Sinclair Broadcast Group denied Monday that it gave favorable coverage to Donald Trump's campaign on its local news programs in exchange for access, calling recent reports about its presidential election coverage "misleading" and saying it offered the same opportunities to both major candidates.
The Hunt Valley-based broadcaster had no special deal with Trump, Scott Livingston, Sinclair's vice president of news, said in a statement.
Livingston responded after the political news website Politico reported Friday that Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, told business executives the campaign had reached a deal with Sinclair to get "better" media coverage on television stations across the country, including in many swing states, in exchange for more access to Trump. Kushner told the executives Sinclair had agreed to air the interviews without any commentary, according to the Politico article.
"I now need to set the record straight," Livingston said. "We offered both major presidential candidates the same opportunities to be interviewed by our local anchors on a regular basis. There was no 'deal' on the tone, tenor or subject of the interviews."
Livingston said Monday he was responding to "numerous" stories since the Politico report. He said the broadcaster reached out to Trump and to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Trump, now the Republican president-elect, participated in 10 TV interviews, while Clinton took part in one, Sinclair said. Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine was interviewed four times by Sinclair anchors.
"We did not offer favorable or preferential treatment to either candidate," Livingston said. "It is in everyone's best interest that candidates speak to voters through interviews with professional reporters."
Andrew Seaman, chair of the Society of Professional Journalists' ethics committee, had criticized Sinclair in a blog post Saturday for agreeing to air extended interviews with candidates without added context, arguing it "turned over editorial control to the candidates."
But Seaman backed off his comments Monday and apologized to Sinclair for assuming a story based on third-party reports was accurate.
"After hearing from Sinclair's representatives and viewing emails between the company and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's campaign, I don't believe the interview arrangements fell outside what would be considered ethical journalism," Seaman said in a blog post Monday.
He compared the reports to a game of telephone.
"One person makes a statement, another person repeats that statement with some errors, and it builds upon itself," he wrote.
Politico said Kushner made his comments during an off-the-record meeting with business group Partnership for New York City.
According to the article, a spokesman for Trump told Politico that the agreement with Sinclair included having interviews aired on affiliates but that no money was exchanged. The campaign also turned to other media companies with affiliates, such as Hearst, Politico reported.