Z on TV Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV

Busy week of kissing up to Trump for Sinclair's Boris Epshteyn

Last July, I wrote that the “Bottom Line with Boris” commentaries by Boris Epshteyn, chief political analyst for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, came as close to classic propaganda as anything I had seen on American TV in 30 years of writing about media.

After catching up with him this week, I’m thinking I should drop the “as close to” qualifier.

It was a bad week for Trump, thanks to the human suffering caused by his cruel and chaotic border policies, which meant members of his right-wing messaging machine had to step up.

I wrote here about the failure of the prime-time lineup at Fox News to find any kind of credible defense for Trump, and I discussed Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham as Trump’s “propaganda puppets” during an appearance on CNN.

Not surprisingly, Epshteyn, a former Trump aide, toed the Trump line at Sinclair with not one but two “Bottom Line” segments. They not only defended Trump, they celebrated him.

Epshteyn’s segments are “must carry” at Sinclair stations that produce news. According to an email exchange Thursday with Scott Livingston, senior vice president of news, “’Bottom Line with Boris” airs in 73 markets.

Epshteyn’s segments don’t make me angry the way the work of some partisan pundits do. Usually, his arguments are not clever enough for that.

But there was one statement delivered as if it was a fact in a commentary on immigration this week that did make me take a deep breath and count to 10. It involved him saying that a “lot” of the concern for the children who have been separated from their parents is phony, the result of liberal politics.

“Let’s be honest,” Epshteyn said. “While some of the concern is real, a lot of it is politically driven by the liberals in politics and the media.”

First of all, it has been my experience that people who are being honest, generally don’t preface their statements by saying, “let’s be honest.” It’s the dishonest ones who say that.

But how does he know a “lot” of the concern for children is driven by “the liberals in politics and the media”?

I think a “lot” of the concern is driven by people who feel the pain of parents separated from their children and are anguished when they hear the cries of young children calling for their mothers and fathers in these “shelters.”

To some of us, a young child’s terror and pain matter more than scoring partisan political points or kissing up to a political master.

Not to worry, Epshteyn says in the commentary: “The president is working to show that it is possible to balance humanity with security for our borders.”

And he’s doing such a great job of balancing humanity that his secretary of Homeland Security sounded during a White House press session Monday like she had virtually no idea where many of the youngest children were being housed or how they might be ever reunited with parents.

But the “Bottom Line with Boris” that really caught my attention this week aired Thursday night on WBFF in Baltimore. It was mostly an interview (using that term broadly) with Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House press secretary, about Trump’s meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

The first words out of Sanders’ mouth: “So, it was certainly a historic moment, and one, I think, that not only people who support this president, but all Americans can be proud of.”

They were only warming up.

Speaking of watching the president and his North Korean counterpart during the meeting, Sanders said, “The president is a true leader on the global stage, and it was really magnificent to watch.”

Epsteyn teed the critics up for Sanders to whack.

“The president has been criticized by some folks, expectedly, for being quote-unquote too nice to Kim Jong-un. What do you say to that?”

“I think those are people who are more concerned with attacking this president,” the press secretary said, “than looking for the good that is happening both in our country and across the world.”

Haters will hate, right?

Epshteyn closed the segment by addressing the camera directly: “Here’s the bottom line. As you just heard from one of the very few Americans who has met with Kim Jong-un face to face, the summit was a success. Due to the president’s efforts, we are now closer than ever to a de-nuclearized North Korea.”

Wow.

Really, at the end of this week of tears in Texas, lies in Washington and outrage in the heartland, all I can say is wow to seeing that kind of propaganda-like production on my dinnertime newscast in Baltimore. I am glad I wasn’t eating.

You can see both “Bottom Line with Boris” segments here.

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

twitter.com/davidzurawik

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