an enormous increase in its shelter populations over the past 10 years. But out on the streets there are slightly fewer homeless than a decade ago. Still, the city’s $1.2 billion per year investment in curbing homelessness has not reversed the trend of a rapidly rising homeless population.

In Los Angeles, a near opposite crisis is underway. The number of unsheltered homeless in L.A., like those in the city’s widely noted encampments stretching miles across the metro area, has climbed significantly in the last few years. According to Credit Loan, “the largest increases have been among those aged 24 and younger, and a vast majority of the unsheltered homeless population are either African American or Hispanic. Like New York City, Los Angeles officials indicate rising housing costs as largely to blame for the dramatic upsurge. Between 2000 and 2015, the median rent in L.A. increased by more than 30 percent.”

In any city or state, the homeless crisis is directly tied to lack of available low-income housing and the expanding divide between rich and poor.

“Ending homelessness is a complex, long-term effort,” said Nan Roman of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “For several years we’ve seen homeless systems become more efficient and effective and getting people into housing. But the effectiveness of the homeless assistance efforts cannot make up for the increasing number of people who become homeless because they simply cannot afford housing.”

Megan Hustings, director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, agreed, noting that the Trump administration shows no signs of prioritizing the crisis. “There is a severe shortage of decent affordable housing across the country,” Hustings told AlterNet. “Our housing infrastructure is extremely damaged, and the presidential administration’s ‘infrastructure’ plan does little to nothing to improve it. In fact, the president’s suggested FY19 budget would almost completely eliminate public housing, and cause over 200,000 families to lose their housing vouchers.”

Liz Posner is a managing editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.

 

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Source: These 5 States Have Seen the Most Rapid Increases in Homelessness Over the Past Decade | Alternet

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