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

How Sinclair, Epshteyn help Trump spread his dangerous anti-press message

I took a pass last month on writing about an interview Boris Epshteyn, chief political analyst for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, did with President Donald Trump.

But given what happened yesterday with the attempted delivery of bombs addressed to CNN and various Democratic leaders whom Trump has rallied his supporters against, such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, I need to denounce the performance of Epshteyn and the role of Sinclair in this interview in no uncertain terms. This kind of production not only supports and enables Trump in his toxic rhetoric, it amplifies his message and surely legitimatizes it in the minds of some.

I have written until my fingers ached about the dangers of Trump’s anti-press screeds the last three years. And I have certainly not spared any words in denouncing Fox News enablers of Trump like Sean Hannity.

But Sinclair is in my backyard with its headquarters in Hunt Valley. And while I suspect I have written more about it the last two years than any other media critic in the country, it’s not enough when an institution that sells itself as journalism is spreading a propagandistic message with the potential to further inflame the passions of a hyper-polarized country careening toward midterms.

In this Epshteyn interview posted on WJLA-TV’s website, a Sinclair-owned station in Washington that I once respected, Trump is allowed to label what he calls “the fake news media” as “truly an enemy of the people.” And not only does Epshteyn fail to ask for clarification on that claim or push back, he follows up by feeding the president a line of support about how he thinks “the people see through” the dishonesty of the press.

Here’s the way that exchange played out, according to a transcript posted on WJLA with the video. (The video is embedded above.)

PRESIDENT TRUMP … No, the media is unbelievably dishonest. And I actually say that the fake news media is truly an enemy of the people. It hurts our country tremendously.

BORIS: But the people see through it, don't you think?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I had a rally last night here where they had thousands and thousands of people. They sent away thousands of people, they couldn't get into the convention center. And it was really incredible. So, I guess the bottom line is they must.

In Trump’s telling, the fake news media includes CNN, The New York Times, the Washington Post and NBC News. Meanwhile, he has only praise for Sinclair.

According to the transcript posted with the video, the interview opens with Trump saying, “I am treated less fairly than anybody who's probably ever lived. … The media is fake — not all of it — about 85 percent of it, though, big percentage.”

He continues, “It's fake ... they don't tell the truth. They say they have sources and they don't. They make up the sources. They don’t have sources. I mean they have some, but basically oftentimes they don't have any … .”

I point out where I am quoting from the transcript as opposed to the video, because it includes words from the president not on the video. Ditto for words from Epshteyn.

For example, on the transcript, Epshteyn’s closing statement begins, “Here’s the bottom line: sadly, many in the media are inherently biased against the president. And that creeps into their coverage into the White House.”

Serious allegation.

That is not included on the video. An editor’s note at the end of the transcript tells readers that Epshteyn is a former member of Trump’s White House team.

Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, was right yesterday in linking the attack on his company to reckless White House rhetoric.

"There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media," Zucker said. "The President, and especially the White House Press Secretary, should understand their words matter. Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that."

If they don’t or won’t acknowledge the danger of their words and behave more responsibly, media organizations that claim to be providers of news should.

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