The headquarters of the Sinclair Broadcast Group, in Hunt Valley, Maryland. (Getty Images)

Sinclair distances itself from Boris Epshsteyn's defense of the use of tear gas on migrant kids

"The political commentary we force affiliate stations to run does not reflect the views of our company. Gotcha."


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Rachel Leah
November 29, 2018 8:08PM (UTC)

Sinclair Broadcast Group is attempting to distance itself from the commentary it ran by former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn, who vehemently defended the use of tear gas against migrant children at the border.

In a Twitter thread, the company said that the opinions of Epshteyn — whose title is chief political analyst — do not reflect those of the Sinclair Broadcast Group. However, Sinclair, the largest owner of local TV newsrooms across the country, mandated that its stations air Epshteyn's segment as part of its "must-run" programming. Stations are required to inject these chosen segments like the right-wing "Bottom Line with Boris" into their local news broadcasts.

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"We'd like to take a moment and address some concerns regarding a commentary segment by @borisep that was aired on Sinclair stations this week," the company wrote on Twitter. "The opinions expressed in this segment do not reflect the views of Sinclair Broadcast Group."

The thread continued: "When Boris’s segments are aired on our stations, they are labeled clearly as commentary. We also offer our stations reporting from the Beltway and beyond that are not partisan or bias in any way."

"Above all, we are committed to fair, unbiased journalism across our stations nationwide and are truly honored to serve our communities," Sinclair concluded. "Local news always comes first."

While the company did not specifically address which Epshteyn segment they were trying to disassociate themselves from — and there have been many from the commentator that have drawn ire throughout the past year — his two most recent segments were widely condemned on social media. Most recently, Epshteyn delivered a blatant defense of Trump and of the use of tear gas against asylum seekers over the weekend, even after graphic photos and videos circulated showing migrant women and children screaming and gagging as a result of the chemical weapons.

"Dozens of migrants attacked U.S. border enforcement by throwing rocks and bottles," Epshteyn, who served in Trump's White House and as a campaign official, said in the segment. "Ultimately, American authorities had to use tear gas to stop the attacks."

"The fact of the matter is that this is an attempted invasion of our country – period," his defense continued. "Our border must remain intact and secure. It is not a partisan position to believe that our immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed. However, it unfortunately appears that there are many on the left who believe it is wrong to defend our country and abide by the rule of law."

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But many on social media were not buying Sinclair's attempt to separate itself from the former Trump aide. Julian Zelizer, political historian at Princeton University, wrote on Twitter that Epshteyn "has been a central player in the Trump-conservative media complex. He has capitalized on the thirst for content, as a campaign surrogate, administration official and Sinclair operative to spread Trumpian pr."

Robert Maguire, research director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit government watchdog, sarcastically tweeted about the irony of Sinclair both forcing its stations to run Epshteyn's commentary and later claiming that it in no way reflected the company's views.

Hugo Balta, the president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, described Epshteyn's segment as "propaganda" and released a press statement saying he was considering "limiting their presence at any future NAHJ led events."

Media Matters, who has frequently covered the "must-run" mandates from Sinclair, estimated that Epshteyn's commentary on the tear-gassing of migrants had already aired on 100 Sinclair-owned or operated stations and in at least 24 states.

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Sinclair rolled out another "must-run" segment from Epshteyn Wednesday morning, where he slammed Twitter for banning far-right conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer. She often tweeted anti-Muslim hate to her nearly 300,000 followers and was eventually permanently banned "after she posted a factual tweet about Sharia Law," according to Epshteyn, "and called Congresswoman-elect Ilhan Omar, 'anti-Jewish.'"

Loomer's "factual tweet" read: "Under Sharia, homosexuals are oppressed & killed. Women are abused & forced to wear the hijab."

Since Sinclair's thread, Epshteyn has accused critics of not watching the segments and cast Media Matters' extensive reporting on him, Sinclair and the "must-run" saga as merely a "hit piece."

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But criticism against Sinclair is mounting, emblematic of the company's inclination to explain itself in a Twitter thread Wednesday, versus when Epshteyn defended Trump after he blamed "both sides" for the white nationalist violence in Charlottesville last year or when he defended the administration at the height of the family separation policy.

However, aside from just conservative "must-run" segments like Epshteyn's, in April, Sinclair was called out for demanding anchors at dozens of stations to read an identical script warning of fake news and "one-sided news stories." A compilation video below captures just how widespread the segment became.


Rachel Leah

Rachel Leah is a culture writer for Salon. You can follow her on Twitter: @rachelkleah.

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